EMMAN glides through from one corner of the lake to the other and then to another, as if there’s a swimming coach scouting for new athletes. At times, he dips into the bottom. Every resurfacing comes with a surge of glee despite the occasional glint of sun on his face. Emman is one of the boys here in Pawod this Sunday afternoon.
In the island of Lapu-Lapu that has no known river, Pawod is an anomaly of sorts. How was it formed? When? Where’s the source of its water? Does it flow toward the sea? What it is exactly?
Emman is thirteen years old. The other boys, a motley mix from nearby barrios, are much younger than him. They converge here for several reasons, mostly swimming. This is their idea of fun on random afternoons, especially weekends when there are more kids to share good times with.
It is difficult to classify Pawod. It isn’t large enough for a typical lake. It has no noticeable current to be a stream. With its indeterminate current and brackish water, Pawod can pass as spring, creek, billabong, or cove even. There’s also its cave-like façade and underwater pathways to further complicate things. Underwater cave? But then people generally refer to Pawod as a lake – so it is.
The boys don’t care what Pawod is and what Pawod is not. They don’t need scientific accuracy to enjoy it. It’s here for the taking, free to plunge and all. Sometimes they cut classes just to be in Pawod. On a lucky day, foreigners throw coins at them. Two boys simultaneously take a dive from the nine-footer rocky overhang that roofs a third of Pawod.
Pawod is a reservoir of myths and creatures. People from different generations who ever went to the lake have heard its stories. Pawod is said to have formed after a huge tornado struck the land.
Others believe that a rich engkanto Don Rafael had a house atop where Pawod is now. A kind fairy, he let people borrow kitchenware over two conditions: get the utensils themselves from the depths of Pawod and return them to the same place after using. All hell broke loose one day when someone failed to return what he borrowed. Don Rafael would take a life or two each year, usually children, since then.
Emman struggles to catch any of the younger boys as they play tag. The boys don’t seem to mind much whether the stories are true or not. They have heard of scarier stories about cogtong and mantaga that devour humans at whim. Other rumored Pawod inhabitants include: mermaids, white ladies and cigar-puffing agta.
Most parents try to discourage their children from going to Pawod. They could swear to have known a neighbor that was once eaten by the giant octopus or led astray by engkantos. Fairytales aside, some people dump garbage and dead animals in Pawod. The greenish water is feared to have caused skin diseases among kids.
But all this seems to lure instead Emman and these boys to keep coming back to Pawod.
They come here not just for respite, but also to test their courage and float their freedom. For a while, they are away from the dictates of their parents. They sure believe they are tougher than those who choose not to be here. For a moment, they feel invincible. This is their gathering.