By Rebelander S. Basilan
I’M on the Marcelo Fernan Bridge, smiling at the starlit sky. Perhaps there really are no stars tonight; Cebu’s air pollution often keeps them out of sight. My romantic eyes, however, see them strewn across the midnight sky, sparkling like jewels.
Mactan Channel glistens like the skin of a snake. A jilted man may be drowning down there, wanting to die yet fighting to live. Or a woman, overcome by guilt after leaving her lover, may have jumped off the bridge shortly before I got here, while I was finishing my third bottle of beer in that lonely bar by the bridge.
The bridge is swaying. No, it’s me; the still surroundings are swaying before my eyes. My left hand holds the railing to keep my balance. I glance at my right hand and see a bottle of beer. It’s half-empty. No, it’s half-full. Think positive, I tell myself, although I’ve never quite understood how seeing a bottle half-full rather than half-empty signifies positive thinking. I love seeing empty Red Horse bottles; they remind me of Nelson Mandela or Andres Bonifacio — dead men with well-spent lives.
I’m glad it’s easy for me to think positive lately. I’ve developed the ability to zero in on an object — usually small and brightly colored, like my mother’s pink-rimmed eyeglasses — when ugly thoughts creep in. I’d stare hard at the object as if it’s the most unfamiliar thing I’ve ever seen, taking in its color and its shape, sometimes imagining it’s a lifeless version of myself. A sense of sadness would then wash over me, not my sadness but the object’s — an indescribable sadness, a sadness deeper than mine. Then euphoria would replace that sadness. I’d feel safe and sound, convinced that nothing is wrong in the world, that my life is perfect.
Yet in the middle of euphoria, I’d always find myself asking the simple yet strangely difficult question: “Why am I happy?” And always, the only answer I can tell myself is that I’m happy because I’m alive. Thousands are dying this moment, but here I am, in my twenties, alive as a newborn. I’m in a state of euphoria, walking on this bridge that has seen countless suicides and accidents. I see lights in the distance. I smell the fumes of the occasional cars passing by. I feel the breeze blowing against my skin. I hear the whispers of the waves. I taste the bitterness of beer. “I’m alive!” I shout into the sky.
My heart is beating fast. Sweat trickles down my temples in spite of the wind. I stop walking and place the bottle carefully on the pavement; it stands beside me now like a little friend, quietly watching the sea with me. My hands are on the railing, my stomach leaning gently against the metal. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I feel so light. If the wind blows harder, it might carry me up in the air. I want to fly. I want to float among the clouds, spin in the air like a whirlwind.
My legs are wobbling. I raise my right leg and rest my foot on the first rung. With much effort, my left foot follows. I want to take my shoes off and feel the cold metal against my sole, but my legs are too tired to step down. The coldness of the uppermost rung seeps through my pants. I raise my arms sideward, like Rose on the Titanic or Jesus Christ on the cross. My body is bending forward and back, forward and back. The world is spinning fast. I’m dizzy. I glance at the water below and feel an urge to vomit. My body jerks as my dinner surges up my throat. My feet slide off the metal. I’m falling! In a second, I’ll be floundering in the deep waters, like the jilted man and the guilty woman I imagined awhile ago.
A thud. Then a searing pain in my head. I feel rough concrete against my skin. I open my eyes and see the sky, vast and dark. No stars. No sparkling jewels. I fell on the pavement. There’s a warm and wet sensation on the back of my head. A sour taste in my mouth. I imagine bits of fried chicken and spaghetti all over my shirt. I close my eyes, the pain becoming sharper and sharper. Am I dying? I want to call someone — my mother, my brother, my lover, anyone. I need to say goodbye. My right hand crawls toward my pocket but stops when it brushed against something cold. My little friend! A jolt of joy rushes through me. I’m not alone. “My friend,” I mumble, gripping the wobbling bottle.
I feel my body going up. No, it’s not my body; it’s just me, the person in my head, the idea of myself. I’m flying. I want to look down, see my body, but I have no head to turn, no eyes to open. The wind is blowing me higher and higher. Soon, I will float among the clouds and spin in the air like a whirlwind. Ah, I’ve never felt so alive.