May’s weather has been lethal. Manila, scorched. Dust flies everywhere, the remnants of rotten leaves pulverized by smog, rain, and heat. The city’s shade-less roads are cruel, and where there are trees – mostly in vacant parking lots – there are people: standing aimlessly, whining proudly, fanning themselves incessantly as they face the oppressive summer, as they are battered by incessant light, their armpits seeping with sweat as they smoke about. In these lots, tiny tornadoes form – swirling dust borne from the few cool patches of wind descending from god-knows-where air, ready to sting the eyes as much the sunlight already stings the skin.
They said Filipinos are brown-skinned to combat the geography’s climate – near enough the equator to be blessed with tropical foliage and coasts which lure locals and foreign men. But close enough to the earth’s bulge as to miss the pleasures, inspirations, and motives of the complete seasons. Close enough for the sun’s zenith to unmask in all her celestial glory. Such puny human beings. And yet their skins melt, their eyes turn sore, and their unremarkable lips frown when faced by the wilderness called nature. For the middle-class, the steel and glass-clad skyscrapers of business districts offer some respite; inside, enclosed in tiny cubicles with a view, there is at least air-conditioning. Of course, the workers must go home eventually, and so the end of a day in office is often greeted by a blast of fiery furnace which latches on the skin, and buries itself onto the bones.
In the same vacant parking lots, the unpaved land – well perhaps paved by pebbles strewn arbitrarily for the big cars to tiptoe; a stony grey surface broken only by cigarette butts jutting out like toxic trees – leads to a chrome of haze: a thick and translucent veil of pollution from vehicular smog, the visible choking of Manila in distress – cramped, crowded, and chaotic. Smoking is made more irony than vice.
There are the afternoon rains but they offer little relief to the summer-battered capital. Thunderclouds ominously form and hover, ready to crackle at every spear of lightning, breaking apart to release the dirtied rain – sometimes smelling like the bay – flooding the dusty streets, and inundating clogged sewers. Just another obstacle for the previously melting commuter. Yet these mid-afternoon affairs are nothing more but brevities – temporary sympathies from the gods above, which rather than cool the streets and the souls which linger along and across, merely releases the day’s heat contained in between the asphalt and the concrete. After the downpour, Manila is a city of geysers; nostalgic steams which lend a suffocating humidity to the urban air. Men and women, their children, the twenty million strangers – everyone has to wipe a bead of sweat trickling, the salt on their foreheads; the fragrance of the season. The windless evening strikes a final chord of cruelty.
The rain reminds me of you – unexpected, unpredictable, and unlikely. The rain appears to slither stealthily into my thoughts, pulling you from some unfathomable depths of my subconscious. You came at a season which was kinder to the body. Rain typified the day; a glorious kind of rain – the kind which coated the city and left its few patches of green embossed with vivid hues. You left just as swiftly as a summer downpour, leaving me to contend, and sadly, be accustomed to the irreverence of humidity. And though I fully understand there is more to summer, there is more to the rains, there is simply more than weather and dust and heat waves and chain-smoking, I am that vacant lot, that shade-less sidewalk, that parched land, that brutalised lung. I thirst. I yearn. I cough. I suffocate. I remember.
If only I could remember to forget too.