About three months before the flood, Yon asked me to write his wife. She was to come to our office for a ‘dialogue’ with her husband. At that time she had left him with the kids, among them four or five-ish year old Yola. Having known Yon for years I knew how upset he was seeing his family fall apart. His eye (what we call manukon or chicken-like) goes astray when he gets nervous.
Yon was a high school friend. We went to the same classes in all the four years. We called ourselves the ‘jet guys,’ a group of supposedly ‘select’ souls who can juggle academics, dance and music. Yon was a good singer, which I guess ran in the family. His older sister’s rendition of ‘I just caught dancing again’ still rings sterling on my ears years after she sang it at our school’s beauty contest where the ramps were library tables connected one after the other. And though she did not win, she got my vote after my aunt whose diamond-breasted blue gown looked electric, though the judges thought otherwise. Yon danced –was our star dancer at the rag tag dance troupe. It helped that the dance instructor stayed with Yon’s family, or so I rationalized. I, Yul and a half-Chinese boy called Jimmy did the back-up stunts. Years later someone joked I should have been stoned out of the stage for my wooden steps. Yon can bend backwards lower than any of us in ‘Limbo rock.’ Though short, he looked like a real sailor in our signature uniform of white pants and floral shirts with lei.
Yon’s family had this makeshift corner carenderia near our old house. His mother cooked the best humba, which is pork belly boiled in sweetened soy sauce and black beans. My family regularly bought pork delicacies from them. Another favorite was the ginamay, which is minced meat with diced carrots and green beans. The makeshift shed is gone now. Today there’s the spanking gynecological clinic that sends pap smear slides for cancer tests to Cebu, and a burger shop churning patties with the efficiency of an assembly plant. I miss the homey recipe of Yon’s mother, which was distinctly hers. Yon inherited his mother’s prowess at the kitchen. In his adult life he would cook for weddings and at restaurants. In order to bolster his income, he alternates cooking with tricycle driving. He would stop by and offer me rides anywhere in the city for free.
So mailed the letter we did. Yon and his wife finally met. I closed the law office so their dialogue can go uninterrupted. Though I was with them, I allowed them to choose the course of their talk. When their voices rose, I interrupted with questions. We began in mid-morning and ended up past lunch time. Afterwards, I asked Yon if he can see himself sleeping with another woman. He said no. I asked his wife if she can see herself with another man. She said no. They reconciled. Yon thanked for the ‘trouble.’ The family lived again in their rented house beside Anilao river. Unknown to them, a greater force of nature would uproot their home and family and change their lives forever.
When the waters rose, no one thought it would spill off the dikes. The city has had worse typhoons, and it never flooded. People went on their chores – I went to the office two blocks from home. As the curtain of rain thickened and pounded on the shutters, we closed before noon then went home. Across our house people played mahjong as water seeped through the floor. Some placed chairs on top of soft drink cases to avoid getting wet. Soon so much rain poured that we could no longer see the houses across the street. Then strange things moved down the street: pails and other household items, plants, tree trunks, refrigerators and then tricycles, and large vehicles moved down towards the sea as if on a conveyor belt. I shouted to a man who stood hear his car to come up our house but he could not hear me. Soon entire nipa houses with people and later a huge container van paraded by our street. The van came from a riverside yard, smashed houses and loomed like an ocean liner as it approached and brushed by the electric post beside our house. My thoughts whirled. I asked if this was real. I thought no flood would happen after Noah. My wife and I agreed to put our baby in the bag and jump should the water reach us at the second level. She prepared milk, told us to put the rice container on top of the piano, and ordered that we eat a huge lunch – just in case. We realized later it was wiser to climb towards the roof than jump. When all our rationalization, denial and strategizings failed, we prayed ‘is there any remover of difficulties save God’ in loud staccato bursts while facing the tumbling torrents.
Unknown to us that time, entire districts of the city were uprooted with the mud and tree trunks. Among them was the river island of 3 thousand people where all but a handful died. Some clung to trees naked as the current stripped away their clothes. Others hopped from rooftops as houses were smashed by the container van. As bridges gave way cars were brought down along with the owners including some from the city’s rich. No one was spared for those in the way of nature’s wrath.
Among the most poignant images splashed on TV from the flood was that of a father combing the hair of his lifeless daughter. That was Yon combing the long hair of Yola over and over as if asking why things happened as they did. Her body was caked in mud. He found her among the pile of dead ready for dump truck transport. Only Yola was found. His son and wife could not be located from among the thousands.
Yon told me he embraced his family before the waters came. They and their house and their neighbors’ houses were swept to Camotes sea. Yon lost consciousness. The next thing he was in the middle of the sea amidst debris. He said he tried to snuff his life out by drowning. It was the little bird hopping on the trunks that did it. He said to himself if this bird can survive, he could. With his last ounce of strength he paddled. Ultimately he was rescued by residents of a fishing village several kilometers away.Today Yon resumed cooking and drives his own tricycle. He sees me from time to time, mostly on legal matters connected with his motorcycle. He has since remarried. I heard his children are doing well in school. Yon and I never spoke of the flood again. His chicken eyes still wander at times. But I know no matter what he can, as he did, make it. He had collected the pieces of what was left when all was swept away.
Key: Ormoc Flood, Ormoc stories