Nine tall bamboo poles make up the raft that is hitched in one of the mangroves in the bank. It is there stagnant during weekdays. Its life mostly limited upon leveling itself to the tides of the river. It is a forsaken bamboo raft, abandoned by its owner and left to the whims and caprices of whoever will come by and use it. Its existence shrouded by a grasp of communality among the members of our village, fortunately. So that for long years, the raft became a childhood refuge of many who wished to paddle it along the river after a furious whipping by the masters of a house or after a delirious infatuation with a childhood crush.
Mike will later on be the first one to learn how to swim. He frequents the river more than I do. He was my younger brother and more often than not, during those days, he’s the one between the two of us who could discreetly pass by the back of our house [at the prompt of the head of the gang who will signal the boys through a distinct whistle] without being caught by our stern mother; both hands clutching two white plastic water containers for his added floatage in the water. He will run fast as he could towards the road without anyone knowing it till he produces that violent shriek when he’s already on the road to boast of an ephemeral but joyful freedom. There was never an attempt to drag him back home, not even with the presence of nanay, who will just put up a squalid face while muttering to herself: “That wily child.” It’s my brother’s price for pursuing happiness in spite of fear, in spite of consequential punishment. His being quite a liberal will help him later to sire a beautiful child sooner than his older brother. And all I could say afterwards is that: “You seem to be more-good-looking than me.”
I drowned three times in that river; saved only by Badong in that three, sporadic, and failed attempts in trying to swim without the help of two, white water containers. He may never remember it anymore that for a time I consider him as a savior, a life-saver in that morose river. He may never remember it anymore that for a time I have been religiously reminding him that his birthday will come soon and, when privileged to have saved coins and paper bills in that cylinder coin bank, a modest gift on his special day [hehehe]. . . for the gratitude and brotherhood of not divulging such fact for me to continue my swimming endeavor. [or that, unconsciously, you had just let it pass?]
The last incident of drowning happened in a rainy Saturday afternoon. I was crouched on the middle of the raft looking on the splashes of water coming out in between the poles as they jump from it into the river when the raft suddenly overturned together with me. I struggled to stay afloat but I was blocked by the raft above me till my cousin pulled my hair up all the way until my head was above the surface of the water, effortlessly like a tiller does in uprooting onion bulbs. I drank water more than I should need on that day. My belly’s protruding with liters of salt water in it. In spite of it all, I was still able to joke on him: “Your arm seemed to have stretched too long. How did you do that?” The ordeal was quite fruitful for the day after I saw my self doing the dog-swim till I reached the other end of the narrow river.
I am now twenty five. Lived on this world for a quarter of a century already. The atmosphere these days is very, very different decade ago. Not just because of the hard times and physical changes I have gone through but rather because of the knowing feeling that a clock is ticking somewhere even if you persistently and consciously don’t wear a watch on your wrist or don’t hang a clock in your room; and days passing by even if you try to detest the existence of a calendar, its leaves torn down discreetly at the glimpse of an eye. This seemed to be a period for me where I try to measure up relentlessly the things I have done and the choices I have made in those years that contributed to my emotional and spiritual growth. The search now could be likened to a lost pin amidst a fine shrubby ground. The search is even worse if you’re living in a secluded island like me.
One night, in one of my evening classes, Atty. Abiog, a professor in Forensic Medicine lectured on the importance of death to legal matters. Prior to her lecture, however, she gave a lengthy introduction on death in a positive manner to displace the seeming morbidity attached with the subject. An antidote to the succeeding discussions on antemortem lividity, putrefaction, the oozing of lipids, the occurrence of maggots, etcetera, etcetera. Death, according to attorney’s philosophy, is an inevitable circumstance which should be dealt with as it is, as it comes. Death, to her, because of its inevitability, should be taken in the context of day-to-day living. Her talk sounded like an overgrown philosophy much of a passé minus the relenting attitude of neglect because of the I’ve-been-hearing-this-again-and-again kind of distaste. Her voice streamed through like a fresh whisper in a jaded ear that gave a positive reaction felt as far as my strained toes.
My last visit at home was a certain kind of awakening. I had this sentimental walk to our favorite hangout. The river is just a few meters away from our house. You will just pass by three houses, the two-storey house of my aunt, the family home of my cousin Badong, his name appearing on a black, rectangular board that hanged high in the front wall, underneath his name spelled his achievement : certified public accountant, and the house of Apong Konsing, the sister of my beloved lola. Beyond those three structures you will turn left and pass by a small concrete bridge leading to an inner sitio. Few feet away from that bridge is a pasture land and near it is the river bank where we leave all our clothes before we soak ourselves in the water. To my surprise, there’s still a bamboo raft drifting along the bank and I supposed the worn out and dilapidated raft lying there on one side is the one we used to play with? It looked very dry, without life and seemed inutile at its state. I tried to push it to the river and let it drift for one last time.