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WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Playing with the boys. By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 January) —  Weekend started early for some people last Friday. Hubby and I battled traffic to get out of the city streets and head for the idyllic city of Mati, some 160 kilometers away along the eastern coast of mainland Mindanao, fronting the Pacific Ocean.

Midway,  in Mabini, we stopped at the bus terminal and inspected what was available for repast to tide us the rest of the way. We had burgers cooked by a friendly Muslim woman at a stall that hadn’t been there in September 2009 when the transport sent by the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion came for me at that very same spot.

We made one more stop a while later at a Convenience Store in Mati. It was close to 7pm when we got to Nonong Iñigo’s farmhouse situated just off the highway to Tarragona. We were the last ones to get in and dinner was waiting. Lechon, dinuguan, tuna kinilaw, and fern salad – what we call pakô. I thought we were done, but then they brought in another lechon. For dessert, we had cassava suman and fresh fruits.

Soon, we all adjourned out back under the stars. Talk meandered from the upcoming Annual Communication of the Free and Accepted Masons in the Philippines – which would be held in Davao City come summer – to Toril Lodge 208 concerns to farming and plans for the morning. The men were set to turn over textbooks, slippers, and umbrellas for the schoolchildren in Barangay Don Enrique Lopez down the beach.

Me- well, I was just along for the ride.

Looking up, I noticed a pinpoint of light moving among the branches above. It was a firefly. I remembered what the tourist guide in Puerto Princesa taught me last August as he toured us down the Iwahig River: Fireflies respond to flashes of light.

His name was Jason. He was an engineering student at the local polytechnic. His parents worked at the penal colony. Jason was among the residents in the colony who were trained by the Department of Tourism to handle the firefly watch- a thirty-minute tourist ride down the river, punctuated by the guides’ well-rehearsed patter on ecological conservation, mangroves, fireflies, biodiversity, and bioluminescence.

It was a dark, magical night, too, when Jason and his buddy took us boating – me, Orange Lozada and my niece, Jenny. Jason had a laser pointer, similar to what we use for class. As the boat quietly glided down the river, he’d flash the beam quickly on the nilad trees lining the banks. The trees would burst into a million pinpoints of light winking back at us. Against the backdrop of inky blackness, that brief burst of light was magic.

It’s not unusual for me to find magic in Nonong’s company. Last month, I had the surprise pleasure of watching him cut a dashing figure on the dance floor. Ernie Ortonio whispered that Nonong used to do theater and that before I came to Davao, he had played lead at a local production of The King and I. I could believe that. Nonong is such a courtly gentleman in manner and in speech.

In fact, he is among the reasons why I never raised a whimper about hubby knocking on the Lodge door. Nonong and Trino Tirol, who was Master of Toril Lodge 208 at the time hubby was entered as apprentice, formally talked to us – over dinuguan – to assure me that Masonry for my husband would mean the opportunity to be a better man. It had been that, as promised. Since joining the Lodge, my husband is often out seeing to medical missions, bloodletting, treeplanting, coastal clean up, war or disaster relief drives and undertaking drug abuse prevention or book donations for the youth.

Time permitting, I like tagging along. I try to pull my weight on these occasions, but usually the men have it covered. Oh, okay – it’s mostly tourist-y get-to-know-the-local-culture time for me. The brothers are ever so patient with me and my pursuits.

At the farm, Nonong put us on the west wing, sharing a bathroom with Frank and Nelia Buno. The crickets sang us to a deep sleep. We awoke to the smell of longganisa frying. I roamed the grounds trying to find a spot where my cellphone would hold a steady signal enough for my text messages to come in. The chicken and the pigs, the dog and the cats roamed along with me.

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed to the barangay hall for the turnover. Speeches were made, hands were shaken, and pictures were taken as the surf thundered and crashed in the background. I picked up that this beachside community had close to 400 households and that the barangay high school recently lost about half of its students when the local government opened another high school in the next barangay. Davao Oriental Representative Almario is trying to make good on her pledge to give every barangay in her district access to primary and secondary education.

But really, just being near the sea and smelling the salt in the air was getting to me. Growing up on the coastal town of San Jose de Buenavista in Antique, the sea was my very own swimming pool. Masefield, poet from my childhood, said, “I must go down to the seas again; For the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.” Back then, reciting old Johnny’s words to my frowning mother spared me from that earful she reserved for me every time I came home wet and tracking sand.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…

So I headed down the beach, right there where the river meets the sea. The sea, I think, was so happy to meet up with me again. It promptly ran up and tried to claim me. Oh, Daddy, I miss you, too. But not now. The men were about to set off for the famed Dahican bay some minutes away.

Dahican is a stretch of beach with sand the color of washed sugar. We parked under the spreading talisay trees, their orange leaves littering the ground. I spied a nearby madrasah and went to say hi to the children who were helping each other write their Arabic lessons. Coming back, I ran up to the fishing boats that were coming in, wanting to see what kind of fish they catch around these parts.

Hubby hails me from the sea. He was frolicking just where the monstrous wave would crest. Waterbaby. He’s happiest playing in his element. His happiness is infectious- like, you know, I can’t help wanting to be happy with him.

Still in my saya, I hurried down to join him, only to find that he was standing on water taller than me. Rats. I couldn’t play jump the wave if my feet can’t touch the sea floor so I turned back to position myself somewhere my height.

I tried to stand when my feet touched land. That was where the wave crashed down on me. It turns out that I had stopped just where the monstrous waves broke. You can’t believe the force of the water. It took me and threw me, like I were in spin cycle number three. It picked up stones the size of a laptop mouse and rattled these against my body. The long skirt was a disadvantage after all. It billowed and tangled. Waterlogged, the weight dragged and the garter refused to hold. I tried to keep it together to preserve my modesty, all the while helplessly laughing. Then the sea hit me again, tossing me like a weightless flotsam.

Pacific, my foot. Daddy’s in a snitch. Showoff says, “Bow to me.” Like, I made him wait to play. Oh, Uncle- enough.

Bedraggled, I dragged myself off to shore to lick my wounds.

Hubby asks, “You okay, honey? Are you hurt?”

“Just my dignity. Man, what a very authoritative dunking,” I laughed.

“I gotta go back,” he said.

Oh, go on. I distinctly felt like a drowned rat who tangled with a Doberman on an attack mode. Break on thy cold gray stones, oh sea!

I am bruised. I am humbled. I am awed.

Father Sea, I respect thee.
(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).

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