Chapter 6 - The Incident

The dawn was surely majestic and wonderful when I arrived at Hagnaya Port. The sky was painted with distinct shades of orange and red. It looked like a painter had thrown his palette out of his well-crafted anger, which depicted the rashly-made-but-awkwardly-stunning atmospheric skies. The vicinity was filled with the cries of deafening waves retreating to and fro and mumbles of soggy tires of trucks and buses against the dirty-wet soil. The area had been swept already, but still some types of trash lay dormant in every nook. The cleaners were surely not paid handsomely for the job. A nostalgic, mossy smell and the stingy, salty sea hit my olfactory nerves, which brought me down memory lane. 

Ah, those were the days.

Hagnaya Port was the only port to receive passengers going to Bantayan Island—forth and back. The retreat house we would visit was situated near Kota beach. The earliest trip going there was at four-thirty, but we had all agreed we would have the nine-thirty trip. The call-time was at five-thirty, but I arrived an hour earlier. Actually, I was earlier than I thought I was. At the back of my mind, I wondered why we couldn’t just take the six-thirty trip since all of us would be meeting up at five.

To be honest, it was no wonder why I was early because I didn’t travel from the city. Molly and I went back to our hometown last night, giving me some convenience as Hagnaya was just an hour away from Tabogon.

I surveyed the area. No one was around yet from school.

The only people around were vendors and some manongs guarding the restroom. I felt a tingling sensation in my abdomen and rushed to the toilet.

After I got out, I low-key complained under my breath about the expensive payment of the service. I could understand that it was for maintenance purposes, but ten pesos per use was too much for me. 

My stomach groaned again.

I used the restroom three times straight before going to the ticket booth.

The waiting area was a decrepit bunch of nearly-forgotten-in-fashion benches and plastic chairs with some missing legs replaced with junks of four-by-four, overly used wood. I sat on one of the chairs and checked my phone for any incoming messages.

Forty-four missed calls and thirteen text messages.

Crap.

My phone was in silent mode and I completely forgot that my default message application was malfunctioning: I couldn’t be notified by any incoming messages unless I’d open the application itself. 

I started sweating like hell. Damn, I was doomed.

With noodle hands, I dialed my best friend’s number.

“Hey, are you still asleep th—” first thing I asked after I heard a clicking sound on the other end but was disrupted in no time.

“Where are you? Teacher Mary is bitterly mad asking your whereabouts. We’ve called you a lot of times already,” Vhina whispered anxiously, making sure that no one would hear her, probably.

“What? I’m already here in Hagnaya.”

“What the fudge? How come you’re already there? We were supposed to meet here at school!”

“Didn’t we all agree that we will be here before five-thirty?”

“Oh, my god, Elly. Were you even listening to the meeting last time? That’s our call-time here at school! Not there, you airhead!”

I looked around. The dirty silence of the area and absence of any teachers from the school confirmed the situation I was in. However, I could see the barge that would take us to Bantayan swaying nonchalantly on the water, trying to invite me on board. Was it a mistake after all?

I furrowed my brows and in a chipmunk voice requested, “Um, can you just tell her that I’m already here? Please, prove to me that you’re my best friend.”

“Best friend your face. For once, check your messenger, Elly! Of course, I’ll be saving your ass again. I can’t help it. Alright, just remember, you owe me this one,” she said. She was already losing control of her voice. 

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, Vhi. Promise, I’ll treat you to something good once we arrive in Bantayan,” I replied, pacifying her.

“You better do, girl! And please check our group chat. You’ve never seen a message from us this year yet. What have you been doing? Are you a caveman?” 

“Hey, you knew I uninstalled my messenger.”

“Oh, yeah, blah blah blah I totally forgot,” she said. “So? Are you still in this romantic encounter you’re wishing to happen? If I were you, I’d definitely give Bernard a go. He’s good-looking and tall. What’s wrong with meeting your love online?”

“Vhi, please. We’ve already had enough of this. I thought you wholeheartedly supported me on this.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course, it’s just tha—oh, damn, she’s coming here. Don’t worry, I’ll cover you up. Bye.”

“Thank you ve—” 

The line was cut. People these days surely like cutting my calls. 

I pocketed my phone and took a deep breath, taking in the atmosphere. With both hands, I smacked my cheeks hard enough to leave a mark. 

Work mode!

I keenly eyed the barge with crossed arms, remembering the specifications of it that I heard from one of the stories father told us when he was still alive. A large, gray ship with neat machinery, twelve passenger cabins, forty double decks, and lots of disgusting plastic chairs on the deck, the Kulbahinam barge was an excellent vessel for both passage and trade. Captained by the well-known Rudwick Meynard, one of my father’s close friends, everything was just what you would expect from such a boat; in fact, almost too much so. This was all because it belonged to one of the enormous ship companies the Garcia family owned—I recently found out from teacher Mary—and it was where my father once worked.

The other noticeable things were some passengers boarding the vessel and several squawking seagulls.

Half of the sun was already up the skyline, which added some murkiness in the bleak, golden horizon, and the rays it shot made me yawn unwillingly. I sat back on my seat and donned my AirPods to listen to some Korean songs. Unbeknownst to me, I fell asleep.

† † †

“Elly, Elly, Elly...”

I was dreaming about BTS and the mysterious woman when someone nudged me on the shoulders. I was not fully awakened at the first try. After several attempts, I opened my eyes as slow as I could, seeing for the first time the figure who dared to take the Korean group away from me. It was a blur. I was never good with my sight.

“Here is you glasses. Wears them properly,” the intruder said. I snatched it away from her.

“What?” The familiar voice somehow annoyed me. My glasses were still adjusting to the blur of the figure standing in front of me.

“Oh, you is forgetting we language? I thoughts you is the friend,” the figure, and by now I had already identified as Vhina, said as if she was disappointed. It never showed on her face, though.

“Ah, yeah. We are doing this early in the morning? If you only knew that I had a fantastic dream, you would be so kind not to disturb me,” I fired back.

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. But I need to wake you up, or else you’re going to be left behind. Remember, you still owe me.”

The gigantic ship was still docked peacefully, but some ant-like beings were already boarding it. I spotted familiar faces. 

Oh, shoot!

The Kulbahinam barge started blowing its horn, warning the nine-thirty passengers who had not boarded the boat yet to come aboard. I frantically searched for my belongings. They were gone.

“Alyssa and Ritchelle have already gotten them. Let’s go, or else you’ll take the eleven-thirty trip, alone,” Vhina whispered in a threatening but awkward voice. I didn’t buy it.

We quickened our pace and we were just in time to board the barge, but too late for the first assembly.

“Your things are all on your bed. The four of us are staying in the same room, by the way,” Alyssa said, anticipating that I’d ask her.

Some passengers I had noticed earlier were walking astray on board of the barge. Of course, there were the teachers of Arullina, but there were also some that seemed like everyday passengers of the boat: a middle-aged man with a stethoscope hanging around his neck—surely a doctor of some sort; a buffed student wearing a varsity jacket; and a young-looking, old lady who was wearing a Pikachu shirt paired with a ragged, old saya—probably a vendor. The rest of the passengers looked normal and unsuspecting.

Teacher Mary was done giving instructions to the student council about the dos and don’ts in the retreat house. Vhina gave Priscilla—a year twelve student and the student council president—the script of the speech she needed to deliver during the first night of the retreat. She was an energetic student who could not just be told to stay in one place, so Vhina planned to give her things to do once we’d arrive in the retreat house. Teacher Samuel, who was also the council’s adviser, was roaming around the area looking for Joseph—a year ten student and the vice president. Joseph and Priscilla were like two ends of a pole. Joseph was a shut-in individual and didn’t like to socialize a lot. He was told to run for the vice-presidency position by teacher Samuel to at least amend for his almost-failing grades in which, at the same time, a win-win situation for him because he wouldn’t do much work. His only job was a mere substitute, which he never had done yet, or to say, Priscilla would not give him an opportunity. Of course, he liked it that way.

I was looking for Josh because I had just seen Finlay running around the deck of the barge. The railings were low, and it could invite accidents, especially for a kid such as him. I saw Josh talking with teacher Mary at the rear deck.

“Hi, good morning, teacher Mary!” I interrupted, being careful with every word I threw, remembering the fiasco I had done.

“Hello, good morning to you, too,” teacher Mary replied professionally.

“Can I have Josh for a while, cher?” I requested, half-wishing for teacher Mary to just give me a silent treatment about what happened.

“Oh, sure. I was just giving him some talking about Finlay. A passenger said that he had dropped a vase from the crew’s cabin earlier.”

“Oh, my. Josh, what I was right about to tell you has something to do with him as well. He was running near the railings.”

“I already talked to him. He was inside teacher Mary’s cabin. I gave him a workbook to work on as a diversion. He will surely get a lot of reprimanding from teacher Mary, and an additional from me once we arrive. Anyway, I’m on my way to find Rex. I need to hand him something, so if you’d excuse me.” 

He might have wanted to escape from the long talk with me about Finlay. I could almost see the stress on his face hearing complaints about his student. Surely, his concern for the child could only stretch so much, and it would take time for Finlay to change in the first place. However, I was hoping he would gradually agree that Finlay was nowhere near normal. 

I ended up following him. He found Rex. I hid behind a metal contraption.

Rex was leaning on the starboard railings, appreciating the beauty of the sea while taking in the salty breeze. He was the council treasurer and Josh’s nephew. As what I heard, he had been teased by his classmates about how he gazed a lot and paid less attention to anyone. Apparently, they didn’t know that lots of things were going on inside Rex’s mind. He had attempted to take his own life as what the guidance counselor shared with the grade ten teachers. He had been shamed by his family about how dumb and untalented he was; in fact, his mother loved to compare him to his brothers and sisters. He was supposed to be a future engineer; however, he insisted on becoming a teacher just like his uncle. Josh had been a superb model for him. Rex copied everything he did—including Josh’s terrible habits in the past, which I happened to find out by accident.

Rex pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and was about to pull a stick when Josh snatched it out from his fingers and threw it out in the sea.

“Still doing it? Didn’t I tell you to stop?” Josh angrily shot.

“This makes me feel better. You should know how relaxing it is,” Rex retorted.

“Teacher Mary is looking for you. She was asking for the budget plot of the activities for the students attending. Including food and drinks,” Josh replied, trying his best to change the topic.

“It’s in my bag, I’ll hand it over to her later. It needs some double-checking.”

“Alright. By the way, here’s your pocket money. Make sure you won’t spend it on cigars. Okay?”

“Did they ask you to give this to me?”

“Yes. No. I mean, don’t just mind it. You’ll have your own money once you graduate,”

“I don’t need this.” Rex shoved the pouch back to Josh.

“Don’t be a child. Stash this and get your butt over here. I will give you something to work on.”

“For a moment,” Rex replied with a deep void in his eyes. Josh read along the lines and joined him on the railings.

“Hey, kid, what are you thinking?” Josh asked after a moment of silence.

“Stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“Lots of stuff that don’t concern you, uncle. You can leave me alone.”

“Hey, don’t be cold now. I’m just trying to help you ease your mind.”

Rex turned halfway and eyed his uncle from head to toe. Both had the same height. “What help are you going to give me? You barely even move whenever you visit me at home. You sit and play games I’ve paused for later after I finish my lunch, only to find out you’ve finished them up. You order me a lot around the house; buy this, buy that, and everything else. Do you know how much of a lazy bum you are, uncle?”

“Hey, don’t go there. I’m not totally what you think of me. I do lots of things you’re too young to comprehend yet. Don’t start calling me lazy bum if you don’t want to be scolded by a teacher. Sure you wouldn’t like it.”

“Sure I do.”

“Oh? Are you challenging me? Is it a brag you offer after winning your position, huh?”

“What’s to brag? I even hate it. Can’t they just appoint someone else? It’s a bother.”

“Kid, you’re just going to waste your talent. Others don’t have anything like that. You know, money management. You do best at it!” 

“A treasurer can only do so much, uncle.”

“Well, handling money is not easy, plus the plotting of budget allocations. Better be thankful, idiot.”

“Yes, yes. Thank you for this, Lord.”

“Don’t be sarcastic now. Besides, this job will surely keep the things weighing your mind at bay for a while.”

Rex didn’t budge to reply. He just stood there, taking in everything he could.

With a smug face, Josh added, “Now, now. If only I’m correct, aren’t I?”

The two of them went back to Josh’s cabin after a while. I sighed and just went back to mine as well.

It was almost forty-five minutes already since we departed from Hagnaya port and we were almost halfway through the island of Bantayan. 

     A little more time, girl. A little more time,” I spoke to myself. I was starting to feel giddy about the trip. Although suddenly, the weather seemed to feel odd which I thought intentionally wanted to ruin my mood.

“Oh, not today,” I sighed heavily. 

And just as I was treading my way back to the cabin while playing the railings with my hands, I felt my stomach drop as I lost my balance on the vessel rocking listlessly.

The waves evolved to something threatening. The barge rocked hard—port and starboard—and the passengers were gradually noticing the change in the weather. Gloomy clouds loomed over, and a heavy rain angrily poured down, along with strong gusts of winds as if having a showdown in the freezing deck. Finlay had just been given a wordy lecture by teacher Mary when he went to the deck—again. Apparently, he saw a seagull, and he might want to catch it. I pushed myself through the thickening crowd but was too late as he readied himself to dash and jump out to catch the bird.

Standing near the rear deck, close to where the seagull was perching, Chevonne, who had just finished taking a call with teary-eyes, saw what Finlay was about to do. She loosened her grip on her phone and tried to stop him in his tracks, but he was already on his way to catch the bird like a runaway bullet train. Just when he was about to get his hands around it, the bird spread its magnificent feathers as if to stretch its joints, and in a matter of jiffies flew away. 

Finlay lost his balance and he overshot over the railings—unstoppable. Chevonne was able to grab a hold of his uniform, but unfortunately, he had twice her weight. He cried out for help as his upper body started to weigh more than his lower half, swinging himself upside-down to the chasm below, plus the force that had been added by Chevonne’s mass made their situation much more treacherous. If not only for the rocking of the barge, it would surely be easy for her to pull him up. However, with waves and all, it was too late.

They fell overboard.

I screamed and Josh heard me. He just handed out the workbook to Rex and I pointed to the railings where I last saw Chevonne and Finlay. He somehow got the message and lurched into the deck. I saw a glimpse of his expression: he was set on what he was about to do. 

He dove over.

I noticed the area turning green. I closed my eyes and somehow saw Josh from somewhere up above.

SPLASH—Josh hit the surface of the water with his face real hard. The pain stunned him for a while, but he recovered in no time. He tried to search for the two, but the water was too murky, and the pouring rain that had already become a squall restricted his movements. He might have started losing air by the way some bubbles were escaping out of his mouth. 

An object fell over the barge and hit his head.

† † †

I flew my eyes open. What did just happen?

The sea was now trembling.

The sirens of the barge blared, and the captain’s voice was crackling from the overhead speakers and megaphones around the boat.

“This is captain Rudwick of the Kulbahinam Barge Group of Companies speaking. We are currently experiencing a seaquake. I repeat, we are experiencing a seaquake!”

The passengers aboard the barge scrambled frantically. Teacher Mary’s calm demeanor broke in shards of shouts and anxious orders telling everyone, teacher or not, to stay calm and to be in their cabins or on their beds unless they wanted to run over each other and get injured. Different furniture and belongings of different passengers dropped to the floor where some of them broke. The crew of the barge scattered around the boat to calm the passengers down but miserably failed due to the unexplained abnormality of the weather and the shaking of the boat. The total number of passengers would be approximately sixty, which also gave the crew a hard time controlling them. The barge was now rocking uncontrollably, and the weather was getting more and more intense. Unperceivably, a green smog had started coating the whole deck of the ship, barely giving us enough vision to see in a meter distance: it was the source of the green thing I noticed earlier. 

But it seemed like I was the only one who could see it.

The student council officers were crying and praying in the corner—save Rex, who was running around the ship, searching for his uncle. Ritchelle and Alyssa were trying to get in contact with every person who could help us when altogether the quake and weather stopped. The smog cleared up. 

The silence was threatening. I had the instinct that something much more dangerous was about to happen. I felt like it was the calm before the storm.

A crackling sound buzzed in the overhead speakers and megaphones.

“Everyone, please, calm down. The weather and seaquake have now totally ceased. My crew is already assessing the damage and in just a minute, we’ll be all good to start the engine again. Let’s go back to our cabins, beds, and chairs, and please refrain from doing anything that would lead to panic. As much as possible, let’s be cooperative and understanding. Follow the guidelines in dea—” 

The barge started shaking again.

After a few seconds, the boat jerked so hard that the people around me and I didn’t just stumble but were also uprooted from our footings. We were delivered straight upward. We hit our heads on the metal roof, and slumped back to the floor, unconscious.

Before I completely lost mine, I somehow remembered this type of quake that I had, we had experienced before.

It was a vertical earthquake, or a seaquake—whatever it was.

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