The sound of the sea
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

“This is the last time you’ll see the sea in our country,” his father told Cody as they walked on the sand in Bacacay. Cody noticed the sand grains beginning to cling to his toes.

He looked up. The sun was already high above the coconut trees. His ears were filled with the sound of the waves, now rising, then crashing, on the shore. The water, he thought, was as blue as his mother’s ceramic bowl at home. Cody nodded, then asked: “Dad, can I pick up shells over there?”

“Of course, you may,” his father answered. He only reached to his father’s belt. The older man messed up his hair, then added: “I’ll tell your sisters to join you later, okay?”

“Okay!” he said, “I’ll teach them how to make sand castles.”

“Just don’t go near the water yet. We will swim later. All of you. Your Mom and I will join.”

Cody smiled. Then he walked away from his father. The sand was beginning to burn, and he saw a small cowrie shell with dots of pink on its belly. He put it in the pocket of his shorts. Then he walked on and saw another shell: a brown one as smooth and polished as his skin.

The sound of the sea filled his ears. Cody walked on and picked up another shell with rib-like formations on its side. It was a violet shell. He even picked up fragments of shells: white as paper, like torn wings. They’re still shells, he thought, even if they’re now broken.

He walked on and on. Then he saw a bivalve shell, as yellow as the sun; an orange shell shaped like his grandmother’s wide-open fan; and another shell smaller than his fingernail, as blue as the sea. One or more broken shells, and then he had twelve. For the twelve months of the year, he thought, and then smiled. Feeling contented, he headed back to where he began.

Nicole, his older sister, and Alyssa, one year younger than him, were already running toward Cody. Nicole was tall and clumsy, and she wore glasses. Alyssa when she smiled was brilliant.

Cody’s eyes were as large and round as marbles. They brightened when he saw his sisters. He held their hands, and they sat down on the sand.

“Let’s make sand castles now,” said Nicole.

“I’ll teach you how,” answered Cody.

“But I already know how!” Nicole shot back.

“Okay, I’ll just teach Alyssa then.”

“Ate,” Alyssa asked after a while, “are we going to see sand castles in America?”

“Only in Disneyland, if we visit Tito Basil,” answered Nicole. Then she turned her back and began making her sand castle.

Cody sat behind Alyssa. He put his palms behind the palms of his younger sister, then pushed her palms together, gathering sand, forming a small mound.

“This will be the wall,” he said as he patted sand together. Alyssa screamed with glee.

“And this is the tower,” he added, as a column of sand rose before them. “This is our window, and this is our door. Now all we need is a flag.”

Alyssa’s small eyes were filled with so much light. She smiled, revealing her baby teeth, which were white as milk.

“I’m done, too,” said Nicole, showing them her tall and thin castle.

“Yes! Yes!” chorused the girls.

And so Cody dipped his hand into his pocket and put the shells slowly on the sand.

The small cowrie shell with dots of pink on its belly.

The brown one as smooth and polished as his skin.

The violet shell with rib-like formations on its side.

The bivalve shell as yellow as the sun.

The orange shell shaped like his grandmother’s wide-open fan.

The shell smaller than his fingernail and as blue as the sea.

Then he also laid on the sand the broken shells.

Kuya,” Alyssa broke the silence, “can I have one or two of these shells?”

“Okay,” Cody said, giving her the small cowrie shell with dots of pink on its belly and also the bivalve shell as yellow as the sun, because it reminded him of her brilliant smile.

“Umm, Cody, umm, your sand castle is really nice,” Nicole began.

“I know,” Cody smiled, then waited.

“Can I also have some shells?”

He gave Nicole the violet shell with rib-like formations on its side, and also the brown one as smooth and polished as his skin. “Thanks, Cody,” Nicole said, smiling brightly and wriggling her head.

“Now I get to keep these,” he said, picking up the shell smaller than his fingernail and as blue as the sea. He laid it down on the sand, then he picked up his other shell: the orange one shaped like his grandmother’s wide-open fan, which she used during summer. He thought: I will put this orange shell on my windowsill in America, and this will always remind me of lola.

He also scooped the six broken shells. Then he held them gently in the cup of his hand.

But then something happened. They first heard rather than saw it: the roar of a big wave. When they looked to their left, it was already coming – a blue wave topped with white froth. It rose and fell about them swiftly, suddenly. The children fell on the sand, cold and screaming. But the wave returned to the sea as quickly as it came.

The seawater stung Cody’s eyes. Through the mist of tears, he saw that their two sand castles were gone. And the shells, too, were reclaimed by the sea. His sisters also saw what happened, and they began to cry.

But Cody stood up and held their hands. His two sisters also stood up, and he said, “They’re lost now, but there are other shells. We have time to pick them before Dad calls for us.”

And so the three young children walked again, their toes touching the sand beginning to burn. They bent down to pick a beautiful shell here, a broken one there – some gifts from the sea to remind them of their last summer in the country.

This narrative is for my nephews and nieces. It is included in my forthcoming book, “Ranga: Writings on Bikol,” to be published by the Ateneo de Naga University Press. Comments can be sent to

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