Saturday, January 3, 2009

Road to Salvacion

It was dawn, and the sheets felt warm and cozy on my skin, but I knew I had to get up. The bus bound for Salvacion leaves very early at the terminal, so I must be there by six. I had already packed my things the night before, and so I just took a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee before I left. I stuffed a Tupperware full of puto for the trip, and filled my water bottle.

I sat on a wooden seat next to the window, as the bus started its four hour journey to Samar. The events of the last few years flashed in my mind. I was a wreck.

Yesterday, I learned I was pregnant with Ronnie’s baby. I was so excited to tell him, thinking he’d leave his wife like he promised. That day only ended with a heated argument and Ronnie hitting me on the face before he stormed out of the small apartment. He had wanted an abortion.

As I gazed at the bruise on my cheek in the mirror, my face stained with black tears from the mascara, I tried to pick up the pieces of my life. The relationship was over, and so was his financial support. I would have to move out before the month is over.

The floor of the bus creaked loudly, and the passengers filled in at every stop. I looked out the window to the winding path ahead. The road climbed steeply and into the heart of Samar’s mountains. The winds still had a cold tinge.

I first met him during a seminar at the university, and he was among the group of speakers. Charming and boyish, he went out of his way to be kind to me. I saw the ring on his finger, but I paid no heed. I was smitten.

He was the kind of man a girl would be proud to bring home to her family, that is, if she still had a family who would accept her. I smiled sarcastically. It’s been two years since I last saw my parents. They wanted me to stop schooling for a while because of financial crisis. I was sick of it, so I left. Ronnie was my hero, he got me an apartment and paid the bills. I became his mistress.

“Some hero.” I muttered under my breath. I felt nauseous again. I felt vomit starting to rise.

“Ummph.” I covered my mouth with my hand and stuck my head out the window, as the contents of my stomach emptied through my mouth. There was vomit on my hands, my dress, and the side of the window.

The bus had stopped, and the passengers looked at me curiously. The old lady beside me took pity and handed me a cloth to wipe myself. I washed my face and hands with the water from my bottle.

I was nervous as it is to go home like this. And now I reeked of vomit. The bus started again. The wilderness was giving way to rice fields, and I saw the vast flat lands ahead. We were two towns away from Salvacion.

My stomach knotted. I was tired. The bus slowed down as it reached Balangiga, and stopped in front of the cathedral made of stone.

Below, I saw passengers scramble and make their way to the bus. A young woman with an infant in her arms was carrying a large carton too heavy for her to lift. As the conductor went to help her, our eyes met for a brief moment. She smiled.

In the last hour of my trip, I finally saw the familiar fields and unpaved roads of my hometown. I got off on the dusty road, holding the bag close to my chest. In the distance, I saw my parent’s house. I walked the final steps toward the green rice fields.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Requiem for my Mom

It must have been a dream because you died yesterday.

You faced the ocean and the pink sky, fiddling with your camera. The pink t-shirt and pants were the ones you wore on our last trip to Marabut. You glanced at me and waved.


The cold of the dawn bit my face, and the hair on my arms stood. It was my idea to wake up at 5am to take pictures of the sea at sunrise. As I walked towards you, I felt the sands shift beneath my feet.

My feet hurt from walking around the hospital in uncomfortable white shoes. My clinical uniform was dirty, and 30 minutes before time off I wanted to scream. I had been in school since 8:00am, and now it was very late in the evening.

A thousand miles away, Mama was at the ICU with IV and heparin drip. When we spoke over the phone last night, she sounded weak as ever. She coughed a lot, and everytime she did, I closed my eyes and prayed.

“Please God, please.”

I tried to sound cheerful. I got 90% on my Cord Care PRS. Not bad Ma, right?

You said you were going to get better. You said they were going to move you to a regular room later that day.

Oh Ma, it hurts to see you like this.

Ted was also up, his hair unruly. My brother was shirtless despite the cold. He walked barefoot on the sand.

The surge of the tide washed gently on the shore. You were looking at the horizon, your face glowing from first rays of the sun.

“You never left, haven’t you?”

You turn to look at me and smile.

“Of course not.”

“I miss you.” I said, my voice breaking.

“I’m always here.”

The world seemed so silent, with only the sound of the waves in the background. My Mom was smiling at me. The kind of delight that lights up her eyes, much like a child whose arms are outstretched and face eager as she is about to be picked up by her parent.

The phone call. I knew what it was after the first ring. My heart pounded as I rushed to the living room.


Silence, then I heard someone breathing.



It was my brother, and he was crying so hard I could barely understand his words.

I sat on the couch. My brother said something but I didn’t hear anything. Tears welled up. So this was it- I never even got a chance to say how much I loved her.

Hours later, I would still be unable to move from the couch.

Then I was filled with grief, for I will never see you again in the waking world.

You wiped my tears with your hand.

“I am never gone because I’m always in the hearts of whom I love.”

You smoothed my hair, like you always did when I was very young. You always wanted us to be neat and clean, and people always remarked how well behaved we were.

“I had wanted to call you again after my duty, but I was so tired. I thought you’d be better. I have so much I need to say-”

For a moment I felt your hand, warm against my face. And you started to walk away. You turned and gave me a smile.

I looked for a trace of sadness in your eyes, but there was none.


There was once a tribe of ancient warriors in the forests in the town now known as Burauen. They were fierce people, and their men hunted wild animals in the mountains. Strangely enough, there were only few women in their tribe, and were mostly aged.

One day, a lone warrior named Guapo wandered into a fern-covered patch of the forest, where a clear spring was flowing from the rocks at the side of the mountain. He set his bow and arrow on the soft grass, and drunk water from the spring.

“Who are you?” A soft voice said.

Guapo turned to where the voice was, and saw a beautiful nymph dressed in a moss-colored robe. He was stunned because she was the first young female he saw, not unlike the elder women in his tribe.

“My name is Guapo, from the tribe of Hagnao”. He said, standing up.

Jiga, the nymph fell in love with the broad-shouldered youth who had just entered her domain. She never wanted him to leave.

“I am hunting wild boar to bring back to my tribe.” He said.

“I know of a place where there are a lot of animals to hunt.” Jiga said. She had a plan. She picked up a basket of essences and in one of the bottles she collected the potion that could put any person to sleep.

“First you must eat some fruits from my forest and drink to keep up your strength.” She picked delicious red fruit from the trees and gave them to Guapo.

Guapo sat on one of the rocks, marveling at Jiga’s beauty as she picked up a shiny goblet and dipped it in the spring. The nymph secretly put a few drops of potion on the goblet before she handed it to the young man.

“Which tribe do you belong to?” Guapo asked.

“I am alone here,” she answered, “This is my forest.”

The young warrior started to become drowsy, and he fell asleep on the soft arms of the nymph. Jiga smiled as she took him into the depths of the forest, never to return again.

Back in the village, there was a gathering. The elders thought Guapo had been captured by an enemy tribe, and therefore they must fight to get him back.

With their torches, swords and spears, the Hagnaos marched toward the forests of the mountain. When they came upon the clearing where a spring nearby flowed from a rock, they met a strange old woman.

“Go back to your village!” She said.

“The lady of the forest has taken the young man as her husband, and he will never return.”

Wasting no time, the elders struck with their spears. But their weapons only struck her garments. The old woman had disappeared.

Suddenly, radiance filled the forest. It was Jiga, the nymph, who appeared before them and she was angry. She struck the warriors with madness, and turned all the women blind.

The men slaughtered their own women, and went on searching madly for their lost comrade. To this day, they say, one can still hear the voices of the warriors as they roam the forests of what is presently known as Mahagnao.

Gunboat Adventures

Coron, Palawan
11th of October

The metallic hiss of my breathing was coming in gasps. The corals were gone now, and I was slowly being swallowed by the murky darkness around the ominous sunken gunboat.

I couldn’t speak- or scream for that matter to get anyone’s attention. There were only three of us diving, and both men were ahead of me. My bounding pulse sounded like drumbeats signaling impending doom as I struggled to catch up. I saw the bright yellow fins of the Divemaster a few meters ahead of me, and looking up I saw but slivers of light coming from the surface- but growing faint as we went deeper.

The muscles of my legs were beginning to ache. I tried wildly to signal to my Divemaster that I was having trouble, but he was almost beyond my reach and I couldn’t just inflate my vest to float to the surface suddenly- my ears had to adjust constantly to the pressure underwater and if I surface very quickly it might be harmful for me.

“Fuck! I’m going to die here…”

5 Feet

“Boss, I-try nyo mag scuba diving.” The man from the resort said.

“He doesn’t swim,” I told the guy of my beau. “I can, but I’ve never dived before, and doesn’t one need certain hours of training in a pool before they allow you in the open sea?”

“Ang Discover Diving, sa mababaw muna mag-start tapos dun kayo tuturuan ng basics. I-try nyo po, Php3,200 lang para sa dalawang dives. May kasama ng lunch yun.”

And that’s how it started. Early the next day, we found ourselves in a small outrigger boat speeding into the sea for an hour to reach the dive site: a Japanese Gunboat which sunk more than 60 years ago during the Japanese-American war.

The boat anchored near the shore. The Divemaster fitted the equipment and threw them overboard. I watched the tanks strapped to the backpacks floating despite its heaviness. “Take pictures of me.” I said to my beau as I got into the water. I was wearing a wet suit and I thought I was so cool.

The Divemaster taught us the basics in the shallow water: how to breathe using the regulator, retrieving your regulator, what to do when your mask gets foggy, and the most important thing: hand signals. You certainly can’t speak underwater, so you rely on hand signals to tell the Dive Master certain things- if your oxygen is low, if you’re okay, or if you’re in trouble.

We were ready.

15 Feet below Sea Level

We descended slowly. The British guy was ahead, followed by the Divemaster, and I lagged behind. The corals were stunning- an explosion of colors and exotic creatures (which you never really appreciate that much when you just snorkel).

The Divemaster turned to me questioningly, and I gave him the signal for “Okay”.

We went deeper.

A couple of Lionfish swam past, towards the corals. I floated about cautiously, admiring their splendid spikes that made them look unearthly. The muscles of my legs started to cramp a little bit- but if I stopped doing flutter kicks I’d sink to the depths.

I felt the pressure on my ears- I equalized just as the Divemaster had taught me. Three people in a giant soup- that was what we must have looked like. Suddenly, the seafloor disappeared from view- what appeared to me was just darkness below. I felt a slight flip of my stomach.

30 Feet below Sea Level

My mouth and throat felt dry from the oxygen, but I dared not to swallow and let some saliva moisten it- I could accidentally let go of the oxygen regulator- and at 30 feet underwater- that can’t be a good thing.

I followed the gaze of the Divemaster and the British guy- just ahead, illuminated in a ghostly glow was an enormous gunboat. It looked as dead as it was dreary, seemingly foreboding as it threatened to swallow us.

There were less corals now, and only but a few fish swimming past. It was as if living things avoided the desolate spot.

The Divemaster turned to us and signaled “follow me”.

The was no sound except for the constant hiss of my regulator and the gurgling sound of bubbles as they rose to the surface. We swam deeper towards the boat.

50 Feet below Sea Level

It began as a whisper of fear. A slight knotting of my stomach, which suddenly spread to the rest of my body. To my horror, I recognized it as a sign of a panic attack.

I began reciting prayers in my head to try and calm myself down, while trying desperately to swim towards the Divemaster so I can signal that I needed to surface.

“Oh God, oh God.”

My legs felt like lead, and one of my fins were loose. I finally was able to grasp the Divemaster’s ankle. In the dim light, he turns to me questioningly.

Shit! I racked my brains- what was the signal for distress? I couldn’t think anymore, all I wanted to do was get out of that place. I was hyperventilating now, and I could see the oxygen bubbles swirling about.

He signaled CALM DOWN.

I continued to struggle through his grasp, wildly signaling and pointing up. Take me to the surface!

“Oh God, he doesn’t understand. Take me up!” I screamed in my mind.

I remembered what he said during the lesson: do not inflate your vest so as not to rise to the surface rapidly. Fuck it.

I began to kick. Kick and swim towards the surface. Finally, he understood. He signaled to the British diver, grabbed my vest, and slowly pulled me upwards.

At the Surface

I had never been so happy to see the sun, and the wind whipping my face. I let the warmth flood through my body. I bobbed up and down on the surface of the water, and the Divemaster and the British diver went back underwater.

I swam to where our boat was.

At lunch time, while we had our portions of food, the British guy’s wife told me, “You know, one of the best ways to overcome your fears is to get right back on.”

“Oo, nga Sir. Meron pa kayong isang dive. Turned out I only consumed barely half of my previous oxygen tank, and had another for the second dive, which was already paid for.

They all turned to look at me for my reply. It was, by far, one of the craziest things I’d ever done- I smiled and said, “Sure, where’s the next wreck site?”