The Compass

Art by: Wyne Brent Corpuz

It was 2:00 in the afternoon, resting my cheek against the windows of the bus, looking out onto the sultry shores of Sta. Cruz. I guess I was kind of lucky, considering how I even managed to get a spot in the bus with all that’s happening around in my hometown. As I pass by the houses of people who call this place home, with makeshift tents strategically placed near open spaces. Looking to my right, I saw the rugged cliffs and mountains, my mind already filled with morbid thoughts if ever a strong one ever came again. I shook these off and looked to my right; the vast oceans with its shore with its palm trees, their fronds battered by the afternoon breeze, making them dance to some tune only they know of. “What if a tsunami happened here?” Yet again, I shrugged these off and listened to the people around me. In the background noise an Air Supply Album that are typically played in public transportation, there was the characteristic sing-song voice of an Ilongga mother speaking to her child, a gentle yet stubborn voice that points towards their home. Probably to Marbel, or some nearbly place a bypassing ours. “Baw gah, narusdak gid ya aton nga balay ba, bag o lang to gitudok sa imo nga papang ba, bag o lng natapos pinturahan.” The daughter, contemplating her answer for a moment, then replied “Waay gid ta mahimu kay amu na nahitabu. Mayad lang gane, waay naano si Papang.” I already asked my mother from home and I was happy that nothing happened to ours. My grandfather did a good job making the house, scrutinizing every brick, every mortar, every scaffolding that came within the expenses, even making surprise visits to half-finished house back in those days. As much as I am annoyed at his meticulousness sometimes, and I felt sympathy for the workers being grilled by my grandfather’s never ending surveillance; the tell-tale roar of his motorcycle engine thundering through the neighborhood, forcing them to abandon their game of tung-its. He never found out despite relentless interrogation from them, or even me. I’m truly grateful for the steps he’d take to ensure our house is well-built. I decided to rest my head against my bag, and drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

Jolting me from my sleep was the sudden swerving of the bus, as if dodging invisible curveballs, where there none at all in the streets. I notice the palm fronds, changing from their calm and smooth swaying, to a more erratic one. Rubbing the sleep of my eyes, I saw a huge drop-off on my left, and to my right are more slopping holes, studded with boulders, trees that are desperately defying the nature of the slanting terrain into which they have unlucky planted in, looking like exhausted fat high-schoolers trying to climb the flight of stairs towards their class. In that moment, knowing exactly where I was and instinctively knew how much hours of sleep I got. I wanted to scream or wanted to even just gasp in shock. I wanted to just emit any sort of noise, allowing me to air my exasperation at having to be in the epicenter of where this was happening. I could either a: Drop off into the void here in my left, joining the snails and the leeches and the stray strands that managed to find their way here in this huge irrigative canal below or b: get crushed by a rush of earth, stone and trees from my right. All these were going through my mind, and I was already planning to whip out my phone to text my family. Piercing me from reverie was some genius who shouted in the top his lungs, “linog!” which was then adjuncted by more cries of despair, the mewling of children as they clung to their parents, and worse, panicking. I thought I rolled my eyes so hard, that I could see in the back of head the last two brain cells resting peacefully from my fruitless study when the evaluation was cancelled yesterday because of the “linog!” Yes, we know, now because of that guy, everyone’s panicking, great job.

I could see the within the periphery of my vision, some houses giving in to the unnecessarily strong tempo the earth was making. People were rushing into the open municipal basketball; some were wading through their field of palay being dried, with colorful sacks scattered through the sea of blue PVC sheets half empty and abandoned, their contents spilling onto the sheet, like colony of ants being let loose on a puddle of rain water; out in the open fields below, I could see farmers, reaping their harvest for the day, standing ominously still, yet I could feel both their gratitude for being in the right place, at the right time and their worry for the families back at home. Amidst the chaos surrounding me, I willed myself to stay calm, shutting myself from everything around me, yet failed to not smell the already retching kid on my side, his mother giving him sympathizing pats on his back whilst clambering for something inside her back, probably some Vicks of Pau de Arco or some White Flower or something.

By then, the tremors have already subsided, and sickening crunch and rattle of buildings, trees and other things that stand erect complaining as they sway against the rumbling earth along with it. The bus was already nearing the public market, and I could clearly the devastation that the recent earthquake took along with it. My favorite 24-hour breadshop run that me and my classmates used to go to and have our snack after skipping school to see the illegal drag race held at a nearby empty airstrip, has already crumbled to the ground. I saw the old-woman who ran the shop, along with her two sons, sitting dejectedly at the asphalt stairs to their already destroyed establishment. I remembered how she would always gave us a good lecture about us skipping classes, and still yet, would always bake a fresh batch for us stowaway boys. Sadly, there was nothing I could do for her, for now.

Passing through the already devastated town center, with the rhythmic closing of shops, their metal gates and planks clashing through the aftermath and joining the din were the deafening screams of fire trucks, ambulances and a variety of vehicles bearing the seal of the municipal government tore the ensuing traffic. The din was already slowly becoming incorporated in the back of mind as I slowly focused on the mountainside. The bus was already stagnant with all the commotion the quake had recently caused. I fixated my sight on the vast and vibrant green slope of the mountain, far away from all the chaos here in the main town. I’d imagine families living in simple houses built from split bamboo and straw scrambling their way out into safe and open spaces, making their way towards the foothills, and the possibility of boulders, trees, electric poles or even the whole earth that they are standing on will come loose and pull them all down, a grand crescendo of earth, mud, dust and mortars dragging everything downwards towards the mountain’s base.

Slowly yet steadily, people are beginning to get off the bus, chattering about that one topic that almost everyone here can relate too. Earthquakes don’t care if you’re rich or poor, it’ll go off if it wants too.” Earthquakes really aren’t damaging to people, it’ll just pass by,” I thought to myself as I watched the transition of green foliage and sloping ascents to that of open fields, bordered in the distance by banana trees, blurry mountain ranges, topped with dirty white clouds upon a kind and blue sky, a stark difference of what’s going on beneath it. “What really kills in earthquakes are pretty much the stuff that fall on people, or heart attacks possibly, though less so.” It was a simple deduction, yet we could pretty much never deduce when an earthquake will probably happen. I look out into the window yet again, it was time to get off too.

Carrying my bag with me, I hopped off the bus, squinting my eyes as the glaring sun meets my eyes for what feels like forever. I looked around and everything pretty much seems the same. The bank seems to be fine. The market is still teeming with the people speaking the dialect I had always known my whole life, as if an invisible force is saying that home is near at last. People were huddled around in makeshift “tarapal” tents. As I rode the tricycle home, I saw that at least my part of the town never seemed to change, except for the tents of course. I inhaled the clean air around me as I rode a tricycle towards my home. Despite all the earthquake hitting my small and quiet town, now making the headlines, I’m still going home. “Quiboloy can choke,” I suppose.

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