Instead, I drove in hard rain, with his tiny MP3 player that I hoped would not run out until I got to the beach house.
Once there, I was surrounded by a jolly group armed with drinks, games and enough food to sustain us for a week in case a tsunami hit the peninsula. I came earlier than the others, and had a chance to be in a room all by myself. I changed into a swimsuit, and took a dip in the pool. Uncharacteristically I decided to swim crawl-style (or "freestyle" as it is popularly called) for a few laps. I realised I was still conscious about how my body was not smoothly rolling from side to side as it should, and I could have sworn I heard a familiar "tsk, tsk" in the background. It began to rain and I thought, maybe I could just run a bit tomorrow morning, then attempt to swim again right after.
He called me "lampa" for as long as I can remember. He never questioned my intellect or my musical talent, but he was always skeptical about me when it came to sports. I got straight A's in school only to be ruined by the B minus in PE (oh, and in art class, too). I was always last in races, dropped the shot put before even getting to throw it, messed up everything that had to do with balls, and was the butt of jokes when I decided to try playing badminton with officemates ("Nakakapalo naman? Hindi puro pulot? Hahaha").
But swimming was another thing. He had been swimming even before he learned math, and he used to swim for survival, to put food on the table. It was his passion, and he taught me to love the water and not be scared of it at a young age. He tried to train me but I didn't learn how to breathe properly while swimming until i needed to: the last PE class available for my last semester in college was Basic Life Saving and I surely needed to save myself first before I could attempt to rescue others. I took extra night lessons to prepare me for class in the morning, and I finally was confident about my swimming skills, except for crawl style -- the one he did best.
"May rhythm yan. Matututunan mo na lang siya kapag hindi ka na nag-aalala kung anong pace mo. Huwag mong intindihin kung mabagal ka, basta steady ka. At tsaka yung ulo, ikot lang, huwag i-angat. Itikom mo na rin yung bibig mo at baka makalulon ka pa ng tubig imbes na makahinga," this he used to tell me, chuckling at my clumsy strokes.
I guessed it was almost 6am by then, with the cloudy sky trying to give way to the sunrise. I moved to my side and opened my eyes and was surprised to see the wall of my parents' room. I blinked, knowing I was not home, but I couldn't take the image out of my head. I closed my eyes and then heard a familiar whistle. He just came from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his lower body, looked at me and said, "Hi."
I immediately hugged him and I felt his damp, loose skin against mine. I kissed his cheek and he said,
"Ok na ba kayo? Kung ok na kayo, pwede na ako. Ok na rin ako."
I called out to my mother and she saw him, too. They hugged and I was so happy to see them together.
Suddenly I was outside the house, and saw a lot of people walking in one direction, as though they were going to gather in one place. I recognized some of them, but these were relatives who had passed away a long time ago. I asked,
"Ano po'ng meron? Saan kayo pupunta?"
One of my dad's sisters-in-law, who had been dead for more than 20 years, told me, "Si Leno, handa na. Sasamahan namin siya." Beside her was her son, who is actually still alive. I asked him if he knew where he was going, and he said he didn't know but he felt the urge to go in that direction. I also asked him if he saw who he was with, and he replied that he was walking alone.
"Wala kang nakikitang kasama mo?"
"Eh ba't ako may nakikita?"
His mother replied, "Kasi mulat ka na."
I went back to the Malabon house and saw Mom put down grocery bags like she just came home from the supermarket. She smiled and told me we were going home. Just then, I saw a big photograph of Dad underneath the glass table, surrounded by red rose petals. Strains of Martin Nievera singing "Kahit Isang Saglit" could be heard, as though Martin himself was rehearsing for an open concert that day.
And then, I woke up, crying, and saw I was at the beach house again, with my friends sleeping in the same room.
Roused from a vivid dream, I went out quietly, put on my rubber shoes, and went out for a jog around the neighborhood, then went back into the pool and finally did the crawl, improving my technique with every lap. I stopped midway into my last round, and looked out into the sea. The view was overwhelmingly beautiful: the sun's rays were peeking out of the dark clouds, the water seemed empty but the waves were dangerously coming one after the other. No one was awake. I wept, and my sobs were muffled by the wind and a gentle drizzle. It was as though my emotions were perfectly mirrored by the weather: I was silent, but I was not still. I felt it happening all over again, in the dream, that I was left alone once more, that I had to accept that I was to remain while he was to move on. I whispered for the Father I prayed to, and the father I had lost, to help me be at peace, to fill the enormous void in my heart and turn my troubled soul to calm.
As the storm pattered on my car's windshield on the way home, I felt a semblance of the peace I was looking for. Suddenly it wasn't so lonely to be alone, and my heart was brimming with gratitude that I had a home to return to. Listening to the beat of the raindrops, I remembered to develop a rhythm inside me. I need not to speed up, but to find my own pace. No matter how fast or slow it may be, it will keep me steady, and keep me moving forward.