Monday, May 14, 2007
I cannot forget the time when Ric, my cousin, fell through the roof of Mr. Fernando’s house. Ric was the son of a rich uncle. The youngest of seven children and born more than ten years after the sixth child he was the apple of the eye of almost everybody in the family. His mother so doted on her “nino bonito” always made sure that when he goes to our house she would pack all his clothes, toothbrush, soap, his vitamins and an ample amount of snack foods even if he was only staying overnight. At home he didn’t have anybody his age to be around with and longed for the company of playmates. Every chance he got he would stay with us during weekends and for longer stretches during summer vacations.
One time he spent a few days with us and despite the usual admonitions from his mother to keep himself clean and to be sure to stay away from trouble by always heeding my mom’s caution about playing in the streets and god knows where else all these fell on deaf ears. I was sure that my aunt had a special word to my mom about how to look after my cousin.
As to be expected we found ourselves flying kites on the roof of the Fernando house. Mr. Fernando was the owner of a botica along Trabajo Street, right across the public market. It was October, a time when steady breezes flowed the whole afternoon. It was the season for kite flying.
The galvanized iron roof provided us with almost comfortable seats. It was late afternoon and the tin roof was no longer hot as it was a few hours ago. Both of us were flying the simplest of kites that was called “chape-chape”. This was a plainly designed kite with a long tail to steady its flight. One didn’t have to make this himself as they were sold quite cheaply in the public market. I think it was two for five centavos. The string, of course, was not included. We asked for or sometimes stole threads from my Mom’s sewing box and we would wound this up in milk cans so that we could easily let go of the string as the kite soared higher and higher in free flight.
We were really enjoying ourselves and were quite content that our kites were flying safely and steadily, avoiding the other kites that were closing in menacingly in search of a dogfight. A kite dogfight is not a head on confrontation of two kites but a series of skilful maneuvers to entangle the strings of another kite and quickly releasing it so that the string which has been barbed with finely ground glass can scrape against the opponent’s string creating a shearing motion ending up with the other kite’s string getting cut.
Our enjoyment went on for hours. The sky was a marvelous sight with multi-colored kites of different shapes and sizes dancing and fluttering in the steady breeze of an October afternoon. A dog fight was going on not too far from we were. The lofty duel was between a red kite with a star emblazoned on its body versus a kite with a wide wing span and tri-colored red white and green like the Italian flag. These designs were known as “tabo-tabo”. Unlike the “chape-chape” this kind of kite did not have a tail. It had a flat bottom making it look like a water dipper, hence the name “tabo-tabo”. Again, unlike the “chape-chape” the “tabo-tabo” does not remain at a stand still in flight. It keeps darting from left to right and soaring up and making sudden dives. It was an exciting kite to fly but it needed some expertise because it was in perpetual motion and one had to be vigilant to keep it from keeling over to the extreme. You could liken the “tabo-tabo” to a hawk and the “chape-chape” to a wimpy helpless dove.
The dogfight was quickly over. The kite with the star design won. With the string of the losing kite cut from its owner it hurtled uncontrollably while the winner, as if in a vainglorious gesture soared majestically announcing its moment of triumph.
The losing kite floated in the air for a while then plunged towards us. We watched interestedly as it settled at the far end of the roof where we were seated. Ric stood up and hurriedly went towards the fallen kite. As if in a struggle to free itself, the fallen kite fluttered wildly, pulling against its string that was snagged in the seams of the roof eaves.
There is some sort of a rule of the skies in kite flying. An “alagwa”, a kite that has lost its mooring becomes fair game to anybody who would be first to retrieve it. A finders’ keepers sort of thing.
Ric raced towards it. He was a hulk of a boy and as he lumbered towards the eaves where the kite was you could hear the grating crunch on the galvanized iron sheets each time his feet landed on the rusty and fragile thin metal. All of a sudden he was out of sight. The roof caved in and he fell through.
I cautiously walked towards hole in the roof where he disappeared. Although I was a lightweight I still had to be cautious treading on the thin galvanized iron sheets as most of them have been weakened by rust.
I could see Ric from the hole he made in the roof. He was lying unconscious on the cement floor beside a cement sink. I quickly backtracked and went down from where we climbed up earlier. It took me sometime to get down. With shaking knees, I held on to each rough cranny in the crudely cemented hollow block wall that led down to the overhanging branches of a guava tree. With a bit of daring, I pushed away from the wall and grabbed a branch. The branch bended from my weight and slowly laid me down to the ground.
It seemed that somebody had alerted the older folks in the neighborhood about the incident. Mr. Dominguez, our next door neighbor was already at the scene when I got down. Ric was sprawled on the floor hardly moving. He had on an ominous pallor, a slate gray dullness in his face. Mr. Dominguez lifted Ric and hurriedly brought him to the North General Hospital on Espana Street just right across from Carola Street, two eskinitas away from Maria Cristina. Mr. Dominguez was a slight fellow and it was a wonder how he was able to lift Ric and rush him to the hospital at a trot.
My mother followed them to the hospital. I was not allowed to go out of the house. I was really worried sick seeing how deathly pale Ric was and also afraid for myself. Ric’s mom and mine would surely blame me to no end for the mishap.