Friday, August 21, 2009

The Old Man and the Stolen Jar

Word polaroids by Maria Alina Co

The Spark

Lolo Atoy stared straight ahead. His left hand on his chin, sitting on a tattered chair, he looked out the window overlooking the street like a painter eyeing a blank canvas. But unlike a painter who’d see a throng of kids playing kickball under a hot summer sun, Lolo Atoy saw a blanket of nothingness. He did not even notice an eight-year old kid, eyeing him curiously and was inching closer each second. He did not even hear the minutest echo of the boy’s playmates and their incessant jeering.

To most residents of Dahlia street, Lolo Atoy lived like most men his age lived. With arthritic joints and weak spirits, they pressed their backs on the most comfortable beds and chairs, thinking of the past, knowing fully well they did not belong in the present, but fearing what lied ahead. But Nica, Lolo Atoy’s twenty-five year old daughter, knew better. He saw in her father’s tired eyes a hint of a spark, a speck of luminous light that she caught sight of in shadows, in the most unexpected moments, like a sudden reflection from an unknown object that vanishes when you look for its source. She saw in his father not a senile man, but a young boy waiting to be tagged in a hide-and-seek game.

Of course he hadn’t always been this way. There was a time when life flowed in his veins, when his deep chuckles were like ripples that reverberated throughout the town. Five years ago, he won first place at Brgy. Sta. Lucia’s LaLoLa Videoke Challenge, an event organized for senior citizens. His winning piece was Till There Was You sung by the Beatles.

“There were bells on a hill…no, I never heard them at all…’till there was you…”, Lolo Atoy would readily demonstrate his singing prowess to anyone who’d care to listen to his glory days.

“Of course, everyone was surprised to hear I have a great voice all this time. I mean my speaking voice isn’t exactly smooth and you hear me talk most of the time, right?”

Truth is, Lolo Atoy’s singing voice was hoarse and out of tune. But what made him bag the prize was the way he sung the Beatles song. From the stage, he trotted his way to the audience and wooed his wife Lola Felly, a naturally shy and meek lady. It was such a lovely sight as Lola Felly was blushing from ear to ear. At least, they took home a week’s grocery as their prize. That made Lola Felly forgive her husband.

Lolo Atoy was known to have a knack for winning contests. In the toothpaste factory, where he worked for most of his life until his retirement, he was famous for being the most active and participative worker. Why, almost all their appliances at home were just prizes he won from joining contests in company parties! The bread toaster was from his winning as Employee of the Year. The blue electric fan, the washing machine and the coffee maker were from winning raffles in Christmas parties. It was neither luck nor talent. It’s just that Lolo Atoy was game for anything.

But all of that changed when Lola Felly died. Lolo wept and refused to eat for days. He laid on the bed all day, praying and staring at the ceiling. When his sons and daughters went home and tried to talk to him, Lolo Atoy assured them he was okay. But Nica was worried. At night, in his sleep, her father moaned and whimpered over and over again, “Where’s the jar? WHERE IS MY JAR? I told you to keep my jar and now you tell me you forgot where you put it!”

Some nights his voice was clearer – “I’ll just put you in my jar so I will forget. I want to forget. Oh it hurts too much! Hurts like hell!”

Nica didn’t have any idea what jar he was talking about. Rumors spread that Lolo Atoy has money--or even gold—kept at a secret place at home, but unfortunately he forgot about when he turned crazy. Nica searched every nook and cranny of the house but found nothing.

As months passed by, Lolo Atoy’s nightmares and sleep talking episodes became less frequent and eventually stopped.

The Jar of Treasures

For a moment, Kenneth thought Lolo Atoy was looking right at him. Sweating profusely, Kenneth felt his heart jump when Jon-Jon nudged his elbow.

“Hey man, relax! If you want to back out now, you can say so. Only you’ll be branded from now on as an infectious chicken!,” Jon-Jon jeered, as the other kids joined in, laughing.

“No problem, man. I can do this. You sure nobody else is there?” Kenneth wiped the sweat off his forehead, taking a step closer to the house.

“I’m very sure. Ate Nica went off to the market. She won’t be back in an hour, man. Good luck,” Jon-Jon said as he ran back the home base for another round of kickball.

Kenneth just recovered from one whole week of flu. That afternoon he was looking forward to playing kickball and was dismayed to find out that Jon-Jon, the kid bully, had banned him from playing.

He yelled, “Lame losers not allowed here!” The others teased, “Yeah, mate, can’t afford to be infected!” But then his friends Sam and Arman worked out a compromise with the bully. Just a dare, one dare and Kenneth can join.

And so, Kenneth finds himself right at that spot, sneaking his way inside Lolo Atoy’s bungalow. He finds it stupid really. A hidden treasure! What is this, Hiraya Manawari, he thought, mocking the whole idea.

The living room reminded him of his own. It was almost bare, with a pale green linoleum flooring. The sofa did not look comfortable, as it was made of sturdy wood. Newspapers lay scattered on the floor, a half empty coffee cup on the table. Lolo Atoy remained sitting on one corner. Looks like he has nothing to worry about, Kenneth thought. Then he remembered he had no idea where to start looking.

As he tiptoed to the bedrooms though, Kenneth thought he saw a firefly zoom by. But that would be impossible, wouldn’t it? It was two in the afternoon.

There were three rooms ahead. He opened the first one on his right. It was neat, the bed made up, the curtains floral. He opened the door adjacent. Bingo, he thought. The room looked just like it belonged to an old man. Crumpled, dirty white sheets with coffee stains, a cabinet and a wooden chair in front of the window. As Kenneth went straight for the cabinet, it came again—a flash of light. But this time, the strip of light was reflected on his face, like it came from a shard of a mirror. Kenneth felt his hands grow cold, his hair rise as if he had seen a ghost.

The light moved from his face, passed the cabinet, the bare wall, down to the beam where the wall and floor met, and finally, rested on a single tile. Kenneth walked slowly, staring at the tile the light was reflecting. He tugged at the tile, the puffs of ceramics making him cough. Kenneth’s hands were shaking as he moved the tile aside. As he suspected, it was hollow.

Kenneth paused. He glanced at the door, afraid the loud drumming of his heart beat would drown out the sound of Nica’s footsteps. Assured the coast was clear, Kenneth reached inside the hole. He fished out a glass jar, a large and dusty mayonnaise jar. And as he wiped the dust off the jar, Kenneth felt his jaw drop as he saw not money or gold as was the rumor, but lots and lots of trinkets. Red and yellow matchboxes, colorful marbles, greeting cards and gift labels, letters, rubber bands and texts, stones and shells. Kenneth could not believe his eyes! He could only imagine what his friends would say when they find out. But when Kenneth opened the jar’s lid, Kenneth froze as a flash of blinding light overtook him. Was it the end of the world? Did he faint? But if he did, why is he floating in space—a giant lid in his face, except it had ripples and electric sparks. Kenneth screamed as he felt himself being sucked into the lid.

They say when you reach the end, your life flashes back in front of you. But if it Kenneth was indeed dead, then why was the flashback not his? Kenneth becomes Atoy, a thin, fair-skinned boy, playing dampa on the side-walk. He drops his rubber bands when he sees a pretty girl named Felly walking on the street with her mother. Outside a red gate, young Felly accepts a card from Atoy. Outside, Atoy’s friends tease, calling on Atoy to come and play marbles with them. Play first, playboy later! A whiff of floral scent, Atoy smells the pink letter Felly wrote for him—just him! Suddenly, large drops of rain fell. Kenneth was making out the words DEAR ATOY, I AM HAPPY YOU--- but all the words became wet blurs. Was it tears in Kenneth’s eyes or was it the rain? It made no difference as Kenneth breathed deeply for a final blow—he felt a strong tug as he was pulled into a dark hole.

The Boy Waiting to be Found

Nica walked as fast as she could. Holding four full bags of grocery was no easy feat for a girl her size. As she turned the corner to the gate, she almost dropped them when she collided with a kid named Kenneth.

“What are you doing here, boy?”

“Sorry, I—we—the ball fell here, I just got the b-ball,” Kenneth nervously explained, his hands clutching an inflated volleyball.

“All right. Go play!”

“I’d like to help you with those,” Kenneth offered. Nica handed him over all the bags.

In the living room, Nica kissed his father. “Hi Pop! How are you? How’s daydreaming? Been to Neverland?”

Lolo Atoy responded by turning his head and staring. Nica was pleasantly surprised, warm at the thought of her father finally recognizing or at the least acknowledging her. But then she realized her father wasn’t looking at her—he was staring right at Kenneth.

“Oh, it’s just Kenneth, Pop. He’s one of the kids playing outside, you know, the kids you’ve been staring at all day.”

Kenneth stared back, then regained his composure. “How are you, Lolo Atoy?” Lolo Atoy merely stared back in response, but Kenneth saw the slightest, disapproving frown.

Kenneth waved goodbye and went back to play kickball. It was his turn now. Jon-jon jeered, “Hey loser, you’re not supposed to play! You lost! You didn’t get the treasure!”

Kenneth looked at Jon-Jon sharply--“I score a home run, then I can pull your shorts down!”

“No way you’re going to do that, lame ass!”

Poised on the home base, Kenneth flexed his leg. He knew he could do this. He’d always won. Goodness, he knows how to kick the ball to the next village! Kenneth’s kick was so strong the ball flew all the way to Tramo, an eskinita perpendicular to their street.

“YEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!,” Kenneth howled as he ran back to the home base. Sam and Arman started to tease, “Shorts down, Jon-Jon! Shorts down, Jon-Jon!” But the defeated kid bully suddenly ran away.

“Yeah, go home kiddo, cry to mommy!”

Lolo Atoy has never felt this free. It’s good to be back, he thought, as Sam and Arman gave him high fives. Here’s to winning again and again and again! And living life one more time!

Lolo Atoy glanced back at his former lifeless body, staring out the window. And he knew his daughter was right all along. The old man was not a senile man. Just a young boy waiting to be found.

(Notes from the author: this is my first draft. I will revise this asap! And include better pictures! Thanks for reading!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

No Reservations

Words by Maria Alina Co

What were three true-blooded Manilenas without any camping skills thinking when they decided to go to an island called Anawangin?

By word of mouth, the small, uninhabited island is fast becoming a camping Mecca for mountaineers. But for most city dwellers, they just could not resist Anawangin’s mystery. With no hotels, no electricity, no air-conditioning, no bars, no internet, novelty for them is the greatest adventure. Not knowing what to expect, three girls headed out to Zambales one Friday morning, with luggage fit for an airport’s. Will handsome Leonardo di Caprio appear and hand over a secret map to “The Beach”? Will they befriend a volleyball with eyes and mouth just like in “Castaway”? I assure you it was nothing like that. I should know, because I was one of them.

No Reservations

After four hours of dreamless sleep aboard an Iba Zambales bus, we were finally roused by the conductor’s yelling “San Antonio!” From there, we were to get a tricycle to Pundaquit, where we could rent a boat to Anawangin. Being the Boracay-going gals that we were, we felt excited, curious and nervous all at the same time. And then it hit us—all these were just improvisations. Just some instructions we got online from a blogger we don’t even know. Waves of doubt splashed our minds—come to think of it, we didn’t even have reservations!

But off we went to meet the waves and explore the sea. We were island hopping! For anyone who has taken a vacation in Pundaquit, Zambales, the locals offer island hopping in a small boat that can accommodate at least four people for only P800. The route covers three islands— Camara, Capones and Anawangin and is inclusive of a ride back to Pundaquit.

Camara, the nearest island from Pundaquit shores, is a very small isle with a rocky shore and white sand. There’s nothing much to do there but just lay down on a mattress and bask in the sun. It’s also perfect for picnic with friends and family. The next stop is Capones, where you can trek to the Spanish lighthouse. The walk is worth the sweat as the lighthouse is breathtaking. Try talking to the construction guys there and they’d lead you to the best and safest place to take pictures of the lighthouse. Plus they’d give you a healthy dose of travel tips and trivia.

The last stop, Anawangin was the biggest finale. When we arrived there at noon, the sun was high, the sand powdery white and the beach crystal clear blue. Around us were not coconut trees as was the usual, but pine trees! Lots and lots of them! The beauty of it all was too overwhelming that we didn’t notice right away that we were the only tourists there, aside from the caretakers who lived at the nearby nipa hut. After setting up our tent and stove, we ran around, explored and swam to our heart’s content! It was the most peaceful I’ve felt over the last few years. Dipping my head in the water, I told myself—this is the place to be, this island is ours.

That is, until the next day.

Anawangin Tips and Must- Haves

Mornings are pure paradisiacal, but evenings at Anawangin can be quite harsh. Especially when you’re amateur campers like us.

When the sun went down, the island was literally black, with just a speck of stars above. Our large heavy–duty flashlight might have come in handy, except that my friend found out it was on the whole time. It blinked for a second and then the charge was out. So we had to resort to scented candles my other friend brought.

Needless to say, bring lots of flashlights and batteries. Also, the mountain mosquitoes consider us a delicacy, so at nighttime, it’s a must to use a mosquito repellant.

The best about the island is the sense of peace and isolation. But Saturday morning, we woke up to the sound of around fifty people setting up their tents, some very close to ours. So I would recommend a weekday trip, instead of weekends to have the island all for your selves. You can choose between two sides of the island. They only charge entrance fees per day of your stay: on the left is P100 per head and on your right is P50 per head. All I know is that the on the P100 side, there are fewer campers and the restroom’s better.

To survive an over night stay or more in Anawangin, make sure you load up on all the essentials: food and water. For food, it’s best to bring a mini stove, a pot for rice and a pan for the dishes. The key word is canned goods: tuna, corned beef, spam, sardines, all kinds for more variety. For snacks, bring bread and spreads, biscuits and chips. In San Antonio, there are convenience stores where you can buy gallons of water and all the other needs you forgot to buy from the city.

Once you’re in the island, forget your cell phones. There’s not even half of a single signal there. So before you say goodbye to your boatman, tell him the exact date and time you plan to go home.

For you sanitary needs, water is pumped from a nearby poso. You can bring buckets of water to take a bath in a restroom made of bamboo sticks. There’s also a toilet and you can use the rooms to change clothes, if not your tent.

I’m a Survivor!

An adventure in Anawangin is not for the faint-hearted. If you plan to go there, be ready to get down and dirty.

Manilenas that we are, we’re proud to say we survived three days and two nights in a mysterious island, far away from civilization. And besides the island’s beauty, it’s the uncertainty, the journey to the unknown that made all the difference. Reservations are no good in Anawangin. Just pure guts and adventurism.