Manuel Ortega Abis

At first, her family thought I was the wind who came to take her away from them. Especially when I accidentally slammed the door on her father’s face and almost broke the poor nose of the old man. Her two big brothers stared through me as if they were trying to measure my own capacity to bring down their old bungalow with my bare knuckles. They were wrong, of course. I was not the wind. Even though they made me feel like one. Even though, at that moment, how I wished I was actually one. Invisible, yet there – for her. And not somewhere else where I would be mercilessly throwing punches to the teasing moon.

Fortunately, her mother – Mamá – and her little sister changed their airs and thought otherwise. Mamá instructed Papá and her two sons to stop throwing deadly stares at me, and instead to go outside and fetch my motorcycle so it could be parked close inside their yard. For I had parked my motorcycle and had fastened it on a nearby camias. For I was also afraid of them. I was afraid they will blow me away from her life forever. In another sense, this was why I also wished I was actually a wind. To prove to them that I have my own clout in life.

When her Papá and her two brothers left the house, her little sister also left to fetch her in her room. Mamá must have thought I was the cave. For she started to reverberate everything I was trying to tell her.

Your daughter, Emma…

Emma, Emma, Emma…

Mamá, I will take care of her…

Take care of her, take care of her, take care of her…

Then my heart sprang up from its shadow when I saw her little sister again. And right behind the little bud was my fully bloomed flower. Emma.

At first, Emma thought I was the drizzle. Especially when she kissed me on my lips. At that moment, I felt more than the drizzle. Her soft petals, her fresh leaves, her slender stalk made me feel I was the rain. At that moment, how I wished I was actually one. Soothing her, everyone – for her. For all of us. Raining. For all our dry spells in life.

It was time to leave a house of echoes to build a home of chimes.

When finally it was time to go and Emma climbed on board my motorcycle, that was then when I asked her, Where to?, and she quickly replied, To the sea. That was then when I realized that Emma shall be my wind and my rain for life.

It was not easy to cross the sea with her. There were moments on the overloaded ship when she swept the eyes of my rambunctious co-passengers with her hypnotic and magical breeze. I really didn’t know why. When she was with them, they all felt light. Each one of them seemed to be just waiting for Emma to ring that tiny bell inside a heart which had long forgotten the crystal joy of its own chime, the melodious tinkle of an inexhaustible wellspring, the beautiful rhythm of its memories. Sometimes, while I lazed on my tejeras, I would open my eyes just a bit to see if she was also well-rested on hers. But she would not be on her tejeras. It seemed as though her energy just refused to be tied down to one place. It seemed as though she never knew the meaning of burden. And for that, I loved her more. Indeed, it was in her nature to have such a strong and persuasive personality. After all, she was the wind. One time, she persuaded the captain to turn the sails of the ship and head off near the coast of a forbidden island which was virtually off the grid of most nautical maps. Why? Because, she said, the palm trees which lined the long, white shores of the island there performed a unique tropical dance with their long, flexible trunks and evergreen leaves which any tourist, or even local, would want to capture on video, send back home with them, or post in one’s favorite social media account. And would not that be a nice boost for their region’s tourism industry? And for their shipping lines as well?  

Not all on the ship, of course, were just as eager to meet her. There was a young lady from Chæy who always wore a grey skirt long below her knees and who constantly avoided her for my Emma would always “accidentally” flip the hem of her skirt to reveal a view even I myself never dared understand – or even stand under. And some of the war veterans who had metal bone transplants in their joints desperately tried to steer clear of her hyper activities by wrapping themselves with blankets like fresh lumpia rolls. No one dared stir them else the lumpias unroll themselves and make a sorry mess worse than World War II.

All in all, the three-hour trip on the sea was not easy (it could have been two and a half if the captain did not accede to Emma’s caprice). She was a swirling vortex of energy. She was a point which oscillated from stern to bow, from north to south, from head to foot. At that moment for me, it would be pointless not to love her. She was the wind of my life. I knew that I must just let nature take the course of both our intertwined lives.

When we reached the port of Manila, that was the first time I heard her heart strangely howl. I was a bit confused. I wondered if she was still the wind which was a noun that described the perceptible natural movement of air – which bore her family’s name; or if she had become the wind which was a verb whose past and past participle could either be winded or wound – which would bear a new family and a new name for us.

Was my wind winded from the trip? Did my wind sustain a wound?

No, she quickly replied. I just feel like something’s about to pour down on me.

When we reached my small apartment in Cubao, that was then when Emma started to rain. But, somehow, that first day in the city, she managed to control the storm inside her. And that first night we spent together, she made sure she was all wind and rain in marvelous harmony. That evening, she was the first shower of the month of May all over again.

After midnight, however, I felt her rise from our bed. Or I guess I dreamed that I felt her rise from our bed, walk over to an open window of the apartment, and stare at the horizon. Emma must have thought that the horizon was her family. For, inside her heart, she knew her family would all be so near, yet so far from her. Like chasing the ripples I myself created with every stroke I made on the water, she said to herself. It must have been a dream then, for she imagined herself a wind swimming in the rain. Swirling amongst the water drops; seemingly lost, yet apparently found.

It must have been really difficult for her to adjust. To leave a house of echoes. To build a home of chimes.

Life in the city was new for her. After the end of the second extension of my vacation leave, I finally told her that come Monday I have to return to work again. After she gathered some of the whirl of her talc and glitters from the floor and after she reflected her vapors inside a drinking glass, she finally told me that it was alright for me to return to work again. But, of course, on one condition: that I would take her along just to see the place. So on the Monday that I reported back to work in the city hall, she breezed along with me.

I told her I worked as an assistant payroll clerk in a cramped and musty corner of a small office where faces often exchanged places, the ventilation was artificially conditioned, and the lights hung terribly close like stalactites over our heads. At first, she thought I worked inside a cave in the mountains where neither gust nor mist ever dared to explore, for she swore that the depth and darkness of my office would surely drive such a carefree and flowing spirit like her crazy. But this was just the beginning. For the vortex of her mind rotated inside my office, then around the periphery, then amongst the other cubicles where my office mates whispered to her the instabilities and turbulence of my past relationships. Finally, she got wind of an old rumor about me and an office mate. And before I could even react, the dust devil spouted into a full tornado and blasted her way out of the depth and darkness of my cavern.

That Monday, I dutifully logged myself out of the office at 5 and stopped by SM Manila to buy Emma a Navy blue reversible, fleece-lined windbreaker which she always wanted, and found a set of secondhand bathroom tiles with random ripples realistically designed on them. A perfect replacement for the ordinary, white tiles which Emma said were a bit dull for her taste. I instructed the sales officer of the shop from where I bought the tiles to have them delivered to my place before Friday. But for the jacket, I had it beautifully wrapped as a gift.

That Monday night, although the weather reporter of Channel 7 declared that it would be a clear and cloud-free evening, I realized that a low-pressure area had quickly intensified itself into a typhoon and had now entered my area of responsibility. If I could classify Emma that night, she was storm signal number ten.

No amount of explanation could satisfy her. She had become the wind – a somehow strange and deadly union of the word as noun and verb. She had full control of my apartment’s atmosphere. She would deliberately stand under the fluorescent light or pose precariously close to the lamp on the bedside table while she tormented me with the sheer force of her gales. I tried to be gentle with her, even though I knew that she was just being too emotional about something which happened a very long time ago.

That was then when she locked herself in the bathroom. I placed the gift-wrapped windbreaker on the bedside table and walked over to the locked door of the bathroom. I knocked and said her name in the most gentle way I knew, but there was no answer. I tried everything. Outside the bathroom, I knelt, appealed to her, and even turned on some of my remaining charm. Suddenly, I heard the faucet turned on. In the silence of our room, the water from the faucet sounded so much like a gargantuan waterfall meeting the torrential flow of the helpless river below.

With gentle firmity, I placed my voice over the locked door to tell her that she should stop being childish, then turned around to pick the smashed fragments of things which were swiped by the wild curves of her earlier storm.

She made her point. Or, should I say, she made her points, which were all over the apartment.

I should be the first to understand. To ask the question: how would one leave a house of echoes to build a home of chimes?

Finally she went out of the bathroom after I have finished clearing the room and as I was just about to prepare a simple, instant supper. We were both tired from the experience. I made her promise me not to throw such childish tantrums again.

She must have thought I was a cave, just like her mother before, because she echoed everything I said to her.

I promise…

I promise, I promise, I promise…

Never to throw…

Never to throw, never to throw, never to throw…

Any tantrum again…

Any tantrum again, any tantrum again, any tantrum again…

Especially…

Especially, especially, especially…

About the past…

This last part she never repeated, and instead looked at me with bewilderment. But the past, she said, would always be a part of our present moment. The past, the present, and the future are just parts of one indivisible wave of continuity and creation. In fact, it is the past which will propel the present over the horizon and into the future.

I could not understand what she meant by what she said. And I was not about to. I told myself maybe it was better not to.

Later that evening, after supper and after she cleaned the dishes, after I presented the gift-wrapped windbreaker to her and told her about the special tiles which would be delivered by Friday, she rained me with her supple kisses. When we were already in bed, I told her that I was thinking it might be good for her, for us, if I started saving up to buy stuff, like a microwave, a cheap washing machine. To repair stuff, too, like the TV and the old laptop.

She merely turned silent. But when I closed my eyes, I could feel her gentle breeze all over my face and hear the trickles which seemed to emanate directly from her own thoughts.

The next morning, I woke up to initially discover two things: that I was late for work, and that Emma was not in the apartment. I figured she must have gone down to the market. When I finished my morning rituals, I put on my office suit, and started to prepare a cup of coffee. That was then when I noticed a piece of folded paper on the table.

Initially, I froze. But then curiosity overcame me as I gathered myself enough courage to see if there was anything written on the piece of folded paper. At that moment, how I prayed it was not to be a farewell note, or something like that.

It was not.

It was a poem. Untitled. I sat on the chair and started to read it. Emma’s poem.

It is the vessel

That will sail to shore,

But it is the voyage

That will shore up the sails.

It is the catch

That will thrill your day with gifts,

But it is the chase

That will give you thrills everyday.

It is the mind

That will love its share of freedom,

But it is the heart

That will freely share its love.

It is reality

That will choose to settle for keeps,

But it is the dream

That will keep you settled and chosen.

It is life

That will receive what you will give,

But it is love

That will give what you will receive.

When I finished reading, I heard footsteps close to the door of the apartment. I listened as a key was turned inside the keyhole. As the knob turned, the door opened, and there she was. My Emma. A vortex of pure joy winnowing the currents of the air outside like colorful butterflies hovering in a flower garden’s new Sunday morning.

She of crystal joy.

She of melodious tinkle.

She of the most beautiful rhythm.

She immediately rushed forward and embraced me tight. I could feel her breathing over the proud collar of my office suit. Her deep, warm breath on the back of my neck. I quickly embraced her, too. Tighter.

Then, at the appeal of the moment, the words slowly trickled from her lips.

I love you…

At that moment, I thought of her as neither the wind nor the rain, and merely reverberated – no, correction, not merely reverberated like an echo from a cave wall; but liberated like a chime from a church bell – what she uttered.

At that moment, I knew, I had to let nature take its expectant and child-like course.

At that moment, I knew, I was standing before the ruins of a house of echoes and the foundations of a home of chimes.

I love you, Emma…

***