Monday, September 25, 2006


A CROWDED beach is not a quiet study but for one thing: it can set an encounter with the timeless.

Angasil, Mactan, Friday, at summer’s close.

Bodies bob in the warm green waters. Sea-slick silky bodies, dark like driftwood, pale as tufts of sponge whirling on the shore, the wrinkly softness of the very young and the very old, bodies drawn tight in a chain of lazy daisies, breaking up, drifting, darting here and there, dark stitches running through the transparent green sheets that roll and crash on the shore.

It’s hard to see summer giving way to the showers of June.

After counting and recounting the heads of children in our group, I observe the faraway antics of tourists engaged in water sports. Occasionally, a banana boat snakes to our cove. The visitors wave at the swimmers. The locals look back at the contraption. Each one seizes different parts of reality, defining the peculiar accordingly.

When one boat suddenly tilts all its passengers into the water, no sense of disaster breaks up the idyll. Or does the surf just reduce everything but itself into the infinitesimal the way sun and sea dupe the eye into resting on an elusive horizon created by a trick of light glinting on green and blue?

Planes soar overhead. Ferries crisscross for Sta. Rosa-by-the-sea. Many of the passengers cross over to the mainland to sell, returning home laden with necessities. Only the more adventurous souls take the P12 island trip as a treat.

Does time pass more quickly for those who have an end in mind than for those who want to hold on to the moment? Another banana boat snakes to our harbor, bringing another glimpse of dauntingly cheerful tourists.

Looking up again after counting and recounting the children’s heads, I notice that the pleasure-seeking tourists and the errand-going residents observe regular intervals, a pattern religiously kept despite the disparity of purpose.

In looks, this cove in Angasil may as well be its neighbor, or another one further down. To attract families, there is an outlying perimeter of nets. Does its power to reassure rest on its ability to keep in or to keep out what one fears?

The breakwater is swept regularly by men with nets. I watch the play of muscles on the forearms of one as he trails the black nets to sieve the water of seaweeds, plastic cups and bottle caps.

These arms, those calluses and scars, the blackness of their crevices talk of days and nights hunting and hauling the fish. Now, all these stories lie inarticulate, buried under a boy’s chore of extracting flotsam to make the waters safe for swimming.

For a moment, I long for an intertidal zone teeming with the mysterious and the dangerous, for the evening sight of fishermen wading in waist-high waters, seducing the fish with the connivance of lamps usurping the lure of the lunar on moonless nights.

But I remember and go back to counting and recounting the children’s heads.

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