Chemical Manila - Part 1

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It wasn't too hard to remember the day it all started. It was my birthday afterall, not to mention our senior class was finally going to our much hyped overnight field trip in Los BaƱos. My mind wandered at the thought of being with my long time friend and crush Toffee for an entire night, even though it was with my class. Yeah, it was a pretty good start for a typical Monday, or at least at the time, that was what I thought.

I remember waking up slightly later than usual. I remember begging my mom for money to take the taxi to catch up. I remember waiting desperately for a taxi to pass by in front of a subdivision. As luck would have it on a good day, a taxi did pass by a mere five minutes after. The radio was tuned to an AM news station inside the cab, and the familiar voice of Arnold Clavio was on the air.

That morning it started, and even then the people didn't know. Who could have? Yes, I remember how it started. It started with a miracle.

Manila woke up to a sight it never thought it would see in this day and age. That Monday morning, we saw Pasig River crystal clean. I heard it first from the news, too far as I was from the actual river. Reporters described it as though they were able to see the bottom once more, the garbage still present but the water was clear. Fish swam around, and the plants around it looked greener than ever. Hearing something like that felt like a dream, and as such, I regarded it like that.

Living in a world where every news is sensationalized, actual sensational news tend to get downplayed to some trivial news. It was probably just some cleanup, remarked the driver, and I completely agreed with him.

In no time, I got to the bus, where I was met with a lot of frowning faces, not excluding Mr. Santos, our adviser who remarked how long they've been waiting for me. There was nothing there remember, apart from the fervent excitment I could feel in the air, and the welcoming smile that I found in Toffee, who happily reserved a seat for me beside her.

"Let me guess," she said, while offering chips from an open can of onion pringles, "you got excited over the whole trip and forgot to sleep early."

I laughed because it was partially true. "Forgot?" I replied with a whisper, "it was more like I just couldn't even if I wanted to. It's not everyday I get to spent the whole day with you."

Between Toffee and me, we threw half-loaded jokes about our relationship at each other with abandon, and I didn't really know at that time about how sure I was with her, but everytime I joked about liking her, I almost wished she'd take it seriously for once. The frequency told me otherwise, they were all a bunch of seedless jokes.

The rest of the trip to Laguna, we spent counting cows and gawking at things we normally ignore when we travel on our own. Eighteen cows, I remember I counted before falling asleep beside Toffee who had fallen asleep even faster than I did. She didn't catch much sleep either that morning, I take it.

By the time we woke up, it was almost lunchtime. The bus dropped us off at the UP Los Banos Botanical Garden grounds and then left promptly. I waved it off with a smile on my face. If the bus could never return, I'd be more than happy. I'd be with Toffee forever, and it'd be the best birthday wish for me.

We spent the rest of the day doing things people usually do at the park - pretend to learn about things we never really cared much about, trees and all that jazz, and in the end just fooled around with our classmates, or for my case, with Toffee. Interestingly, there was no cellphone signal at the park, much to the dismay of the more technically inclined of our classmates. I didn't. At that time, my world revolved around my bestfriend, and she was all the civilization that I'll ever need.

Afternoon kicked in and we eventually had to pack up at the order of Mr. Santos. Four PM, I remembered we were supposed to meet with the bus so we could transfer to the jamboree site where we would strike camp for the night for stargazing. Toffee seemed more excited about it than me, but then again her father worked at the new UP Observatory outpost there, and since she very rarely saw her father as a consequence, there was a good chance he would be heading to our activity to help out. I was happy for her, and even talked about it while waiting for the bus.

"Are you sure he'll come along?" I asked her, while nudging her arm with my elbow. She nudged back. "Yeah, he told me himself this morning." Toffee looked excited, but that excitement wasn't for long.

An hour passed and at that time it seemed to me that my wish had come true. The bus never came back for us. This time though, I was no longer thinking of the whimsical. We were trapped for the night in the park. Toffee seemed calmer about it, but to me, there was no way I'd spend a night without any proper roof over my head, not when there's an open forest around me filled with so many things that can make me sick, or worse, kill me.

Looking back at it now, I was pretty carefree.

I remember walking away from the group at the entrance of the forest park to take a leak at the nearby forest ranger outpost a couple of hundred meters away. Toffee followed me, wondering if she would be able to contact her father using the outpost.

I took a leak, and saw an army truck arrive from the adjacent road just outside the small window in the half-open lavatory. I was half finished when Toffee ran inside the men's room, her face deathly pale, and just pulled my arm away. I felt warm urine splash my khakis and didn't like whatever she had just pulled.

What happened afterwards was a blur, but I remember Toffee's eyes distinctly. They were shot red, and flowing with tears I had never seen shed. I wanted to ask what her what it was that made her come to the restroom and cry at the same time but her hand slaped my mouth and covered it. I felt urgency, and thought no more.

I ran.

We dove for the bushes, and she kept my head low. My heart started beating really fast, and then slowed down at the moments of silence afterwards. The army truck had stopped and I thought everything was okay again.

That was about how naive as I would ever get about the direness of the situation that seemd to have involved my whole world but me. What happened next, I would never forget for the world.

I heard gunshots. A cacophony of them, and screams. I would never forget those screams, familiar screams from voices that once had screamed for joy, during the intrams, during the countless parties we've had at school. The voices were the same, but the same screams weren't. I heard bloodcurdling and pain. First a lot, then fewer, then just crying and groans, then silence.

There wasn't much that I could do at that time, I lay where I hid, and even forgot to breath when I should. I heard footsteps coming in and out of the outpost and then silence once more. Soon, I saw smoke billowing from the cemented area around the entrance of the park and just as quickly as it came, the army truck returned to the road where it came from.

I lost my lunch at the overpowering stench that I smelled. Toffee ran to the restroom. Tears welled from my eyes for reasons I could not begin to rationalize at that time, and I didn't even know it.

Just like that, my entire class was gone save for Toffee and me. At the mount of my shock, I managed to walk back and feed my curiousity. I saw nothing but burning remains of who could nobody else be but my classmates. I openly broke down and wept. Everything was destroyed, even their bags, piled as one burning heap.

I just couldn't explain any of it. I remember Toffee ran towards me and gave me a hug I had been wishing for in a very long time, but under those circumstances, I wouldn't have traded it for what had happened.

Yes,it wasn't too hard to remember the day it all started, because that day started with a small miracle, and closed with a chilling tragedy.


rei said...

aww.. is this for real? /shock

Hikari said...


Anonymous said...

What? Is this true? O.O

Jherskie said...

is this the fic you submitted for the fully booked contest?


XD it's not real, just a short miniseries ive decided to post here.


@ jerri

Nope. :) I'm submitting a movie.

Anonymous said...

Ahaha, I ALMOST, Almost thought it was real. Wow, a movie? Hahaha.


If that were real id probably be in some mental asylum right now hahaha

Anonymous said...


wow that comment really ticked me off...

jeez. use your brain. the pasig river being crystal clear... that's a give away

what have you been feeding on lately? surely, it's messing up your brain cells..

Menaya Garces said...

Oh my. I can't wait for the next episodes.


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