(Courtesy of Psyche Roxas Mendoza)
… continued from last week
They moved out in leisurely fashion, the boys leading their younger sisters, keeping pace with him.
“That, Miriam, is a tamaraw,” Emmanuel pointed to the horned head guarding the rise which hid the bay from sight. “It is found only in Mindoro. It has Mangyans for company.”
“What’s that? Miriam asked.
“Mangyans are mountain people,” Emmanuel explained. “Like the tamaraw, the Mangyan is found only in Mindoro.”
“To the seawall,” Lorna challenged. And they all raced toward it.
They sat in a row on the wall, their feet dangling. The breeze sprinkled salty sea spray, but the breeze was fresh and cool despite the intensifying noon heat. Waves lapped at the stones and boulders below. Small boats skidded on the water while the bigger ships lay anchored. Beyond the bay the low horizon glinted.
“Look. Look, Papa,” Stephanie said excitedly. “Two crabs fighting.”
The two small crabs were locked in combat on fine gray sand between stones. A big wave came and washed them apart. They crawled away from each other, into crevices under the boulders. Whitened shells of dead crabs were uncovered in the sand by the wave.
“Pity, the wave broke them up,” Psyche said. “They were like gladiators in a Roman arena.”
In the bay, a ship was going away. Another was coming in.
“That ship, Papa,” Stephanie looked up at him. “I hope you never leave again.”
He smiled softly at her. Then he hugged her tightly and kissed her.
“Your Mama is waiting for us. It’s lunch time,” he said.
Lunch under the tree was a feast. The children told jokes and laughed luxuriously. It was so good he did not hear the jarring sounds of traffic on the boulevard nor notice the people passing by.
Lorna and Daphne smoothed out blankets afterward around the tree on the grass, under the umbrella of its broad spread of leaves. On the blanket where she sat, Lorna emptied a bagful of books and magazines.
“Me, I’ll try some sketches,” Marcel said, picking up a drawing pad.
“I’ll tag along,” Emmanuel said, pulling Victor with him.
People walked by and traffic went on as boisterously as ever, growling and honking and darting. But the breeze from the sea fanned them with a coolness that was refreshing. Heat was somewhere else but under the tree.
Heamingway still in hand, the colonel dozed off to a fitful sleep. He awoke with the sun long gone. Evening was upon the park.
Mrs. Dimalanta was smiling over him.
“That nap could keep me up the whole night,” he said, looking about him as he sat up.
It was real cool now. And the quiet of evening was in the air. He had a sense of being all alone despite the people passing by, milling around, moving on. The thud of leather on paved walks was all at once strong and compelling. Music filtering in from somewhere in the park stabbed him with nostalgia.
“Where are they?” he asked.
“Lorna and the kids are off to the playground. The others are just around,” his wife said.
She reached over and picked up a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of soft drink.
“The children have eaten,” she said.
They nibbled at their sandwiches and munched the drumsticks each had in hand.
“We are posted here as caretakers,” he said, chuckling.
“They’ll be back. I have so arranged with them: Daphne and Ferdinand are here at eight and Lorna and Marcel at nine.”
“Have you seen so many bright lights all in one place?”
“Only here. And I wish we had more time to come here often.”
“We’ll have more.”
“It is safe here now. Even for the girls and the children.”
“Yes. No hold-ups. Imagine hold-ups in a park like this. God! Those were awful days.”
“How could they do it?
“Don’t worry. It will be all right.”
“They say they strike unseen, without warning.”
“They did. It’s that way with war”
“I’m not worried. All these years I have learned to have courage.”
“Those fountains. They make evenings here a carnival.”
“Were there many victims who died?”
“In war men die.”
“I want to cry.”
“No, Mama. We do not win by crying.”
“It’s such a waste.”
The colonel downed the last drop of the soft drink.
“There’s Daphne. And Ferdinand. They are waving at us. Victor is running.”
The children came in a rush, collapsing playfully beside him and his wife, panting, all warm and smiling.
“Our turn to stand guard,” they said.
He helped his wife. Gently. She walked with a grace he loved to watch.
They walked slowly, side by side, close to each other, throwing shadows in the day-brightness of the night. By the lake they tarried for a while. The fountain shot a spray of colors right into the air, making a rainbow in the dark sky.
He held her hand, a little too tightly. He led her on, glancing at her face every so often. He felt so close to her he could not speak.
Before the flower clock they paused again.
“Isn’t that marvelous, Papa?” she whispered. “And those big red flowers.”
“It’s wonderful, Mama,” he said softly.
“Oh, God! It’s nine-thirty.”
They turned back, his wife hugging his arm tightly, as if he would stay away from her.
The rainbows will remain, he thought. In the heart. In the will. Rainbows are beyond time. And we reach for them forever.
And as they passed the lake, a shaft of pink leaped into the sky.
He patted her hand. “Has anybody ever caught a rainbow, Mama?”
“We did,” she said. “Today.”