A Piece of Paradise….
It’s just an ordinary day and I never thought I’ll discover a piece of history from treasured memory of a loved one. With my busy schedule, I only spend time with family during reunions and special occasion. Though this time it’s different, my grandmother has just been out from the hospital and spending her recovery time in my uncle’s home. And as I have a free time, I choose to visit her.
Spending time with grandmother is fine but with my Uncle that is another story. Hard to admit but, spending time with my uncle is always one of the hardest part of my life. It’s always awkward, well, as most of the time, he talked of my shortcomings and he never fails to point one. Always.
So, short to say, I’m always adamant to spend time with him and worst spending time with him in his territory. I can’t understand him, he seldom talks and when he does often to point a flaw. Small mistakes irritates him. Even when I was young he’s like that, like he never had fun when he was a child.
I wasn’t expecting him to be there as he is usually at work on weekdays. So, nothing left to do as I am already there…
Grandmother which is Lola in Filipino and Grandfather is Lolo. The head of the family which is my Lolo passed away early, leaving her with five kids to attend to. My Lolo’s nephew took the responsibility of taking care of Lola’s kids, as the eldest which is Mama was only 10 years old and their youngest at 2. The beginning was quite unclear yet only one thing that stands out, he’s not welcome. Due to his hard work and commitment not only to Lola but to the kids, eventually, he was accepted and became a part of the family.
Lola’s favorite topic is their life way back, when most of her kids were young and life was simple.
They once lived in Tacloban, Leyte, which is in Visayas. Their house was already there even before the San Juanico Bridge was built (at the foot of the bridge was where their house was) and even become more colorful when they started making the bridge. As she describes the place, I slowly noticed Uncle listening, with a growing interest to butt in. Just when Grandmother described their everyday life, I saw Uncle stayed put at the door facing us with a twinkle in his eyes which someone seldom sees. I never seen thyat before.
And finally he can’t help it, talked along with my Grandmother, “ Yes,” he said, “ the place on not only our home but our paradise.”
He silently sat in front of us. I saw his childlike smile, reminiscing the memory in his head. He talked on, I’m quite amazed how as how that smile change the way I looked at him. As he continued, I can’t help imagining I was with them, playing the games they play. Picturing the paradise they have lived in.
Their house, is made of woods and bamboo. The floor is elevated, as during high tide sea water can go up and reach their floor. Though it it made of wood, it is very clean according to Lola. All of them are given chores and it’s Uncle’s chore and his elder brother to keep the floor clean and shiny by waxing it with shredded coconut and after scrub it with coconut husk. Though it’s a chore, it is a game for them. The fastest and with most coverage is the winner.
Food was not a problem, fish and other resources are abundant. They have chickens, pigs, cows and goats. That’s not just it, he said if they have no meat to go with rice their stepfather simply go along the shore with his fishing net, wait for a couple of minutes and here comes food.
Most of the time, if it’s not in season, he can only fill the container in half, that’s more than 2 kilos of freshly caught fish from the sea. Or left without a choice goes home with a bucket of shrimp. They have no food means they’ll eat fish. If you want crabs you simply go under a small hut situated near the Bakawan or mangrove trees, you’ll see big crabs trapped inside crab cages. Walking farther ahead along the roots of big Bakawan, you’ll be able to see different kinds of sea treasures that can fill not only your table but your eyes as well.
When it’s snack time no need to go further, just a few step away from the house you will see a a row of Pili nuts. Simple choose the one that’s ripe for picking, just by smashing the fruit with a stone you’ll have your snack in a click. Or if you’re in for a more tasteful treat you can go out in the back of the house where wild berries, native guavas and other edible fruits are. The back of their home is a forest, not just full of trees but big magnanimous trees where the floor is canopied with it’s wide branches and leaves.
As gas was an expensive commodity they gather woods for cooking. They enjoy this so much. Gathering of woods was supposed to be just for a few minutes, but they are quite a bunch so instead of just gathering woods they spend most of it checking for berries, new ones if possible, or they climb big fruit trees and eat the fruit at the same time while hanging or sitting on it’s trunk.
He looked at me and continued, “ I know you like flowers, but the ones you see now are in no comparison to the ones we have then. You will see different kinds of wild orchids in different colors. Red, yellow, pink, violet and blue. They were not planted on artificial pots, instead they are sprouting on branches of the old trees. They are far beyond reach, so beautiful and proud”. Unconsciously, I took a deep breath and as if I’m seeing them. Awed by their size and different looks. As if I can even smell the sweet fragrant smell, feeling the coolness of the shade and nature’s serenity.
The gathering of woods takes more than a couple of hours and they’ll know when it’s time to go home ones they heard Lola calling for them.
The fun just doesn’t end there. He pictured a big stone in front of their home. A big rock, unadulterated and purely made by nature. The rock has many tub like holes, has a smooth surface like marble. I can’t help but smile, it must had been fun playing with the waves, lying down on the nature’s tub filled with crystal clear sea water. It seems that I can hear the laughter, their shrieks of enjoyment as they spray water against each other. I smiled.
He said, a pier was built to bring in cargoes during the building of the San Juanico Bridge. The pier, was 50 feet long according to him, where they run playing or sometimes watching and waiting for the ship to arrive or go. He said that there was even that time where big waves came where they took a swim(even when they were told not to) and the wood pillars was their lifeline. The pier was situated where two strong current clash and a wrong move could even cost a life. And oh yes, as a kid’s often this warnings are not taken too seriously. While they swam during a high tide, one of them was carried so fast and almost got carried away by the tide.
I can’t even help but smile seeing the disbelief in Lola’s eyes, along with that urge to scold Uncle at the same time. Secrets were spilled over, yet he can’t contain the guilty yet childlike glee of spilling perhaps an almost life’s secret which was fun for them at that point.
I can see a tear forming on Uncle’s eyes, he simply wipe it away with his hand. Lola is even silenced, perhaps like him still trying to grasp on that piece of paradise.
“ Why did you leave?”, I asked. Too confused, as to why they have to leave everything behind.
I glimpse the sadness in his eyes, “We have to”, he softly said. “ Life there is something I would like to go back to. But one thing that has stopped us, is because that place was always the center of typhoons”.
He said, there was even that time where they fled under the bridge where wind can’t throw them away, where big waves can’t reach them. The storm was so strong that even walking is dangerous. As not to be carried away by the wind they need to hold on strong bushes on soils.
“ We love the place but we can’t live like that. Always fearing when is the storm coming. Or would we be able to live to tell the tale”. Uncle said.
I thought that was the reason why I see the sadness in his eyes. Because they have to leave their paradise.
“Sayang”, I said, meaning what a loss. “ As if trying to change their mind even after a decade. “ If it was me I would go back their and see that place one more time”.
Uncle looked at me with a sad smile. “We did”, he said in my surprise. And he continued, “ I hoped we never did”.
" We went back, but the house is no longer there. Not that I expect it to be there for more than two decades”. He’s trying hard to control his voice. He can’t even look at me in the eyes. I know he doesn’t want me to see that weak side of him. “ The Bakawan are no longer there, the big and mighty ones are gone. All we see are roots uprooting themselves. No more magnanimous trees, they must had been cut out or destroyed by storms. And even the big rocks were broken into pieces some were used to landscape the area and some where even left lying on the sand”. A sad smile, “ nothing is left of our playground”.
He wiped his brows, stood up and took his things. I can feel his adamant to go, but there’s that need to get away. He addressed Lola that he needs to go now as he is late.
As he walked out the door I looked at his back. I felt so sad that I even felt like crying. Surprisingly, he walked back and look at me and gave a hesitant smile. I smiled back. No words were spoken, there’s no need to. For whatever consolation I could think of felt like nothing.
I was not even a part of that paradise but I felt that I lost something as well. And the good thing is somehow it changed how I look and feel for him. Sharing a piece of his paradise did not only bring sadness of the loss of it but a reminder of him when he was once a child. and that piece of his paradise is priceless.