I can still remember the laughter and smiles we shared together, the happy Christmas songs we sang, the fun games we enjoyed, the delicious food we ate and the wacky poses we did in front of the camera. Who cares if the wind is already tormenting the leaves of the trees outside? Who cares if the light keeps on turning on and off? And who cares if PAGASA raised the storm signal to number two? It is our Christmas party, for God’s sake! It is the last time we will meet each other for the year; we should be enjoying and celebrating the birth of the Lord. Who cares? We never had an idea that that was really the last Christmas party of our friend nor did we know that indeed that was the last time we will see her, ever.
She went home earlier than any of us. Before she left she said “thank you”, in a happy tone. We never knew that those were the last words we would hear from her. We tried to stop her but she explained that her parents already want her home since it’s already passed ten o’clock in the evening. Even when she left we continued the party. Who cares? We never knew what would happen three hours later.
I went home almost eleven in the evening. As I passed by Marcos Bridge, I felt the tranquility of the river. I can still recall the feel of the soothing cool breeze touching my skin in that peaceful night while I was on the jeep. When I reached our house I was so anxious to rehearse my script for my puppet show the next day at Niña Maria Learning Center in Macasandig for our NSTP tutees’ Christmas party. I was even bothered by the thought of waking up so early for Simbang Gabi. So I prepared my clothes and puppets, I set my alarm at three o’clock in the morning and then went to sleep. All I can remember was that when I woke up to go to the comfort room it was already raining cats and dogs and there was no electricity, but then I just went back to sleep. I never knew that the lamentation, howling and weeping of the people was harder and louder than that rain. I did not care. I did not know what was happening.
Unfortunately, I did not hear my alarm clock ringing at three o’clock but I was woken by a different kind of alarm. My screaming neighbors and my nervous mother dragging me from the bed to gather all that I could bring upstairs and secure our basic needs for the water was rising too fast. In a minute or two it was until my knees, considering our house has three feet elevation. The next minute it rose up to my chest so I decided to go upstairs when I felt the water was still rising. When I was already on our second floor I grabbed my lowbat phone and texted my group mates that I cannot go because we are flooded, assuming it was only us who were experiencing such turmoil. Now I already cared but just for myself. I never heard what had happened the night before because there were no televisions, radios or cell phones to inform me.
On the third day after the flood, I went to my aunt’s house and charged my phone since they were not affected. Believing that that flood was not that tragic after all, I had the guts to joke my friends, texting them that I have been dead for three days. It was when they all called me that I realized how demonic the flood was. I was told that among those who joined the Glee Club Christmas Party, it was I and my friend Gretel whom they were still searching. One of my friends was already searching in morgues for me and Gretel. The others were checking the hospitals and listening to the news for any information regarding our status, because the last thing they heard about me was when I texted that the water was already eight feet high.
Hastily, because of shame for what I have done I went to Bollozos funeral parlor to look for Gretel and there, right in front of my very eyes, human beings slaughtered by mud and water and devoured by carnivorous sea creatures. Some of their skin were ripped off by decomposition, their bellies bulging as if they were all pregnant, their eyes jumping out from there skull and their positions showing their resistance to death even when it is in front of them. You can never differentiate an adult from a teen, for they all look the same. When I saw bodies of innocent children, I remembered my tutees and all the children I saw in Macasandig, I could not help but felt sorry for them. I felt like I was in a meat storage area, the only difference was, I did not see any clean and fresh hog, beef or chicken but muddy and rotten human corpses.
I did not sleep that night; I kept on thinking of those dead people I saw. I was imagining their faces and how hopeless they were while they were struggling for life in that dark and muddy evening. I was asking myself, “What if I was there? Will I be able to save myself?” Then I remembered Gretel. I tried to recall my memories of her; her laugh, her smile, her voice, her actions, her jokes and all I can remember about my friend. Afterwards, I prayed for her safety, hoping that she is still alive and that we can still see her again. Now at last I can say I already cared, that I am already aware and that I am already involve. But, sadly I am already too late, I cannot undo it anymore. They are already dead!
It is ironic to think that in a life that is full of surprises, death is one of the most unexpected Christmas presents many Cagay-anons received. Indeed it comes like a thief in the night, taking your most valuable possession when you are silently and peacefully sleeping. So what is it going to be? Will I just wait until everything die? Should I continue being apathetic and wait for the reaper to conclude my existence without doing my share? Or should I start caring and being a blessing to everyone so that when I leave this material world I am happy and satisfied? Wherever these realizations lead me, one thing is for sure I will never forget, Sendong taught me to accept that I too will die. No exact time, no definite date but for sure I will die.
Jet is an English teacher at Kong Hua School, Cagayan de Oro City.