Monday, October 14, 2013

Inches of rain

Listen, my friend, for I am about to tell a story to chill the blood. Three of us were in a well-lighted room, waiting for our companions when the rain crashed down around us.

Instantly, our moods changed. The day had begun sunny. A light breeze toying with the trees put one in a contemplative mood. The campus was quiet. Term was ending and most were already done with final exams.

The professor had prepared vegetarian noodles for evening snacks. That night’s presentation of final papers would be the last hurdle before we, too, closed the sem.

The deafening arrival of rain seemed like someone had crashed into the pantry. It wasn’t just my imagination because after a few minutes, rivulets were coursing down the walls. Pools grew around our feet. With or without an invitation, the rain was going to sit in our class.

The professor, who lived for four years in England, commented that was what she missed in the land of “filthy” weather, the full orchestra accompanying a tropical storm.

We listened to the cymbals, snare drums, bass drums, tambourines, maracas and gongs rocking above our heads, battering the windows and dripping rivers into what I considered until then the best-appointed room in this state-funded college.

Following the professor’s remark that English squalls could be tamed with a stout umbrella and a stiff upper lip, I sincerely wished that the storms passing through this country preferred castanets rather than the full ensemble of percussion instruments.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), some 19 tropical cyclones or storms enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility in a year. About six to nine make landfall.

There is an online petition to rename typhoons after those plundering the country. I can understand the need not to forget. But in light of the destruction storms leave behind, I am all for christening these God-made storms after diffident, inoffensive personalities.

Like a band that took delight in assaulting the audience with their forsaken singing, the rain played its racket for 5 then 10 minutes. After 15 minutes of undiminished downpour, the three of us whipped out our mobile phones, a dead giveaway of nervousness.

Two of my classmates texted they were at a transport hub. That’s less than five minutes away had amphibian jeepneys been invented. Since it had been raining for more than half an hour and it was also the first shift of the evening rush hours, the bidding wars for taxis must already be underway.

People queue up for taxis, even during rush hour. But when the first raindrop plops wetly on the asphalt, civilization is thrown out of the window. The denomination of bills waved in front of taxi drivers is set by one’s degree of desperation to get out before the floodwaters rise and push up the bids for taxi rides.

I noticed then the basic phone models of my companions. Both lost their smartphones to pickpockets who operate whatever the weather but thrive best in crowds made panicky by rainfall. Reaching for his iPhone to tweet an update to his TV network, the classmate only found the smear of gel left by the thief in his empty skinny jeans pocket.

A few weeks after she returned to the country, the professor’s open tote eased her iPhone to a keen-eyed jeepney pickpocket. Now, she flicks on and off her basic phone’s torchlight to replace her once obsessing over the content streamed in by her late lamented smartphone.

These coping mechanisms, like posing in one’s most disheveled flood-soaked self for the souvenir shot to cap the semester, cannot make the rain go away (or the flashfloods or water-borne disease or mean streets with their volcanic surplus of road rage and predators).

But if such a reflex delays the inevitable descent into the road to hell, lined with a couple of inches of rainfall, I’m for it.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 13, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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