“No one blames her.”
“That never matters,” said Alec. “Not when you blame yourself.”
― Cassandra Clare,
It is just like a bright day when I go to work by bus every morning. Everyone is busy with their own business, vaguely familiar to one another, deep in thought of their own destinations, passing into a deep slumber, or talking to their friends or families over petty stuff. The others are trying to console themselves with the gadgets they regard as their security blankets, or glued to the telly tube fastened above the driver, entertained by the show they may be imagining themselves they are into. Outside are the kaleidoscopes of lights from buildings, still open for their customers and employees willing to sweat blood for stomachs they have to fill with; and vehicles, from bigger to smaller, from ramshackle to crème de la crème ones, screeching to halt or milling around the half-lit roads, narrowed by the other road leading the opposite direction. There in the center is the outgoing construction of industrialization: a new train will have to be built soon before the new government backslides into its old system. All of a sudden, I feel like retching this thought, the thought of living in the city, polluted by many kinds of pollutants, from the miasma of air attributable to wastes of undisciplined humans to inhumane humans who are so preoccupied with how to be as inhumane as irrational and savaged animals trying to outplay others. I wish to run away from this human habitat.
A message has popped out on my phone. They are all looking for one another now. Even my name is being dragged by someone I have never met. Abashed. I am now late. I would rather get off and ride a jeepney back to where I should be at, showing my sympathy for the fiasco my best friend has been bringing about. I can’t take off my mind her clear image , when I left her room , lying in her bed , sulking from the injustice the life she has chosen brings. Should a real friend follow what his best friend does?
Different faces, different selves shrouded in their personas as these people bustling around the busy shopping malls are now playing in my imagination like a roulette wheel of faces, suffering from dizzy spells whom among them I should guess have the same purpose tonight ,and I am worried about the possible scenarios in which I would partake . That’s not the trouble but the excitement sparkling deep inside , oblivious to the feelings that have been consuming me.
I have to drop into a convenient store and get some snacks. I would not bring myself to accept someone’s generosity. I am still trying to scrimp and save on the provisions- the provisions I should have prepared along the way. My life has never been as natural as how the nature runs its due course any longer. I would prefer doing something on the go like what yuppies do in a populated, zombie-infested metropolis.
I embarked on hiking when a circle of my university classmates counted me in their group chat. Aside from the fact that I was known in our class for being a hermit, I doubted I would enjoy the outdoor activity because I am one of those Filipinos weaned on the idea that black is beauty is ridiculous. So, to make sure that I would not shrink in my brownish background, I slathered myself with cream underneath my sunlight proof hiking attire, but to no avail. After that day, my colleagues at work could not tell apart who they were addressing. Nevertheless, I found hiking challenging .It turned out that I could make it to the last peak as well as the professional climbers do. But other than that is the metaphorical realization that climbing a mountain is synonymous with defeating all tremendous challenges we meet no matter how rough and curved the paths are. Thereafter, I wanted to challenge myself to another mountains higher and tougher than the one I clambered over.
The group chat is now booming with messages seen by the folks I will have to get along with. My battery is fully charged enough to keep up with them, but I have to make sure that I can still sustain it not to miss the outstanding natural beauty I will be basking in. I want to share that experience with the person I left behind the dead city. I wish I had much money to burn for a Nikon camera.
I estimate that it will take us 6 hours or so to travel as far as the base. There is this thrill of excitement .It is my first time to have gone on a trip alone with the people I haven’t met yet. I just met them on Facebook who must be looking for something to take out on their grievances, or something they could prove their friends wrong that they could do something people consider luxurious. I barely talk to them because it is still in my nature to be shy with strangers. I am even a bit diffident to strike a conversation. Fortunately, they do not even know one another as if there are different teams working together for the same goal.
The group I will for sure fit in with is composed of women who have been friends for a long time, who must have gone hiking together before. However, I did not seat with them behind the driver. Instead, I have been seated in the back behind another group of mountaineers. I guess they are university students. I am sitting by the window because I have wanted to see the views outside. Next to me is a man I have been looking through since we all met at the rendezvous . He is plum and older than me. He looks experienced in hiking the way he opens the conversations. I find him a bit jocular, but I do not find his jokes funny at all. He has even kept on asking me about the things I can not even hear. I will just nod, pretending I understand him. I feel sorry for him, especially for myself. Only if he knew that he is talking to a hearing impaired.
The weather is fair, not worse than the other days. There has been a low pressure area causing heavy rains in some parts of the northern Luzon. My best friend and I had predicted that this plan would be put off. My best friend who had originally planned this was not able to come because of a personal problem. She could have been the one I would have been talking to during the whole trip, or the one who would have been deadening the deafening silence among us, the desire to build rapport with one another , that we have been repressing to draw out. These people might have found her fun to be with.
We reached the northbound, but it has still been drizzling. The driver is trying to make sure that he is careful about the vehicles ahead of him. It is like there is zero visibility. The thing that has been eating me all along, aside from my best friend’s fatalistic misery, is the possible danger that could fall to us. I have always been scared of going on a trip to high places prone to vehicular accidents. Besides, I have been to a place near that mountain on a field trip before. At that time, I understood why cars or buses or alike tend to fall off the mountain; the roads are on the steep sides of the mountain. The probable end of life is when a human errs.
We have to pick up another two mountaineers somewhere in different places in Pampanga. One is a guy who looks familiar to them the way he approaches them. The other one is quite handsome and young. He turns out to be the youngest among us. I find him a bit frank and pompous. The last mountaineer we will have to fetch is a man I find mysterious after our hiking. Like me, he will barely talk during the whole activity. He is not that even typical of a man who has to adjust to what every one of us has to do; we will have to respect whatever he cannot abide by.
It is what I have been waiting for. We have been on a real journey up on the countrysides. We are now going higher, farther from the cities. All we can see either side of the wide roads are the vast farm lands and some lights of the houses down in the distance. Beyond those lush fertile areas lie different ranges of mountains and deep valleys under the cover of darkness, in the dead of night. What is catching my attention is the prominent mountain my friend dares to climb tomorrow. I guess this is the only mountain I have noticed apart from the other ranges. It looks like the dominant queen of all the mountains around here. I marvel over its silence in that dark form. The entities we do not see existing up there might be having the merriment now while humans are all dead to the world. I even teased my friend the other day that she would not be able to get out of the woods.
We stopped over at a restaurant built on the edge of a mountain. We must be at a high altitude. It was rather cold than the usual temperature in Manila in the wee small hours. There are also some local tourists in their ideal hiking attire like some of my colleagues. They are all covered from head to feet. I wonder if the place we are heading for is as hot as a desert or as cold as Baguio City. I am wearing shorts and a jacket with a hiking undershirt. Do I really have to put on a bonnet as what everyone here has done? Some all look professional while the others don’t. It seems that we are now somewhere in Pangasinan because I heard the clerk speak Ilocano. I guess the dialect is Pangasinense. Before I order a bowl of porridge and a piece of egg perfect for the low temperature, I have to use the toilet so that I can condition myself; I want to hear what nonsense that roly-poly man will tell me about again. I do not want to keep nodding my head like what a counselor does to an emotionally bothered patient .But in the midst of this hum of excitement, a pang of guilt about leaving the person I left in the city is now bugging me again, the person I would have been making a wisecrack with and the new people I have started to make friends with while this hot breakfast was warming us up . I wish it had not happened this way.
We still have been up on the steep mountains all night long, in the darkness of the remote mountain areas we can recognize through the green signs built along the way. We really have been far away from the cities we came from. We can no longer go back to where we came from no matter how much our feet want to pull us back , no matter how I regret leaving someone in a misery out of my selfishness.
” Don’t be immature.”
I can’t kick myself for acting up like that. I shouldn’t have talked to her in that way, in front of her loved ones. I couldn’t contain myself , for I might have been excited all along. I should have thought of how much she has wanted to do it with me. She may not tell me, I know the reasons behind her decision.
To be continued…