Awakened by a Demon
The demon screeched as if being tortured in the pits of hell where every last inch of its flesh was flayed and the writhing, skinless, oozing body was dipped in rock salt and set on a slow-burning flame.
“Uh-Ooooooo, Oh-Noooooo, Tu-Qoooooo, Fu-Quuuuu, Quuuu-Quu-uuu-uu-u”
It’s screeching shattered the still of the night. Not just once. Over and over for the better part of an hour. It screeched. Then the lull during which my heart settled and I felt sleep crawling from between the sheets, my eyes growing heavy. Until it screeched again. Four screams in a sequence with the last sputtering words decaying like a loosely mounted motor running out of gas forcing every cell in my body to high alert. Danger, Will Robinson.
The beast had to be close. Beast? Or was it a ghost? A demon? A demon ghost hybrid. The locals are superstitious. Stories of ghosts and spirits are commonplace. Just tonight, I learned Auntie would not go to the upstairs floor in her own home. Her own home! A place she lived for decades because she believes it is haunted. Yet, it is ok for the maid and the grandkids to sleep up there. How much of the belief is based in fact? How much is fiction from a people steeped in superstition? I noticed I am fingering the smooth leather medicine bag I’ve worn around my neck since my encounter with Rattlesnake in New Mexico a couple of weeks earlier. I guess a Western education does not immunize one from a belief in amulets or the evil they keep at bay.
The noise seemed to be coming from just outside the sliding glass doors of my room in the Abuyog hotel. It may be a ventriloquist. The identified location a misdirection and it was nearer. Under the bed??? Did I remember to lock the window? “Fu-Quuuuu”. Is the demon studying me from behind a curtain of darkness? Behind the corner armoire? “Quuuu-Quu-uuu-uu-u.” Let’s rationalize. Maybe it’s a screaming cat. A cat in preheat sparring with an overzealous mate attempting to force a dry fuck, or a night bird trying to spook a twitchy nose rat into breaking cover and running, perhaps the Philippine version of a Screech Owl, the tufty eared, bug-eyed predator out for the nightly hunt. Screech Owl? Screeching Owl. Yes.
The noise tortures me. I am also tormented by claws scratching the floor in the room directly above me. Or, is in hiding between the ceiling and the floor? If it found a way to infiltrate the hotel, is my room safe? Is it rats? Is the Fu-Quuuuu demon inside the hotel trying to catch a rat? Does it have the flexibility to escape through a hole and emerge in my room? Is it a rat jousting with a slithering snake? Will the snake find refuge in the pipes and poke a triangular head out of the toilet bowl during my morning constitutional sinking teeth into my meaty, muscley ass or, shudder, ball sack? I better check the bowl then shit while hovering.
I cowered stock still sweating in the bed. My pillow is soaked through to both sides. My heart pounds. What time is it? I slowly looked at my phone. 3 am. 3 fucking am and I’m wide awake. 3 am. Much too early to chase a sunrise. And going outside in the dead of night could mean an encounter with the Fu-Quuuuu demon. Is it taking a clue from the owl playbook, trying to spook me from my safe sanctuary into vulnerable open space? I want to run. But, I imagine going up to the roof and facing Fu-Quuuuuu followed by my own fading Oh-Noooooo as it devours me, head first, or hexes my life ensuring I die tragically, or scares me so deeply my hair roots die and white strands sparsely cover my head. Irrational? Who’s to say what evil lurks in the heart of demons.
I lay unmoving for the next two hours too terrified to reach beyond the bed for the lamp for fear the demon is throwing its voice beyond the glass as it sits beneath my bed waiting to tear off any limb extending beyond the bed’s edge. Too frightened to reach over to my wife for comfort for fear the beast would hear me move and be triggered to attack the way running prey triggers a bear to give chase. I lay petrified waiting for the rising sun to send the safety of daylight.
“Did you hear the demon last night?” It wasn’t until the second morning hearing the awful screeching that I overcame my embarrassment and felt comfortable discussing the screaming, screeching demon.
“Ya, that loud screaming.”
“Screaming? That was a tukó, one of our local geckos. The name is from the sound it makes. Tu-koooooo. Tu-koooooo.” It’s a cute lizard. Good luck in the home.
“I didn’t hear no Tu-koooooo. I heard “Uh-Ooooooo, Oh-Noooooo, Tu-Qoooooo, Fu-Quuuuu, Quuuu-Quu-uuu-uu-u.” My voice decayed quicker than tukó at the end of a chant. “Cough. Cough.” I look at her. No sympathy for my feigned cough. It’s no use. I know it. She knows it. There is no way for me to save face. I feel the fool for being distraught because the unfamiliar voice squawked by a little lizard frightened the hell out of me. And I am simultaneously excited knowing Rattlesnake may have been speaking capital ‘T’ Truth.
The Ambien Zombie
The waking up before the sun theme lasted the entire trip. Jet lag from jumping 13 time zones over 24 hours requires the better part of two weeks for me to fully adjust. We were only a few days into the trip. Once my body clock adjusts to local sun cycles, we head back to Chicago where I endure another two weeks of screwed up sleeping schedules. Plus I have a very difficult time sleeping in a sitting position. On long-haul flights, I use prescription Ambien to help me sleep and adjust to a new time zone.
I’ve head stories of Ambien zombies, perfectly nice people zombified by the drug especially when mixed with Alcohol. They babble incoherently, have even been known to strip naked and wall about the plane. All with no recollection when then come down.
Always, until this trip, I enjoyed my Ambien induced coma without incident waking refreshed on the flip side. Win-win. The episode between Chicago and Taiwan will keep me away from Ambien the rest of the trip and will probably be the last time I ever use the sleep aid. I became the dreaded Ambien Zombie.
I took two as soon as my luggage was stowed in the overhead before buckling into my middle seat, next to my aisle seated wife, for the 15-hour flight taking off at 12:30 am. Normally, I fly long haul alone. There have never been complaints so I assume my induced sleep is simply a deep, dreamless sleep. Not so this time where I experienced two vivid dreams.
The first was of me walking around the airplane in slow motion. In the dream, I was unable to pronounce Pinot Noir in a way the flight attendant understood. I rarely eat airplane food, aside from crackers and fruit cups, because the smell while still in the carts makes me nauseous. But, I ordered the beef dish. And I ordered a whiskey which I mixed with apple juice. The obnoxious concoction was promptly spilled mostly onto my wife’s tray overflowing into her lap. I looked at the mess and returned to eating with all the dexterity and urgency of a sloth. All this, I later learned from my irritated wife, actually happened but I was too stoned on the sleeping pill to realize it.
I now wonder if those previous trips were simply a relaxed deep sleep or I acted the fool. I’ve never been arrested or deboarded so I’m going to guess there were no exceedingly unseemly events.
The second dream was rather bizarre.
Tukó, the gecko lizard, and I are sitting face to face in chairs. This is a giant Tukó, big as a double homunculus human. It’s feet dangle above the floor, the fat tail wrapped around the chairback providing balance. Tukó has no butt so sitting is difficult. The pink tongue licks its eyes the way a dog tongues its snout clean after eating. The mouth opens, sound spill out, the mouth closes. The eyes look at me, expectantly. The mouth opens again, “Who-Ooooooo. Fu-Quuuuuu”
Language gap. Unlike my encounter with Rattlesnake who spoke in words I understood, there is a definite language gap with Tukó, a gap exacerbated by the human lizard culture gap.
“Sorry, I don’t understand,” I said wondering if the language barrier was two way.
Tukó reaches out a closed hand palm up, turns it over, unfurls the five thick fingers revealing a very small gecko. It couldn’t have been longer than one-inch nose to tail. He pumps his hand up and down motioning me to take it. I reach out and it crawls, without hesitation, into my hand. I can feel the stickiness of the toe pads. It’s a little like tearing apart velcro with every step.
“Emmm…” how to be culturally sensitive here? Is it simply a gift? Am I supposed to eat it? We are in Asia where feeding guests is standard hospitality and refusing to eat offered food an insult. I look at it again. Well, at least it isn’t balut. I hope I don’t gag. I force a smile,” Thank you”. And move it toward my mouth.
Tukó chatters frantically. “Nuh-Oooooo. Nuh-Ooooooo.”
I stop midway, mouth agape.
Tukó points to the side of its head. I am still very confused. “What? What do I do?”
Tukó deftly grabs the miniscule gecko from my hand and places it next to my head. It crawls into my ear canal. A shiver starts from my ear and runs all the way down to my toes. This is worse than one gulp needed to swallow it. I am scared. No. Terrified. I once saw a movie where a person was strapped to a table while a villain in a white lab coat looked on. The villain grabbed an earwig from a bucket of crawling earwigs using a longish pair of zircon encrusted tweezers and proceeded to stick the wiggling bug into the man’s ear. The man screamed in agony as the earwig slowly ate its way through his brain until it reached the center killing him. Was I about to begin a ghastly death?
“Can you understand me now, David? You should be able to.”
“I…I can understand you.” What the hell was going on?
“That is a Babel Gecko. It is similar to the Babel Fish. You do know what a Babel Fish is, David?”
“Yes, I do.” My pride swells. I read the six books in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and knew the answer. “A babel fish is fictitious It’s small, yellow and leech-like. It crawls into the ear of a person suctioning onto the eardrum enabling the person to understand any language in the universe.”
“Close? I read all the books and saw the tv show. I know what a Babel Fish is.”
“It is not fictitious.” Tukó emphasized ‘fictitious’ by making air quotes with those fat finger hands. “It exists just not in our space-time continuum. Douggy Adams was taken up by aliens and moved between space-time streams. Eventually, the brought him back but failed to erase all the memories from his time away. Those books he wrote contained fractal representations of that time. Now, what you have in your ear is a Babel Gecko. It has the ability to translate all animal, tree, and rock people communication into your human language which is why you now understand me. It cannot translate human to human because the primitive human language causes the Babel Gecko to deteriorate from the inside out.”
“Primitive human language? Human language is the most sophisticated ever devised.”
“Typical human arrogance. It is not the most sophisticated on earth and considered white noise in other worlds. It’s why the beings on distant planets don’t bother responding to the signals and probes you send into deep space. You, humans, communicate only with sound with the exception of visual artists. Unless the artworks are straightforward, you misinterpret them as well. We animals have the ability to communicate with and without sound. We can communicate with color, physical motion, smell, telepathically and any combination. It is called ‘voice’ and is sophisticated beyond human comprehension while being transparently simple to all nonhumans. Babel Gecko translates all voice into approximations of human words. You may sense gaps, sometimes elongated, in the translation because the Babel Gecko must dumb it down for your comprehension.”
“Okayyy. There are insects and other lizards in this room. Why don’t I hear them?” I got him. There was no recovery from this argument.
Tukó chuckled. Paused. “The Babel Gecko knows. Humans like claiming they are good at multi-tasking. But it is impossible for the primitive human brain to focus on more than one task at a time. The Babel Gecko’s sophistication allows it to tune into the vibration of your thought waves then filter the many voices allowing only the one on which you are attempting to focus. This is why you don’t hear the mosquitoes discussing the sweetness of your wife’s blood they are sampling while she showers or the very large spider behind the shower room curtain singing a siren song to lure those same mosquitoes into its lethal web.”
“That sounds quite far-fetched.”
“Of course you would say that. Liars have a hard time believing the truth.”
“Come now David, you are fully aware humans tell as many lies as they do truths. Even the quote-unquote truths tend to be embellished.”
I have to admit he is correct. I like to think I am truthful to a fault but know, in my heart, I am prone to embellishing my stories. Innocent enough but still, why not just relate facts?
“We in the animal world are incapable of telling lies. Our communication is always congruous. Our voice, true. The body, our colors, telepathy, and words are always in sync. Though, one should be extremely careful when communicating with a split tongue being such as Rattlesnake. With them, truth halves and they may allow one half only to slip off a tongue branch into the world. Half truths are deceptive. Lying by omission of the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me by one of the thousands of Gods, is still lying.”
Gecko stopped talking, stared up at the ceiling. Was it hungry? looking for bugs? Too much silence for my taste, a vacuum needing filling.
“Thank you for the gift of the Babel Gecko.”
“It’s NOT yours.” Heavy emphasis on the NOT. “It is a loan. It will crawl out and away before you leave the Philippines. It would be dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“Dangerous? You can trust me. I won’t let anything happen to it.”
“Sorry, I didn’t understand you. I think the Babel Gecko is on the fritz.”
“It’s working just fine. And you heard me correctly. I said, ‘Fuck you!’ Your people have brought nothing but misery to this planet and my people ever since you left the trees in your hairy pre-hominid days and started building cities. You bred, still, breed like roaches, and continue spreading your pestilence! No offense to roaches. They are a hearty people. It’s simply a reality your mind can’t grasp.”
“Was that a question?” His color changed slightly. A red hue undertoned the skin. Can they color shift like chameleons? The gold eyes pulsed.
“Um, Sorry! I apologize for the human race.”
“It’s too late for apologies. The damage is done. We will all pay the price for your unchecked infestation. You humans most of all.”
“Really? What’s gonna happen?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yes, Yes I do. I have a right to know.”
“Rights is a human philosophical construct. There are no such thing as rights there only is existence. But, I will tell you. There’s nothing you can do to change the future. It will start when Big Ben strikes thirteen…” vrrrrt. vrrrrt. vrrrrt “…the blood moon will crumble…” vrrrrt. vrrrrt. vrrrrt.
vrrrrt. vrrrrt. vrrrrt. My vibrating watch alarm, set for the morning in Chicago, pulled me out of the Ambien slumber. I was still mired in a stupor, still mashed into the too small middle seat in the exit row, still on the plane heading to Taiwan. I dreamt it all.
An Expected Unexpected Trip
We weren’t supposed to be in the Philippines this year. Our trip to Southeast Asia was scheduled, tentatively scheduled, for 2019. January or February, opposite typhoon season, when the cold still strangled Chicago and the Philippines was a beacon of near perfect warmth. We planned to forego Belize where we had lizard basked in the sun for a week each of the previous two Winters and make our 3rd trip in 6 years to my wife’s homeland, her hometown. Her father was aging quickly. His health was not the greatest. Each of our last two visits we believed was the last to see him alive.
The dreaded call, came on a Friday a few days after we returned from New Mexico. Just as Rattlesnake foreshadowed. The following Friday, we were crammed into a plane for the 24 hour trip from Chicago to Manila this time via Taiwan. We overnighted in Manila then took an early flight to Tacloban City in Leyte. It was a short flight. Most flights between the islands in the archipelago are about an hour. We spent more time in lines and waiting in the terminal than airborne. Such is the curse of modern travel.
Our Manila hotel was an apartment. Inexpensive, great air conditioning which we desperately needed in a 90/90 country. The temps were 90+ Fahrenheit and the humidity was upward of 90% all day every day. Life in 90/90 means the sun feels heavy, a burden one must carry like an overloaded backpack even in the relatively cool shade. It was almost possible to extract a glass full of water with every few breaths. Sweat was my Eau de cologne. Not of choice but the natural order of life. The body must cool itself. The inexpensiveness of the apartment means one foregoes amenities like on-premise restaurants. The neighboring Marriott goes for $200 a night. For me, it’s a no-brainer tradeoff. Though, walking between our place and the restaurants in the pouring rain, Manila was in the middle of a typhoon, while sharing a single umbrella is a downer.
Our flight to Tacloban was in the early morning, too early to find a breakfast place. Plus we were reluctant to walk to the nearby hotels and be pelted by the typhoon drenching Manila and snarling traffic. The food at the domestic airport did not appeal to me. This all added up to being hungry upon arrival in Tacloban.
Stuffing My Face With Outdoor Chicken at Andoks
Our choice of eateries on the road to Abuyog is limited. There’s a McDonald’s or, on the opposite side of the street, Andok’s Chicken. Just the thought of McD’s makes my stomach cringe so, when asked, I requested Andok’s. I think it surprised our hosts. Andok’s is an open-air eating establishment with the food cooked on an outdoor spit behind a three-sided glass enclosure. It looks and smells succulent. We order, carry our chilled pop, without ice, to a clean table next to a table where a group recently vacated.
Our conversation is primarily in the local language, meaning I think it my own bubble. It is an existence with which I am more than content. I half listen to the ambient noise, sip my rapidly warming pop. Curse the ice made with unfiltered water. My inner life is active. I rarely grow bored. I am content to sit and think while they conversed. After all, they have a deep history and I don’t speak but a few words in their language. To expect them to accommodate my desires would be selfish. We achieved yin-yang balance.
I catch a whiff of a stench and look around to see if an open sewer is nearby. Nope. There’s a person at the adjacent table who I at first think is a worker cleaning up but noticed she’s eating the leftover food. Nibbling whatever morsel she can from the chicken bones, tilting the bottle to drain last drops of soda. When finished picking the plates clean, she walks toward us and reaches out for my half-empty water bottle. They told her no. I try an appear nonchalant.
Her face is oddly shaped. Is she mentally challenged? A mild Down’s Syndrome. There is a strangeness to her eyes. She walks behind me on her way beyond the restaurant boundary and I realize the malodor is not an open sewer. It is her. She never says a word at our table nor while she waits, like a feral dog outside the range of stick and stones, for opportunities to pick at leftovers. She took a position further from us than the strays sniffing the chicken laden air on the periphery. Is this how she is forced to survive. Does she view herself as lesser than dogs which is why she waits beyond them? Is she viewed by the locals as lesser than a dog? Does this society have more empathy for the canid than the hominid? I soon find out.
My companions drop back into their lingua franca freeing me to eat the delivered chicken and ruminate in the less visited antechambers hidden in my mind. I think back to the unplanned nature of this trip and its prognostication by Rattlesnake two weeks prior while we explored the wilds in Nueva México. A little Spanish thrown into the narrative. I’m not totally oblivious to other languages just lack fluency in any but English. Tubig means water in Tagalog and Salamat is thank you. Two words I need to get by in this country.
Rattlesnake told me. Is that the right phraseology? No. It is more apt to say Rattlesnake warned me that Tukó harnessed the temperament of a trickster with the ability to shapeshift. Trickster spirits take human form by day changing to animal form when Sun is replaced by Moon. He warned me, a preferred form for Tukó was that of an impoverished, mute woman. Is this woman a human being or a spirit being? Are her eyes a bit off or did the Rattlesnakes tales fill my head with imagined realities?
I try from a distance to see her eyes. Are the human round pupiled or vertical gecko pupiled. I cannot see clearly from where I sit. Would round pupils, tell me anything? If Trickster shapeshifts to a human, wouldn’t it also mimic the eye design? Perhaps the human form is a shell and a vertical pupil exists behind the round pupil. In the right light, would I be able to see the Trickster behind the translucent human-like eye?
I catch myself absentmindedly rubbing my medicine bag. Instinct once again overrides my Western University education predicated on logic. I doubt this would have been the case before I encountered the talking Spirit Rattlesnake and the Ancient One that set him free from the large stone. That singular event rocked my understanding of reality and now I am unsure where the division between real and imaginary exists. Or are they one and the same?
I look at her askance. Not wanting anyone to know I am staring but I need to know her nature. What is that movement? Did she just flick a pink tongue over her eyes?
Our stomachs full, my companions start tossing chicken bones to a yellow furred mongrel. It’s a stray. Heavy teated. Dirty. Patchy fur from fighting other curs. It inches closer, warily, until it is next to our table. Hunger trumps fear. Western dogs who are rarely given chicken bones. One because in America dogs are on par with humans. And because of the belief, their digestive system is too sensitive for the tiny spears. They give all the chicken leftovers to the dog. The dog eats. The hungry woman looks on. They pet the dog, a few affectionate pats on the head. They tell her she’s a pretty dog. Eventually, they give the woman a chunk of pork. No kind words. No affectionate touch. They don’t tell her she is pretty.
Is giving her food kindness? I don’t see it that way. We give of our excess. Our trash. A mouthful she would have helped herself to after we left. It seems to me more a guilt offering. But this is my perspective, the view of an outsider out of tune with the spoken language and the cultural context. My conscience is not assuaged.
I ate too much and I struggle with churning guilt grinding at my insides. I try to rationalize my lack of action as not wanting to throw a stone in the culture pool and start unexpected ripples that might upset the natural order. But it is simply a rationalization, a lie told to the self.
Truth is, I am wretched. Not the poor woman with little access to food. Me the overweight, self-centered glutton who ate my fill, more than my fill until I was sluggish, without thinking of her hunger. Ate until I was stuffed beyond need. As I think this, I looked sheepishly at her one more time with my eyes hidden behind my dark sunglasses. I swear her eyes flash gold for the time it takes to snap my fingers, flash gold with a vertical slit and the hint of an almost smile.
There is still an hour’s drive to our hotel. An hour where I am reminded of my wretchedness with every home we pass cobbled together using uneven wooden planks leaving open seams in the walls, and discarded sheet metal roofs creating oven temperatures in direct sunlight, homes without running water or electricity, homes without screens to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
I had forgotten the extent of the poverty in the country, forgotten the face of a similar poverty I saw every day in India and vowed never to ignore. Forgotten how blessed I am to have access to quality medical care, two cars in the family, a home with climate control, the means to travel eight thousand miles and stay in a comfortable hotel with a roof from which to enjoy the sun climbing spectacularly orange over an ocean horizon. And, always, the promise of a warm meal greeting our every arrival at Auntie’s home.
It is customary in the Philippines for a family member to host the deceased for the nine days preceding the funeral including the feed those coming to pay their respects. On day ten, the funeral is held. There are additional ceremonies at prescribed intervals following the entombment with the last at the one year anniversary.
Aunties home became the makeshift funeral parlor with the casket prominently displayed in the family room, the first sight when entering the front door. On the trip over, I wondered how people tolerated the stink of the slowly decaying body. It turns out, in this case at least for they do not live below the poverty line, the casket was top tier including a clear, glass covering. Hermetically sealed. Any odor would be confined.
We arrive on day 7 and visit daily until the funeral which ended up being delayed until day 10 for want of an available officiate. Each time we enter food is offered within a few minutes. In the Philippines, serving food is equivalent to saying, “I love you.”
I love chicken adobo and pancit. Have grown accustomed to heaping bowls of rice. But not so much the bony fish, too much work to separate the flesh from the sharp bones. Nor am I a fan of dinuguan. Pig’s blood adds a strong iron taste to the soup. By the third day, my palate craves variety. Our farm visit added a touch of variety. Virgin coconuts freshly felled from the trees with a machete have the sweetest milk. Locally grown greens added to a soup of freshly killed chicken, head included. It is a self-supporting chicken so the meat is on the chewy side. Of course, heaps of steaming rice, for a meal minus rice is only a snack.
The trip to the farm is different than past adventures. The ferry was bypassed by a bridge. It’s not strong enough to support a car so we walk across and board a motorput for the final distance to the farm. It terrifies one of the aunties so she opts for the ferry on the way back. It is dubbed the dancing bridge for it sways while we walk across.
Aside from one fast food place, there are no restaurants in town, none with hygiene necessary to sensitive Western stomachs. The last thing I want is Montezuma to seek revenge while I’m in the Philippines. On our final full day in Abuyog, Cousin remembers a new Italian restaurant owned/operated by a real Italian at the far north end of the city outside the town proper. I am skeptical. Authentic Italian food in the middle of a small town? How is possible? We eat there for lunch. Stay to swim and eat dinner as well. It is heavenly. And we finally have wine to accompany our dinner. There are no liquor stores in Abuyog, my wife tells me. No place to buy wine. We find the last day she is wrong. There is a liquor store a very short walk from our hotel. We leave tomorrow. No time for a bottle of red or a chilled white.
Daily temps are 90/90. Yet the homes have no air conditioning not even the nicer ones like Auntie’s or Cousins. I mostly visit after sundown to avoid the heaviest heat. As soon as I enter, someone adjusts both oscillating fans to ensure I was in their path and had a smidge of relief from the heat. Still, after about an hour, I am sweat soaked and head back to the hotel to bask, sometimes naked, in the air conditioning, temperature set on stun.
Some of the visitors we encounter are comfortable enough with English to greet me and ask if I am hungry. Hungry or not, food is still served. They can speak quite a bit more but are embarrassed to speak the language with someone who is fluent. The fear of making mistakes and possibly looking foolish is strong. I speak no Waray, the local dialect, so welcome any attempt at English. I do not push the issue. It is my preference they enjoyed the company of my wife. These are her people and holes are rent in the fabric of their family during her absence. Our visits are a time they all participate in mending the holes, a tribe working together to sew up the holes in the fishing net. I enjoy watching her. She becomes highly animated when conversing in her native dialect. I sit and watch from my familiar bubble.
For most of my life, I have felt an outsider, apart from the group, isolated. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, I was (am) the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. I have come to accept isolation is endemic to my DNA and I have learned to thrive in solitude. So much so, it has gradually become my preferred mode of being. I inhabit a bubble. Bubble boy.
The isolation becomes a shroud when visiting a land where my language is an afterthought or a nonthought. Non-language can be a wall. A wall of our own making when we chose to remain monolingual.
Unless one has extensive practice existing in isolation, whether by choice to remain apart from people or one is forced into it by dint of not speaking a common tongue, it can be a terrifying space. The sharing of even a few phrases gives hope, creates connection.
Many, probably most, of the native-born US citizenry speaks English only. Bilingualism, sadly, is an anomaly, a logical outcome of communal arrogance. “If you don’t speak Amurican you ain’t worth talking at“. It sucks that multilingualism is viewed as an unnecessary expense by most school boards in the United States. Worse, speaking any language other than English is increasingly, thanks to the orange buffoon, viewed as unAmerican, unpatriotic. If he truly wants to make America great, he should emphasize multilingualism in the schools verbal as well as speaking the languages of the arts.
For the ‘Build the Wall’ types, being in the midst of people who speak a language in addition to English, or worse, only English is uncomfortable exacerbating their fearfulness. They would rather isolate themselves with a border wall than face their fear. Build an isolating wall because of a fear of being isolated. Oh, the irony.
The proposed border wall between Mexico and the United States is a concept buttressed by fear, a foolish attempt to medicate anxiety. Like the antidepressant Prozac, it creates the illusion the situation is different. Perception is more important than reality.
Me, I am thankful for the multilingual. They can help build a bridge between us.
On our previous visit to the Philippines, I learned the concept of beer English. We were at the beach celebrating our marriage with lots of fresh food and buckets of beer. For the most part, I watched the waves kicking up against the shore and the fishermen in their small boats pulling in nets. Once in a while, there would be a word I understood in their language pulling me into their reality before I returned to watching. From a raging sea of Waray, an English speaking fish breached the water, hung in the air. A cousin started speaking to me in English. I was incredulous.
“You’re speaking English?”
“It’s beer English. We only speak English after drinking five beers.” Everyone laughed. And I was included in parts of the conversation until the beer was gone and we parted for our own homes.
There does not seem to be a drinking culture at wakes in the Philippines. Consequently, there was no beer English, very little conversation drawing me in. My ears do prick up when I catch one of the few Waray words I understand. Salamat for thank you. Tubig for water. O-O for yes. Mostly, at Aunties, I retreat to the sanctity of my bubble from which I people watch.
The Honking Huge Spider
I was in my sanctum one evening when I saw the short, jerky movement of a black object overhead. The homes, the ones I have visited, have no screens. Geckos and insects are regular visitors. In the ceiling line, where the ceiling meets the wall, a massive spider. I am not one to shy away from the creepies or the crawlies but this monster caused chills to shoot down my spine and escape through my toes where they hid in the shadows of a bookcase.
The spider is a good 5 inches in diameter with a body big enough to kidnap and drain the blood from a small child in one slurp. Not wanting to interrupt my wife’s animated conversation and appear to be a fraidy cat in front of her family, I stared at her hoping she would feel the intensity of my gaze and look my way so I could lip point, Philippino style, at the gruesome beast. No luck.
I sent mojo vibes through the air figuring the dense humidity would easily carry the signals drop to drop between us and tweak her subconscious. Again no luck. I became increasingly agitated. Should I shout a warning and save everyone’s lives? Or would my alarm raise twitters at the city boys irrational fear of something that amounted to a child’s pet?
I hold my tongue. Chilled fear sweat added to and mixed with my heat sweat. I am both hot and cold.
A gecko darts across the ceiling in the direction of Mr. Monster Spider. It is the biggest I have seen on the trip. Six inches long with a thick body and tail. Was this the Spirit Tukó come to save me?
As gecko draws near to the spider, it scurries until it is directly over my head. The movement is blindingly fast. If the spider decided to attack, could I beat it in a foot race? I am wearing my ultralight Ferrell tennis shoes but don’t know if my old knees can sustain a pace for the duration necessary to be further from the spider than one of the other guests. I didn’t need to be faster than spider just faster than the slowest person to put a victim between me and the monster. Of course, it could just let loose and fall from the ceiling onto my head the moment I look away and siphon all my brain juice.
Gecko appears not to notice Spider. Rather than witness a lizard arachnid skirmish, I watch Gecko descended the wall and take refuge behind a framed picture. Is it, too, afraid of the spider or simply returning to digest a stomach full of insects in a safe space?
Either way, I feel safer with the sentinel Gecko, a natural predator, close by. My protector. My savior. I have long been a fan of geckos. Correction. I love geckos. I wish there were a dozen or so roaming the walls and ceilings in our Chicago home. Wild geckos. Free-range geckos. Not the inmates transferred from animal prisons (aka pet stores) only to be locked in another glass cage inside a home.
A human can’t be human confined to 6′ x 8′ prison cell and still be a human nor can a gecko be a gecko when confined to a small enclosure. The US government confined the American Indians to reservations knowing full well it would crush their souls beyond repair and domesticate the ‘savages’. I don’t want a tamed gecko. It would lose gecko essence. They are harbingers of good luck. If the essence is gone so is the luck. Or, the luck may go negative and bring bad tidings upon the household.
Geckos feast on the crawlies invading the home. And they whisper dreams into your ears during slumber. I could use some vivid dreams. One can never have too many geckos gracing the palace. The praying mantis also eats insects so is beneficial but they don’t dispense dreams. Alas, Chicago has bitter Winters meaning no insect food to sustain geckos. Geckos starve. More bad luck. Geckos are another good reason for me to move to the Desert Southwest. I wonder, is Gecko of my totem?
On our last trip, we were island hopping near Puerto Princessa. I paid a few Philippine pisos for a temporary gecko tattoo over my left shoulder. Since then, I have contemplated a tattoo of Delicate Arch topped by a gecko against a sunset. Almost like it was riding the Arch into the sunset cowboy style. It would make for a great back piece. A symbol of my favorite land, a spirit animal. And if the ink could be made of finely ground red rock dust, it would have in my body the actual where I wish to rest forever. Now, if only there was a way to get inked without needles.
Finally, Irene looks my way. I lip point upward toward the spider careful not to make eye contact and force it into a defensive posture from which attack would be imminent. I do not want the beast finding a path into my head to play mind games.
“What?” she said.
“There’s a spider,” I whisper not wanting to be too obvious.
“What spider? Where?”
“It is above my head.” Emphasis on every syllable. I look up. It’s gone. Disappeared.
“I swear. There was a huge spider,” I show her the size with my hands. “The mother of all spiders. A baby eater for sure!”
She gives me her half twisted smile. The one when she considers my actions foolish, my words moronic, or general idiocy on my part. She returns to her conversation. I feel humiliated. I also grow increasingly agitated. I cannot shake the feeling it is lurking in the shadows studying me with those 12 beady eyes waiting for an opening to pounce and sink those nasty fangs into my delicately soft alabaster neck.
I give a few exaggerated yawns arm stretch overhead but not too high to put them in harm’s way. My wife catches my drift and arranges for a motorput to take me to the hotel though I would prefer to walk. She doesn’t feel it’s safe for a foreigner to walk the streets alone after dark. I stayed safely locked in our airconditioned room until the funeral on the morrow.
We hop into a motorput magically appearing right outside our hotel dressed in our blacks and/or whites, the preferred funeral colors but no reds. The motorput is a motorcycle with an attached side cage for passengers. The vehicle is not made for people of my height and girth. I shoehorn myself into the vehicle and endure the short, uncomfortable ride to Aunties. Thankfully, Irene is tiny so we are able to sit side by side. It is early morning and already the heat is surging. The hearse is late, as expected, so we linger in the room with the casket. I check overhead for the massive spider. Nothing. There is no way I am going to sit on the couch for fear it may be hiding between it and the wall. I stand. Watch warily. And exit the house right behind the casket. We are first and second-row mourners walking behind the hearse to the church.
The slow procession begins in full exposure to the sun. I have neither hat nor umbrella to stave the biting light rays boring through my flesh and into my body with the ferocity of a radioactive maggot in rotting meat. I boil from the inside out until sweat seeps from every pore and drops down the crack of my ass, swass. Sweat is the equivalent of body tears. We have only walked two blocks and there is close to a mile remaining. I rejoice inside when we turn from Auntie’s lane onto the thoroughfare to the Church and see trees lining the East side of the street. I strategically slide right and drink in the cooling shade.
A few trees ahead, there is a rustling of leaves. Green ballerinas? There is no breeze. There is, though, a small animal in the branches probably a bird, the monster spider hunting…me, maybe a lizard. We saw large iguanas in the Belizean trees. Would I be lucky here as well and see an interesting lizard or maybe a monkey?
My head cocks upward. I tried to be discreet. But it has to be obvious to the few without tear-soaked eyes. When beneath the fluttering leaves, my head is angled almost straight up, sweat trickles into my eyes. I reach to wipe away the sweat and feel something fall into my mouth. It sticks to my lips for an instant then slips inside. It is no bigger than the broken tip of a toothpick but soft with a slight wiggle. Wiggle?
I don’t want to gag and hack it up causing a scene amidst everyone’s sorrow so fish it with my tongue until it is between my front teeth and I can discreetly grab it. It is soft, pliant, dark with the texture of a lizards tail. A yellowish, juicy substance oozes from the broken end. Lizard blood. My lips tingle. Probably an emotional reaction to chewing lizard tail. It needed some chili peppers.
We enter the church. The delicious air is a good ten degrees cooler. The wonders of shade and fans to agitate the air. The upper row stained glass windows are open to the outside, to the elements. A few stained glass windows have holes. Vandals chucking rocks? The Doors and side windows are wide open, no screens, allowing nature free passage and a place at the foot of the Lord. Appropriate that the created has a place at the table of the creator. Birds flitted inside the church.
The second thing I notice is White Jesus. This is one of my pet peeves. It is bad enough swarthy people around the world apply caustic chemicals to lighten their skin to attain a twisted ideal of beauty. The Catholic church perpetuates the idea their God-Man was a slender white guy with light hair when they know full well Jesus was a Middle Eastern carpenter who was most likely brown and muscular. Better to show simply the cross as do the Protestant churches than further ingrain the twisted white is right agenda. It really is a disgusting practice.
By the time we reach the front and sit in the first pew nearest the casket, the immediate family pew where I feel completely out of place considering the deceased’s siblings sit further back, the slight tingle has crawled over my lips, slowly spreading until my lips and tongue are numb. What the fuck is going on? The numbness spreads up my cheeks, over my forehead, into my hair then rushed down to my waist. I can still feel my eyebrows and my legs still move. My eyes, too, retain the ability to bounce around their sockets. I can just move my head a few centimeters. The colors grow vivid as if the vibrance slider in Photoshop is pushed to the maximum. Acid trip?
I try to get my wife’s attention. I can’t speak. Can’t move my arms. She is lost in sorrow. We do not connect. The priest enters. The congregation rises. I stand out of instinct? More likely the almost 20 years of attending Catholic Mass imprinted the ritual into my DNA. I will never be free despite being nonCatholic for almost three times the years I spent in Catholic schools. The priest motions us to sit. And we all, in unison, drop to the seated position. Soon would come standing and kneeling and sitting and more standing and more kneeling. Catholic yoga
Sweat rolls down my face burning my eyes. I can not wipe it away. Frantic, I side glanced at my wife again hoping to attract her attention. She is still lost in grief. I am stuck on an island. Bubble boy is isolated. Bubble boy is not enjoying this isolation.
The priest raises his hands heavenward and opens his mouth to pray. Instead of words, sparrows fly out, small brown sparrows emerge from his mouth. Chubby seedeaters. They clumsily fly about until finding purchase on the walls, behind the lights where they cast eerie shadows, perched on the cross where they chirp, chirp, chirp. The longer the priest drones on, the more sparrows rush forth. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Until the altar is coated with brown birds. The mass of birds actually more beautiful than the gilded altar. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Not a pretty song in the bunch though. Chirpy chirp. The language of the birds a fitting eulogy especially since I exist outside the language of the priest and congregation. I would later learn the priest spoke monotone with a message clearly showing he had no personal, first-hand knowledge of the deceased. He was not nearly as coherent or interesting as the chirping sparrows.
At the consecration of the elements when Catholic lore says the wine and host transubstantiate into the blood and body of Christ, swallows explode from the wounds of Christ, streaming out of the hands, feet, and sword pierced side where once flowed blood and water. A steady flow of dark blue tuxedo dressed birds with elegantly curved wings. Each leaves an arced, blood red vapor trail that is pierced by a following bird and shatters into thousands of particles until a red mist hangs in the air like a dense morning fog hovering over a lake obscuring my vision.
The swallows twist and turn in the air with more grace than a prima ballerina in a Bolshoi Ballet. Their elegant flight poetic, poetry, the highest language, on the wing. They fly in and out of the windows seemingly gaining speed with every flap of their delightful wings. They fly under and over the casket while the priest speaks the eulogy.
I prefer the bird eulogy. I cannot understand the priest. I can understand the birds. They are honoring the deceased with an aerial ballet. They fly until their deep blue feathers are pushed from their bodies falling quill first into the ground like a thousand arrows shot into the sky descending in a veil. The blue feathers are replaced by virginal white feathers. Blue tuxedo swapped for a pearlescent tuxedo. What a tribute!
I want nature to be my eulogist, too. Yes, I do mull over the format of my wake and funeral. I’m creating a playlist of favorite songs for the occasion. It will be my last party and I want it done my way. Actually, I prefer my grandson to speak my eulogy since he is the only living being still viewing me from behind rose-tinted glasses through which I appear infallible or pretty close to infallible. He won’t have to lie to the congregants and say what a great guy I was. When he says it, he will believe it. It will be his truth even if it’s contrary to everyone else’s truth.
He would lead the burial procession, my final walk to my holiest of holies, the remote Red Rock Utah desert. I would love to rest atop Delicate Arch but I’m afraid the National Park Service would object, vehemently. Bones kicked by vultures and falling from the sky might cause injury followed by the inevitable lawsuit.
The procession would include a gaggle of geckos including at least one tukó since it’s voice sounds both cheerful and a lament. Its song will touch the hearts bidding me good riddance and those who weep in sadness.
I would like a chorus of birds in the background, the same cacophony the rises Sun in the morning, a chime of Canyon Wrens sitting first chair trilling the most beautiful birdsong ever to delight my ears. Their descending trills a metaphor for the winding down of my life. Somewhere in the procession, a single mythical rattlesnake to guard my corpse against rodents until one of the last California Condors rips open my chest and sticks that nasty pink head between my ribs and eats my heart. And we rise to the heavens on spectacular black/white, yin/yang wings as wide as the sky itself.
Since Delicate Arch won’t be available, my corpse it to be strategically placed beneath a gnarled juniper. A touch of shade to guard against sunburn. Face me West so my milky eyes can enjoy every sunset until they are plucked out by Raven and gifted to a blind coyote so it can see the world in vivid color and rejoice, as I did, with sunrises and sunsets. I can envisage it stopping mid-hunt, mid-chew on a kangaroo rat and watching, mouth agape as the apricot rays fade to tangerine. Maybe the not quite dead rat will escape while Coyote is mesmerized.
The priest descends down from the pulpit. Shakes the aspergillum at the casket anointing with holy water. The now white swallows start flying in tight counterclockwise formation layer upon layer from floor to ceiling creating a whirlwind, a translucent, blood red whirlwind. I feel myself leave my body and float into the air. The hulk remains seated. I see my shadow. Dainty long wings. A swallow. I am a swallow and I can fly. I am lithe. I am agile. I am Bird.
I join the flock flying round and round at dizzying speeds maintaining a fine balance between centripetal sucking us into the middle force and centrifugal thrusting toward the wall force. The blood red contrails continue to slide into the whirlwind forming a funnel cloud. The tip dancing on top of the casket, tap dancing on the glass until a hole is bored right through. The glass shatters it into a thousand knife edged splinters slicing the air into ribbons. They, too, join the funnel and shoot up into the ceiling digging and twisting, carving a hole in the dark wood.
The soul, white as daylight, cleansed of sin, purged of impurity pulls away from the body into the calm at the center of the vortex where it hovers with face turned upward, arms reaching heavenward. We all, birds, soul, red whispering smoke slowly begin to ascend. Once through the bored hole in the roof, our speed increases both circular and upward. The more rapidly we fly the quicker we ascend, ascend through the damp clouds, through the cerulean sky, into space and still we ascend. We are headed toward a dot radiating white light, whiter than starlight. Is it a distant sun? My head tingles.
When I was in High School, I saw Supertramp live in 1979. It was my first concert. I was dressed in my coolest Rock and Roll denim vest, elephant flare bluejeans with side stitching, over a pair of Midwestern style cowboy boots. They were tawny with a squarish toe. None of that roach killer pointy toe shit the cow fuckers wear in Texas. I was probably wearing a $5 bootleg concert shirt purchased near the carpark. A friend drove freeing me to indulge in mind-opening substances. Our seats were 20th row almost dead center. We didn’t sit. Everyone stood on the folding metal chairs straining for the best sight line.
Late in the concert, the band jammed an extended version of the song Rudy including a synchronized video running on a big screen behind the band. The lyrics talk about Rudy riding a train to nowhere. The sound of a train chugging along. Subtle at first. The tempo of the song increased so did the locomotive until it was flying down the tracks at high speed. The screen image changed to black with a pinhole of white dead center. We were in a long, pitch dark tunnel except for the tiny dot on the horizon. The locomotive chug, chug, chugged. The song tempo increased. The dot grew bigger. Faster, faster until we exited the tunnel and were blasted by a full white screen. And I experienced the biggest head rush known to man with a force that knocked me off my feet and onto my ass in the seat of the chair.
This is how the ascension to the white light high in the sky felt. A slowly growing headrush. Our speed increases. The light comes closer, grows bigger, increases intensity. My eyes water against the speed we were moving and the friggin’ brightness of the immaculate light. I close my eyes tight to prevent my pupils from melting.
A voice at once feminine and masculine, gentle and kind spoke, “Welcome, my faithful servant.”
I feel a warmth from the pit of my stomach radiate outward, engulf me like I am swaddled in a blanket just out of the dryer and still hot. I force my eyes open. The light is still bright but I can make out a silhouetted figure between the machine gun eyelid blinks. Arms reach out from behind the light veil. My name is called. “David…David…” I am about to come face to face with God. “David…David…” I reach my wings toward the figure and feel a sharp pain in my side. “David…David…” distinctly feminine now.
“I am coming, Lord!” Again the sharp pain. I must be flying too fast or the thin air is making it hard to breathe.”
“David…” feminine and familiar?
“David, it’s picture time.”
“Pictures?” I open my eyes. I am still seated in the pew next to my wife. Her elbow caused the pain in my side. I can move again.
“Yes. I need you to take pictures of us around the casket. You will be in some, too.”
There is a Philipino tradition of taking pictures of the family members standing around the casket. It dawned on me, during the days of the wake, people were taking selfies of themselves and the deceased in the casket. It felt almost morbid to my Western sense of decorum. But, it was a different culture and, as Pope Francis said, who am I to judge.
The remainder of the ritual was to walk behind the hearse to the above ground, vault cemetery. Most, including me, rode in cars to avoid the growing heat. At the cemetery, the casket was inserted into the concrete vault. This one was on the 2nd tier of three tiers. Many prayers were said. Rosaries swayed with the people’s emotion. I held an umbrella over my wife and myself so we wouldn’t collapse in the feverish weather. More prayers recited, ritualistic incantations spoken without thought as to their meaning.
The vault was sealed with cement while we watched then we walked back to the cars. Except for Tío Pat who hung around until the cement had dried and a name with date scraped prominently in the rough surface. A formal seal. Every tomb had the combination. I guess there are problems with people stealing from the graves and he wanted to make sure there was no funny business before the cement set solid. We returned to Auntie’s for another meal. While eating, I kept a wary eye out for the baby eating spider.
The next two days we spent at a mini resort in Tacloban where I did pretty much nothing except chill in the shade and write and drink and eat not Philippino food. Then it was an overnighter in Manila followed by a planned two and a half days at Busuanga Island Paradise in Coron, assuming the planes jumped on time.
Busuanga Island Paradise Resort
It was while checking in at Busuanga Island Paradise resort that I finally set eyes on a Tukó. Irene was completing the paperwork when a loud Tu-Koooooo sounded. Jenny, the manager, saw me searching the ceiling. She was tall for a Filipina, wore a baseball hat with the pony pulled through the back. Her face hinted at underlying features not quite Asian. I would learn later her father was an American. An Assistant Manager name tag was pinned to a white Busuanga polo. She wore knee-high water boots. It had rained every day for the past 21 days and was raining now. “Do you want to see the Tukó?”
“Yes,” I blurted excitement peaking on the inside.
She pulled a large picture frame part way from the wall. I peeked behind. Too much shadow. Easily remedied by the flashlight app from my iPhone. The bright white light helped me to see but it was still difficult to get a clear view even with my head pressed against the wall. Only one eye could see the lizard hiding high. My blue eye stared into vertical slit yellow eyes, very like Rattlesnakes. Cousins? It looked to be about 8 inches in total length including the deformed tail. Had it escaped the jaws of a predator?
“He’s a little one,” Jenny said. “There are lots of tukós here. Yesterday, I saw one twice the size at the pavilion.” Lot’s of tukós? Tukó promised land? Would I finally meet the spirit Tukó? There were only a few days left on our trip. Was I getting close?
The second evening, I am sitting in the outdoor pavilion in cross section with both fans enjoying the sounds of the jungle evening, switching between writing of my travels and reading poetry by Filipino author Nick Carbó. Half the books I read are translations by authors from the other countries. When visiting or planning to visit a country, I read at least one book from a local author with the aim to absorb a few cultural nuances. Obviously, the books have to be translated into English which limits the selection. And the profit motive further reduces the available topics to those appealing to English readers. Imperfect. But better than self-imposed isolation.
Anyway, I am switching between reading and recording our Philippine adventures in my travel notebook. Unlined, of course. Lined paper constricts writing to linear thinking. I like to think in other word flowing possibilities. A lovely tree frog hopping on the ground catches my attention. It is the color of brown, chlorophyll deprived leaves, dead leaves fallen from mother tree after their season turned. The legs are chicken thin, comical. Black eyes bulged from the head. I was tempted to catch it for closer scrutiny. But my words were flowing and I prefer to not interrupt flow.
I turn back to the table to grab my water bottle and am greeted by a very large tukó. It had to be at least 12 inches from toe to the tip of a very fat tail. Startled, I pulled my hand back. It didn’t move. There is no sign of fear in its eyes or body language. It stared. I stared back. There’s a glint in Tukó’s eye. There is very little ambient light so the glint must be emanating from an internal spark. I look deeper into the eyes through the vertical slit, beyond the gold flecks, and see the formation of the universe outside of time. The gold flecks are released by the explosion creating Earth. There were Canyons. Slot Canyon. A black Sphere.
A pink, almost human pink tongue, licks one eye then the other. Most geckos don’t have eyelids and are not able to blink. Like snakes, their eyeballs are covered with spectacles—transparent scales that protect them. Without moisture, gecko eyes can become dry like stone baked in a noonday sun. Swipes of the tongue keep them moist and clean, windshield wipers replacing instead of removing moisture. I sense a thought in my head. The thought feels like, “Dyu got sum ting para moi?” This could just be my mind playing tricks on itself. Then again, there is the distinct possibility this is the Spirit Tukó.
I reached into my shirt and pulled out the medicine bag. It was damp. Shit! We were snorkeling all day. The medicine bag was beneath my rash guard. I forgot to take it off. I open it up and pulled out the creamy flower. There is no movement inside the petals. Most likely worm is dead. Desert creatures and salt water are incompatible. Maybe, Tukó will still accept the offering.
I unfold the flower and lay it on the table exposing the worm. Tukó’s head bounces up and down in excitement. It licks both eyes double four time. It looks at me and back at the flower. Then it looks back and forth between the soy sauce bottle and the worm. I could have sworn Tukó did the Filipino lip point at the soy sauce bottle then again at the motionless worm.
Soy sauce is the number one condiment in this country, a land devoid of spicy foods. I have heard tell of a region enjoying fiery peppers but we have not set foot on that island. I planned to pack chili powder to add some pizazz but, in my haste, completely forgot. I was forced to suffer under the other two primary spices, salt and pepper. I grab the bottle and place a drop in the worm.
“Mu-Orrrrrr. Mu-Orrrrrrr.” Tukó bounces it’s head up and down. I sprinkle a few more drops on the worm. “Mu-Orrrrrr! Mu-Orrrrrrr! Mu-Orrrrrr! Mu-Orrrrrrr!” Tukó happy dances with every additional sprinkle.
“Okay”, I douse the worm until it is floating in a brown pool of the salty liquid.
Tukó, deftly and with lightning reflexes, grabs the worm. Chews once, twice then swallows. “Yu-Ummmmmm.” Wipes its mouth on the creamy flower leaving a brown stain looking like shit on toilet paper. “Yu-Um…” The second Yum is cut short. A look of disappointment clouds Tukó’s face followed by angry utterances. “De-Edddddd. No-Stooooryyy. No-Stooooryyy. De-Edddddd Fu-Quuuuuu! Bu-byyyyyy!” Tukó turns and waddled off. The body undulating like Snake but suspended on the four legs. It would have been comical were I not stunned and devasted it was leaving without informing me of my purpose. I feel tears well in my soul.
“Wait! I’m sorry. Worm’s death was an accident. I checked yesterday and it was still alive. It was an accident.” I brought it 8000 miles. Snuck it through customs carefully avoiding the sniffer dogs. “Don’t leave. I need to know. Rattlesnake told me you knew my purpose… don’t… don’t go.”
Tukó takes no heed. There is no indication it heard my words. If anything it speeds up. It waddles to the wall, climbs vertical with as much ease as I walk on flat, paved sidewalks, and disappears into the rafters.
Failure! All that effort getting Worm to the Philippines. Finally, meeting up with Tukó. What now? What now? I was on the edge of learning my purpose twice. One ended with a dream sequence conversation with Spirit Rattlesnake. This, the seconded, ended because a worm died. I was so close. It was a nightmare. Nightmare? Dream? Dream! And then it dawns on me…
I run into the night jungle, fall on my hands and knees at the base of a tree, and feel around for some soft loam. Mosquitoes buzz me. I dig with bare hands sifting the dirt through my fingers searching. One crawly. Too big. Mosquitoes ravage me. Poke and prod. I feel fleshy wigglers. Sweat burns my eyes. Mosquitoes pierce me. I pull out my phone, flick the light on. There. There. Gold. Grubs. Five grubs. I pick up two and tuck them into my medicine bag, hold two more in my hand.
I run out of the jungle. Grab my books and continue running into our room. I hadn’t run with such urgency in years. I grab the door with the muddy hand. The handle slips. I brush the mud off on my shorts, was able to turn the handle, and open the door. The room is still chilly. Amazingly chilly. So chilly, the cold-bloods would be sluggish.
I rush to the window. The mini gecko still clings to the diaphanous curtain. I grab the first grub between two fingers and held it out to the gecko. I move it slowly closer despite my rampaging heart and shaking hand. The gecko sniffs, licks with the pink moist tongue, then grabs the grub and gulps it down in one swallow. How I don’t know because the grub was almost half the length of the gecko. I show the second grub to the gecko and make sure it saw me stuff it into my ear.
“What on earth are you doing? Did you just put something in your ear?” Her toothbrush is still in her mouth.
I had forgotten my wife was in the room. I wave her down and shush her. “I’ll explain later.” I lean in close to the mini lizard. Hoping. Hoping. I feel the grub wiggling in my ear and have to fight the urge to pull it out. My hoping was rewarded by hopping. The gecko leaped from the curtain onto my ear then crawled into the ear canal. Where it, thankfully, gobbles up the grub.
“Yu-Ummmmmm.” I heard it say. “Thank-Youuuuu. I was so hungrrrrryyyy. Tired. Sleep now. Talk on the ‘morrow.” I could feel it circling like a dog then curling up and settling down in the warmth of my inner ear. It is pressed against my eardrum. At first, all sound was muffled. In a few moments, clarity returns. No. Clarity is enhanced. I can feel-hear its rhythmic breathing.
I am now equipped with a living translator, a Babel Gecko. Mission to speak with Spirit Tukó step one accomplished. Tomorrow I will seek the Spirit Being and attempt to convince he/she/it/they to continue our conversation. Until then, I have some mansplaining to do or I might be sleeping on the floor.
There’s Got To Be A Morning After
I wake the next morning from a dreamless sleep, a sleep restful from eyes closed to eyes fluttering open. Not once did I stir awake the usual 2, 3, 4 times every night. I must not have snored for my wife did not nudge me awake during the night and tell me to go back to sleep. Or, I was so exhausted I was oblivious.
Is this attributable to the Babel Gecko silencing my voices? Or a long day island hopping to white sand beaches, swimming in warm crystalline waters, and snorkeling near reefs teeming with fish?
I slept for seven blissful hours and awoke percolating energy. I can feel Babel Gecko as a slight pressure in my ear canal. But, there is no movement. A small gecko barks by the mirror. It is amazing the volume coming from such small creatures. Just gecko speak. No translation. Babel Gecko must still be sleeping. I want to rush out to the pavilion and seek the spirit Gecko, Gecko with a big G just like the big G Gods. What use, though, if my Rosetta Stone is not awake?
I push the area around my ear, front, below and behind, hoping the pressure will nudge it awake. No joy. I contemplate sticking my pinky in my ear, the nail length should reach. It also might pierce Babel Gecko. Patience. I tell my self. Patience? Patience when every fiber of my body is stretched taut enough that any touch would vibrate in the audio range, a human harp singing?
The last time I felt this high strung was the first time I engaged with my wife in the biblical sense. That night I had a clear path to satiating crescendo and hours of cuddling relaxation. Now? No path, no physical path. Perhaps a run? No. My knees are ravaged and the humidity would wrap me like a warm, wet towel keeping me from losing heat and ripe for an internal meltdown. One heart attack is enough.
Rub one out? No, that would leave me with sticky fingers, a wet bed, and wake my wife from her deep slumber. Not a good choice. She prefers, strongly, to not be woken early in the morning. We still had a few hours before she needed to wake for our 2nd day hopping the pristine islands. I could write a few pages in my travel journal but the agitation would render my already poor scribbling unreadable even to me.
I ease out of bed, grab my Kindle, make a cup of Earl Grey and walk to the pavilion. There is still a few poems by Philipino poet Nick Carbó to finish in his book, El Grupo McDonalds, before wrestling with Octavio Paz. Nick’s imagery is straightforward, relatively easy to follow. Octavio lives in the surreal. The words are tangled, the images twisted yet still sing beauty to my warped soul, Romeo serenading Juliette, Napoleon invading wet Josephine, Eve giving sight to blind Adam. He requires deep concentration to extract meaning. Mostly, I play in the imagery because much of the meaning is beyond my comprehension. That should get my mind off the internal machinations driving me to agitation.
Considering I’m living a pseudo surrealistic life what with a talking Rattlesnake and now an animal voice translating Babel Gecko tucked in my ear, surreal is on par with my mindset. I expect my near future will be steeped in a warm tea of melting clocks and fish on tethers.
In the pavilion, I sit at the table designated ours by the hotel staff. It is roped off by a small sign bearing my wife’s name, an invisible, inviolate border. It is situated between two oscillating fans mounted high on the rafters at a ninety-degree angle ensuring a constant breeze from one side or the other. A breeze clearing mosquitoes and keeping me cool, sorta.
When we first arrived and lunched at the pavilion, we were not enamored with our assigned table. We staged a coup and conquered another’s territory. We illegally immigrated to someone else’s table and squatted. And, you know what, we were comfy. The other couple was comfy. The world did not end.
I turn the fans on, open my Kindle. The backlight is too bright. I scale it down to a soft glow until the backlit display casts a gentle light, just right for reading.
I chose to sit in the pavilion hoping the return of Tukó, hoping the Spirit Being would forgive the accidental death of the yucca worm and speak the wisdom I needed to hear. I wait and wait. No reappearance nor would it show those golden eyes to me for the duration of our trip.
I read for a couple of hours, read until the thick, misty air glows dim gray-white, no apricot/tangerine sunrise this far into the jungle. I read until I hear the door click open and see my wife floating across the grounds her eye waving to and fro scanning for snakes with every step. We saw a nice grass snake our first day here. It crossed our path and slithered off into the taller grasses. She was not amused. Just out of bed, she is still as beautiful as the day I first laid eyes upon her in a Chicago restaurant and felt a tingling in my loins.
We eat the buffet breakfast, lots of scrambled eggs overcooked for me, peeled fruits, toast. She has a few cups of coffee, me another tea. A satisfying meal before heading out to the wet market to buy some freshly caught fish and the huge prawns our boatmen would cook a few hours later, food they would serve us while we rejoiced on the pearly beaches and swam beneath a cerulean sky in impossibly turquoise waters. Would Babel Gecko tag along for the adventure or take leave before we plunged into the depths?
Swimming with the Fishes
Our hotel is in the jungle, a twenty-minute van ride to the jumping off point for the water adventures. As much as I try to prod, and will Babel Gecko into a woke state, there is no movement in my ear canal.
At the wet market, the flies buzz, a few near dead fish gasp a spasm through their scaly bodies as they slowly drown in the thick air. It is the perfect time to expose my psyche to the pained fish. What were their final thoughts? No translation was forthcoming.
I know Babel Gecko is still there. I can feel the coolness of its tiny miniscule, cold-blooded body against my eardrum. Yet, I can neither hear nor feel breathing. Is it dead? Alive? Sleeping?
We will be snorkeling in the next hour and swimming most of the day. Dare I participate? It might drown and sever any possibility of guiding me. But, what’s to sever if non-reactive Babel Gecko is possibly dead? I send thoughts and prayers to it the entire boat ride.
The boats are traditional, double outrigger and sloooowww. One of our guides stands on the prow watching for submerged rocks.
I catch the boat crew sneaking looks at me speaking out loud to no one in particular. I’m sure it looks like I am spouting incantations the way a priest mumbles through a mass ritually performed a thousand times without variation. The thoughts and prayers did no good. Didn’t think they would. Thoughts and prayers are an illusory phrase spoke to assuage the guilt of people who won’t offer any real help but want others to view them as caring and helpful. More than anything, it is a shout to “Look at wonderful me!”
Our first stop, Siete Pescados, Seven fishes, an area rich in corals, a haven for mobile and stationary sea life.
I am not a fan of cold water except to drink and then prefer water that is as much solid as liquid. This intense dislike keeps me out of pools, lakes, and oceans. I learned yesterday this was not the case with the beach water. Today, we are further out. I tentatively descend the ladder into the ocean bay. The shock I experience when plunging in? The temperature is temperate. Not too cold, not cold at all. Perfect for a bubble bath after a long, long bike ride when on fire muscles need soothing.
The saltiness means buoyancy means no life jacket required…for me. I much prefer the mobility of swimming unencumbered. Irene, on the other hand, is less confident especially nervous when the bottom is more than twelve feet. She always wears a life jacket and uses me as a second flotation device. At times, it feels I am swimming for two. Mostly, I don’t mind the added work. It’s far better than two years ago when I had to snorkel alone in Belize because she was terrified of any water over her head. She has learned to swim with her next goal of learning to scuba dive. I am looking forward to that day. I love Scuba. I wonder, though, how she will take to more water above her than below.
Most of the time we snorkel, I am fumbling with my GoPro camera. I forgot the buoyant stick so must concentrate not to drop it. The floor is thick with coral. The GoPro would sink like a rock and disappear. I don’t like sticking my hands in places I cannot see when in the ocean. Too many critters with spikes and sharp teeth.
Her confidence grows. Short forays on her own become more common. I make sure to keep an eye out so I, in my fish searching excitement, don’t wander too far. Why excited? So many colorful fish. Some only previously seen on television and in professional aquariums.
There is stick, fan, and brain corals, all beautiful, each attracting their own fish species. The fish forage around the coral branches or, like the parrot fish, nibbling algae formed on the coral. Most exciting for me, aside from my wife discovering and showing me a striped sea snake later in the day, is the bulbous puffer fish with the tiny fins looking more like an overstuffed condom than a denizen of the deep. By color, it is nondescript.
It swims like a dirigible. Slowish. Not very linear. The bulky head resembling more a battering ram than a sleek, slicing missile. I follow hoping it will puff up balloonish. No luck. No predator to strike fear in its heart. Nor does this hairy hominid seem threat enough to trigger the instinct for self-preservation.
“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” I spot a Dory fish or a fish similar in shape and color to Dory. Possibly a blue tang. Not being a tropical fish expert, I can’t say for sure. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” I realize I am hearing a fish speaking. “Just keep swimming.” Babel Gecko is obviously awake and translating.
“Yes, David, I am.”
“You am? You are? You are what”
“Just am. I am.”
The Old and New Testament God’s used the phrase, “I Am”, to hint at their existence pre-time. It is interpreted by Christian scholars as a declaration of divinity. Here I am, a snorkeling human immersed in a world of water breathers, salt-water breathers enjoying the otherworldly experience. My focus is on simple enjoyment. It seemed Babel Gecko is gearing up for philosophical sparring.
I simply want to be deep under not to think deep while under. I enjoy floating, partially submerged with a mask and a mouthpiece stuffed into my speaking hole with a tube extending into the air. Perhaps I can just ignore the distraction. physically, speech is impossible. I can just keep swimming pretending to be oblivious.
“Wait for it?”
“Wait for…shit.” We already had a brief conversation. Babel Gecko is plugged into my head. Verbal words are unnecessary.
“There you go man, keep as cool as you can. Face piles and piles…”
“… of trials with smiles. It riles them to believe that you perceive the web they weave and keep on thinking free.” The little bugger is quoting song lyrics now. “Why the Moody Blues?”
“Do you remember the opening lyrics to that song?”
“Of course I do. ‘I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.'”
“Yes, my bright little star. You think therefore You are. Or, You am as I are.”
I looked back to find my wife. She is a few meters away and seems to be enjoying herself. There is no fear in her body language.
“Because we both are, David, I am able to connect with you at the thought level. Words are so primitive, a waste of energy, and enslaved to a specific language. Thoughts are universal, exist outside the limits of language. Only the simplest thoughts can be dumbed down to words. Except for the poets. Poets extended words beyond mere scratches on a page. They are able to create a bouquet of images, layers of meaning, nuanced implications with a sparsity of words, imagery dense forests with desert symbolism.”
“I enjoy poetry, too. But, I must admit, much of what I read is beyond my comprehension.” I think back to Octavio and the challenge of finding coherence in his imagery.
“That’s because of your propensity to interpret poetry with logic. One can’t think poetry. It must be felt. Poetry is an experience. Allow it to wash over you like the apricot rays of sunrise. Feel poetry don’t think poetry.”
I’m an engineer. Logic is everything. Am I an Engineer because I was born thinking logical or do I depend upon logic for because I am educated in Engineering? “How does one suspend logic?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been human, never been constrained by words or logic. We in the non-human space are fully aware logic is illogical.”
“How, then, do you survive?”
“How do we survive? It’s a wonder any of you humans survive. Logic is used to manipulate thinking thus beguile humans. Human logic says my side needs enough ‘defensive’ nuclear weaponry to blow up the world 10 times because the other side can do it three times. If both sides can destroy Earth one time then there is enough to destroy earth twice. Why is more needed? To line the silk undershorts of the greedy powerful who already possess more money than they can use in twenty lifetimes. It’s all about ego stroking.”
“I always, always knew nuclear escalation was warped thinking, twisted logic.”
“We animals survive by instinct. Emotion. Connection to the Collective Consciousness allows us to experience the energy of all life forms, including humans. The closest word in your language is empathy but our universal web is an amplifier making it broader and deeper.”
“Remember the balloon fish you were following?”
“Balloon fish?” In my mind, I saw Puffer fluttering near the coral. “Do you mean Pufferfish?
“Yes. Pufferfish. You were trying to spook it so it would inflate its body.”
“I was still in a state of semi-consciousness yet felt it screaming in distress.”
“Of course, distress. How would you feel with a hairy alien one hundred times your size following you around?”
“Ok. I get your point.”
“I have not made my point. For Puffer to puff requires significant energy use. Energy must be replenished by food. A short while ago it expanded to ward off a hungry eel. Eel induced stress then you added to the stress nudging our friend toward a nervous breakdown. I smelled the stress in the water, felt the fear-tension radiating through Universal Consciousness. All beings near Puffer experienced the stress, all except you and the other humans preferring to think in thought. Sharks are drawn to the stress lines and the implication of weakened, easy prey. To protect us all, including you, I distracted you with this conversation. Puffer was free to bumblebee swim away on those tiny fins dissipating stress. We are all connected. It is just you fool humans have ignored it for so long it seems to be erased from your DNA. Or your logical thinking has blinded you from our interconnectedness. You are welcome, by the way.”
“Yes, the shortest path between the sharks and the stress nucleus radiator was through your wife.”
“Huh? Oh. Oh! Thank You!”
“De nada, mon ami.”
“You just mixed Spanish and French. Are you multilingual?”
“No. Thought communicators don’t need to speak in any specific language. Have you not been paying attention? You interpreted my thoughts with words in your comfort zone.”
“The bounce between human languages, Daveed, shows a sensitivity to Universal Consciousness. Perhaps Rattlesnake was correct and there is hope, a plan for your life. Perhaps you are not just aimlessly wandering between birth and death.”
For part of our conversation, I was feeling stupid.”Of course, I’m not wandering aimlessly.” How quickly it changed to pissed when my worldview was challenged. “My life has a purpose. I have always sensed a greater calling, a heightened sense of the spiritual, a visceral connection with creation centered in the power emanating from the rocks around Moab. My struggle has always been understanding why I am sensitive to the spiritual and how I am supposed to serve the world. In other words, my purpose for being born. Rattlesnake gave me hope. He told me you held the answers.”
“I am not here to tell. I don’t have answers. My role is to give you a key with which you will open doors. I hint at possibilities. I point toward futures. I…I…I need a rest. Filtering through your mind gyrations trying to find coherence is exhausting. How do you do it?”
With those words hanging in the water. Babel Gecko stopped talking presumably to nap leaving me to ponder the soundness of my thinking and mental life.
Fun in The Sun
We, Irene and I, spend the remainder of the day basking in the glorious Philippines taking advantage of the beautiful weather, idyllic waters, and the serenity of the most beautiful white sand beaches in our world. The water and beaches in greater Coron. We choose to limit our movement on this second-day of island hopping. Day one we hit five different sites. Today, only two. There is a lot to be said for deep experience over wide. Both have their place. Today we needed deep tissue massage.
We spend the majority of our time at Malcapuya Island. The boat parked in a beautiful bay. We take a short walk to the shaded huts looking over a stunning bay. What’s the difference between beautiful and stunning? The angle of the sun glinting off the gentle waves singing when they brush over the sand. The texture of cool sand beneath bare feet too long encumbered by shoes, and the way the ivory whiteness kisses the incoming waves. The turquoise water against a backdrop of an impossibly blue sky sliced with wispy clouds high above cottony cumulus. Seeing my bronzed wife in a sexy one-piece emerging from the ocean looking more mermaid than a human. And many other subtleties felt deep in the soul.
We eat a leisurely lunch. A dirty white dog visits coaxed in by Irene. It looks halfway between fox and dog with the pointed ears and long, narrow snout, and bushy tail. She has elongated, swollen teats, a nursing mother. Where were her pups? I feel the word thirsty. Is Babel Gecko sleeping or has our connection become so intertwined translation supersedes Babel Gecko sleep? Irene gives the fox-dog water from our supply. “You’re giving our water to the dog? What if we run short? It’s very hot.”
“She’s thirsty.” Squatting next to the dog pouring water into her cupped hand which the dog eagerly laps. “She has puppies and needs the water more than we do.”
“How did you know she was thirsty?” It was a dumb question I should not have bothered to ask. She has a connection with dogs that shames my connection with humans. Dog empathy. Animal empathy.
“I could feel it.”
The dog consumes the better part of a liter and chowed down on the leftover fish heads and skeleton ensuring not a morsel goes to waste. Energy ensuring milk will flow and puppies have a chance to become dogs.
There is a big clam a ways out. Locals are giving rides where one has to hang onto the outriggers in the water while they putt-putt to the location. My preference is to swim and see it. We opt for neither. There is enough to explore nearer shore and we only have enough pisos remaining to tip our boatmen.
Our final stop before the hour-long, slow boat back to Coron is a sandbar. We can see the connected island across the strait. Deep massage or wider massage? I am so relaxed, either suits me. We cross to the sandbar. Only, it isn’t just a sandbar. It was but it isn’t now. Best of all, we are the only ones visiting. Peace and solitude.
It is later afternoon, tide on the rise. What was an exposed sandbar in the morning is now a submerged beach bar. A bar without drinks. A Mai Tai would be perfect. We walk on the submerged beach bar. The water is barely above our knees. In the center, an isolated rock outcropping attracts small fish the way light attracts moths only these thrive on algae instead of being cooked when touching the light.
Around the back of the island, rocks and coral abound as do fish. Not nearly the variety we enjoyed at Siete Pescado but equal in quantity. I see another parrot fish notable for their almost fluorescent coloration. The fish swim in mixed color, mixed species clusters, choosing to intermingle without the small-minded prejudice plaguing humanity. Inter-species harmony. My guess is they are not burdened by religiosity and the division wrought by practitioners of the faiths. They come together based on the content of each others character.
The Last Conversation with Tukó
“You are partially correct, David.” Babel Gecko speaks.
“Partially correct about what?”
“The fish people, all peoples but humans, exist in a perpetual state of worship. This is different than humans who set apart a designated time to honor the creator, a begrudging hour a week. Even that pittance is enough to win the label ‘zealot’ or ‘pious’. Each being exists in harmony with their creator never trying to impose their way of life. Parrotfish does not demand Shark become a vegan. Unlike your ilk believing it is a godly faith to ball gag your truth into the souls of those believing differently. Deep-throating others inevitably leads to retribution and the puking of holy wars.”
“How are the other beings different when Shark eats Parrotfish? Isn’t that ball gagging belief too? I’m sure Parrotfish doesn’t believe being eaten allows it to pursue Parrotfish faith.” I had Babel Gecko this time. Logic turned against diatribe.
“No.” Subtle chuckle. “That is each being existing true to their unique design.”
“And just how is that different?”
“To begin with, humans put their own faces on the gods. The Catholic god is white. The Islamic god is swarthy. You all carve division out of harmony. It should be obvious that each human religion creates god in their own images. We don’t put a mask on Universal Consciousness, ultimate reality, whatever you want to call it. Every other being from Rock to Microbe to the ancient Tree people are in a continuous state of worship every moment of their existence. There is no division between life and worship. They wake in worship. Sleep in worship. Dream in worship. Eat and procreate as an act of worship. An elephant never wishes to be a bird or even another elephant. Each exists in their moment, in the present maximizing their uniqueness.”
“Hmm…this sounds kinda Buddhist?”
“Yes. The Buddha was approaching Universal Consciousness but it was still an oblique angle mostly missing the crux. Each being exists as itself. Accepts the uniqueness of all others. None seek to be another. They exist within their purpose. Outside of man, there is never any animal, despite the anthropomorphized stories in your fairy tale books, that seeks to be something outside themselves, their purpose.
“Their purpose? They have a purpose?”
“Yes, purpose. The essence you are so desperate to discover. Do you know, you embodied your purpose at birth? But, like most humans, you lost it seeking joy and contentment outside yourself. Your journey is not one of discovery. It’s about reconnecting with your inner self, unweaving your own craziness.”
“I guess that makes sense.” It actually is more logical than I am willing to admit to a lizard. Inwardly, I have always felt restless, disconnected. It makes sense that I am on a quest to find a lost part of myself. But I don’t relay this to the Babel Gecko. I don’t want to endure another soliloquy on the illogic of human logic.
“Young David, you are on a journey.”
“I’m not young.” I’m feeling smug and annoyed.
“Before you were, I was. I’m older than Methuselah, was a witness to creation itself.”
I felt my head tilt like an inquisitive dog.
“I sense it is dawning on you. Yes, I am the Spirit Gecko, the Tukó foretold by Rattlesnake.”
“But…but…you are so tiny? How? How? What about the worm eater?”
“You foolish humans always thinking bigger is better. Sometimes, I wonder why we bother to protect your race. The worm eater was a pretender. The woman you encountered when arriving at Tacloban, as you correctly surmised, was a decoy. Worm eater and the woman are small ‘s’ spirit geckos. Did you not see the woman lick her eyes?”
“Hmmm. Protect our race? The human race?”
“Yes, but that is a topic for another time. I have been around since the beginning…”
“Beginning of what??”
“…the beginning of the beginning. By comparison you, young David, have existed for less than one one-hundred-thousandth the tick of a clock.”
“By that reckoning, I have less than the one-thousand-thousandth before I die. I guess I am both old and young relative to you.” I couldn’t help but be a smartass.
“What makes you think life ends with death? Have you considered death is the beginning and birth an end?”
“Riddles! You are as frustrating as Rattlesnake was before he wooshed back into his rock leaving a scar chiseled into its surface. Let’s rewind. You said I am on a journey?!?!” half question, half declaration.
“Yes. A long journey and I am, as was Rattlesnake, but a link in a disjointed chain wrapped through history connecting discontiguous time passages. I can see all the links back to before the beginning of your great, great grandparents and a few into your future. You, David, are on a hero’s journey. I am one of many advisors.”
“Many advisors? How man… Hold on. A hero’s journey?” Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about the mythology of the hero’s journey underpinning many world faiths. Is Babel Gecko telling me I’m to be the founder of a new faith? A prophet? A god? What shall I call my faith system? But there are issues. “A hero’s journey needs a hero and a dragon to slay.”
“Your quest is to rediscover the purpose you lost after toddlerhood. In that context, you are both hero and dragon. To slay the dragon is to slay yourself. Game over?”
“Wait. You said death is the beginning.”
“Correction, A beginning.”
“A beginning. If I slay myself I would be both dead and at a new beginning simultaneously. A Shroedinger’s cat paradox and I’m the pussy in the box. I would be dead to this life and alive to a new life. Like The Christ, resurrected into God.”
“Correction, a god. Are you able to retain any information? Why do I bother? There are many, many gods and Gods.”
“Again, you sound like Rattlesnake. Are you the same Sprint only shapeshifted?”
“What is Snake but Lizard without legs? By and by, never trust the words slipping off the fork tongues. They split truth. Rattlesnake is the definition of dichotomy. I think I already explained this.”
“Let’s back up,” I said. “You danced around my question. If I slay the dragon thus myself and death is a new beginning, am I to die and resurrect a God?”
“I said to consider the possibility. Compare it with water and ice. When water is warmed to 32 degrees it begins to melt. Cool water to 32 degrees and freezing starts. As one dies, the other is birthed. Death equals life. Life equals death. At 32 degrees is the coexistence of life and death, a perfect balance of living stabilizing dying, death stabilizing life.”
“Are you saying, if I slay my dragon, I will birth myself? But that means I have always been the dragon and the hero never was. Or am I in an equilibrium environment so I am both dragon and hero at this moment? Damn, this is confusing.”
“You are confused because you persist with thinking in thoughts. There is understanding that cannot be explained by primitive human thought. This is one of them.”
“Primitive thought? Human thought is the essence of intelligence. It is by thinking and thought that we ascended….”
“Your kind are so enthralled with thought you have lost the balance of empathic feeling. Need I remind you, it is thinking and thought that devised the atomic bomb. It is thinking and thought that kills for pleasure beyond the need for food. It is being handcuffed by thinking in thought that warps human philosophy until destroying the very habitat sustaining you is rationalized as logical. Because you refuse to experience life outside of thought, you are bringing destruction to many of the plant people and animal people not to mention the pending obliteration of the human people. How the Fu-Quuuuuu does that pass for intelligence?”
No snappy comebacks come to mind. No red herrings to derail Tukó allowing me a face-saving coup de gras and exit stage left. What to do? Simple. Do nothing, no thing. Remain silent. Terminate thinking. Halt thought. Float away on the thin ice of a new day. I unfocus my eyes and hover face down, submerged ears connected to the ebb and flow murmuring of Ocean’s soul brushing against my eardrums, a one-inch diameter breathing tube connecting me to sweet air. Yin-yang. Fish and human. Ommmm. Ommmm.
I am not sure how long I dwelt outside of thought in the amniotic paradise. Was it seconds? Minutes? Longer? Nine months? Whatever the duration, I return to awareness feeling relaxed, freshly emerged from a chrysalis after a long, restful sleep. I would like to say transformed physically but I am still an aging redhead carrying too much weight around my midsection. The caterpillar stayed a caterpillar.
“David, can you sense me?
“I can hear you.”
“I haven’t been talking”
“You’re not talking? Then, I am tuned into your thought waves. I guess I am sensing you.”
“Before I go….”
“Go? Go where?”
“Away. I’m leaving.
“You should be used to separations by now. Did you not tell Rattlesnake everyone leaves you?
“Ya. Doesn’t mean I like being abandoned.”
“I have imparted to you what I had to impart.”
“Whatever…how can you leave when I’m still a mess.”
“Yes. You asked how I maintain sanity. I am out of order and will not find my peace until harmony is attained. Harmony with what? Harmony with everything. Including myself. I’m thinking Nirvana on earth. Peace in my soul.”
“What you desire is not a one-time event. Order, itself is an illusion. Harmony, on the other hand, once found requires maintenance to sustain the beauty state.”
“How will I know when I enter the beauty state?”
“The natural world will accept you as one of them. You will be able to understand their essence without the need of an intermediary like me. You will be outside of mere thought and sense the universality of all life. You will be comfortable existing in both the thought and empathy.”
“What about my purpose? How will I know.”
“David, you are on a vision quest. Neither snake nor I can reveal your purpose because it is hidden from us as well. Purpose is not a single destination. It’s a series of destinations. Purpose evolves over time. Rattlesnake was able to point you toward me because I was a near future. Your next future is beyond my vision and my dreams. But my dreaming of future events is imaginary. There is no future as there is no past. It is always present. Always I am. Always you are. I can tell you this..be open. The next spirit may be very large or very small, tree or insect or any being between including rock. It may be nonambulatory requiring you to sit still for days. Keep your spirit open so you don’t miss the sign. There is no saying how many guides hold links in your chain.”
“Sure, I will remain open, leave my spirit raw flapping in the breeze.”
Gecko popped out of my ear. It floundered in the water’s great strength. The ocean was pushing me around and I was infinitely heavier than tiny Tukó. I tried to reach for it but the waves pushed and pulled us in different directions. I thought it might drown. Until it’s tiny tail grew into a fishtail. Scales flipped out of the lizard skin on the bottom half the body. The upper changed into a woman, the spitting image of the raggedy lady at the chicken stand. Still gecko green but definitely the woman. It grew as long as my leg. Shapeshifter. With a few strong flicks of its tail, it disappeared into the distance. But not before singing in a high, melodious voice, “Remember…Spirit Beings come in all shapes and sizes…some are not ambulatory…”
That was the last I saw or heard from Tukó. The boat trip back to Coron took us into a squall of dark clouds, eventually releasing a heavy rain. It rained through the evening and the next day causing a slight delay in our Palawan-Manila flight.
Aside from the reason taking us to the Philippines, it was a good trip. We had space away from tourism to experience untarnished native life and for Irene to reconnect with childhood memories and the people making them special. And we had a couple days of tourism visiting some of the most beautiful beaches and waters the world has to offer.
The next day, Chicago via Taiwan. Most of the trip I mulled over and over the conversations with Tukó. Sticking like a barbed hook in my craw was the phrase that not all Spirit Beings are ambulatory. In my opaqueness, I sensed a clue. The second leg, the long leg was on a Hello Kitty themed plane from the flight attendant aprons to the eating utensils topped with Kitty. I found it trite, childish. Irene thought it cute. I didn’t touch the Ambien.