Friday, October 10, 2008

The Love Triangle

The uphill trek seemed to take an eternity but from where he stood he knew it's still a long way from the summit. Hunger, weariness and the lack of sleep made every single step he takes excruciatingly heavy, and only that deep longing for what lies at the end of this journey drove him to move forward. He tried to amuse himself with reminiscences of the childhood that he spent in their ancestral home at the foot of the Bulusan volcano where he would walk this uphill trail with Anna, who even as a boy he had always fantasized to become the love of his life someday, a belief he shared with his family and the entire town of Irosin for that matter.

In this town which seems to have been a willing hostage to the past, it is quite ironic that the future is still possible to foresee in life and relationships primarily because tradition still wields the power to impose in a way that most mortals can hardly refuse, which, however was the reason he decided to launch a personal rebellion by leaving the town to find his fortune in another country. He wanted to fly, to soar higher and farther than anyone from his town ever had, to swim against the raging tide, and to simply do what he had been made to believe he can't, and the first step to achieve that dream is to follow the voice from within and set the spirit free.

Yet, the luster of his achievements that began from the time he took flight, had already started to wane for Carlitos. Sure, he had turned his life full circle into a fairy tale of rags to riches by becoming a doctor in America, his ticket to a life lavished with all the luxuries of power and wealth. He had defied the odds in an almost miraculous way, to emerge no less than a folk hero to the eyes of his town-mates with the sheer magnitude of his conquest. But there are times he would still struggle with self-doubt. In moments of painfully honest soul-searching he would feel empty and while he alone knows about it, those were the worst of times, when the blind faith of those who chose to stay, those who willed themselves to suffer and endure seemed to eclipse the triumph of the brave ones like himself whose life flourished by moving on.

"This is where I belong, I love it here and I will never leave this place no matter what". Those were the exact words that summed up the parting message of Anna when he told him of his plans during their college graduation. He used to call her the lava lover, and he truly suspects she has an obsession, perhaps even a love affair with the volcano. When she was a little girl, she was convinced that Bulusan is God, and everything there is - from people to forest to dragon fly and lifeless rock - everything owe their existence to the compassion of the volcano.

And so in her mind they should willingly surrender to the judgment of fate when the time comes the spring of compassion finally runs dry and Bulusan breaks into a mighty outburst of deep-seated fury. It was an obsession that he desperately hoped Anna would outgrow eventually but she never did. Instead as Carlitos proceeded to the path of material enrichment, she on the other hand left everything behind and headed for the opposite direction propelled by a consuming passion to dedicate her whole life to science. She would immerse herself deep into the lonely task of discovering the secrets of the volcano, and after college, Anna would retreat to Irosin instead of marching forward to a brighter day, accepting full-time duties at the observatory which stood dangerously close to the fire-spewing crater of her beloved Bulusan.

The worst fight that they ever had was when he casually mentioned that Mayon, thirty miles away, was the one landmark and certainly not Bulusan that came to famously symbolize the Philippines in the world map and that Mayon already laid claim to far more pages in history books for having the perfect cone to which the world had become eternally infatuated, an image that had inspired generations of artists to create masterpieces and spurred tourist arrivals into the islands. Just like that Anna flew into a rage, the kind of which he had never seen in even the worst of volcanic eruptions. She was ready to lay down her life in defense of Bulusan, and Mayon from that day on was never ever mentioned in any of their conversations again.

Earlier today, and indeed as he drove past Mayon at the break of dawn, the memory of the fight made Carlitos wince at the magnificence of the volcano's perfect symmetry looming larger than life against the eerie stillness of the ruins of Cagsawa, where what remains of the church's bell-tower protruding from its stony grave eloquently spoke of the once deadly rage that rose from deep beneath the stillness of it all, creating in the aftermath, this thing of beauty which is a statement more powerful than the actual eruption itself, loudly and effectively contradicting Anna's spirited, if futile, stand.

It was totally different from the feeling that he had three hours later at the sight of Bulusan looming over the rustic landscape of his hometown of Irosin, which had noticeably experienced little changes since the day he left. He saw it as a monster eager to devour him and immediately he realized that among the things that remained untouched by change were the grudges that he still holds deep down in his heart. It hurt him to realize that the feeling of contempt consuming him because of all the misfortunes and for all the things that he had lost in this place still seethed within him after all these years, refusing to wilt with the passing of time.

It hurt even more that on this day he had broken a promise to never ever return but Carlitos quickly consoled himself with the thought of Anna, that if only he could take her away, it would be payback time and hands down the ultimate revenge.

A horn-bill flew overhead and settled on a branch, grooming itself momentarily and almost immediately the bird proceeded to feast on the fruits of the pili tree. Carlitos heard the wild bantam crow from a distance, seducing the female with the same ancient sound of procreation, that may have reverberated in this volcanic jungle since the beginning of time. Some things never change.

And then he heard the footsteps. The gun-wielding men emerged from nowhere and Carlitos found himself surrounded. They grabbed him. Twisted his arm. They frisked and blind-folded him. They took his watch and yanked at his wallet when it got stuck in his backpocket. A punch on the gut drove him to his knees and while on that position pleading for his life, they told him to say a prayer for the last time. In that fleeting moment of a chilling riveting silence, Carlitos remembered his father, how he laid dying in his arms following a crushing fall while they were on a happy trek to the summit of Bulusan to celebrate his 13th birthday. This place indeed may have been the curse of his life, with the manner it took his father away, and how it stole the heart of the only woman in the world he had truly ever loved, and now, it's about to take the ultimate price, his own life.

Anna began her descent from the summit, her backpack stuffed with instruments and soil samples which she would store at the observatory for the ongoing research on the presence of mineral deposit in Bulusan, and the potential usefulness of volcanic heat to the generation of alternative fuel energy. Her complexion already a deep bronze from the everyday burning by the sun, she proudly wears the hallmark of the life she had chosen, a lonely and difficult life that many including her own family and even her closest friends have given up trying to comprehend, but which they have come to accept as the life reserved only for Anna and her kind.

She reached for the letter from her files as soon as she returned to the observatory. She must have already read it a thousand times but the words that he wrote filled her heart with joy, and it was beautiful to realize how Carlitos could vividly remember the past in spite of the time and distance that stood between them. He had asked in ending what would it take to make her listen to her heart and for once leave her desolate life to give herself the chance to discover what true love is before it's too late. And after giving it a serious thought now she knew exactly what the answer is going to be. She began to write him a letter to let him know. She didn't hold back and the words flowed like the spring in a calm summer day, the emotions of the moment so real she could almost feel his presence.

The crack of a solitary gunshot echoed through the woods and startled Ana at the observatory, which made her pause from her writing, her heart struck with sadness at the sudden thought of yet another bird or buck felled by what she imagined was the ruthless hunter's gun but in no time, Bulusan had reclaimed its serenity.


Chris said...

Hey nice story. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

timethief said...

I am a faithful reader although I rarely posts a comment and I have linked to your blog from my links page. Everyone of your stories touches me very deeply and causes me to think. I read and then I ponder what I have read. Sometimes your stories make me weep and leave me with nothing to say in a comment. I salute you as a masterful storyteller and writer.

"Hanging on a Hyphen" said...

Thank you so much. The kind of comments that you make make me shrink and I know I will never get used to it. There is no way I can ever completely express to you my gratefulness for the good word and the time you spend to visit. May god bless you all...

Tonya R. Moore said...

Oh my, your writing is so rich and descriptive. There's this... undercurrent, that makes ordinary moments feel like they're seething with countless mysteries...