By Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
After the storm, there is only silence.
It makes sense, Celia thinks. Here, within the confines of her home, it is always silent.
Her heels make a dull clicking sound on the linoleum floor as she walks from the living room to the kitchen. All morning, she has been watching footage, her ears bombarded by the sound of high wind and rain and the unbelievable image that is her country under siege.
She looks out at clear blue skies. It is quiet outdoors. All her neighbours have gone off to work. Her children are at school. All is quiet in her head.
“How terrible,” the woman standing next to her at the school plain says. “And do you know anything yet about your family?”
Celia doesn’t know what to say.
In her head, the family home is an invulnerable place. That old house with its foundation of stone, was it still standing?
She offers a tentative smile.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone yet,” she says. “But I’m sure they’re fine.”
That home is beside the sea, she thinks. When her grandmother was newly married, there was a tsunami. They survived by tying themselves to the stone posts of the house. Afterwards, the villagers discovered porcelain jars beneath the house. Some of them were from the Ming Dynasty—that was what her grandmother said.
“We managed to get some for ourselves,” Grandmother said. “Like that one. You see that one, Celia? Do you see that jar with the blue dragons?”
Celia remembers the dragons and the wonder of that jar which was taller than her seven year old self. Will that jar still be there? Will it still be standing in that hallway?
The woman moves away and another takes her place.
On usual days the women hardly ever take notice of her. They stand around in a cluster and talk to each other. They laugh and speak in what Celia calls their secret code. Somehow, they know about each others’ mishaps—dental appointments, divorces, funerals. They exchange information on mundane things, like who is going to whose birthday and what they plan to eat for dinner.
Celia has tried, but she’s never managed to break that code. She still hasn’t deciphered the secret of the magic circle that is them.
Now, they move in degrees towards her, their eyes inquiring.
Celia is relieved when the bell rings and the children emerge from their classes.
She smiles at the woman who offers her a glance that is probably meant to convey sympathy.
“Mama,” her youngest son says. “At school they said that all of Philippines has been destroyed. Did it go boom?”
“It was a storm,” Celia says. “And not all of it is destroyed, just parts of it.”
“And Lolo and Lola?” her son asks.
“They’re fine,” Celia says. “We’ll hear from them any day now.”
“I’m afraid,” her son says. “Ï’m afraid of the blood.”
“When we go home, the blood won’t be there anymore,” Celia says.
She gazes out at this view of neatly ordered houses. In her mind’s eye, she sees bodies on a distant shore—a landscape shattered by the hand of nature.
The future seems bleak. There is still no word and she is losing hope.
Grandmother putters through the debris of Celia’s efforts at housecleaning.
“Well,” she says. “Well, it can’t be helped. Who would have known that the cupboard would topple over?”
She makes a clicking sound.
“There’s broken glass too. Oh well. . . “
“Lola,” Celia says.
“Don’t move,” Grandmother says. “Stay where you are. There’s glass everywhere.”
“I’m sorry,” Celia says.
“Ah child,” Grandmother says. “it’s an old thing. And it’s not like it was an antique. Uncle Berto will make a new one. This time, he’ll make it from narra wood.”
“Ma,” finally they have a connection. “Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” her mother says. “Your father’s off again. He just came back, but he’s off again. I think he forgets that he’s already old. But there are so many wounded and there aren’t enough doctors. It can’t be helped.”
“And the house?” Celia asks.
“Your Lola is fine,” her mother says. “Shaken, but fine. Your uncle found her. We were also worried for a while. Celia, don’t cry. It’s fine. We’re all fine. But so many died. So many. . .”
Inside her head, the silence breaks.
She can hear the wind. She can see the trees. Winter rain washes across the glass pane of her window.
“I’ll do what I can,” she says. “I will also do what I can.”
A.N. A lot has happened since my last post. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. Many Filipinos lost homes and loved ones. Because of the extent of the devastation, it took a week for aid to arrive in affected areas. The world’s response to the fate of Filipinos is overwhelming. This small offering is a thank you for the continued support and for the overwhelming response to the plea for help from the Philippines. Please continue to keep us in mind as we work to rebuild what can be rebuilt.