Today is Palm Sunday, and I spent the better half of the morning in the church listening, and mentally translating, the Filipino Mass so I can understand it better. At 10 AM the tropical heat was already setting in, the humidity already blanketing the faithful sheep in Mass with its choking haze, and the heady odor of people cramped in the building was starting to give me a headache. In my hand was a palm leaf, its underside covered with white cottony patches of pests or some sort of plant illness. In my boredom and inability to equate Pontius Pilate's decision to let the Jews democratically choose who they want to execute to a politician's irresponsibility to serve the people (Because, c'mon, to him Jesus was just another upstart), I thought of cleaning every single leaf of the palm stalk, even if it meant the odd stares of the people around me.
Eventually, I simply made myself watch them instead. There was nothing else to do when the priest's words do not make sense to you. I wondered if the people around me actually felt honest with themselves and the faith, and were not simply there because it was the Lenten Season, a time of year when they celebrate the death of a person who had supposedly forgiven their sins. Most of them looked just as bored as I am. They looked just as uncertain. It was as if they were only there because tradition dictated them to be there. I don't know. With my biased eyes, I cannot fathom being truly devout to an entity that doesn't seem to be there at all. Even the priest sounded like he was simply dictating a memorized speech instead of teaching from the heart like he was supposed to.
When I could no longer bear to look at the toddlers already suffering Mass at such a tender age and the pledge basket that did way too many rounds to take patron donations, I looked towards the stained glass window nearby. The chapel wasn't very large so its colorful displays were not the grand frescoes of the larger cathedrals the Spaniards built centuries before, but a building wasn't a holy place without them, was it? There, I saw this tiny black bird, so small I could probably close my fist around it. It was trapped in the chapel, perched on the highest ledge of the stained glass window. Endlessly, it hopped from one edge to another, tackling the light blue barrier than kept it from open skies. It was probably there even before the Mass began, throwing itself against the glass because the thought of simply flying over the heads of the faithful sheep was too terrifying.
I watched it for almost half an hour, and the longer the Mass dragged on, the weaker the blackbird became. Its beak opened as it panted, tongue raised to help the air pass through easier. I could almost hear its little heart beating in overdrive, from the exertion and the stress of being exposed to the loud pipe organ, the chanting of the choir and long drawn out sermon of the priest. Birds can die from stress, and the heat wasn't helping. The cacophony of rustling palm leaves certainly didn't. I could only imagine being the blackbird, trapped between a horde of palm leaf-holding humans and a light-blue glass that showed freedom and paradise but kept me away from it at the same time.
When Mass ended, I went up to the stained glass window with my palm leaf in hand and saw the blackbird had become deathly still. I reached up with the leaf, hoping to chase it off the ledge now that most of the church-goers have gone (they've gotten what they came for after all: a few droplets of water on their leaves so they can pretend it's "blessed"), but try as I might, it refused to move. I thought it was simply doing its best to ignore me, so I climb on a chair and nudged it.
It felt nauseatingly stiff.
I recall myself swallowing, for if there was a corpse that bothered me more than anything, it was a dead bird. I've handled more than my share of them, and I feared that this was yet another one that I must add to my list. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to simply leave it there to rot in the church. It deserved better. I angled my palm leaf to knock it off the ledge and prepared myself to catch it.
Before I could catch it, however, it suddenly flew off and exited the church out the door and towards freedom.
I laughed at myself for freaking out, but I truly felt relieved that it was still alive and free.
I wasted no time in following it outside.