I have a classmate whom the class fondly calls Diwata. On the eve of the last Christmas of the millennium’s first decade, I rode with her, heading far up north. A half-moon, shaped like a boat, was rigged up in the sky. During one point in the long ride, I pointed it out to her – Diwata, we are going to the sea, and the moon is a boat! A little more moon talk followed, especially as the decade was about to end with a blue moon, and a partial eclipse, even. Diwata is a moon-watcher too. It felt real good that I had someone I could wax moon-geek with, even if for just a few days.
Diwata earned the nickname Diwata because of her mystique. When in her company, one would hardly catch her leading the conversation, or speaking. When she does speak, though, be prepared to hear something you will probably remember for a long time. Poetry to Diwata is a reflex, she does it naturally, like breathing. Most of the time, though, when she is out with our school group, she simply listens to her fellow writer-classmates expound, digress, question, argue. Actually, I often get the feeling that one will all the more only tend to lose Diwata once the conversation verges into argument. She always struck me as one who dislikes tension and conflict. Diwata is zen made flesh.
She is also clearly the prettiest in class. And fittingly, she wrote the sexiest poems. My personal favorite is that one that describes a pair of thighs “larded with love”. I could imagine the subject of her work glistening with desire.
Diwata is also a recluse. She hardly answers text messages, and when I finally asked her about this, she said that she only replies under life or death circumstances. She hardly shows up for impromptu gatherings too. And so to get Diwata to respond to one’s online post or text message or invitation has often roused awe from her reply’s lucky recipient.
Imagine my awe when she allowed me to join her and her friends in a trip to Pagudpud. Not only would I be seeing the place where the shores are said to be the farthest northern edge of the country, I would also be witnessing the Diwata in her laid-back glory.
Perhaps the most vivid Pagudpud image of Diwata for me would be her, in her white swimsuit, drifting like a pearl, at times raised high and at times held low by the waves, which seemed to me loved her and held her gently.
[with writer Razel Estrella, a.k.a. Diwata, in the Cape Bojeador lighthouse – photo by Aisha Vidal]
While Diwata’s next goal is to polish her butterfly stroke, I can’t even swim. I never found the urge to learn to swim in my youth, especially since the only bodies of water I ever got exposed to as a kid are family outings’ treacherous gigantic pools and Sampaloc’s seasonal and ever-dependable floods. Even at Caramoan last summer, the allure of the waters was not enough to convince me that I should finally learn how to swim. And even after the advice of people for me to take up swimming to strengthen the lungs, I still pretty much held up the idea in the air –
until I stood there at those northern shores, nailed dumbstruck on the fine pebbled beach because I could not brave the waves. I could die here, I thought, these waves don’t look forgiving, they could take me in for good.
Then a towering white one rose in front of me all of a sudden, and rolled towards me with a speed I could not outrun. It caught me, hitting me real hard on my side, pinning me down on the sand, and went on rushing over and past me. The wave did not claim me for the sea alright, but it brushed me aside, and forcefully. It would be easy to get into the old habit of equating what happened with plain rejection, but I guess that wave smacking me out of my wits had to do so not to reject me but to affirm what I earlier sensed of it: it was telling me, I am no joke, I am powerful, you have to have what it takes, in the meantime: shoo!
That wave made sure I got it, I guess. The great wave, after its passage, left a drone in my head. Water got in my right ear and I could not shake it off. One of the elderly women in our company laughed at seeing me tilting my head to the right and hitting it with my palm on the left side. After she had her fill of laughing, she taught me how to get rid of it, by tilting my head to the right, letting in a clean drop of the sea on my left ear, then tilting my head to the left to shake off the drop. It worked after a couple of attempts, the drone was gone. Besides, I have not been encountering any trouble listening to this or to this. Send-off music ‘til the next journey.
I wonder if I could have the songs played in a boombox while I take the swimming lessons. It would be nice to hear “going where the weather suits my clothes” echoing in some indoor swim school.
[Saud beach – photo by either Diwata or Aisha Vidal]
Red, pink, yellow stones
At Bangui bay, the waves were even fiercer. Because I was not in my non-swimmer’s swimwear during our stop to those windmill-lined shores, I all the more could not dare come nearer to the waters. I had to content myself with beholding the sea at a safe distance. At one point, Diwata stood next to me and said that the smaller waves looked like fingers crawling towards the beach. True, it seemed like a thousand white fingers were crawling towards the windmills and to us. The windmills were too high up on the beach, though, while me and Diwata ran away with little shrieks every time a wave rose and rolled nearer.
The sands of the beach there are black, with multi-colored rounded stones, sprawled like jewels. I remember pointing out a red one to Diwata, and picking up a pink one for her too. She asked why I was not taking one for myself. I said I thought about it, but as I was thinking about it while examining some stones, I stepped on a thorny twig which struck deep into my rubber slippers.
Good thing Diwata understands things like that right away, I needn’t explain. Perhaps had it been one of the good elderly women we were with who asked me, I would’ve answered with something like “Maybe because it’s not environment-friendly?”. One of them, by the way, the oldest in our company, took some huge gray ones. She carried them with just one hand, her left. She walked on with the stones raised next to her ear.
And while everyone else went to the windmills for photo-ops, I went on scouring the shores to find Diwata stones of more difficult colors, like yellow, and I did! I thought about picking up a green one for her too, then returned it back to the spread, thinking she might have already picked up one, there were a number of green ones around after all. I also tried looking for a blue one, but the waves began stretching farther towards the shore, threatening, until they reached parts where I had to leave the jeweled spread and retreat.
But it’s not for me, I yelled to the sea, it’s for Diwata, she’s just like you and all your children, so you shouldn’t mind, you know, I said. I don’t think the sea cared for what I had to say. His waves kept pushing forward. And even before I could make up my mind whether or not to continue looking for a blue one, I heard someone from our company yelled my name. The group had to be moving on.
The truth is I did not want to take anything because I wanted to return to the sea, and I wanted to be compelled by my desire to return. And I want my desire to remain raging, like those waves.
Before I turned my back to the water, swearing that I’ll catch him again in another shore, I stepped into the white foam of the last Pagudpud wave that I saw. It was warm and the warmth rose all the way up to my body – from the skin of the soles of my feet, to my legs, to my chest, to my face. The chill of the morning air all washed away.
Back in the van, in the chill of artificial, aircon air, I handed Diwata the yellow stone, saying sorry that there was not enough time to look for a blue one. She said it was okay, and held all the three stones in her palms. The thing is, all the stones turned grayish the moment they dried up.
Maybe you should just wet them again, I told Diwata, their true colors come out when they are wet.
Tama, lumalabas yung tunay pag basa, Diwata said. I will remember that for a long time.
So, I really have to go back, you see. To be true. I am coming.
[Bangui beach – photo by Aisha Vidal]