tell me again what's the smell of the rain
yes, the wonderful you. i know what you are doing right now. sleepless, troubled, bothered? sitting on the veranda right outside of your room, staring at the darkness. it's raining, yet you can't sleep. everyone else is now asleep. in fact, the whole neighborhood is humming, dreaming, like there is a contest on who can snore the loudest or sleep the most deep. the rain has cast a spell on everyone and put them to sleep. even the usually noisy cicadas are quiet.
except for you. you keep on thinking -- what's going to happen now? tomorrow when you go to mass? when you see your friend r again. i can tell that you are confused. guilty. scared? i hope not.
but you are thirteen. too young to know what's going to happen next. you wish there is someone, like a magic mirror, that can tell you what lies ahead.
life, at this point, is like the teevee soap operas that you luv to watch along with your mother and sisters -- there is always a big question that's hanging in the air; a conflict, a problem that's waiting to be solved. so you have to watch the next episode the following day to see what happens.
sadly, unlike on teevee, where things always turn out alright at the end, life isn't like that. so understandably, you are afraid. in life, there are no scripts to follow, no take twos or threes, no director who will shout "cut" when things become more difficult.
who to turn to? who will understand what you are going through? everybody at home seems pre-occupied. your mother keeps on complaining that her small business is losing money.
your older sisters, married, have their own troubles.
your two younger sisters? ah they are too young. what do they know about life? or a teen age crisis? your friends? you don't have any, except for r.
don't even bother about your father, he will never understand you. and vice versa. in fact, his mere presence scares you. enough to send you hiding in the closet anew. what if he knows what you are feeling, what you are going through? he will surely throw you out of the house. if not, send you to a military school. or worse (or better yet) shoot you in the head.
this afternoon, you were at the tennis court. watching along with your friends some military officers playing. sometimes, you and your friends would race each other to pick up the balls that have gone outside of the court just for fun. sometimes, the military officers would give you and your friends some money for picking up those balls. sometimes they would even buy you snacks at the club house -- ham sandwich, coke. life's little pleasures. one of your friends would sometimes ask for cigarettes and the officers would gladly oblige.
after they are gone, you would all huddle in a corner and try smoking, even if you would all cough while doing it. even if it hurts the throat (itchy?!) because of all the smokes that you have inhaled and swallowed. these would cause tears to well up in your eyes.
still you persisted, you feel grown up doing it. even if it hurts.
this afternoon was no different.
you all shared the cigarette sticks. then talked about everything else. school, girls, dreams, the future. there were four of you that time. then the two others left.
you decided to stay. you didn't want to go home yet. what's there anyway? your strict father who would likely ask you to do some more errands before letting you go to sleep. give you a sermon on keeping your room neat. when he is in a foul mood, the old man would tell you that you are the worst son, a worthless student, the most stupid person on earth. anybody, it seems, is better than you are. sometimes you wish that he just gave you away when you were a baby. or better yet, aborted you.
such dark thoughts for someone so young.
this year is extra hard. your older brother, your favourite, the only one who understood you, died in december of the previous year and it really shook the entire family. the first family member to die. your father was devastated, almost gone crazy. your mother, in grief, kept herself busy with her business.
anyway, that afternoon after the game, r decided to stay with you. probably he noticed how sad you
were, how alone you felt.
you always like him. he is two years older than you. a son of a military officer. he is the one who encouraged you to learn how to play tennis; to go to mass on sundays; to clean and shine the combat boots of the soldiers on weekends to make some money.
after noticing that you were extremely quiet, r asked what was wrong with you. but you did not tell him. you are always secretive, you don't enjoy sharing anything to anybody, even to your family. you got this trait from your father. how ironic.
when r got tired asking you about it, he instead told you about the girl whom he likes at school. as if he was trying to cheer you up. she is the prettiest one -- tall, skinny, smooth, porcelain skin, red, shiny lips, nice boobs. she looks like a movie star, always the school muse. every boy likes her, every girl wants to be like her.
while talking about her, you felt hurt. you didn't know why.
the more r talked about her, the more you felt hurt. until you almost wanted to cry. but you kept quiet.
you just stared at r's handsome face.
lately, you felt strange around r. you can't keep your eyes away from him -- especially his eyes and those beautiful long lashes. your younger sisters said r looks like one of the most popular young actors on teevee -- tall, brown skin, white teeth, neat, always smells like he has just taken a bath.
in fact, a few nights ago, you dreamed about him. the two of you were stranded in an island (you can't remember how you ended up there) and you kissed. then you woke up with an erection. the next morning, you noticed a white spot in your underwear. like paste that has dried up. you smelled it and it had a strange odor. you were scared. what was this? of course you have heard from your friends and classmates about the fluid that comes out of your penis when aroused. especially at night. but you never experienced it before. could that be it?
you remember this while looking at r this afternoon, when the sun was about to set. he has taken off his shirt because it was wet with sweat. you noticed the trail of tiny, curly hairs on his stomach. you couldn't help but look down further. but it was a quick glance.
then r asked you if you like someone at school. you blushed. (you didn't know yet that you blushed. you just heard about that word from your friends).
it was nearly six in the evening. when you did not say anything, r laughed. you are still young, that's why, he teased you. then he asked you how old you are.
thirteen, you said.
still a boy, he said. then he laughed again, rubbing the shirt on his bare stomach.
"thirteen," r repeated.
you nodded your head.
"so you already have pubic hair?"
"hair there on your penis."
the thought horrified you. you have never seen a naked older man before, so you have no idea that you would grow hair in your pubic area.
"don't be afraid. it's natural. you will also grow hair on your balls. in fact almost everywhere."
you kept quiet.
"do you already have sperm?"
"sperm. the white thing that comes out of your penis when you masturbate. it's sticky, like paste. it has a funny smell too. like chlorine. it's different from urine."
r laughed again.
"you mean you have not done it yet?"
you have heard about masturbation, of course, from your friends and classmates. but you have never tried it after the priest at your catholic school told you that it is a mortal sin. that you must confess to him if you have done it, otherwise you will go to hell.
in fact, the oldest boy in your class always talks about masturbation and boasted about doing it three to four times a day to your classmates. that it feels so good, especially if you use a lotion. you always avoid joining such conversations, scared of going to hell.
but with r, you felt different. you trust him. you know he cares about you.
it was now dark. very quiet. there were just the two of you on the tennis court. the air has gone colder.
"you want me to show you how to do it?" r asked. he has a different look in his eyes. his voice has gone softer. whispering. like he was telling you a secret.
you hesitated at first, but r assured you it won't hurt. so you told him that the priest at your school has warned you that you will go to hell if you do it. again, r assured you that it's not true.
"ok. i will do it first and you can watch me. then..."
so tonight you can't sleep. the memory of what happened earlier at the tennis court scared you. at the same time, it makes you excited. it's so confusing. it's like having the urge to eat chocolates, lots of it, only to regret later when your tooth hurts.
then you remember that tomorrow is sunday. you have to go to mass. that means you have to go to confession, otherwise you can't have a communion. what if you die tonight, in your sleep, then you will go to hell. just the thought of roasting on fire made you squirm. you're still afraid. even if r has assured you earlier that what the priest has told you is not true.
i wish i am with you tonight. so i can comfort you. so i can tell you that there is nothing to worry.
but i am not.
for i am here, now, tonight, thirty years after. same time, in a different place. in a different body that you
will hardly recognize -- bloated, scarred, with a few lines on the face.
let me tell you what happens next. or at least some of it.
so that you can go to sleep.
four years after what happened at the tennis court, r and his entire family perished when the boat they boarded to manila caught fire on the sea. it was a horrific death. it was the worst maritime disaster in the country ever. almost everyone (more than 4,000 of them, mostly children like r) on board died. only a few survived, but some of them were badly burned beyond recognition.
i am sorry to tell you that the tragedy had traumatized you some more. that it made you sadder when christmas comes. because it also happened in december -- when your older brother died four years ago.
you cried endlessly when the news of r's death and the way he died reached you. it gave you nightmares for months and even years.
he will stay with you. until today, you still remember him. especially when december comes.
boys? you had your fair share. i am happy to say that your heart has been broken so many times that sometimes you wish you won't fall in luv anymore. the last "serious relationship" you had was with a quite famous personality in the island where i am right now. both of you (or us) had always talked about living together somewhere else -- singapore, for instance -- so he can be free to be with you. so you can eat at restaurants, hang out at bars, without the pesky paparazzi following him around. as if!
don't laugh now. but it's true. the ugly you, the one whom your father wished was someone else, whom he always thought was inferior compared to his friends's or cousins's sons, was able to snatch one of this island's (used to be) famous bachelors.
sadly, it didn't work out.
but don't fret about it.
like everything else, you survived it.
so tonight, days after you turned forty three, you are sitting in front of a laptop (i will tell you what it is when i have the time. it's like the typewriter that you use when you are writing down your poems, short stories and research papers. the red one that your mother bought for your birthday last year. but the laptop is way, way better than that. for once, you don't need ribbons, you hate putting them anyway. it's messy. aside from allowing you to write, it can connect you to people in other countries, the way a telephone does. it can play music and movies. it can do much more.)
ah, there is a lot more wonderful things that's happening in the world right now. there is a lot of sadness too. but you are an optimist, there is always something to look forward to. that's how you survive.
so go to bed now. say your prayers and sleep peacefully. let the rain gently lull you to sleep. like it
tomorrow when you wake up, everything is going to be different. you will be different. it's a promise.
(12:33 a.m., january nine, two thousand and twelve).
p.s. i wanted to write, xoxo, but you might not understand it. you might think i am writing you a prescription. go ahead, smile now. this is me trying to be funny.