Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wherever the Wind Blows

[Part 2 of 2 of the "Deuce Diaspora" series]

SUDDENLY, THE WIND from the southwest blew stronger. Twenty paces from where I stood, little Paulo held the kite with his frail hands and tossed it in frantic enthusiasm, causing it to glide alternately between left and right. The ascent was erratic so I had to run faster as I tightly gripped its string. It took a while before the kite finally made its slow but steady climb. When it was already airborne, I tied the string to a peg I burrowed halfway through the famished soil. I waved back at little Paulo as a sign of my gratitude. Shortly after I have last seen his silhouette in the distant trees, I was alone in the amber field again.

The sky was clear. From where I sat, the kite resembled a diamond sailing through the atmosphere and receiving firsthand the radial blessings of the afternoon sun. The tethered aircraft was finally at peace, its tail following its lead like an object dancing to a musical score. It was a lovely sight, but it was only a momentary spectacle. Some good things never last.

I fell asleep, I think.



HARVEST SEASON ended two weeks ago. The paddies that once nursed the rice stalks have turned into a field without grains. A hundred sickles have tended the grasses, turning them into what they are now — the remnants of a luscious harvest. The delicate breeze brings to mind the image of those who labored in the fields even after sunset. There was nothing left to do, so I flew my kite. With my back on the ground, I watched the aircraft stay afloat for what felt like two hours. While the sun surrendered its last light on the western horizon, I let the kite pay homage to the fading celestial glow. Before walking home, I cut the string to set the kite free.

Only the lamp provided illumination inside the hut as I took my dinner. Tens of moths feasted on the light source, creating shadows that dance on the lumber wall. The gentle creatures continued to flutter even after I have washed the tin plate. Standing by the door, I watched the quarter moon wrestle space with the passing nimbus. In this little corner of the universe, it usually rains during summer nights.

There was a drizzle. The patter on the roof was the only music to fill the immediate silence. As the cloudburst grew stronger, I returned to my childhood. Under the evening shower, I was twenty-seven but I felt like ten again. I ran through the fields, feet dribbling across small pools of water and mud. For a while, life was good. My shirt was soiled but I have never felt any cleaner throughout my life in that moment of aimless running. It was utter bliss. Father once said that water can cleanse the body but only freedom can purify the soul. I still believe him.

It was still raining by midnight, only harder. Inside the hut where I have lived for the last four years, the cool mist seemed to nullify the walls and the roof. I took warm refuge beneath the only blanket I was able to take when I left my family. At that time, I realized I should be a free man at the cost of losing my parents, my two older sisters, and my younger brother. Seven years of separation do not heal overnight. But looking back, the years felt like a lifetime dead long ago, never to be reborn.



I LOVED THEM but freedom is a jealous muse. Father had nothing to say that bedewed early morning. Perhaps, he already knew by some stroke of instinct that I had to leave eventually. Growing-up in our household was distressing, especially since mother had already plotted the course of our lives. For some reason only she knew, I was destined to be the first lawyer in the clan. Day after day she would nourish the dream — the dream that was never mine to begin with — by retelling her incantations like a dirge playing in infinite loop. It was as if she knew all the stories of success either firsthand or by heart. Her timing was perfunctory. She would deliver her sermon while we all share a bowl of noodles, insinuating that it could very well be our last supper. Doubtless, it was never enough to satiate the hunger of six bellies, but I was impelled to pack my bags not because of poverty. It was a different monster altogether that did.

Seven summers ago, two hours before dawn, father was already awake — or maybe he had not really slept at all — but he had nothing else to say.

“I will be leaving now,” I told him. He refused to return a word, only a look on his aging face that expressed an emotion somewhere between regret and sympathy.

“Farewell, father,” I finally said. As I turned to make my way toward the door one last time, I thought I heard him whisper goodbye son, his lips trembling at the very thought of surrender. With my decision to go away for good, the wrinkles on the edge of his eyes from a lifetime’s worth of suppressed sentiments must have folded deeper, but I will never know.

The others were still in a deep slumber when I was already on the street, walking with only my backpack and hope in tow. Maybe they were all too busy in their dreams or too tired to awaken from their restless worries. Perhaps my father could only stare in my direction while I slowly disappeared in the unlit distance, my tears never to glimmer in the darkness.



THE TOWN OF SANTA FE had nothing much to offer except a fresh start for a complete stranger. More than four hundred kilometers south of the urban malaise, the town seemed to be completely impervious to modern life, as if it is another universe altogether. It is a sleeping sanctuary eight hours away from the dregs of Quezon City. The very moment I alighted from the bus and took my first step on what felt like virgin soil, I knew I was home. I felt like I was the prodigal son the town never had.

I have heard more about the fields in the north than those in southern Luzon. The choice was easy — exploring the more familiar territory is inutile, so I headed south. I only know Santa Fe for the occasional tempests that rattle it by causing floods that engulf the farmlands. The town was a regular patron of the news headlines during storm season.

It was early summer when I arrived. The fields teemed with rice stalks, the intense orange of the twilight glazing them with dark hues of ocher. Already stooping from the weight of the grains, the stalks bent lower as the breeze hushed through. I thought they were ready for harvest in the next few days. In the distance, there were clutters of shacks. These humble and humbled abodes, I thought, have stood resolute in the face of modest living. With light feet and lighter heart, I approached the huddle of homes.

Mang Salome was sixty and little Paulo was only four when I first met them. The old man was the patriarch and the matriarch in their household of two. There was a kindred spirit in him.

“His parents left him in my care when he was two. They left for Saudi and promised to come back after three years, but I still haven’t heard from them.”

“The pastures there must be greener than the ones we have here,” I said.

“That’s what they all say about the other side, the younger ones most of all.”

“Abroad?”

“Quezon City. I’ve heard they take phone calls and speak to Americans every night. I believe they’re paid quite generously for helping them with their problems about many things.”

“Ever thought of going somewhere else?”

“I’m too old for that.” He rose from the wooden stool and went to fix two cups of black coffee. The aroma of the beans filled the small space of the shack. Outside, the night sky was a velvet carpet with nameless stars. Steam rushed through the kettle hole as Mang Salome timidly poured hot water into the cups.

“Why did you leave your home?”

“Because I’m young, Mang Salome,” I said with a meek voice. I remembered my father.

“How young?”

“Twenty.”

Little Paulo slept the whole time, oblivious to the conversation of two acquaintances, one with the kindness of a learned soul, the other with the frailty of a bud eager to spring forth from the bosom of the earth.



WHEN YOU COMMUNE with the earth using your bare hands, you feel the warmth of the soil and how it throbs with life. An arable farmland holds the dream of harvest, a dream shaped by farmers whose diligent hands cultivate the soil, without which it is just an ordinary earthen patch akin to a pot of dirt with not a plant coursing its roots beneath. Because Mang Salome’s flesh and soul depended on the land he has nurtured since time immemorial, he always understood its character more than anybody else in Santa Fe.

For three years, I was his eager apprentice and he was my patient master. He would answer some of my questions, but most of the time he would simply let my experience provide the answer after some days, weeks even. On many occasions, the answers would not come in haste. But each time they are revealed, a dark room in my mind is illuminated.

The water was never deep but our feet were partially buried in the mud, poking into the flesh of the earth like needles on that vast field of low greens.

“You have to be certain that the soil is loose just enough. That way, there is enough space for the plants to grow their roots. Be careful, though. Make it too loose and the seedlings won’t have any firm hold on the soil. They will wither even before they can start to grow.”

I listened silently as I watched Mang Salome demonstrate the art.

“But before you transfer the seedlings on the land where they will have to grow until harvest season,” he continued, “you have to let them germinate first in a puddle field. It is only after about a month when you can transfer them. Still, you have to trust what you have learned from long months of hard labor. Plants, like the seasons, make subtle changes. Each harvest is not the same as the last.”

“Why don’t we just plant them directly there?” I asked with hesitation, ignorant of the art I have immersed my self into. Mang Salome deftly retrieved one seedling after another from the earthen bed. After the last stalk, he straightened his posture and eyed the rest of the fields.

“You will understand soon,” he said.



PAULO’S FRAME IS SMALL for his age. He is eleven years young but he could easily pass for a six-year-old kid whose skin has been kissed by sunlight on many bright days. What he lacks in physique, though, he compensates with a curious mind.

Sitting by the field, we waited for the wind from the southwest to blow stronger one afternoon.

“Why do you love to fly kites?”

“I feel free each time I see my kite fly high,” I said.

“Why do you want to feel free?”

“Because life is too short.”

“Is it?”

“Well, maybe, but I hope to live long enough.”

“How long?”

“Perhaps eighty years.”

“And will you still be flying kites by then?”

“I hope I am already as free as a kite by that time.”

“Well, is a kite really free?”

“No, not really.”

“Why?”

“One, it’s tied to this string. Two, the rope also has to be tied to this peg after the kite has gained enough altitude. Sometimes, I will also have to control the direction of the kite by tugging the string.”

“But a kite can still be free, can’t it?”

“Of course.”

“I hope I can be a kite someday,” he said. I smiled at him.

Several minutes after, the wind from the southwest suddenly blew stronger.



IN MY DREAM, thousands of kites raced far above as they battled with the scattered clouds for space. For the first time, the sky was no longer blue throughout. But the clouds began to roll faster, larger. The threat of heavy rainstorm and lightning made the diaspora of the kites more imminent. When I woke-up, I thought I had wings, but I found out I was a kite myself. I was a kite lost in a distant rice field, lying flat on needles of amber after harvest season. For a vagabond found wherever the wind blows under the merciless sun, it does not matter who cut the string.



Part 1 | 2

8 comments:

Carl said...

I see Nick Joaquin's style of writing. Btw, you have a good fiction.

SPLICE said...

Thank you Carl! I hope you can visit and read again.

Carl said...

Yes. Since I just cant wait for the next installment, I guess I must backread your posts.

pointlessparanoia said...

The metaphor of kites and the beauty of your words. Excellently written. Please remind me of your next post. I will be waiting. :)

Carl said...

Wow. Now I am commenting here again. I have red its first part and now it is whole.

Very striking parting. I liked this very much that I have bookmarked this.

Nice story Splice. :)

- Carl

SPLICE said...

@Carl
My friend, you seem to be everywhere. I'm honored --- for the compliments, the bookmark, and the whole comment you posted. It fuels my passion to write better, though not necessarily more. Thank you! :)

Carl said...

Ziglar wrote, "People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily."

gord said...

I was emotionally tortured reading these two stories.

lupet mo talaga sir!