Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There was an Earthquake Here!

There was an earthquake here past noon. It registered a 6 on the Richter scale, reports say. It registered a 9 based on the Trauma scale, if there is any, among the people causing a little like hubbub over this mountain city. Sirens deafened all ears as paramedics rounded the business district moments after. At a nearby university, hordes of students came rushing in exits leading to a busy road causing severe traffic downtown. The mayor ordered classes and public offices suspended this afternoon in anticipation of aftershocks. In our office, the manager who was casually chatting with us about development issues was shocked by the sudden and prolonged tremor (about a minute, I think). The rest of the people at the building were seen heading for the front door at the instance of the manager; defying panic with the slow and calm pace. We stood by the front door with all the cloud of doubt around our heads if it’s the safest place to be with all the rootless and decomposing tall pine tress and electric posts before us. Nonetheless, the epic ends there as the tri-colored building cat prowled over downstairs toward our direction in that quotidian comportment. What would you expect from such aristocat lounging over after feasting from the leftover menu of a fine-dining resto right next to our building? A blessed cat indeed.

So life for this day went on but, of course, not without shoo-in roundabouts that slowly surfaced memories of a tragedy more than a decade ago. One shared something like her friend who happened to be pregnant at that time feared that her baby would be like a rotten egg. Another shared about trapped survivors eating their excrements for food and urine for water. Those were the last survivors of a ruined hotel who managed to hang on with their lives for weeks until rescuers found them deep in the rubble. Still, another shared how antipathy works among Filipinos even in times of catastrophes as when foreign relief like quality sleeping mats and tents are malversed and transformed into local banigs and mosquito nets instead. More than a thousand were killed in this city alone on that fateful day, July 16, 1990. That tragedy is being commemorated ever since. There’s this policy (or is it a moratorium only?) for instance prohibiting the construction of tall buildings more than two stories high which, however, never came into play as evidenced by high-rise structures sprawled all over the business district. In my school, for example, a 10-storey building was recently completed without any opposition. As it comes, the monuments of development (or mere urbanization) are like mushrooms ubiquitously springing up even in most peculiar scenarios like a mall in a forested hill or a flyover in an open and traffic-less junction road; very surreal phenomena indeed.

On a more personal level, I remember Murakami’s stories in After the Quake; on how the earthquake in Kobe became a subtlety to the different wrought directions mustered by the lives of different lonely and pervert individuals; on how such a devastating quake proved to be less than devastating compared to a person losing his sanity with a mammoth worm and a super frog in mind and another Komura who’s too engrossed with live TV footages on the shattered Kobe unnoticing the abandonment meted on him by her not-so-beautiful wife. I remember myself as a grade-school student being prodded by the teacher outside because of lack of fear and too much interest in solving a math problem on my notes. As we were crouched on the wide open space right next to our classroom where the flag ceremony is being held, I noticed that most of the pupils were looking up in the skies as if waiting for some kind of manna. In our small village, talks about a relative wailing for her daughter who was then billeted at the Hyatt Hotel together with a Japanese became an overbearing news much like a television series where every scene is sumptuously awaited and devoured. The teleserye ended abruptly days after because of a news which mentioned a Japanese sounding name as one of the survivors together with the relative’s daughter. They were apparently enjoying at the Burnham lake when the earthquake hit. In sum, the quake left me nauseated all through out the week with all the shaky experience not to mention the hullabaloos-the most glaring of which was the scene of confessed sinners similarly wailing because of their presumed perdition.

Earthquakes are occurring regularly, so too are ineffable discomforts rooted on tragic memories, and like a seismologist so opined, most of them no longer pass our thresholds of feeling.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Safest place to be

Two fowls at two opposite and distant directions desperately cluck to announce the coming of dawn. The sound magnifies a mournful of spiel, so traumatic and daunting to bear. They consistently return each other’s clucking as if indulging in an operatic discourse that’s plagued with itinerant swings of joy and sadness. In my mind, they seemed like harbingers of death perpetually lulling the cockles of the heart to sleep and die with truth. The feeling’s like this when you refuse to believe that someone you loved is at the other end of the line, trying to breathe her last and rummaging whatever is left, few minutes after the pumping of life; memories of important events in her life which includes a bittersweet understanding of a lifetime of sacrifice. A sacrifice devoted to a generation ahead but so close to her heart.

I waited for few minutes at the station for the bus to come. Booked for the first trip and ended miscalculating the time, earlier by half an hour. Everyone has their jackets and sweaters except me. This is the early days of January and the cold front still sets low reaching this part of the country. I don’t feel the cold. My body is numb all over. Smoke comes out of my mouth occasionally because of heavy and deep breathing. It is still dark. Few people roam the streets. A number of passengers boarded the bus as soon as it arrived. Never passed a glance at their faces like I used to. For quarter of an hour until I boarded myself my eyes are focused at only one direction, to the skies. The bus left the station at about 4:45.

At 4:45, a distraught man was seated at a lonesome bench. His aura effused a certain feeling, so desolate and unknown. The bus maneuvers towards his direction until it finally sweeps the dust in front of him. He was still all the while; his presence pregnant with undefined emotions.

Grief, they say, is abstract until it crosses your path. Unlike any other emotion, grief is seldom felt in our everyday life until someone close to our heart leaves this physical world. When I was on travel to attend the wake of my grandmother, I witnessed the coming of dawn like never before. As the bus runs along lines of trees, paddies and finally the shores along the gulf, the bulwark of the spill of light gradually swallowed up the dark and venomous abyss on the horizon. The beauty of the coming of the new day has never been this overwhelming yet, for a moment, my heart was unable to respond.

For almost a year after her death, I paid a visit to her grave and brought few dozens of white roses. Shed a tear for the wonderful memories and told her that I will never be the same again; like a stolid marble sculpture of a human figure with broken arms. “I suddenly remember you telling me that you will spook me even in broad daylight if I still don’t get married after you pass away. Go on Nay, won’t bother.”