It takes just one moment under the rain to merge the past with the present
Claire was caught in the downpour, an aberration of weather that seemed to suspiciously time its arrival to bring her the most inconvenience. She was dressed in her white nursing uniform and had left the dorm without an umbrella. The hours before saw a frantic search for relief from the scorching heat. She remembered running for cover into this waiting shed to escape the noontime heat just hours ago on her way to school. Now, she is trapped in the same corner where she stood earlier at the Espana and Morayta intersection only this time the place is cold and damp as the weather has taken a full shift to the extreme opposite.
All things considered, she figured she would rather be running from the sun. But the rain is a more complicated, a more formidable adversary to deal with, and to her personally, it held the deepest darkest secrets which the rain uses to its advantage unlike the sunny days that conjure predictable images of sunset in the beach, those nonsense juvenile movies, and the summer break that meant plenty of time to frolic and to simply relish being young. Rainy day on the other hand agitates and almost disdainfully replenishes the old grudges, and it can be downright ruthless in reminding us of where we sinned, the pains that we have inflicted, the pleasures we crave along with our indiscretions and the manner that we justified and almost celebrated while doing them. It can be the most cruel of judges of human actions, in that it is as instantaneous in denying any form of deliverance from misfortune, as it is unfailing in amplifying the enormity of our guilt.
Michael Jackson belted a familiar Christmas carol from a passing jeepney which seemed to animate the impatient throng, including Claire herself, who suddenly realized space is quickly running out as more people came rushing in moments into the rain to find temporary shelter here.
It’s already the 25th of September and the countdown to Christmas had started for a gullible nation, a nation that refused to get real and grow up, as her father used to say, teasingly to her mother, whenever the conversation strays into the topic mostly during the cold night as they waited for dinner when Claire is at home in the province to spend Christmas with the family, and which opinion she now understands and accepts to a certain degree. Indeed, Christmas is a universal incurable obsession to many of us, borne from years of deprivation, and a constant craving for the fulfillment of our aching needs. They don’t necessarily go away at Christmas time but at least we find reason to forget them, her mother would argue vehemently.
She finds irony in the knowledge that the king of pop is dead yet people continue to find solace and comfort and hope from the song that he sings, songs that preach about hope as a wonderful healer and love being the ultimate gift despite the fact that the life that he lived was a miserable narrative of big and small disasters from being burned at the scalp to domestic abuse, to the horrific results of cosmetic surgery gone haywire, to the persistent rumors about his sexuality which may have all conspired to bring the ultimate tragedy of dying young. She wondered if in Michael’s death bed, when flashbacks of unforgettable memories of your life were supposed to reel off like highlight films in reverse mode in the minds of the dying… she wondered if during the last glimmer of life images of gifts and Christmas trees emerged in passing somewhere deep in the subconscious of the late great singer just in time before the dimming of the light.
She wondered if Charice Pempengco would be just as famous.
Claire actually dreads the coming of Christmas, and it will come soon, sooner than soon enough which meant as soon as classes pause for the three-week holiday break. And it meant returning to her innocent life, to her hometown, to the ancestral house and its old familiar haunts, the places that carry an awful lot of memories, places where she would always return to reclaim her innocence and purity, the places that await her in Pinili up north, the tiny sleepy town where she grew up chasing butterflies mornings in the meadows, and putting out tobacco leaves to dry under the sun during the summer, the textures and colors and unforgettable scent of the plant becoming ingrained to the core of her consciousness, and those of the other countless dreamy youths the plant and their parents’ sweat have sent to the big city to chase their education to fulfill a promise they never really made but rather their progenitors actually left for them.
Yes, she will return to listen to lectures on frugality from her father, a trait deeply rooted in the people up north. And she expects to be lavished with praise for every peso she had managed to keep longer in her pocket by remembering the northern way of living within your means, a trait that she would take to heart by choosing to walk the half-kilometer stretch from the dorm to school and vice versa even when it rains instead of taking public transport, which incidentally is an excellent form of exercise, her father would approvingly say. And that is also the reason her father speaks grudgingly about Christmas especially the tradition of living the one day millionaire’s dream which he cannot, or he would rather not, comprehend.
Today, exactly three months to go before Christmas, things will never be the same again and the rain made sure that Claire would remember that. It was actually on another rainy day like this about a year ago that she met Rey when they were caught in the middle of a heavy downpour and he asked to share her umbrella. She still remembers the sound of his voice, the perfume he wears, the way that his black hair glimmered at the touch of the raindrops, and how it felt when their arms would rub gently accidentally. She remembered the many succeeding walks under the rain after that, and especially the long walk one stormy night that led to a dirty rented bedroom where she lost her innocence while the tempest sweetly dies to a drizzle outside.
The forbidden fruit of that tryst she now carries, and soon enough her parents will find out.