Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Thursday late afternoon. Right after the school had ended for the day the three of them raced their way to the park at the end of the barrio to watch the sunset as they'd always do every Friday and Saturday. There they would be talking just about anything their young minds could ever think of as they would watch the clouds changed color from gray and ivory to orange and purple over the mountains that ran along the base of Cogtong Bay toward the other end, a place more than ninety kilometers east of Tagbilaran City, a place facing the tip of an island province of Southern Leyte, in a country called the 'Pearl of the Orient'.
They might have not consciously agreed, but over the years the park had slowly became part of their lives and was the sole witness of their growing friendship and of how far their imaginations and dreams had gone. They had always thought nothing could change how things were going; they had always believed nothing and no one could ever separate them. What they did not know was that fate was paving another road for them, a road that would split and lead into different destinations.
But that afternoon they were not there just for the sunset alone. And it was not their usual day to go to the park. In fact, it was their very first time to go there on a Thursday.
It was Donald who first reached the edge of the park where three concrete benches faced the view beyond. He was jumping in exultation as he celebrated his victory when Remma arrived, panting. Leandro came last and he, too, was catching his breath.
"You're cheating!" Remma complained between her breath.
"I did not!" Donald, 11 year-old, exclaimed. "It was you who grabbed my arms."
"Because you blocked my way."
"Doesn't matter," Leandro stepped in, still breathing heavily. "You get to learn to find a way to win."
"But that's unfair."
"Hey, look," Donald pointed his arms to the north, toward the sky above the mountains on the other side of the bay. "It's visible now."
They both turned their heads toward where Donald gestured them to look. It was still 5:15 P.M., but the comet was already slowly making itself stood out from being gobbled by the sun's brightness. It was long and beautiful; the head was small but bright, and its tail slowly spread upward. The view was ethereal that they just stood there in silence, engulfed.
"Swift-Tuttle," Leandro said in a voice that's more of a whisper than what he intended to.
"Huh?" his two friends asked in confusion.
"It's what they call it. I've seen the news on TV at Kuya Alberto's house."
"Its name is funny," 10 year-old Remma giggled. "But the comet's so beautiful. I better call it 'Dorele'"
Leandro frowned while Donald cracked into laughter.
"Where'd you get that name? It sounds weird," Donald still couldn't stop himself.
Remma faced him with arms in akimbo and looked Donald flatly in the eyes. "That's our name. I put them together."
Donald paused. "Oh."
Leandro, this time, guffawed.
The sun had already set, and the sky was completely black with the comet graced the eternal beauty of the night sky. It was now farther away from over the mountains, and its light now completely bathed their silhouettes magically. It was the brightest and most astounding among the stars; the celestial body that had drawn them more closely together that night.
"I've changed my mind," Leandro said after a momentary silence.
"About what?" Remma asked without taking her eyes from the comet. In the still silence of the night, it was more like a painting. A masterpiece of an artist.
"I want to study stars," he answered almost to himself.
"Oh, yeah?" Donald reacted cynically as he looked at him. "And what happened to your Geographer thing?"
"Donald," Remma reminded him of his attitude again. But Leandro was not at all pissed.
"It's still there. But tonight I see a more convincing reason for me to study what's out there."
"So you just change your mind that easy. Just because of that comet. What would ever happen if something else comes out? Something different, something not a comet or a star? Would you ever change your mind had we not come here?" Donald looked at the sky again. And, after a while, continued, "You better stick with something you really want, or you'll end up just standing there. Undecided. Dissatisfied."
Leandro stood up and walked farther toward the edge. "I don't know if it's crazy ---"
"It is crazy," Remma stressed the fact.
Leandro turned and faced them. "OK. But it's final. This is what I want. It's who I want to be."
"Right," Donald kicked the stone near his right foot. "As if we have a NASA here or a school for that."
Leandro went silent and thought that his friend might be right. He was too impulsive, too reckless in making decisions like that. He hadn't even heard about NASA, what it was for or what it meant. But then again, his friend might be wrong. Nobody's sure yet. Perhaps, he assured himself, there might actually be a school for that somewhere.
"You ever heard people talking about stars and comets on TV or radio? People like Filipino scientists? We're not even sure there is one," Donald continued.
Remma uncrossed her arms, put them at her both sides, and shifted her weight as she leaned on them. "The thing is, if you really want something, like really want it, you can always find a way."
Leandro, 11, turned his head and looked up to the comet above. Then he smiled.
When Remma went home that night, she overheard her mama in the dining room. She was talking to someone, and was talking about her. She slowly and carefully closed the door behind her and tiptoed her way to the staircase. She could see from there her mama and papa, both their backs on her. Her mama was setting the table for dinner, while her papa was making something she couldn't tell what.
"She'll eventually adapt. The first year will not be easy for the three of us, but it's just normal for people moving in," her papa said in a reassuring voice.
Her mama, a grade school teacher for 10 years, sounded worried nevertheless. "She's too young to go there. She may not understand everything," her mama said.
"We've been through this, Eula. That is why we'll help her, as her parents," her papa slightly raised his voice. He turned around and put the bowl on the table as he continued, "Besides, Calgary is not far from Edmonton. She'll get to see her cousins there every now and then."
"You tell her. She listens to you more than to me," her mama placed the adobong manok in the table, next to the escabeche.
"Where is she? It's already late."
"Maybe she's in the park."
"The park? It's not Friday yet." Her papa, a radiologist in a community hospital three towns away, looked straight toward the dining room door and out the living room, then his eyes met hers. She was startled, and quickly climbed up the stairs and dashed toward her room.
"Where have you been?" his nanay yelled when she saw him walked in. "You know we can't start the dinner until we're all at the table."
"I'm sorry, nanay," he apologized. "We went to the park. We watched the comet. It's still out there, you can still see it. It's beautiful," he narrated enthusiastically.
His nanay seemed intrigued, and her voice suddenly softened. "A comet, you say?"
"Yes, and it's beautiful. It's called Swift-Tuttle," he said as his nanay walked out the door and into the yard outside. His two younger sisters trailed their mother excitedly.
He walked toward the table and sat to his father's right. "Tatay, what's a comet?"
His tatay, who had just sat there, took the rice and put some on his plate. "I'm not sure. People say it's some sort of asteroids or meteors or something like that."
"Where does the tail come from? The comet outside, it has tails," he asked with unsuppressed interest.
"I don't know. Maybe small fragments of it. Or maybe dusts," his tatay answered flatly with indifference.
"There's dust in the outer space?" his voiced raised in total surprise as his excitement soared.
His tatay glared at him."I'm only a fisherman, not a scientist. Now eat."
Leandro was daunted, and for a moment kept his other wild questions to himself. His youngest sister, seven year-old Phoemela, noisily rushed in with naked excitement.
"Hey, hey, hey!" their tatay saw Phoemela running toward them. "Stop running. I don't want to see a bloody nose in here. Sit down. Where's your sister? Julia!"
Julia went inside hurriedly. Their nanay followed behind her.
"Tatay, you better take a look!" Julia exclaimed.
"It can wait," their tatay was now upset. "I can't believe you're still ignorant at your age," he was referring to their nanay, who was now grabbing a chair.
"It's a once in a lifetime, Mateo," their nanay defended herself.
"Oh, right. Like you've never seen the Halley's comet before."
"What's the Halley's comet?" Leandro quickly asked.
"Keep eating," their tatay warned.
"Nanay, where do comets come from? Why can't we see them every year?" It was Julia.
"They say comets travel a very long route, that's why we don't see them often."
"Is it the same comet that appeared when Jesus was born?" Phoemela asked before sipping the Milkfish soup.
Their nanay shrugged.
"Tay, what do you call a person that study stars?" Leandro asked.
"I have no idea."
"Is there a school here that teaches about it?"
His tatay shut him a cold glance. " I don't know."
"I want to be like them."
"Who's them?" Phoemela asked without looking at him. She was busy deboning the fish.
"Neil Armstrong and --"
"Just keep eating, Leandro."
After dinner, Donald and his parents were sitting on the outdoor metal chairs in the lawn as they were gazing at the night sky. He got all his questions answered about comets and stars and constellations, and his mother told him stories about astronauts while his father talked about the Halley's comet and how big and bright it was. When asked why the sudden interest in celestial bodies, Donald just shrugged. He didn't want to become an Astronomer, as what his father called them, because he knew from his heart what he truly wanted.
The next day, on their way to the park, the two boys noticed that Remma was silent and seemed sad. They sensed something's not right. They were not racing their way there, and that, too, was unusual for them.
"What's wrong?" Leandro asked with full concern.
"Papa told me we will be leaving next month," Remma weakly said.
"Leaving? To where?" Donald asked.
Both the boys stopped from walking. Confused. Stunned.
"Is that for---how long?" Leandro spoke after his shock had disappeared.
"Papa said we'll be living there for a long time," Remma wiped the tears in her eyes with the back of her hand.
"You're not coming back, are you?" Donald asked with resentment in his voice.
Remma said nothing. She just continued walking. Leandro ran to catch her.
"Wait....that's not fair," his voice a mix of sadness and pain.
Remma just kept walking.
Donald just stood where he was, staring at the dirt road beneath his feet. His emotions were stirring and shouting out loud and fighting each other, but he couldn't hear them.
He walked along the gravel path toward the edge of the park that was overlooking the sea, and toward the very spot where they'd always sit together and watch the sunset. Remma and Leandro was already there; his buddy seemed to be consoling her. Remma raised her head and looked blankly far beyond the sea as Donald came and sat beside her.
"So what do you think we should do?" Donald asked after a long silence.
"I don't know," Leandro honestly answered.
"I don't want to go," Remma uttered, her voice started to hoarse.
Donald sighed deeply. "What happens to the promise we've made?"
"Donald, please. It's not her decision," Leandro pleaded. "She can't control it. It's gonna happen, OK? So maybe it'll help us if we just accept it this early. And then let's find a way to enjoy the time left now that we're still together."
"I can't believe you, Leandro. You're acting like it's so easy for you! Let it out, what you really feel!" Donald's anger escaped from his exploding emotions. Anger won the battle inside, and now he heard it clearly.
"Oh, yeah? Like what you're doing now?" Leandro controlled himself. "Do you really think that helps?"
Remma wept. She, too, surrendered to her own emotions.
Remma wiped her tears. The silence had grown too heavy for them to handle. Donald kicked the junk food foil nearby. Leandro looked away and into the calmness of the sea below.
"This place has become part of us, y'know," Leandro broke the settling silence. "It's not easy to just let go of every mem'ries we have here. But I think this is how things are supposed to be."
"Don't talk like that, Leandro. Just don't," Donald sternly said. "It's freaking me out."
"I promise to go back here," Remma said.
"Don't make anymore promises!" Donald's anger rekindled. "We promised before, and now we're breaking it!"
"I'm not breaking it," Remma said softly, and then glanced at Donald. "Do you?"
Leandro looked at Donald, too. When his friend didn't say anything, he did. "Me, I'm not."
"And I meant it. I will be back. I don't know when, but I will," Remma interjected.
Donald crossed his arms over his chest. After a while, he spoke. "This will separate us, and who knows? Maybe forever." A pause. "Things will never be the same by the time you leave us."
"I think it's a test to how far our friendship can go," Leandro said reassuringly. "And this will draw us even closer. Friendship knows no distance. It can even shrink time."
"You know too much," Donald quipped.
"You're may be right, Don," Leandro said. "But you know what, now I see it clearly. The promise we had? It wasn't practical at all. We're just bluffing. Nobody can take hold of the future. We dream, we tell each other that. And by the time we grow old, we have to walk our own lives, and by the time we do, we're gonna part ways. That's the way things are. I understand it clearly now." A pause. Leandro seemed to be pondering on the things he had just said. "Yes, I'm certain I do."
Remma and Donald was silent. They didn't know what to say.
"But it doesn't mean we have to forget each other," Leandro continued explaining. "I think Remma was right. We have to promise to ourselves. And we're not bluffing this time."
"No matter what happens, no matter how far we go, no matter how time mold us to be, let's promise to go back here once in a while. The three of us. Together," Leandro said as he looked at them in the eyes. From Remma to Donald and back.
Remma nodded, but Donald was expressionless. A long pause. Leandro waited.
"OK," Donald finally agreed and then slowly, he smiled.
All of them smiled, and then hugged each other.
"I don't know what lies ahead of me," Remma whispered.
"Nobody knows what lies ahead," Leandro said.
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