What is there

Posted by Daryll Delgado on Facebook
6 Dec 3:48 am

There is a man covered in mud from his bald head to his bare feet, walking towards and waving at my brother, Derek, unaware that he is unrecognizable. Until he and Derek arrive at the same house, A__’s house, then Derek realizes that this is A__’s father who had fought against, swum under, and finally just gave himself up to the muddy ocean that had engulfed his house, his neighborhood, his entire village.

There are two girls, who pass them by, walking barefoot but briskly, their faces streaked with dirty tears, their eyes scared, their bodies rigid. There are many others walking, walking, walking, and picking up pieces from the debris, and then walking some more. My sister, Aimee, and her husband are among them, as they try to get to her husband’s family in a subdivision close to the sea. There is a woman, they say, who is not walking, she is just standing, in the middle of the street, while people walk by her in a daze. She is wailing, damo’n patay, damo hin duro an patay! When they get to the subdivision, there are indeed bodies being moved from the streets to the small chapel. One of the casualties is our dear uncle, a cousin and very good friend to our dad.

There is a woman on the side of the street, but she is not wailing, not moving, not walking. She is lying on her back. She has extraordinarily thin arms and legs, and a very swollen belly. People cover their nose and mouth when they pass her, but they do not cover their eyes. This is one of the first sights we see, when my husband and I arrive in Tacloban City.

There is a child frozen in the act of crawling out of a shelf or a cabinet. His body is upside down, his head is twisted unnaturally to the side, and one hand is missing. There are dogs, many dogs, sniffing the rubble and debris for their masters, or for food, and one of them walks away with a child’s hand between his fangs.

There are men walking out of the mall, helping each other carry an exercise machine, a freezer, a 50-plus-inch led TV screen. There is a woman carrying a mannequin all by herself, and a family of three in Santa hats merrily walking down the street with a shopping cart full of nothing but canned baby formula milk. There are others who scavenge for clothes, my brother Dennis tells us, and they come out of the department store dressed as super heroes and villains, Spider Man, Super Man,and Penguin.

There is a rumor going around, said a friend of ours whose family is taking shelter in our house : Tacloban is gone. Strong winds had sucked out the entire bay and threw it all up very violently onto streets,houses, offices, churches, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels. There is another rumor: It will all happen again very soon, and the waves will be much higher, the current stronger and even more ferocious this time.

There are suddenly even more people on the streets, running as fast as they can to the hills, to the hills! By evening, there is a sight no one has ever seen – the mountains are illuminated from the foot to the peak with people’s flash lights, candles, torches.

There is still, for all intents and purposes, a house. There is no roof, no ceiling, no windows, no book shelves or books, but there is still a winding staircase with elaborate balusters and steps made from dark hard wood slabs on which the rainwater cascades like grand waterfalls when itrains. And there is a black granite floor that collects the water into many puddles the kids like to trample and splash on.

There is a room on the ground floor where the family used to congregate every night when the parents were still alive. It is now being slept in by strangers who have traveled from distant lands – Iran, Israel, America,Bolivia, South Africa – to clear the streets, feed the hungry, slowly revive the city.

There are two old trees that used to partly hide the house from the street with its thick foliage, birds’ nests, and intricate branches reaching into the balcony. They are now leafless and branchless, and nestless. The barks have been peeled off and, at night, under a bright moon, the trunks look like the ghosts of two pale, old men stranded between this world and another.

There are firelies all of a sudden, and crickets, but no birds, my sister-in-law, Debbie, notices.

There is a rumor about that other rumor, Dennis tells the strangers who have become friends and family to us now. The city mayor’s daughter, Chona May, had been washed away and her mother, the beautiful city councilor who used to be a movie starlet, had screamed and screamed: “Chona May! Chona May!” Her screams pierced the silence and absolute darkness of the evening, waking people in San Jose from their nightmares. “Chunami daw, chunami!” And that’s how everyone suddenly scrambled to their feet, fled out of the city and into the hills, in fear of a chunami or tsunami.

There is a truth and there is a lie, my brother says. The mayor’s daughter did not really perish, and he doesn’t even have a daughter named Chona May, but it is true that his beautiful wife is the city councilor and she did used to be a star.

There are people who do not like this joke, but some people laugh, for the first time, and a little of the old sparkle return briefly to their weary eyes.

(With reports from Dennis, Derek, Aimee, Dandee, Debbie, William, and random friends and strangers in Tacloban)