404

The wind was all about him. Kerosene lamps lit the huts, while generators for the volunteer canopies.  He got down on one knee and felt the lifeless ground beneath his palm.  The earth was frozen, gray, and forlorn, as if barren.  It labored the imminent misery that it will carry for the remainder of its time while the quiet and the unbidden tears, all the faithful disobedience – to not go this time – will be forcibly tucked to oblivion. No, not this time, or perhaps he was wrong. There were no second chances there he thought, only a time for reclusion, to mourn, and to dream infinitely in solitude. In the soft cradles of midnight blue overhead, and the casting light in the drowsy river, gentle and sparkling, an overflowing champagne in November. Square miles of farm grass yielded their blades – in pine or in the shade of moss – glowing in that blue and deep night. It called for him, and it did not hold back. It was restless like how the sea waves submit in the time of the monsoon. And the black hole, and the super-clusters and the entire universe held in reverse in the eyes of those who lay half-awake in their sleeping bags by the fire.  While the scudding clouds pushed by resentment, and indifference, and incoherence. Dancing waltz or celebrating a solemn procession during lent. However so, these days were his, for the first time he knew for sure.  When he felt the pounding life force on his chest, when his veins were streamed with perpetual devotion to just breathe, and lead, to command, and write, and work with his bare hands, with ink, and thoughts, and sheer brute, and absolute resolve.

Lest the world will crumble away easily.

Slow walking, he made a promise to himself.  To never return, for it could no longer, ever, reclaim the innocence it once had.  The cold north breeze crept beneath at the beginning from the foot of the brown hills, now patient and almost still. It won’t be hurried; a mother nursing what soon will be morning dews. As if it was a craft, or poetry, a prayer for the divine.

She walked behind him, sidled and handed him the canteen. He drank from it and he felt the warm liquid gushing through his insides.

He had to get some air he said.  As he looked down to his feet, he thanked her for the thought. Half of her face was shrouded by an emerald light from the east, and you can see hair tufts on her nape. She crouched on a slight slanting, overlooking the patches of shrubs across the plain distance.

From a far, the moon gleamed over the tent canvas and the red nylon textiles were tender, subdued. On the mountainside, a significant clearing has been made to open up pathways for the recovery plan. One can barely make out the remains of the clipped bird.

He felt this overbearing weight in his lungs. Perhaps it was the residues of the stench, of dead rats mixed with the smelt of cold rusts.  He was flying back to Manila before sunrise.

“You did real well.  You should take that with you, always”.  She consoles.

“But the weird thing is, and you must forgive me for saying… I think I have only known you now after all these years. I can’t really put a finger on it, but it was as if you were someone else.”

“The meeting of parallels” He retorted.

“Tell me more about it, when we’re done here.”

“That’s for sure.”

The long ride back was fast and smooth as soon as they reached the national highway. She drove him to the free airfield in a service truck, also to fetch the succeeding waves of rescuers flying in. The thick blowing winds muffled their ears, and preferred not to talk much all throughout the drive. And when they reached the guard post, she waved her identification card at the officer to open the barrier gate, pulling over to the nearest parking space by the tarmac.

He tucked her hair behind her ears and kissed her on the forehead. They both felt warm as they wrapped arms around each other wordlessly, and smiled before turning around.  He saw her leaning against the grill, looking sunward until he can no longer see her.

Back at the apartment he sat at the corner by the telephone rack. And he looked round the room filled with words and labels from household appliance brands he rarely uses, stacks of western shoe-boxes, construction company calendars, double-ply toilet paper, a notepad and a courtesy pen from a hotel.

Behind the glass window he stared at the conniving sky, and wished for it to fall.

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