and something in me responds.
The arrival of the monsoon is felt like a sea change in my blood, stirring up memories—the real, the fanciful, the inherited—and a powerful desire to weep, to laugh, to read poetry, to dance, to make love, to curl up in an enchanted sleep for a hundred years. I wonder if it is so for everyone, or does one have to have been born and raised in the monsoonal tropics? The rains cast a spell on settlements by the sea: overcast skies, and the aquamarine daylight through which people seem to swim as they go about their lives, make us citizens of Atlantis, of the Isle of Ys, her church bells tolling beneath the waves, or of Macondo.
Macondo! It was during the rainy season, twenty years ago, that I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘ One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was curled up on a dusty couch that had been banished to the attic of my parents’ house, surrounded by boxes of Arizona Magazine and shelves of college textbooks that my mother never threw away.
The smell of paper yellowing in secret, the pattering rain on the wooden roof a few feet above my head, and the watery sunlight coming feebly through the windows—these became elements of powerful magic, and I was sure that if I descended the spiraling staircase to the ground floor and went onto the veranda I would find the neighbors gone and our house standing amidst the dripping banana plants of a plantation in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungles, tarantulas, and rivers, and the rain would not stop falling for four long years.
And who knows whether, when I got older, I didn’t subconsciously go in search of my personal Macondo? Rainy season, years later, found me and my husband in a fisherman’s shack at the edge of the South China Sea, reading poems by kerosene lamp and candlelight while a typhoon rampaged outside, bending the coconut palms sideways and sending the massive trees that grew in the jungle behind us crashing to earth with a horrible tearing and screeching sound.
And after the storm, stillness in the jungle, and everywhere the sound of trickling rills, dripping leaves, as a cobalt blue twilight pulled the black night over us. There would be smoke-flavored coffee boiled in the damp fireplace, homemade bread (baked in better weather) with honey from the jungle, two cats desperate for a lap to sit in, the face of my lover by firelight, the “bulge and nuzzle” sound of the waves on a stony beach…
memories…macaques in the mango trees, seasnakes amongst the coral heads, monitor lizards in the kitchen, python living on my bookshelves, spiders in the sweet potatoes and centipedes in the amaryllis, honey in the rum, fireflies in their thousands, bathing in the jungle, cockatoos in my hair, reading in the hammock, turtles on the beach, sex in the shallows, hornbills in the bedroom, termites in the Cabernet Sauvignon…
the real, the fanciful, the inherited…
For the past 5 years I have been in Darwin, Australia. My life is less complex, and yet a little more complicated. I will never again have the sort of time that I had when I lived on a beach in a remote part of the under-developed Philippines.
I have other things, now: certain conveniences and priveleges that life in the developed world confers, and I am grateful for them, grateful that I don’t have to claw and fight and outfox my way to everything, but there is less time, and more worries, and infinitely more things to choose from, though the people around me are less happy or content than the fishermen of El Nido were, who had no choices.
I am glad that, even here, we have found a way to live on the sea, away from the concrete ugliness and crowded tenements of Darwin and her suburbs. My nearest neighbors are a mangrove forest and a couple of uninhabited boats. If I face the east, I could be anywhere in the coastal tropics…Madagascar, Palawan, Sarawak. And the Monsoon, bless it, is the same everywhere, working its magic wherever it is.