The typhoon?
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2020 - 12:00am

Typhoon Yoling travelled at a dizzying 200 kilometers per hour. In its wake came a tail of fierce and terrible winds. Like the moon, it seemed to have raised water from the sea, for awhen it fell on the land, it rained so hard it seemed that the skin of sky had been torn.

?We had no classes for a week. It was cold and I woke up early. Rain fell like stones on the roof and the wind outside was moaning like a beast. We had breakfast of champurrado and fried fish. I ate two bowls of the sweet chocolate-flavored rice porridge and five pieces of the fish. I returned to my bedroom and looked outside, at the day beginning to break. My fingers touched the windowpane. Cold, covered in mist. With my forefinger, I traced my initials. From my initials, I could see with sharp clarity the world outside my room.

?Our duhat tree seemed to be getting a thrashing in the middle of the storm. Its small round fruits and leaves were whirling on their twigs, and the branches seemed to have gone mad, moving from here to there as if they were possessed by an evil spirit. They convulsed violently, and then came a sound that made my skin crawl. A low, loud moan, then a gust of wind that smashed at our duhat tree. Our tree tried to hold its ground, to weather the dervish wind, but I heard something snap. With my palm, I hurriedly brushed away the gathering mist on the windowpane. The tree had been split cleanly in two, around three feet from the base. The tree – fruits, leaves, and all – lay on the wet ground. I remembered the hot summers when I climbed this tree, its dark and sweetish fruits rubbed with salt and popped swiftly into the mouth, and I felt a pang run through me.

?When my father turned on the TV set, there were widespread appeals for relief goods and aid. The whole of Central Luzon – those five provinces that were the country’s rice bowl – was deep in floodwaters. An Air Force helicopter with media men inside took a pan of the area – water, water everywhere! When the choppers came closer, there were houses submerged in the flood, with only the angled, corrugated-tin roofs jutting out in the immense greyness. And on top of those roofs, like the inverted arks of Noah, huddled shadows. No, blackbirds, flapping their wings. But as the helicopters came closer, the figures changed to people, their thin clothes sticking to rain-drenched skin. Not waving, but drowning.

?And the reports flew thick and fast.

?Of a woman whose whole family was completely wiped out (“I tried to save my children when the floods came rampaging at night, but their hands slipped from my grasp, and suddenly there was only water”). She was saved because she happened to be near the huge styrofoam box that contained the soda drinks they sold in their small variety store. When the floodwaters came, she grabbed the box, turned it upside down, and ran to the room where her children slept to save them.

?Of a town whose inhabitants were completely wiped out, Pabanlag (population: 5,000) was a town between the mountains and an estuary that drained off to the sea. The mountains had been dutifully denuded of trees, thanks to the mayor who had found an ally in the provincial military commander and the governor who was so fat that he had begun to walk like a crab. There was gold in those hills, except they weren’t the kind that could be beaten into the sheerest filigree, but acres of precious narra and mahogany trees that could be whittled down and shaped into tables and cabinets and chairs, especially now that there was a rage for “modern antique,” furniture newly carved but lacquered and painted to look like heirloom pieces.

?So when the rains came, no century-old trees stood their ground to hold the water with their thick network of roots. Instead, the flood slipped down the mountains, like vomit. By that time, the river’s estuary had been swelling and swelling. It had been raining for three days and the river had overflowed its banks. The town was now under three feet of water.

?When the water rushed down the mountain, it cascaded like a great waterfall. The people said they heard the sound of a thousand hooves, louder and louder by the second, making the blood run cold. And then, complete darkness. The people were borne away by the swift and swirling water. In the dark their fingers clawed, looking for something to hold: coconut trees, doors, windows, the very water.

?When the darkness lifted, the whole town was gone.

?Houses were wrenched away as if by the roots, and scattered miles and miles away from where they had originally stood. Broken windows, doors flung on the streets, blasted walls. And everywhere, the dead, pile upon pile upon pile of them. In the backyard of what was once his house, a man lay, his fingers in a half-curl, his open eyes staring blindly at the sun. On the street lay a mother embracing tightly her baby, wanting to shield her from the onrush of water in the darkness. And swept out into the sea, an old car with the whole family trapped inside. Around the car floated men and women with torn clothes and broken skin, their bodies bloated, floating and floating in the luminous blue of the sea.

?Oh, after the flooding there were the usual recriminations against illegal logging. The President promised a thorough investigation that he said “would not spare anyone. We will leave no stone unturned,” he added in his ringing rhetoric broadcast in all TV and radio stations, “to get to the bottom of this issue.”

?The First Lady was the Head of the Task Force Yoling, which gave away relief goods rice, sardine cans, salt, mung beans and soap into cotton bags with their design of faded flowers, recycled from B-Meg Poultry and Pig Feeds. The relief goods were stamped with “GIFTS FROM THE FIRST LADY AND FAMILY,” the words blazing in her favorite color: fuchsia.

?Gabriel Garcia Marquez had to invent his Macondo. We live Macondo in the Philippines.

*      *      *

?Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.comDanton Remoto’s novel, “Riverrun,” was just published by Penguin Random House SE Asia. His website is www.dantonremoto.com

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