DEATH moved earth, wind and fire and all the forces of nature to get Diana. In the end, all it took was a tiny prick.
I first met her in my speech class, an articulate Baguio girl surrounded by 50 inarticulate Kapampangans. In her self-introduction speech, she said she was a transferee from the University of Baguio who was now living alone in a boarding house in Balibago.
She was a charming, affable young lady, a rather ordinary face who would easily disappear in a crowd. There was no indication at all that she was the tired and frightened object of a terrible hunt by a very determined mad hunter.
For her speech on the most unforgettable experience, Diana narrated how she had survived the July 15, 1994 earthquake.
She was inside a classroom at the University of Baguio, she said, when the Magnitude 8 quake struck at 4 PM. The room swayed like a see-saw: when it leaned this way, the chairs slid across the room and piled up in a heap against the wall; when it leaned that way, they rolled on the floor and ended up on the opposite side.
When the quake stopped, Diana said, everything stood still for a while and then the school building started vibrating. Then the second floor collapsed on the ground floor, followed by the third floor crashing on the second floor, and so on.
If you had heard the sound of twisting metal and grinding concrete and the screaming and moaning of people who were caught inside a collapsing building, she said, you’d never sleep soundly again. The only reason she was still alive was that she had decided to see someone on the top floor just moments before the quake struck.
Diana paused in the middle of her speech to wipe her tears. She had lost her best friend, her favorite teacher, and many of her classmates and she felt guilty that she had survived.
She left Baguio, she said, to live with relatives in Nueva Ecija, where she sought healing amidst the bucolic countryside.
One night, after hours of continuous rains, the Pantabangan Dam released water and flooded the farmlands. Diana and her cousins got out of their nipa house in the nick of time, before floodwater swept it away. The next morning, as they surveyed the muddy landscape littered with the carcasses of farm animals, her cousins told her, “Ano ba iyan, Diana! Sinusundan ka yata ng malas!”
The class laughed. I could not help commenting, “Maybe you’re destined for greatness, otherwise why would death or the devil bother chasing you down to stop you?”
“Well,” Diana said, her jaws tightening but her eyes betraying the fear within, “they won’t get me.”
After Nueva Ecija, she went to Pampanga, rented a boarding house in Balibago, and enrolled at Holy Angel University. She looked at her classmates and ended her speech with theatrical flourish: “Here, I am far from disaster. You, you are my family now, and this—this is my new home. Thank you.”
It was the kind of closing statement guaranteed to get applause, and her classmates did applaud. One student said aloud, “E ka migaganaka, sister. Safety ka keni!” Aside from correcting his grammar, I asked him and the rest of the class to exert effort to make Diana feel welcome and secure.
At the end of the semester I remember giving Diana a high grade and wishing her a good life.
That was March 1991. On June 15, Mount Pinatubo erupted.
All the bridges on Abacan River had collapsed, and the only way to get to the other side was to climb down a steep ravine, cross the river on a rickety footbridge, and climb up another ravine. It was quite a sight to see thousands of people crossing Abacan this way, and to see them scrambling like ants to safety every time the river suddenly swelled with lahar.
About a week after the eruption, as I crossed the footbridge, I caught a glimpse of Diana going in the opposite direction. She was doing a balancing act with two traveling bags. “Sir!” she cried when she saw me. I waved at her and she nodded and then disappeared in the crowd.
She looked like she was on the run again. That night, I prayed for her. I prayed for her deliverance from whatever or whoever she was running away from.
Years later, in 1998 I think, I was stuck in traffic downtown. I casually turned my head and there I saw it—written on the white board of a funeral parlor was Diana’s name.
Oh no, I thought. Please no.
But it was Diana, my former student. Death had finally caught up with her.
I pulled over and asked family members how she died. I wanted to know what great disaster or catastrophe had finally killed this hard-to-get object of a terrible pursuit.
They said she had died over the weekend at a local hospital. It was dengue fever, they said. Nobody had realized it until it was too late.
In Greek mythology, Diana was the goddess of hunters. This Diana, my Diana, was the hunted one, but how ironic that after escaping a devastating earthquake, an overflowing dam, and the century’s biggest volcanic eruption unscathed and triumphant, it was the bite of one tiny insect that did her in.