"Even with the tinge of awe, the expressions on the women's faces were a bit sad. I felt sad too although there was nothing that day that made me sad. At this point, I remembered what one passage of the book The Little Prince said: “One day," you said to me, "I saw the sunset forty-four times!"
Manila — I have a new work engagement that requires me to take Metro Manila's metropolitan railway transit, the fastest mode of transport but is known notoriously for its coaches that break down or separate in mid-travel and force passengers to be offloaded. Thankfully in the past three months that I have been an MRT rider, I haven't experienced those glitches.
But the daily commute is unhealthy. The coaches are crammed and have poor air-conditioning. I choose to ride in the all-female coaches to be more comfortable. But when it gets really congested, it is annoying to the point that we can already exchange faces, or that someone's hair gets pressed to my face. I wear a disposable face mask every day in the hope that I can fend off viral and bacterial infections from dirt and other elements.
Traversing three cities to go to work is always a difficult ride in a metropolis with more than 12 million people. In the past months, I acclimatized and conditioned my physical and mental sides to get used to it.
But one day on my way home before 6 p.m., I saw the sun setting on the metropolitan skyline. It was yellow, gray, pink, blue and purple, with the perfectly round sun in blazing dark orange. I think the women standing beside me heard me gasp in amazement because they put down their phones and trained their sights at the marvel toward the west.
The women seated across us wondered about what we, some with open mouths, were staring at, and then realized they were unlucky at not being able to turn around to see the sun going down. Sometimes in life, it is totally okay to not being able to secure a seat and just stand, even if you're dead tired.
For there is the sunset, that afternoon spectacle that draws us toward our own end-of-day realities. I took a glimpse at the row of women standing who held on to the handrails to watch. One or two of them raised their phones to take photos. The others fixed their eyes on the sight and forgot that they were busy with their phones.
Even with the tinge of awe, the expressions on the women's faces were a bit sad. I felt sad too although there was nothing that day that made me sad. At this point, I remembered what one passage of the book The Little Prince said: “One day," you said to me, "I saw the sunset forty-four times!" And a little later you added: "You know — one loves the sunset, when one is so sad..." "Were you so sad, then?" I asked, "on the day of the forty-four sunsets?" But the little prince made no reply.”
Many analysts have their own interpretations to this part of the popular book, with one saying French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's original French text had 43 sunsets but the first English translation was changed to 44 sunsets to honor Exupery, who was 44 when he died.
Others said when Exupery died, he saw the 44th and the last sunset because at that time, the Nazis had conquered France and other countries in Europe. He died not seeing his country free again during World War II.
When I got off in my station, the sun was already half concealed but still glowing. It has cast dark shadows on some of the buildings. It was still in my mind when I got home. Perhaps some of the women on the train were still thinking about it, while others already had their minds preoccupied with dinner or the TV series they hurried home to watch.
The sadness that comes with experiencing sunsets, I think, is one that is the comforting kind of sad, not the heartbreaking one. It is what we need at the end of the day. Its quiet and tender beauty gives us the remedy to a brutal day as we face the night. I can think of more reasons but I can leave it at that because each one of us owns our sunsets and what they mean. I think that is why the little prince had no reply.
Diana Mendoza is a freelance writer based in Manila.