THIS was in one of those obscure islands in the middle of a strange seascape leading to a channel called Bucas Grande. It was lonely but beautiful, and its shores dove to depths of unimaginable life forms. But it was the journey going there that built the suspense.
There would be odds and ends of strange vegetation along the way, mangroves with a mighty hold, and just when the water turned deep green for you to think you were heading for perilous trenches, you’d see a man standing on knee-deep surface, holding on to a fishing rod.
The sea would turn calm sometimes, but just as suddenly would slap our outrigger and leave the engine with a muted drone.
You’d see the water boil up, forming into pools of swirling bodies and swerve our boat in all directions.
In this boat, while the rest of the clique would tuck themselves in the small cover in the middle, there would be me and another man braving the cold rain in the open. To keep us warm, he’d nudge me with a bottle of gin, which we took turns in deep swig.
Each time I took my shot, he’d laugh out loud, yell in the rain and give me a thumbs-up, “That’s my man!” Then we’d laugh, and it’d be his turn. I was fresh from college, and he was, well, some name in the public sphere already.
In the afternoon lull in the island, he suddenly slapped my shoulder and summoned me to the outrigger. “You stay at the back, and just paddle,” he said and sat in front so he could steer our boat to wherever we wanted to go. “Don’t worry,” he said.
So I picked the wooden oar and dug into the greenish water.
He did the same, and the boat moved swiftly into the open sea.
This was a breath of fresh air and we cut through the tiny whirlpools along the way while the island behind retreated into a bluish hue. We were far from shore already, and in a moment, he fell silent and seemed restless. We were still moving on, and I stirred into the water just the same.
He held on to his oar and sat still, silent. I stopped, too, leaving our boat cuddled in the arch and sweep of the crossing currents, although it brought us farther into the open sea while the rain ate up every faint blue strip of land in sight.
After a long pause, he turned to me, and said, “Do you know how to steer this thing back to the island?”
He’d tried steering the boat at the front rear to make a turn, but the swirling water made it impossible. I took his place, but just the same, we were moving further out, our souls being fed into the Pacific Ocean. Why not, I suggested, sit the other way around and sail the boat in reverse. He burst in laughter and threw me the thumbs-up again, “That’s my guy!” In a few minutes, we were back in the island drinking the rest of what remained in the bottle of gin and laughed our heart out.
I told him I’m going to write a poem about what happened, and he said he couldn’t wait to read it. It was a brief vacation among friends, and we’d be back in the city. In the few occasions that we’d bump into each other, he’d always ask for the poem like a father would to a son about his report card, and I tell him I was still going to write it. I never really got down to writing it, and life’s strange currents pulled people apart.
Over a decade passed, and I grew to dislike the kind of politics he chose. He’d turn into a stranger I didn’t know. He’d be at the forefront defending a President I find so contemptible.
Last week, I wanted to write something. There were a lot of things he said that I didn’t like, but I won’t name them now. But his life was quicker than my writing.
We now face this funny and painful rite of hauling out memories for the dear departed, and sure enough we’re all guilty of a few embellishments. That boat story is true, it is no allegory, even as it can be in many ways. I didn’t like him that much, but only because I didn’t know him that much. Cerge Remonde was real, still is, and deserving of all the fondness.