Something else-A A +A
Thursday, October 17, 2013
IT TOOK all of ten seconds, and I was outside the house straight from bed. In years of quake encounters, we usually find that ground movement stops once you're out in open space, the aftershocks more like harmless nudges. But not Tuesday's beast, which was horribly implacable.
I could see my neighbors screaming and scampering hereabouts. I looked at the house, and thought, anytime soon, it was going to cave in.
The power cables whopped each other, and then a large slab of concrete from a neighbor's firewall falls into the next house's kitchen, its residents bolt for dear life. Still, the shaking didn't stop—strong, prolonged, as portentous as a raging train while you're tied to the tracks.
Then the ground stopped moving, and, outside, it seemed everything was in place.
I wanted to go inside the house, but went around it first to see if something was out of place, but no crevices, the windows in the right places, no door twisted out of shape. But it was different inside.
The beast gutted open some fragile china from the cabinets, my mom's figurines in shambles on the floor. Although my father's urn was in place, all the candle vessels were sprawled all over.
I went upstairs, to my room, and it appeared some furious nerd of a goblin had hauled the shelves for something it couldn't find. I took my laptop and camera, left and went out into the streets.
I found that residents, with terrified faces, were out, mothers tugging along their children, their husbands hauling bags of clothes into vehicles. Yes, most of them thinking the hungry sea, which was a few meters from the curb where I found them, would loom over them and gobble all of them wholesale.
But just when they could go any further, the barangay officials came in motorcycles, shooing them back to their houses. There is no tsunami, they told the residents, stay in your houses.
I took my camera, left the car and rode in tandem with the barangay chief, who said he was going to make the rounds. For the first time, I had a bit of a tour of some parts of the village I thought didn't exist. In one coastal sitio, a good mesh of gaping cracks on the road. You'd think they were going to open anytime soon and usher a host of festering zombies.
A part of that sitio came as an open space with coconut trees, and there were rows of houses facing the open sea a good distance from the shoreline. A group of residents were outside—children and an old woman.
I asked how they were. The woman said she saw a strange stirring in the sea before them. It moved as though it was being sucked from many directions, she said. And then it disappeared.
I left the neighborhood and drove all the way to the newsroom. And that was when I saw one of the most peculiar scenarios along the way, at the South Road Properties.
On a quarry site, a group of people were huddled tightly on top of a mound of soil. A piece of tarpaulin protected them from the sun. Nobody moved, or nobody dared to step out beyond the shadow of the tarp or descended the small hill. A few meters down below stood their fragile hovels, haphazard in the marshes. You could see in their faces that they were waiting for something, perhaps some manner of death.
I drove on, dedicating the scene to some abstract memory. I did not take pictures. The quake, officially, took the strength of 7.2 magnitude, and in most of our books, it heaved the longest convulsion on the ground.
It was something else, not to mention the ruthless persistence of aftershocks. Some Greek deux ex machina turned things around. We're no longer the same persons.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 18, 2013.