Two fried eggs in an immaculate white plate. This was the first thing she saw as she entered her friend’s house. How so well-cooked they were, their edges obviously pushed inwards into a thickness as they fried in the pan for just long enough to develop a perfect burn even as their yolks remained fluid. How beautiful they looked!
It was only then she remembered how hungry she was. It was getting to late morning. She and her driver/companion/husband had not yet had breakfast except for coffee. Their appetites had failed them early that cold rainy morning when they drove past the damage of Yolanda. They were looking for an aunt’s house. She was listed missing after the killer typhoon made landfall. Even her house seemed to have disappeared from where it stood on Magallanes Street parallel to the Tacloban City shoreline. There was only the sea of debris and they would have to guess where it might have stood reckoning by its proximity to a friend’s house, which still stood though just barely. She had grown up in this city, graduated high school, and collected enough friends and classmates for a class reunion last year. “Who would have guessed then?” She thought to herself feeling that sense of guilt peculiar to every native who ever returns home from being away so long.
It is a cold rainy morning in Tacloban when she visits one of them, a doctor married to an army officer. This classmate was class valedictorian who after becoming doctor chose to practice here instead of going abroad. They are fixing the house when their visitors arrive. The visitor asks the doctor about other classmates, other friends, other survivors. They trade stories of the old days but the conversation quickly moves to her own story of survival, how it took days before their hospital reopened. Just like most of Tacloban it had been “unroofed” leaving to the elements over a hundred “wet patients.” She evacuated her own children to another city before reporting back to work. Survival is always a story of hard choices. So too the process of rehabilitation and renewal.
The doctor recounted how foreign-aid workers were amazed at their ability to laugh despite the tragedy. The few days after Yolanda made landfall, a special type of greeting besides the usual “hellos” and “how are you?” became customary: “You are alive!” friends exclaim to each other when they chanced to meet the first time after the big storm. And it was always a greeting accompanied by an inflection of surprise. And then of laughter as they exchange stories recounting cars piling over each other, or hanging from a fence after the waters receded, or this and that strange heretofore unheard of phenomenon resulting from a storm which also took away kin, loved ones, friends and enemies as if there was, out there in the universe, a machination working from some divine roll-of-the-dice, something greater than we are able to imagine. They laugh. But with a laughter only a sharp wind’s edge away from falling into tears.
Early morning, the next day, four travelers drive home from Tacloban overland. The trip home is even worse than coming here. The ferries at Isabel cross only when they are full and then only once the purser or arrastre or some other has finished some chore in Ormoc, 20 or so kilometers away. They remember to make a note of the fact that part of the rehabilitation of Tacloban should involve making it easier for people to come here from elsewhere. There is too much of a physical divide between Tacloban and Cebu, which speaks falsely of that cultural divide between the Waray and the Cebuano. This latter divide is quaint and lovely. We are beautiful because we are so different. It is a divide joined also by physical infrastructure, by roads and ferries. which ought to make possible traveling on time and not make travelers wait so long.
And yet, it is inside this particular long wait between legs of their long journey that she realizes how long it has been since she shared kilometers together with her driver/companion/husband. They talk and along the way made sure to remember how the good doctor and her soldier invited them into their house, their stories, and breakfast. And it was a gourmet traveler’s feast of dried fish, rice and fried Spam. Is it true nobody cooks canned food better than a soldier? It does seem to make sense.
The traveler and her friend did not have the heart to touch the eggs. Secretly, they espied how the couple shared these between them. The travelers remember the eggs and how perfectly they looked on the bare table of one of Tacloban’s unroofed houses now partially covered with tarp; how it looked so like a picture which must mean something of the spirit, something they could not yet for now quite fully understand.
(To be concluded)