Among the garbage in raging waters

raging waters
Flash floods have made makeshift boats a necessity in vulnerable areas. —PHOTO FROM

Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry/
And I will sing a lullaby…

“Golden Slumbers”
by the Beatles

Two girls were killed in the flash floods on July 15-16, according to the initial reports.

Like many an afternoon in the metro in this warm season, dark sky and distant thunder heralded the rain that steadily became a torrent. “Payday Friday,” broadcasters quipped, indicating an expectation of more than the usual people and vehicles on the streets, of bigger crowds in malls and other places of leisure.

As it turned out, the heavy rain petered out shortly before evening descended but already caused a bit of flooding in those avenues prone to such sad occurrences—areas that brim swiftly after a downpour and are perennials in TV newscasts: waters too deep to negotiate by small car, small car stuck in the eddies, its driver having been inexplicably driven to be stupid and reckless, drains clogged by garbage and road works too long in progress—footage demonstrating that in this cramped metropolis, as elsewhere, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

But hardly had an hour passed than there was rain again, as loud and relentless as the thunder and lightning that accompanied it. So it was that the breaking news and the stuff that suffused social media late on July 15 and into the early hours of the next morning comprised a foregone conclusion: mallers emerging from the madness of a sale and finding themselves unable to get to their cars in the parking lot, let alone get out of there, traffic at a steaming standstill, commuters trapped in raging waters and frustration. It looked to be a long, desperate, night.

Related: Once more into the breach: Indigenous folk march against Kaliwa Dam

In the next couple of days, news on the flash floods in the metro was, you might say, same old, same old. You paid distracted attention to the recurring details of monumental inconvenience (such an inadequate word). The house “Tony” was living in had no second floor to scramble up to, so that the family was utterly defenseless against the raging waters that came crashing in, rising within minutes to his shoulders—he pointed to the water mark on the wall—and ruining almost every other important thing in the household (the TV set, say). “Lisa” lamented the garbage left by the receding waters and the mud now thickly caking the floor, their furniture, their clothes, and despaired at ever completing the cleanup.

Misery materialized in a matter of hours, caused, not by a howling typhoon, but only by the habagat—monsoon. (In a case of unfortunate timing, the Philippine News Agency announced in a June 21 report that the Metro Manila Development Authority’s flood pumping stations positioned all over the region were at “100-percent capacity” for the rainy season.)

But there was something else in the ABS-CBN newscast that struck a nerve. According to the bare report, which you strained to make sense of when the enormousness of it hit home, two female bodies were found when the flash floods ebbed. Apparent friends, both 15 years old, the girls drowned in the raging waters, which then dumped their bodies on separate riversides in Quezon City.

One had been identified and claimed by her next of kin (her mother shown fainting in the glare of the TV camera). The other was yet unclaimed in the morgue of the hospital to which it had been taken. A young man who was identified as the second girl’s “live-in partner” and who went by an alias said he did not know her parents or guardian who could legally claim her corpse, did not know their names or where they could be living. He haltingly spoke into the camera, urging them to come.

How did these 15-year-olds—in an idealized setting, little more than children who should have been dreaming sweet dreams in their family homes on that rainy night—end up dead in strange places? From the sketchy details, the girls and a partner of one of them were sleeping under a bridge in Barangay Culiat and were startled awake by the raging waters; in their panic, confronted by the sudden danger, they took off (or were borne) in different directions.

Again and again you are compelled to imagine the girls’ final moments: Perhaps they were clutching each other’s hand as they fled. Forced to swim in the surging waters, they struggled to rise to the surface to catch their breath, but were encumbered by human refuse and detritus. In short order they lost hold of each other in the muddy current and were ultimately swept away, lungs bursting, to where they would each be eventually found…

Yet another intolerable vignette in the badlands of Metro Manila (pop. 13,484,462 as of the May 2020 census).

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