Just a few more steps..
The building is just right there.
I’ll see you soon. Please, if you’re there, stay where you are.
I think it was already past 11 in the morning, as I waded through chest-high flood water. It was brown in color, which I assumed was probably due to the soil mixing in with the water. I didn’t dare assume any other theories. There were also streaks of oil here and there, which I would learn later on as coming from the nearby factories. The water was also cold, and with every step I took, I could feel the chill building inside me. In this situation, there is only one way to fight the cold: keep your body moving.
It was also like this the previous afternoon, without the sudden surge of current coming from the open gates from the buildings nearby. At that time, I had to walk through the flood because of a detour that took me around my original destination. The jeepney driver dared not continue further, and the only way that we could get somewhere was by hitching rides on any vehicle that happened to be available at that time. I had two companions at that time, whose names I never got. They were with me as I travelled that stretch of road, which they told me there were jeepneys at the end that would take me near where I want to go. I lost sight of them after a few minutes, but after about an hour or two of slow walking, I caught up with them. They were waiting for me.
Most of the time, I had no idea where I was. I’ve heard of the name of the place, but that was just about it. I was like an explorer traveling in search of the New World, only that there was really nothing New or unexplored with where I was going. When I first set out on my journey, my first “ship” was a trailer truck that I hitched a ride on to get me through two shallow parts of the highway. The downside with being a stowaway in a very long truck though was that I could not signal whoever was in front that I needed to get down. There was no more traffic at that point, and I ended up much farther than where I needed to be. I ended up walking back. It was a long walk, and I would find out later on that this was just the first of many long walks that I would take in this journey.
Was it really so important that I had to get there? Yes, I wanted to get there. I needed to be there. I was very much worried to the point that only one thing was crystal clear: I needed to get from here, to there, even if I had to take detours everywhere just so I could get there. I was also afraid, because from her last text message, she said she was nearly overcome by the strong flood current. Worry and fear are negative traits that supposedly make you back out from a situation. I guess having too much of each gives you the power to do anything in any situation. All I knew was that I needed to see her safe, and that gave me the strength to keep on moving.
I hear a man shouting, and I’m brought once more to the present. After spending the majority of the previous day to detours and field trips, I was finally on track. I was walking the highway that would lead me to the mall that she said she was in, waiting for the flood to subside. I think it was already past 11 in the morning, as I waded through chest-high flood water. The man was shouting out instructions, telling us to hold the rope as we made our way across to the other side. I was also overjoyed when he told me that there was a rope that would lead me to the mall. I was nearly there; I could actually see the building’s outline just behind the trees that stood high in the background. I only brought my wallet and cellphone with me, and they were wrapped up in my jacket, and my jacket was wrapped in my left hand. My right hand clinging tightly to the rope, I slowly crossed over to the other side of the road. I nearly lost my grip on the rope, and I had to momentarily sacrifice my left hand which I held over my head to keep my valuables dry, just so I can grab the rope with two hands. Funny, because at the end of it all, the items that we call “valuables” don’t even hold a candle when it’s our own life which is at stake.
I had to fight the surge of current coming from the open gates from the buildings to my right. I try to step forward, but the current was so strong that I would find myself further from the starting point. With the help of other wayfarers, we came out together from that strong rush of current safe and victorious. I could now see the front of the mall, and I could see that there were stairs on the left and right side. In her last message, she mentioned that she was waiting at the stairs, waiting for the flood to subside. I wasn’t absolutely sure that she was still there. I prayed that she be there, that she doesn’t try and gamble again with the flood and the freezing cold. I was able to convince some of the others with me that we should make our way to the front of the mall. They agreed to the idea, because they needed a place to rest, or probably find an open establishment where they could perhaps buy some needed items. I only had one reason to be there, and I was nearly there. Just a few more steps.
The parking lot was filled with abandoned cars, whose owners were probably still stranded in the mall, or like some who I met along the way earlier, had left their cars there. I also saw that the water level had decreased since last night. Rumors had it that it was more than neck-high, and it worried me even more the first time I heard about it. Nevertheless, I was already touching the mall grounds. Mud was splattered all across where I walked. I was wet, my clothes were stained with the color of the flood, my hair was disheveled, and I haven’t shaved yet. I looked filthy, but that wasn’t the point.
I decided to take the rightmost route first, and as I climbed the stairs, I looked at every face that was there. I prayed that the next face I see would be hers, as I looked from left to right. Some would curiously stare back; perhaps they were thinking that the clothes that I wore brought out the color in my eyes. I don’t know. I just looked at them, grimaced, and then turned the other way.
I was near the opposite end, and near the last flight of stairs. I couldn’t see her anywhere, but somehow I wasn’t losing hope yet. She had to be here. She was here, I kept telling to myself. I didn’t know what I’d do if she wasn’t.
There was an open establishment earlier that I hadn’t checked out yet. It was a large room, meant for playing a game of chance that used cards having numbered squares corresponding to numbered balls drawn at random. You win, and you shout the name of the game. It was filled with people slowly filing out of the room, and I stood near the entrance searching through the unfamiliar faces that walked past me.
And then, just like that, I saw her. Looking back, I now find it amusing, meeting in a place where people won jackpots. Seeing her safe was worth more than any jackpot that could be won. Seeing her surprised to see me, was a bonus. I’m sure she’s going to add this to the list of things that make me weird, or annoying. But it doesn’t matter. She was alive, and safe.
Above all, that’s what counts the most.