Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Struggles, Patience, Humanity and Sisterhood

(In which everyone has their own version of my narrative.)

“It’s six thirty. Wake up.”

I slowly woke up and my eyes wandered around an alien room. Oh yes. I have spent the night in my sister’s dormitory. I remembered how I struggled to get out of Recto to meet my younger sister. I rose from the bed and felt my body ache. I didn’t sleep well.

“Let’s eat our breakfast and go home. Mother must be very worried.”

“Yes. Perhaps they ran out of battery and there isn’t any electricity so they couldn’t reply to our messages. I wonder how they are.”

“Do you think we can get something to take us home?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t had a clearer view of what this typhoon has done. But I do hope we can get home. Anyway, did they give forecast regarding this?”

“Of course not. They will be releasing news today saying that there has been a strong typhoon yesterday.”

I chuckled. “Asa ka pa sa PAG-ASA.” Translation at this point is futile.

I finished my food and got ready.

“We’re leaving now. Thank you very much.” I bade the dormitory owner goodbye.

We rode a jeepney to Cubao and headed to the LRT station. We saw a lot of people on the streets.

“They must be the ones who didn’t make it home last night.”

When we get to the Santolan station, our eyes widened because of the disastrous picture before us – mud, uprooted trees and plants; vehicles of all sorts stuck on the street and barefooted people walking. My sister told me to start walking to Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall. I looked at her, bewildered. That was too distant for me. I suggested something else.

“It’s better than going to Ortigas through MRT. It’ll be impossible to pass Floodway,” she said with a tone that is both apologetic and overbearing. Then, with a serious face, she said, “Because you see, it’s Flood way. And we’re avoiding flood.” Our serious faces burst into a loud laugh.

We walked. And no matter how much we tried to be careful, we didn’t save our legs from being abstract artworks made of thick mud. I am carrying the heavier bag which contains my sandals and rubber shoes and jacket. She’s carrying my school bag.

We held on to each other especially in times of battling a more slippery and muddy road. I tried to keep my gasps low. She might have noticed and said “Don’t get sick now. I can’t carry you home.”

As we get farther and farther, our slippers become so heavy with mud that we have to wash our feet in ochre water. The only water we see is ochre anyway.

“It’s still mud.” I chortled. “We wash our feet to eliminate mud in mud-filled water. How miserable.”

The feeling of being pathetic augments my fatigue. But my sister has her uniquely cute way of lightening things up.

“Ate, do you enjoy this one-of-a-kind trip with me?”

I smirked and shook my head. Ah. I almost forgot that the longest time I’ve been spending with my sister nowadays is when we share the same bed when we sleep every Saturday at home. We ceased shopping and eating together. We don’t even laugh together more often. However, I don’t find this “make-up bonding time” quite enjoyable. Yet my sister has another punch line to deliver.

“Look. The mud is so thick and creamy it looks like chocolate. If it’s real chocolate, I’ll dive into it.”

“But it’s not chocolate.”

“Aw come on! Don’t be too serious! Just think it’s chocolate so you’ll be happy.” And she hummed a tune while smiling.

We reached the mall and saw a truck full of people passing a can of biscuits to one another and a couple of men taking their pictures. We turned right and saw an ochre river flowing among houses and trees and shops. We saw people clinging on to each other while holding their belongings tightly on top of their heads.

“Wait. I need my medicine.” She unzipped my schoolbag and got a fur pouch. From it I got my inhaler and gave myself some “air”.

“Ate, don’t get sick.” She slid the strap of my schoolbag off her right shoulder and handed it to me. “This is lighter. Give me that.” As we were switching bags, she told me, in a manner that sounded like an encouragement and an order at the same time “You can do it, ha?”

I saw danger. My sister saw a challenge. In her, I saw hope.

We started off our fateful journey on a knee-high flood. The surface felt hot but cold to the feet. As we approach Karangalan, my heart broke at the sight of houses and cars – the former half deluged and the latter completely submerged in water. After an hour, the water started to rise up to my shoulders. We saw traffic enforcer agents wearing life vests and ordering people.
“There is a strong current approaching! Hold on to the rope to your left!”

I looked at the river in front of us and saw people holding tightly to the rope to keep themselves from being carried by the strong water current. A man in his forties, who have been walking with us for an hour, told me to hold on to his shoulder. A pregnant woman, who has also been our companion, sought protection from my sister.

As we approach the deadly road, the current seemed to grow stronger and stronger. People were walking toward us from the other side, making my grips to the rope weaker. We needed to step up to somewhere safer. I held on to the man’s shoulder. He told me to hold on to the rope as I climb. But my left hand is holding the bag on my head and my right hand is gripping his shoulders. I tried to get nearer to the rope but the flow is too strong to battle. When I got a better distance from the rope, I reached it with my right hand. As I did so, someone stepped down from the gutter to catch the rope and the water suddenly flowed towards me. I lost balance and felt the cold, dirty water wash my face. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and feet as the flood started to overwhelm me. I heard people yelling. “Get her! Get her!” the next thing I know was I was embracing my bag with my left hand while my right is gripping the rope.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

I just smiled. And we continued walking. For hours, we walked against high and low water level, held on, talked and laughed with strangers. Some people noticed that my sister has been carrying the heavy bag with the same patience and strength that she had at the start of our journey and comfortably told me to help her.

But she refused. She always refused. At times, she will even insist of carrying my bag for me when she noticed that I am having a hard time, which makes me feel less than an older sister. And she has always been a troublesome imp to me. But now, I seemed to be more of a burden to her.

We reached Junction Cainta and had to walk until Brookside to finally see land. The dry ground under my feet felt queer. Now I understand how sailors feel. When we are finally aboard a jeepney to Binangonan, I felt relieved. However, it feels strange that the area of Taytay is relatively dry compared to Cainta and we have to apologize to people who sit beside us again and again because we were soaking.

When we got to our house, everything was messed up. But it’s definitely better than the ones we saw hours ago. Our parents went downstairs at the sound of our voices.

“We’re home.”

"Heaven is twice heaven only to those who have tasted hell.”
- Angela Manalang-Gloria