my first son, and my last.
It’s not always true that in the face of desperation, people turn into animals. Sometimes, they turn into angels. A friend of mine once told me this story. He was one of those who volunteered to help in the aftermath of a storm that overran Albay some years ago. The place was still flooded, in some parts the water climbing up to the second floors of houses, leaving families stranded on their roofs. My friend’s group had gone around in a banca distributing food and blankets to the ravaged.
At one point, he said, they came upon a family of five, a couple and their three small children, perched on the roof of their house. It was nearly noon, and the family was making do with a can of sardines, which was all they seemed to have salvaged when they fled to the roof. How they managed to open it, my friend did not know, but they had its contents laid out on a plastic plate and were nibbling around it. When they got to the family, the father offered, “Kain po tayo.”
My friend was bowled over. Here was someone in the most desperate straits saying that. Of course it’s a ritual greeting, the sort of thing we say when we’re eating and somebody passes by. Nobody really accepts the offer, you answer also ritualistically, thank you but you’ve eaten. Still it struck my friend as the most dazzling thing in the world. Here was someone standing at the gates of hell, such as a watery grave could be called that, still capable of showing a glimpse of heaven. In a banca on the floodwaters of Albay, my friend wept.