THIS snake didn’t make it to the new year.
On the morning of the last day of the old year, I came upon several loops of black while wading in the low-tide pools along the coast in Badian.
The coils of what first resembled a discarded rubber tube had several flies hovering around one end, which used to be the head until someone or something took it off. About to touch the sinuous pile, I was sharply commanded by the husband to “leave it alone”.
Why? I walked away, curious. What had happened to the sea snake? Was it trapped in the shallows when the sea receded? Did one of the dogs roaming the shore come upon it? Why take away only the head?
These questions may not have bothered the hovering flies at all.
Yearends give birth to rituals. There’s more than a core of superstition in the attempt to look back and probe.
The desire to get away, even for a few days, moves our family strongest at the close of the year. For 360 or so days, we pursue different paths. Before the cycle ends and the next 365 days begin, we agree to disconnect and retreat for some quiet.
Anyone who knows the sea will disagree: the sea is anything but quiet.
Because the second to the last day of this year coincided with high tide, the susurrous sea was drowned out by the families that turned out to enjoy Jose Rizal’s birth anniversary.
The very young are awake even when dawn is still a lavender mantle in the horizon. They are joined by the very old. Those representing two extremes—farthest and closest to mortality—know better than to waste a day.
Our rooms overlooked a wide sandbar, where children played games from way before technology imposed an embargo on childhood. Shrieks and laughter pierced the air as I watched the children scamper on the sand, playing “tubig-tubig,” Japanese game, and a convoluted game of tag-the-It.
When the waves breached the farthermost ring of corals and rocks and the sea rushed in, the children were ready.
Mothers have no equal as watchers but fathers create the most fun for children. Naturally upholstered with generous bellies, fathers—with several youngsters hanging on to their biceps—
leaped and met the waves, a most inelegant sight but perhaps the most puissant of memories enduring past childhood.
When the sea began its retreat, the cycle was mirrored on humans. First, the young were cradled or dragged, protesting, for a rinse and the tearful ride home. Only the strongest and the most tested of swimmers stayed to test the depths.
As the human universe retracted, the sea reasserted itself. It has never been quiet. It is never quiet. Whistles, murmurs, creaks, crashes, rustles, lisps, pops. I gingerly picked my way, during ebbtide, among rocks, corals, and seaweed.
This breakwater looked like a wasteland. True, there were too many discarded liquor bottles to count. But the corals, like underwater cacti, were reviving with the inflow of the tides.
Between the crevices were sea urchin, each spiny creature a universe unto itself. Even in the driest pocket lurked a sense of waiting for the waters to return and restore life, color, surge.
Except for the dead sea snake. It was now food for the gods.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 1, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”