I had my last real confession when I was about ten. It was rather scary, that being my first and thus my inability to comprehend the necessity of the ritual. Perhaps, it was a whole mix of things—the covered faces of the rebultos, the eerie silence and seriousness of the pilgrims, the monotony of the rosaryo, the church bells and its sullen calls. There was so much gloom inside that church of Baybay, Leyte. Like a shadow, the gloom hovered over everybody that even the most active child was forced to stand down.
At that time, I remembered the long queue that stretched as far as the church door and perhaps extended far beyond to the adjacent plaza. In my thirty years on earth, that was the longest line of repentant sinners I have ever seen. Maybe that was a Good Friday or the day before Christmas. I don’t know. I sometimes get confused with these two holidays. Must’ve been Good Friday. It was a no-laughter day. Smiles were forbidden. It was almost like the saints were carrying anti-happiness placards underneath the white linen covers.
During that day also, two people were nailed on the cross earlier at the town plaza. I saw the spectacle on top of my father’s shoulders. The nailing was just about 6-10 meters away. I writhed every time the nails were pounded into their extremities. I saw how their flesh turned white—like the whiteness of pork fat—as the nail wormed its way through the tendons and down into the wood. Minutes later the head of the nails turned crimson with the penitentes sacrifice. Ladies in white mourned wildly, flailing their arms, kneeling before the Christ who is not Christ but is Christ. I shed a tear. I don’t know for whom. For the penitentes who nailed themselves hoping for redemption? For Christ ensconced in that gloomy Church and who has lived happily ever after? For my 10-year old self who will be confessing later on about that stolen 20 pesos I used to buy flowers and candies for the girl I admire?
But I digress. Standing beside my mother, I waited for my turn at that confession box. One after another, people came out with heads bowed like that of Atlas. Then my turn came. I knelt before a
screened peephole, waiting for the signal to start the confession. When the peephole opened, the priest mumbled those garbled words—his mouth covered with the same white linen that the saints used for cover. My litany of errors came forth, punctuated with sighs and sobbing. It was Good Friday. Not Christmas.