Manila – When a tropical storm and its nonstop rains darkened Metro Manila for days in early June, I realized that, in ordinary time, summer was making its last huff. Then it was gone.
I say “ordinary time” because it’s difficult to keep track of the days and weeks in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. I am used to being holed up in my tiny corner in this world, doing my business and owning the silence. But the strict lockdown lost me. I am as adrift as my neighbor who thinks the days are beginning to look the same.
The summers I knew started when the school year ended, and the playtime under the sun began. Summers were simple then, but always bright. The memories they generated never went away. They always come back: gentle rivers, cold stones, breathtaking mountains, drying grass, trees, green and yellow mangoes, coconuts, church bells, flowers. There were also those itchy, little skin cuts caused by rolling in the hay and walking on rice paddies, bruises from climbing trees and playing games; the plant poisons and insect bites.
Then there was that summer with my first dance with a boy when I was on the cusp of adolescence. Or those teen adventures of walking the expanse of the beach to search for the schoolmates also going swimming, or the boys I had a crush on to see how they looked like when not in school uniform.
By the time the school year began in June, we were made to write the tired, cliched theme of how we spent our summer vacation. In Grade 5, my English teacher picked the writeups she called “rare” and “unique” and shared them in class. Mine was one of them.
She said she liked the part where my siblings and playmates searched for and picked up dried carabao dung on the rice fields to bring to my father so he could mix it into his natural plant fertilizer formula. He had the best planting skills I know. Or the part where we climbed trees and waited until dark for the fireflies, which is rare during summer. They appear when the crickets stop chirping.
I prepared to put myself in an embarrassing situation when my teacher read my composition, but my classmates were amused by my story, even if most of them were rich kids who wouldn’t find it fun to touch dried carabao dung. I’ve had many difficult times as much as the better ones, but too bad, they didn’t have my summer.
Many people spend their summer vacations remembering their past summers, especially the great ones. I just did. When the lockdown started in mid-March, I thought of how to survive the long hot summer ahead. But as I took one last look, Metro Manila was already relaxing a bit of its strict quarantine, though dangerously.
So this will be part of my summer memories — this pandemic that seemed to have called off summer and made isolation and loneliness endemic to many people who are going through it with tragedies that may be irreparable in the next months and years of their lives.
The rains continue especially in the afternoons, drenching the roofs and flooding the roads. There was one afternoon when the sky opened and appeared to cry out all of what’s left of it.
As I watched the rains, I accepted the reality of the pandemic, three months into it. And I realized that while we are all as ill as the planet we live in, we need to heal while we wait for how it will wrap up or unravel.
Diana G. Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila.