Last Summer

The floor of the motorized boat started to vibrate as the engines roared to life.  I was feeling the familiar tension easing as my shoulders relaxed.  The boat was turning towards the open sea, with the Anilao port to our backs when my phone vibrated.

“Thad, Ruby here, Gyne-Onco fellow. May I ask what ‘No definite lymphovascular space invasion’ mean in the report?”

I answered her text, and in the same moment my phone started ringing. “Hello?” “Doc…” (static). “Hello, can you please text, sorry the line is breaking up.” The man on the other line continued speaking even with the choppy signal. “.. biopsy po.  Kay patient…” The line was cut. We were too far away from the port and the strong cell sites.  The place I was going to, Tingloy, Batangas was a sleepy coastal municipality right in the fringes of the Isla Verde Passage, the center of the world’s marine biodiversity.  I once stayed at the island with my brother and his girlfriend during their wedding where I served as the best man (I’ve stated the funniest best man speech ever) , and I came back during my free weekends ever since.  The place had no constant electricity, since it was only available through generator and solar power.  At noon to midnight, there was power to charge gadgets and powerbanks but it shut down after midnight. Landlines were nonexistent, and cellphone reception was weak at best in some parts of the island.  One of the charms of Tingloy was the simplicity of life there. People woke up, sow fields or go fishing, gather at night to watch a little television or listen to the radio, or simply chat with neighbors.  Perhaps that’s the reason why it remained unspoiled by trappings of modern society. The place had become a mecca for beachgoers, twenty-somethings from Manila, Laguna, Alabang and other nearby cities looking for a respite from city life.  I totally understood the thrill-seeking youngsters, but my reason was different, I went because it reminded me of my hometown in Leyte. The boat undulated as it rode the waves.  Several passengers were asleep with their lifejackets over their head.  I checked my phone again- no signal.  No more calls or texts from hospital doctors or patients.  The wind whipped my hair from my face, and I swore, if I close my eyes, I was eight years old again, riding my aunt’s boat at sea in Leyte. When I decided to write about Tingloy, I promised myself it would just be a straightforward travelogue showcasing the sights and activities in the town, but a recent event made me do otherwise.  The caretaker of our house in Tacloban, who I am presently sending to college, visited me in my condominium in Manila to tell me that our kitchen and our late grandmother’s room had deteriorated badly. Termites have caused almost the entire ceiling to collapse.  This put me in a state of despair.  For more than ten years, I have been in charge of maintaining our family residence, and my brothers and I worked hard to maintain the place even after supertyphoon Yolanda’s damage.  I even painted the walls and the ceiling myself, and to hear that it was in bad shape made me question if all our efforts were in vain.

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