Memories of rainy days of long ago
Rainy days always remind me of wonderful times in our house in Malabon. The house was on a huge lot surrounded by fishponds as far as the eye could see, as if it were in the middle of a huge lake. Catmon River was nearby, a wooden bridge spanning it. From our house we could see the line of mangrove trees on its banks. At night, as I lay in bed listening to the rain drumming on the roof, it was nice to hear the clop-clop-clop of horses pulling carretelas across the bridge.
Our lot was connected to the street by a dog-leg dike just wide enough for persons to walk on single file. It was surrounded by huge, really huge, tamarind trees and smaller kakawati trees and gumamela bushes, so that from the street you could not see the house, only the trees and shrubs.
In September the kakawati trees bloomed and the lot was surrounded by pink blossoms. Looking at the flowers that fell into the water, I was reminded of Japanese cherry blossoms floating on a stream.
Catmon River overflowed its banks during the rainy season. You could actually see the waters slowly creeping up and spreading on the street, luring the children to frolic in them. The waters were clean then, and leptospirosis was unheard of.
During stormy days the river flooded the fishponds to overflowing, and the fish would escape, swimming in the waters in the street and backyards. The barrio folk, using nets, spears, bamboo traps (salakab) and even pails and basins, would chase them and catch them.
Our house had a basement and when the lot was flooded, the waters—and the fish—would enter it. When the flood ebbed the fish would be left behind in the basement. We could hear them splashing there. We fed them leftover rice and fish as well as lablab taken from the fishpond which the bangus ate.
On lean days somebody would go down to the basement and catch a few fish to go with rice for our meals. The trapped fish lasted a long time.
There was a hardy species of fish called liwalo or martiniko that could, using its fins and spines, climb the banks of the ponds and into the ankle-deep water in our yard. Maybe they thought the water flowing down the banks were a stream, so that they swam and crawled “upstream” like salmon.
We would sit by the window and watch them climb up the bank of the pond and then splash in the shallow water in the yard. When there were enough of them there, we would go down and catch them with a salakab or our bare hands. We would not eat them all at once but would put them in a big stoneware jar (tapayan). When we needed fish to eat, we would catch a few in the jar.
There were many fruit trees in our barrio, mostly mango, santol, guava, and, of course, tamarind. During the rainy season we would visit friends who had fruiting trees and ask permission to pick a few fruits. We threw stones at clusters of mangoes or santol, but we climbed the trees for the guavas and tamarind.
During the rainy season Catmon River would be full and, from the bridge, we would watch the swiftly-flowing waters carrying leaves, small tree branches and other flotsam. And we would take off our clothes and dive into the river.
We would climb the big trees growing along the banks and jump from the branches into the river. Somebody had tied a rope to an overhanging branch and we would swing out on this rope yelling like Tarzan, and then let go at the end of the arc to fall into the waters.
We would chase one another like monkeys through the branches of the mangrove trees which grew very close together.
It was nice to swim and play in the swollen river with rain falling down on us. We had so much fun frolicking in the river that we would forget the time—until we heard the voices of our elders calling us to lunch. But we were not hungry and we would be having so much fun that we would not heed the calls—until somebody would come to the riverbank and shout at us to come home.
At home, after a late lunch, I would lie on the floor near a window and listen to the rain. I would cup my ears with my hands and play with the sound of the rain by moving my hands up and down my ears.
It was even better listening to the rain in the dark of night. Above its patter, one could hear the clatter of horses’ hooves crossing the wooden bridge. And from a distance, one could hear the train’s whistle as it chugged northward. One could tell when the train was crossing a steel bridge: The hum of the train’s steel wheels on the railroad tracks turned into a roar when it was crossing that bridge.
Alas, all of that is gone now. Catmon River is now so polluted that all the fishponds that get their water from it are now dead. No fish could survive in the polluted waters, not even the hardy tilapia. The mangrove trees have been cut down and the riverbanks are now lined, not with trees, but with squatter shanties.
The bucolic and beautiful countryside of my boyhood is gone now. All I can do is reminisce whenever I am reminded of it by the constant rain.
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