Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Maid

The new maid Inday had been terribly ill, too ill that it kept her completely unable to do anything but lie down the whole day she couldn't even pull herself out of bed. She was throwing up all over the place, spilling out the contents of her guts, her eyes at times bloodshot and at times glassy, her body seemingly threatening to burst into flames because of a horrendous incomprehensible fever. But the thing that disturbed Mabel the most was her vital signs. From years of experience as a former nursing attendant, she has yet to encounter anything like this, that's why it's difficult to explain the events she observed during the last couple of hours.

She would take her pulse and find great trouble detecting anything. And then at last when she did feel the very faint beating, it was like electricity would flow through her, sapping away her energy. And afterwards, a few minutes of not feeling anything would transpire before yet again, a strange sensation comes creeping in. It was weird. Simply weird. Mabel would have liked to continue checking the maid's pulse at regular intervals and then perhaps clean up the mess but she started feeling dizzy herself, her strength beginning to ebb. It was physically draining.

To make matters worse, the phone had just went dead. There was no one to call for help in this bad weather and terrible situation, considering the distance between their new town house where they have just transferred last week, and the nearest occupied unit five blocks away. She didn't like the way the ailing maid looked at this stage, like the blood had been systematically drained from her frail body but at least she had already fallen asleep although she was still breathing heavily and with apparent difficulty. The medicine she administered was hopefully beginning to take effect. Mabel wondered to herself when would Paolo be coming back?

She left the maid's bedside and walked into their bedroom to catch her breath and wait for her husband there. But she fell asleep. A slight drizzle had started again, the wet pavement glistening under the moonlight. The grass on their lawn gathered dew as the hours passed while a stray dog howled at the moon from faraway.

Paolo honked twice the moment he approached the house, and almost immediately, the heavy iron gate parted in the middle revealing against the glare of the headlight, a woman in flimsy sleeping dress, her flowing black hair accentuating the round radiant face that seemed to reflect the glow of the moonlight. Inday greeted him with a wide smile and watched while Paolo backed the car up into the garage.

"Where's your Ate Mabel?", he inquired.

"She fell asleep waiting for you Sir". The maid answered still smiling broadly, as she walked on bouncy legs, humming enthusiastically while heading back to her room upstairs, the exuberant strides almost a bizarre dance. Paolo wanted to ask why she is up this late and how come not a single light was on inside or outside the house but the maid was gone in an instant and he was just too tired to ask.

Mabel couldn't believe her eyes the moment she awakened late in the morning in which she almost instinctively rushed downstairs without bothering to fix herself. The bathroom had already been scrubbed clean, while the clothesline in the backyard strained under the weight of the still dripping laundry, the smell of freshly-cooked breakfast permeated the morning air from the kitchen, while Paolo sat beside the dining table, his attention torn between a late breakfast and the newspaper in his hands. He noticed her presence and gave Mabel a look of concern and a half-smile.

"You overslept, honey, come on now and let's have brunch."

But with a million questions racing through her mind, food was the last thing that mattered for the perplexed young housewife. "How is Inday? She was sick to death last night, what happened to her? And where is she now? Her words came in rapid succession, desperately craving for answers.

"What do you mean sick? That woman's a machine, Belle, working non-stop. I'm exhausted just watching her go at it. I just had to beg her to please stop, to take it easy, my God. She's upstairs now, resting I hope... Looks like we lucked out on this one, Belle... she's worth every single cent we're paying."

Mabel was incredulous. She had been with many sick people at the hospital, she had personally witnessed how some of them would sink so dangerously close to death only to come back from the brink, but never in the miraculous manner her husband was trying to suggest in the case of the maid. The stench of vomit seemed to return as she recalled how it was last night and so with the feeling of dread that swept her in anticipation of a terrible tragedy and almost instantly Mabel felt nauseous. It all seemed surreal now in retrospect, and maybe it is. She must have been dreaming all along last night. Yes, it could not have been anything but a dream, a very bad dream indeed.

That night as they laid together in bed, she felt Paolo put his arms around her and teasingly nipped at her ear, before gently whispering "So, when are you making the big announcement? I've been waiting for you to say it the whole day, the waiting is killing me, Honey".

"What announcement?" she asked, trying to stay awake.

"Oh don't you play innocent with me, you little liar, Inday told me about it at dinner tonight".

"Told you what?", she was visibly agitated now and this time Mabel made no effort to conceal it.

"Hey, wait a minute, Belle, didn't you tell her you were pregnant?"

"What?" she fought the urge to curse. "The hell with that... I don't even know it myself. Me, pregnant? How dare her say that?"

"You mean?"

"Hell, no. And if this is a joke, it isn't funny. She's making up stories, that miserable bitch. She'll have some explaining tomorrow. We'll see about that."

For several hours, and long after her husband had began snoring the night away, Mabel was still seething. It was impossible to sleep with that kind of temper. Finally she decided she can't wait for morning to come. She rose and instinctively reached for the switch only to find to her shock that the light wouldn't turn on, no matter how many times and in which direction she pressed. Slowly, she found her way to the maid's room, the door unexpectedly unlocked. The stench of vomit assaulted her the moment she walked inside, and because of moonlight coming in from the open window, she could see that the bed where Inday had been lying in horrible condition the night before has remained in disarray reeking of vomit. But the maid was nowhere to be found.

Mabel looked outside the window, into the moonlit night and across the street until she noticed the familiar outline of their roof cast against the vacant lot below. On its slope right above the exact spot where she was standing loomed a shadow that was almost unrecognizable, almost imperceptible at first until slowly it rose, revealing the unmistakable figure of a woman, her long hair drifting in the direction of the wind, Mabel could tell that she was stark naked when the shadow stood still, and then the silhouette started moving, leaping and crawling on all fours, then pacing about and walking on seemingly bouncy legs, the exuberant strides almost a bizarre dance. A stray dog howled at the moon from faraway...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Kite

"He's been badgering me the whole day, Fred, asking when are you coming back until he fell asleep, waiting for you to arrive."

"Oh yes, I remember he asked me last night to make him a kite. I think he wants to show-off to the other kids in the neighborhood."

"Well, next time you should think twice before making promises to that kid. He just wouldn't stop asking. Have you eaten yet?"

There was nothing on the table and one glance at the empty kettle lying on the sink let him know that telling the truth to Martha will not make any difference.

"Don't worry Martha, I'm not hungry." Fred lied through gnashing teeth while ignoring the tearing pain in his gut. Then he lovingly carried the boy Ben in his arms, kissed him on the cheeks before putting him down gently into the wooden bed, which fills more than half the entire spread of their one-room abode.

Fred remembered something and reached down his pocket where he had kept the sewing thread. He paid for it with money from his fare, so he had to walk almost ten kilometers to make his way back home. He also remembered that they have just about cleaned up the last of their savings from his previous trip, when he was hired as an oiler on a gigantic cargo vessel bound for the Marianas. Now the family is practically living on dole-outs from relatives and friends, and even their generosity is just as quickly running thin.

His entire body ached from weariness and hunger, but that wouldn't compare to the pain of his crushing failures. For almost a year now, he had been joining the daily queue from sunup to sundown alongside hundreds of other seafarers like himself at the Baywalk in Manila; those starving, desperate men praying for a miracle to happen, which actually meant being called aboard should someone had been foolish enough to miss the boat.

He turned off the light and joined them in bed and as he slowly drifts into sleep, Fred made sure the last images on his mind were the faces of his wife and son, his last chance at happiness, so he's taking them along wherever his dreams would bring him.

He figured, if perhaps by doing this, he could do what he couldn't accomplish in this hard luck life, if this way he could take Martha and Ben elsewhere, somewhere, anywhere, except here, just some place the pain and sufferings could not reach, then maybe there is purpose to waking up to yet another day even if it's meant to be spent in the pursuit of a futile and lonely quest.

It was a little bit gloomy in the morning, and a mild drizzle at dawn left patches of mud on the lahar-covered vacant lot between the highway and the slums where Fred and his family had lived for as long as they can remember. Ben recognized some of his friends with their colorful expensive kites but he pretended to ignore them and kept his eye on the contraption he was holding, the kite that his father made out of old newspaper and broomstick, held together by morsels of cooked rice instead of glue. Fred on the other hand walked self-consciously behind his son.

"Okay, I'll throw. You've got to pull hard at the string the moment I released the kite", Fred instructed Ben while backing up to the direction of the wind, a mild breeze with occasional gusts strong enough to send lahar sand flying in a swirl, recreating the surreal image from old western movies, in those scenes when hero and villain face off in a final mortal gunfight.

The first attempt by Ben at flying a kite was just exactly what Fred had expected. The kite pulled up at the sudden burst of head wind and then quickly took a sharp dive like it was loaded with brick, barely missing Fred's head. Fred plucked it from a mud patch, tossed it to the wind and the kite took off again. Ben yanked hard at the thread, then dashed spiritedly against the direction of the wind to propel the ascending kite. But the boy tripped on a rock and fell hard on his face. Fred rushed to his son's aid while the other children couldn't help but laugh so hard at what they had seen.

They exchanged places. Ben tossed the kite and Fred, remembering all the important kite-flying lessons of his boyhood days and using them to the hilt had successfully launched the kite soaring above the houses and past the tallest trees, above the power lines in the distance, and way past all the rest of the other children's kites, the thread unravelling at lightning speed as the flying devil on the other end of the line bravely held up to the power of the whirlwind and couldn't seem to have enough of the joyous and purest ecstasy of flight.

Ben ran to his father and hugged him.

For the next few hours, the boy Ben held on to his kite while his father watched his son live out his childhood dream, that beautiful dream of soaring above the clouds with an exhilaration reserved only to the birds the first time they spread their wings to fly, the dream of conquering one's fears and reinforcing the faith, the dream of turning into a monumental triumph what others who don't have the faith to believe, would simply equate to an impossible dream.

"Father, how come you fly kite so well, where did you learn that?", Ben asked without looking at his father, his eyes fixed on the kite which is now reduced to the size of a black dot in the sky with the thread stretched out to nearly the entire length.

"Well, your grandfather used to go kite-flying with me when I was a boy your age here, at exactly this same place. We spent countless summer days like this just flying kites until the sun goes down. I still remember what my father used to say about kites. "If you really want this thing to fly, you've got to let the wind take it away. You just have to learn to let go."

"You mean grandfather did not leave the house most of the time like you do? How come you always go away, Father? I wish we could spend more time like this together, flying kites and just having fun..."

Every word the boy said tugged at the heart but Fred fought his guilt.

"But I can't afford to be always with you like this Ben, the times are different now and you have to understand that. When I was your age, this place was a rice field, and all that you see is green, there were fruit-bearing trees all around and lots of fish in the lake which is so totally different from the way it is today. The Mt. Pinatubo eruption took away everything that I have, including my father. Before the volcanic eruption, we were better off and my father can afford back in those days to feed us, send us to school, put clothes on our backs, and provide a decent life to us with what he earns from the farm. I can't do that now, certainly not in a situation like this. I just have to leave and find a job Ben, or we all die."

Martha arrived, hoisting a piece of paper in her hand, a telegram... her smile visible even from a distance. "Fred, oh god, Fred, the good lord finally heard our prayers. The shipping company in Subic sent you this!"

Then she and Fred embraced, Ben squeezed in between, wandering what magic spell came over his parents. Whatever it is, he wouldn't want it to end. In fact he wanted this moment, this happiness that he had not seen on the faces of his parents for a long time, to last forever.

That night, as they packed his father's clothes, the boy couldn't believe how anyone could feel like wanting to celebrate and wanting to cry at the same time, but that is the situation that would exactly describe how he felt, and at least in his young mind, he thought to himself, it's better this way than not feeling anything at all after the bitter-sweet moments during the day. He felt his father's lips touched his cheeks perhaps for the last time to say goodbye while he put him to sleep. In the morning, there was only himself and his mother, and Ben was overwhelmed with a terrible longing although he expected this.

He took the kite out to a windswept day under gray-painted skies. A splattering of red and purple hues gave hints it would be some struggle before the sun breaks free from the clutches of the seemingly impregnable clouds. The kite sprung to life against the wind, and tugged hard at the thread like a wild vicious animal on a leash. It hurled itself into the sky as soon as the boy set the thread reeling off, guiding it skillfully with his hands. His father would have been so proud to watch him in this effortless mastery of the secrets of flight, if only he were here.

The weather-beaten landscape suddenly turned from gray to a glowing green, rice fields emerged to reclaim a wide expanse of the poignant lahar-ravaged plains, and the boy Ben became the child that his father was when the earth was still beautiful and life had far more frequent moments of joy. He thought about his father and the ship that took him away. He remembered what he told him about letting go.

Go find my father and tell him about how it was today, the boy Ben whispered to his kite while he cut the thread and set it free...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Of Flies and Lions

(Payatas is a huge mountain of garbage that is home to thousands of urban poor filipinos struggling to eke out a living as scavengers. It's the latest infamous landmark after Smokey Mountain. This short story is a satire on the urban tragedy.)

Loud, obnoxious, and drunk as hell, the three men strode unsteadily along the narrow street bordered on both sides by rows of shanties. The great beast appeared a few yards away, the enormous head brushing against the shanty walls. They froze and waited for hopefully a swift and painless death but as the three men collapsed in terror the creature in one mighty leap catapulted itself above them, landing several meters away before disappearing into the night.

Lt. Pocholo Tango was about to lapse into another asthma attack at the sight of the unexpected guest, a bearded, hairy caucasian in ridiculous skin-tight pink leotards who spoke like some alien from outer space, a Santa Claus stricken with anorexia. The lieutenant called out his trusted right hand man.

"Cabo!" SPO1 Alex Marino rose from his sleep the way that Lazarus came slowly ack from the grave. Half-awake and half-asleep, he tried to salute but his hand wouldn't oblige, instinctively reaching for his mouth instead to wipe off dripping saliva. The lieutenant brought him to his senses with a resounding slap on the face using a folded newspaper.

"You crazy bastard you're sleeping on the job again. Talk to this Martian invader and see what he's up to!"

And so began the tactical interrogation by the police officer of the Man from Planet Mars. But nothing he would manage to say could make any sense. The two police officers could only scratch their heads in desperation.

"Aha!" SPO1 Marino's eyes lit up at the sudden rush of a brilliant idea. "I think I'll get me an interpreter".

"An interpreter, at 2 in the morning, are you nuts? The lieutenant was at the end of his fuse.

"Just leave it to me, Sir", and Cabo disappeared.

Lt. Tango couldn't believe his eyes when PO1 Marino returned less than an hour later hand in hand with a long-legged blue eyed blonde with a plunging neckline. Immediately, the blonde bombshell and Mr. Pink-leotards-from-Planet-Mars started conversing in what sounded like an alien extra-terrestial twilight zone type of language. Recovering his senses, the lieutenant pulled Cabo aside - by the ear. "What in hell's name are you doing? And where did you get that interpreter?"

"Well, Sir, ah, ehr... I got her from ... er... the Pegasus strip club", the dimwit assistant responded sheepishly.

"What? You crazy bastard, what do you think of this office, a red-light district? Take those two nuttheads out of here or I'll blow your brains out".

"But... but Sir, you yourself say we can't get an interpreter at this darn hour, Sir. So, I got this lady here, by the way isn't she hot? The name is Anna... Anna Kournikova, well, I know it's just an alias, but she's one of those imported hookers from Belarus, who now works at Pegasus. See how it rhymed? From Belarus to Pegasus... she sure came a long way, Sir. And look, she and the Planet Man seemed to understand each other. See?

Anna turned to the lieutenant. "Welld Mizterd offizered, diz handzombed young man iz Brutuz, and by the wayd, hazd yourd azziztandt tolded you my named izz Ana?

"Damn right, Anna, and since you told me he's Brutus so maybe you might as well call me Popeye the sailor man. Hey miss, do me a favor, will you? Quit calling this damn thing a man or I'll have you booked for, let me see, grave insult to humanity. Or wait, you must be on dope to say those shitless things you say. You wouldn't want to do time in jail do you? I only see creatures like this on science fiction movies so don't go tellin' me he's a man. Take him back to his space ship and tell him to go back home to Planet Mars where he came from. Then maybe we can forget about this whole damn fiazco".

"Okayd. But juzt a zeconded Zir, wouldn't you liked to maked a quick milliond buckz? Anywayd, were leavingd nowd. Goodered luckt to you, Zir!"

The lieutenant's eyes widened, dollar zigns flashing out of them. Anna had a funny way of saying it, but the sound of a quick milliond buckz, was too loud and clear to escape the lieutenant's curious ears. "Hey, wait a second!" the police officer said, smiling. "It's quite hot in here, why don't we go inside my office? You and this handsome young man here can have coffee and chips while we talk business. A million bucks, you say?

Slowly, it all began to unravel. Brutus, the famous lion trainer from Russia had an accident. He fell asleep on the wheels while driving, so the van toppled, and the lion escaped. The beast, the undisputed star of the famous Russian circus is easily worth a million dollars. He's in fact considered a national treasure in Russia. "Help me and name your price" Brutus dared the lieutenant. But how can you go looking for a lion in the city without the people calling you sick in the head?

A loud banging outside startled Lt. Tango. Dashing out of the office, he found his assistant banging the phone.

"You crazy bastard, take it esy, what are you up to now?

"Well Sir, it's been a bad day for the two of us. First, we had this visitor from outer space, and now, you wouldn't believe it. I just received a prank call from some crack-head saying he's seen a lion, Damn right, sir, a lion. Can you believe this? A godamn lion in a goddamn city. Those goddamn idiots.

"Where you say did the calls come from?"

"Bastard says he's calling from Barangay Payatas. A lion in Payatas, by God!

Lt. Tango grabbed his assistant who was already bracing for the customary slap but the lieutenant planted a kiss on the startled assistant's face instead.

If they had arrived a minute late, it would have been all over for the big cat. Angry Payatas residents armed with lead pipes, rusty bolos, home-made guns, slingshots, and even kitchen utensils were all poised to attack. The runaway lion was cornered inside a hole the size of a small cave dug on one side of the garbage mound.

As expected, the Payatas folks would not be denied a share of the bounty the moment they heard the story. They bargained with the police officer on a sectoral basis the way they do it in any democratic republic, as their leaders would say. The youth wanted a dance party with master-rapper Andrew E. providing live hip-hop music. The jobless bums demanded a new basketball court be put up. The women wanted immunity from arrest when they play cards and bingo games in the afternoons. The neighborhood drunks, who took credit for being the first to find out about the lion, requested a week's supply of gin bilog. The born-again Christians asked for a prayer hall, with the latest sound system.

In return, everyone agreed to take turns guarding the lion day and night to prevent its escape and in addition, they will all help in laying down the trap to catch the beast. Cash advances were made from the richest businessman in the neighborhood, the owner of the lone grocery store in Payatas, for food and refreshment to be paid for when the money arrives. For several days, the Payatas folks held vigil but the lion would not come out. Brutus wouldn't dare get close to his runaway pet, aware of the big cat's temper - hungry and all - in a situation like this.

They came to encounter many startling discoveries. One is that, at high noon, when the sun is up and the heat in the rotten mountain of trash becomes unbearable, the lion roars like crazy, and it could be heard from miles away. To camouflage the mighty jungle call, the solution is to hold a daily noise barrage at the same exact hour. On the first day of the vigil, they launched a noise barrage against the greedy oil companies because of their oppresive oil price hikes. The second day, the Payatas folks went up in arms against prostitution, sex-trafficking and the exploitation of women in media and in this, our male-dominated society. The third day was their turn to launch a noise barrage against graft and corruption in government. Slowly the entire barangay was transforming into a society of political activists. But after the fourth day, as soon as the noise barrage for world peace ended, and with the angry residents having already lost their voice and their patience, a trap is laid and they made up their mind to get the lion by hook or by crook.

"We'll get him out!" boasted Asyong Lasenggo, the tubercular thug and self-styled drunken master of Barangay Payatas who volunteered to be the live bait. He will walk into the lion's den and let the beast come after him. For his sacrifice, he asked to be paid the kingly sum of ten thousand pesos to be divided equally among his four common-law-wives if something happens to him, a condition explicitly written in his last will and testament hastily-prepared by Payatas' resident lawyer, yes, a lawyer in Payatas. He used to be the celebrity of the neighborhood before this lion came to take the title. Then, the resident doctor of Payatas, yes again, there is a doctor in Payatas, took Asyong's blood pressure and vital signs, just to make sure he will not drop dead or die of fright at the sight of the lion.

And then finally, in what was to be hailed the high point of Payatas folklore, Asyong bravely baited the beast to emerge from his cave, but the suspense was short-lived. To everyone's shock, the monster that had terrorized their imagination day and night had been reduced to a walking model of canine skeletal system, its body covered with cankerous boils and pus, in which colonies of flies are having a feast. Life in Payatas was just too much for even the king of beast. After walking a few feet, the poor animal lapsed into what seemed like an epileptic seizure and then died with its tongue hanging out.

Just like that, everyone stood speechless. Their rags to riches ambitions came crashing down, without even taking off from the rags stage. Lt. Tango and PO1 Marino were lucky to escape being lynched by an angry mob, but the lieutenant was struck by a serious asthma attack from the chase. Anna and Brutus eloped during the meelee, never to be seen again.

But the Payatas folks, forever adapting to the foul moods of fate, were swift to find a way to turn disaster into jubilation. Gin bottles were quickly passed around and the dead lion was skinned, boiled and tenderized into a mouth-watering pulutan. The entire barangay partied day and night for two straight days until food ran out and then they lived unhappily ever after.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Rain Dancing Days

Watching the rain is one of my life's simple joys. I don't know if this is an addiction or if science already had invented a term for it but I think I personally would make a good case study. This fascination with rain started from the very time I learned to become aware of my environment. I suspect it meant right from the time my mother had me in her womb. She used to say that I was born in the month of September of a fateful year that had far more than the usual share of tropical storms. Perhaps I was a rain dancer in my previous life.

My mother would recall that days before I was born, a powerful typhoon came and wrecked havoc to the coastal town where my parents and older siblings used to live during the '70's. The town was submerged in flood that reached waist-deep in our neighborhood, and up to the roof-tops in some areas. During the height of the storm, the balcony of our house including the stairs leading up to the second floor was detached and swept away by the current. My father had to dive into the raging floodwater with a long rope to tie to the floating balcony and prevent if from drifting away.

To his amazement, my father recalled that a runaway pig had swam side by side with him while he was doing the one-man (plus one-pig) salvage operation. He decided that between the pig and the drifting balcony, the animal is more worth saving since it could drown while the balcony may be retrieved later so my father went after the pig. The bigger surprise was when he found out how good a swimmer the pig was. When my father was beginning to weaken from fighting off the current, he discovered that by holding on to the pig's tail, he can easily keep himself afloat and when the pig finally pulled him to safety, my father really felt he was the one saved instead of the other way around. Then, with a heavy heart he left the animal on its own. The thought of catching the pig for the family's consumption never crossed his mind. It would be so ungrateful, my father felt, to even think of doing such horrible thing to someone who had saved your life. To this day, it is a favorite topic whenever a typhoon comes around, my father swimming side by side with that prodigal pig.

When I was a growing child in that coastal town, my fondest memories of rain include those stormy evenings when I would be tucked in bed with my parents, listening while trying to cover my head with a pillow as wind and rain lashed angrily at our ancestral wooden house. No, I was never afraid. That's one of the lessons that you learn when you are a child, and it's the best thing about having your parents beside you during every storm. I always felt that as long as my parents are with me, nothing bad will ever happen. It's a testament to the kind of caring and loving that my parents showered me with.

I guess having a father who is willing to dive into rampaging floodwaters just to save one part of the house from drifting away gives me that unshakable faith in the absolute dedication of my parents to do the right thing for his family, no matter the dire consequences. That's why, I will always treasure the memories of days past when we would just stay in the house taking comfort in each other's presence while the wrath of a vicious storm is unleashed full force outside.

On the other hand, we would be worried and restless when any member of the family is not yet home during a storm. One of the most enduring memories of my childhood was when in yet another storm battered night, we huddled around a candle light waiting for my father to come home from work, and when finaly he arrived, I was teary-eyed to watch my mother welcome my father with a tight embrace the moment he appeared at the door, and then they kissed. It was a mushy moment alright but I would gladly give up anything if only I could make that moment happen again, and I wouldn't get tired of watching it.

We are taught about love by the examples of our parents, and I can say that that incident was one of the most powerful demonstrations of affection which I had ever seen and which I keep in my heart up to now. In fact I would even say that my propensity to seek love, to value that love, and to give it back in generous amounts would trace it beginnings on such experiences as the one I witnessed at the door on that stormy night.

There is something about the rain that makes you see the true value of the things that you have, and the importance of the people that you have in your life. I guess it's because the rain symbolizes the universal and indomitable force of nature that could take away the things that we value the most in the blink of an eye.

So every time that we walk through the vortex of the latest storm to come into our lives, we are reminded of our vulnerability, we realize that we are far from immune to pain and grief. Yet the silver lining to every rain is when our ability to cope with this indomitable force unmistakably rises to the occasion. We become more steadfast in our faith, we become more earnest in expressing to our loved ones that we love them. We embrace with much more heartfelt emotion, and the more deeply we appreciate the sheer joy of being together, riding out the tempest, and taking strength from each other's company.

I also enjoy the morning after.

We would wake up to a joyous announcement that classes are suspended while outside, it appears as if the entire community has embarked on a fluvial parade, walking on the flood that by then had receded to up to the knees-deep. You would think that these people who endured a night of relentless pounding from the storm and whose houses remain flooded would be a miserable lot but it is wonderful surprise to find too many smiling faces. This is a remarkable characteristic that can be found not only in our poor little town but practically in every part of the country. Truly, the ability to smile in the face of misfortune is one of the most endearing traits of our people You would see crowds wading happily on the flood, and some in fact would actually take a dip, perhaps pretending to be swimming in a pool at some exclusive resorts.

The best part is catching freshwater fish on the flooded streets. When I was a child, the river separating our town from the nearest neighboring town was not yet polluted. Fish and other small animals like crustaceans and a few snakes thrive in that river, and when the river overflows, you will find fish everywhere, jumping out of the drainage, swimming under your feet, getting stuck in the mud, and just appearing where you least expected them, as if by some divine providence, the fish seemed to be offering themselves to be caught and end up on the dinner table. And with some of the fish reaching up to a kilo a piece, it becomes irresistible for many people to take to the water and experience the thrill of catching fish with their bare hands.

We have since left the town and I know the river of my youth is now a dead river, the victim of pollution due to the indiscriminate dumping of waste into the river by the town residents themselves. It is quite sad really but at least I still have memories of a joyous past to look back to and enjoy when I need to be reminded of how life had been good to all of us, then and now, and perhaps long after my rain dancing days are over.