Mar 18, 2003

The Fall at Bataan

Back then, I wanted to tell you what the sea of Bataan was to me. I wanted to tell you how it felt much like a mere rest stop on a round trip to Pateros. Yes, I'd explain the ill-planned trip that had me commit more time in the bus - feeling beneath my solo seat the laboriousness of its progress - than in the destinations.

I'd tell you about the trip up the mountain, how the bus climbed it like some hesitant, leaden beast. We stopped because a tire was giving way but we just put in some air and trusted the thickness of its rubber hide to haul our heavy asses up that angle. When we finally arrived, I mused a bit and checked out the cannons and old howitzer predecessors. I'd tell you how I wasted a good hanky just wiping off all the grease I got when I couldn't keep my hands to myself.

Higher up was the white monument. It was decent and tall and it had carvings adorning its sides, representing the divisions of the army we had then. There was an inscription which I don't remember reading. So I would just give you something else in its stead:

No monument as this would rise without fallen heroes.

After parting with this worthless proxy piece, I'd proceed. We went on to travel another hour and a half just to see water. I sat out front, behind the driver's seat. I found it barely comfortable even if I had the two-seater all to myself. Hecklers out back would not care for the B movie fed them. They're restive and, hearing no more jokes to throw tomatoes at, they figured that the whole trip was a big joke and the driver as some silent, failed mime. So they trained their verbal barbs at him. I'd note for you that no amount of whipping would make the beast go any faster. I tell you, if this were my class, I'd tell them to shut up, not so much because their tirade violated some innate sense of value and respect. Probably just because, up to a certain point, the futility of their witty exercise ceased to amuse me.

The people there were few and far in between, negligible to our traveling senses. I'd tell you what these wiseasses said, "seems people are not in fashion here." Imagine that, people as clothes or accessories of a locale. If so, the lands were naked. And with the fever of male metaphor-making, I'd say we here were an intrusion.

Maybe I won't phrase it that way for you. I'd just say we were intruders without adding the length of the bus or how, at several points of uncertainty, we went back and forth.

We finally unburdened our beast a few moments after we spotted sparkling water. Of course I'd add that at the mere sight of it, the boys grew wild and loud, throats grew coarse shouting "water!" - the reverse case of mariners greeting sight of land. A handful of them rushed at it throwing clothes on the way and disturbed its peace with splashing limbs. Later, chest-deep in water, a couple of them raised their underwear like banners - or maybe I'd say pennants - of a conquering host. They waved them too, with the same triumphal air as I imagine field marshalls of old would have.

I'd go on and tell you how I greeted the sea in my own fashion, filling my eyes with its blue and white sparkle, my ears with its rhythm, and my hair, face, and body with the warm breeze that attends it. My feet worked upon its shoreline. I allowed the water to go as high up as half my calves, trying to measure the gentle undulation of its waves with my legs. The sand mingled freely with my toes and leg hairs, were washed off with every wave, and replaced with every step.

I'd go on! I would! I'd tell you that there, far out there into the blue I forgot wars and theories, I forgot needs and inventions, I forgot duties and routines, marches and deaths! I felt so light, stripped of causes and definitions. Poised armies and lost loves all meant nothing at the time. I felt colorless, reflecting everything, being nothing. All I had were limbs for the water, skin for salt and waves, and eyes for the corals and the schools of flashing, flying fish. I had ears only for the song of the sea.

I cannot come back like this, so stripped. You wouldn't recognize me. So I shared the girls' meals and the boys' liquor. I took to the showers to replace the salt and sand with the tap water and soap that I'm more accustomed to wear. I dressed in my old clothes. I boarded the bus.

I tell you, I did not look back. I feared I might become some saline pillar that could never look forward again.

I could have told you this and more. But back then, I felt I didn't have to. Back then, all that mattered was that I wanted to. And that, I thought, was enough.