Hul 28, 2014

Thank you for asking

Very old trees fell to that Wednesday wind, that much you must have heard. It had built up to a howl from the deep night of Tuesday. Before dawn, it had begun to carry the smell of cut grass.

The night Glenda blew across Los Baños, the shut jalousies barely kept to their hinges, a tenacity owed wholly to a millimeter's worth of opening, space enough to ease the howl forced upon them, venting it upward, shaping it to a whistle, slipping its freight of droplets and leaves like tens and tens of tiny mail unasked for, all of these shooting up the curtains so they billow, touching the ceiling and letting go, all those hours, like wings shrugging off the water, across the room, down the floor, on the ill-placed candles and books, and on the shoulders of Elisha—finally—waking her.

Night to morning was thuds and crashes, our minutes spent collecting water, counting canned goods, shuffling contingency plans. You'd think, at any point, that some chair or debris would fly across your window (the case of some computer shops and restaurants near campus) or that a large branch would pierce down your roof (the case of our next-door neighbor). A house a few steps away was unpeeled of its roof, the twisted sheet flung to the neighboring lawn, large and menacing with its bare edges and protruding nails, immovable for days.

Of the torn trunks I saw, none bore evidence of infestation or internal ruin. And I saw many: the Pili trees along Pili drive—once the bane of drunk drivers and sleepy heads—summarily uprooted, the nuts (ripe?) scattered to scavengers; at Forestry, wood upon wood lay crashed beside their own centennial heritage markers; at the lower campus, the royal palms undressed to odd spears; at home, meanwhile, the pink-blossoming acacia and the sterile breadfruit had conceded most of their weight, but the santol and avocado had yielded completely, their green and yellow fruit dotting the yard, attracting what remained of the insects, what yet flitted about or crawled.

                      *

A notable exception: the controversial, leaning Dao tree stood fast. The building which it flanked—Student Union—reportedly lost important files to a weak ceiling, but it seems the Dao had nothing to do with this.

On the other hand, A balete tree—one I believed would have outlived me and most probably the children—fell down the road, knocked loose a fire hydrant  right across the street, and blocked our path to campus and town supplies.

                      *

We all spent our days clearing up, days being mostly all we had, our nights total without electricity and little water. The phone signal weakened too, returning only when our batteries were a few hours short of getting drained. Elisha cried one night, by the way, as she'd had enough of the blackout. Noam asked for TV every once in a while, but shifted her attention to paper dolls (or the candle flame) at a moment's notice.

Some of the mornings turned out very happy, those mornings when we cooked and ate outdoors, when the sisters played their games:
                      
                      gathering and counting fruit
                      planting sticks on a trunk cut from a dead banana tree
                      map-reading (pretend)

Four days after Glenda, Monday, I was able to recharge the phones, the laptop, and a small DVD player (for the kids) using the CAS generator. Despite octopus connections spawning more, greedier octopus connections, we had barely enough power for our duties. We worked with what we had. We were even grateful, our stories duly exchanged, our occasional humor taking a decisive turn toward the strange.

Henry—the new storm on the block—came, but took it easy on us.

Friday afternoon: Lights! Water's back too, but the pressure somehow never recovered, our pails sometimes getting little more than a trickle. For some reason, I still can't bring myself to shelve the candles or bring the books back up.

Our people at Forestry has it worse, their water delivered by fire trucks with rusty tanks and brackish rations. Also, they're still in the dark as of this writing. On Wednesday, it'll be two weeks without water and electricity.

                      *

The uniform meticulously ironed, his eyes covered by shades, the guard at the door of the "powerless" bank: he's had it worse.

I stood at the parking lot, at a safe distance from him, as I waited for my friend B— to finish her transaction. I thought he wouldn't speak to me because he was security, and I was holding an ax. However, I was also hugging a rake; he asked how much it cost me, found it too expensive. He'd been spending his off-duty time fixing his house for it fell apart after the wind had ripped out his roof. He came looking for the roof after the storm subsided only to be met almost immediately by itinerant vendors selling used GI sheets neatly cut into fold-able and portable squares.

On the other hand, our helper and her family took refuge in the neighbor's restroom after Glenda gutted her home. She and her husband slept in a makeshift tent while their daughter spent her nights in a warehouse. A few things remained, among them a dog and the artesian well, and a yard littered with nails, splinters, bits of shattered house. One night, the poso came close to getting stolen and was saved only by the dog's insistent barking and, possibly, by a well-placed nail or two.

The couple never saw or caught the would-be thief, the story of the foiled attempt to be learned only when they woke up the next morning, to be revealed only by the stark drops of blood left on what had been a dark little path toward escape.

                      *

Cleared of age, of leaves and branches, the sky over Los Baños has grown brighter, larger after these storms of July. Just a matter of time now before we get used to so much sky. Before that, an admission: every morning catches me by surprise and I think (for one awful moment) I see that vast, uncluttered blue as something beautiful, as thick roots unburduned of earth can also (at times, when you're caught unawares) prove quite dazzling, uncovered tails of gnarled, petrified rats.

Or the taste of the worm sprouting a pure head, white from the brown sugar I sprinkled on the halved avocado. I think.

I think, therefore I'm sorry. If only I could bite my thoughts as instantly, as sharply—as often—as I bite my tongue.