Ondoy - A short story

Short story typhoon

September 23, 2009. I was in the kitchen soaking up the reports of Ondoy in the newspapers. My morning tea had become tepid, although it was just a moment ago that I had prepared it.

Isabelle, my house help, came in through the back door at eight. "Malamig! Malakas ng hangin! That was how she greeted me that morning. Not with the usual "Good morning, mam". I wondered why she spoke Tagalog. Maybe Tagalog expressed the feelings of "cold and strong" better.

It was unusually windy and cold outside. Quite different from the time I landed in Manila about five months ago. The wind was so strong that Isabelle had secured the garden chairs with raffia.

The papers reported something about a ‘super’ typhoon that was going to slam Manila, and was gathering speed dangerously, while packing enough moisture to drown the city. A monster birthed in the ocean that was barreling towards land; the typhoon would make landfall at five.

I began to panic.

I had learned that typhoons were given names in alphabetical order. This one was called Ondoy, the fifteenth to hit the Philipines this year.

This was my first encounter with a typhoon. I wished I was back in KL. Dark clouds hung low, completely blanketing the sky; the sun was no match for it. Not a ray came through.

Isabelle was a sorry sight. As she was sweeping the deluge of leaves dumped onto the porch by the wind, a sudden gust made her stagger – and she was twice my size. The typhoon dislodged the dustpan from her hand and flung it against the wall. That gave me the jitters.

I held on to a pillar tightly for fear of being blown away like the dustpan.

Isabelle looked harassed and terrified.

I asked Isabelle what super typhoons did; I was not making idle conversation, I really wanted to know. She poured out her misery and told me about super typhoon Milenyo that had wreaked havoc and caused unbearable suffering to thousands three years ago.

I did the maths in my head, and identified Milenyo as typhoon number 13. I never liked the number 13, Friday the 13th.

Isabelle related how Milenyo shattered the glass panels of high-rise buildings and twisted metal lampposts. Torrential rains turned streets into raging rivers, plucking up houses and vehicles before dumping them in mangled pieces; bloated bodies of people, dogs and cows were stuck in canals with mounds of debris.

She sobbed. She told me how her family fled to higher ground, only to to sink their legs into knee deep mud when they returned home; how they found clothes, pots and pans covered with thick brown mud. The little furniture they had in the house was soaked and warped, and the zinc roof ripped open.

Ondoy was going to be like Milenyo.

I wanted to beg her to stay with me. I wanted to tell her the truth, that I was alone and afraid. But I held back. I didn’t want her to see me weak and timid. So, I told Isabelle to leave for home at once.

I was inundated with self doubt. Was the idea to relocate to Manila a flippant one? Was it a good idea to leave my job and lose my seniority in school? But the last five months had been beautiful. No need to work weekends in school, and no lengthy reports to write, something I despised. No more work stress.

By four in the afternoon, I had switched on all the lights. It was already pitch dark.

Where is Das? Should I call him? Only an hour was left before Ondoy’s landfall. I wanted to call and plead with him to come home. Or yell at him for ignoring me at a time like this. But, no. I didn’t want to appear panicked and possessed by Ondoy. I didn’t mind him seeing me sad, but not paranoid.

I couldn’t help it. Ondoy had already begun to haunt me. At five, the rain came as though the sky had burst open, sounding like a violent rush of water over a cliff. I was alone indoors as Ondoy roared outside. Then, the electricity tripped, plunging the house into total darkness.

Ondoy continued to howl and rage outside. My mind was in turmoil. I was gripped by abject terror. I sat immobilised in my living room, holding tightly to my mobile phone, praying desperately for Ondoy to leave. Should I have joined the spouses association in my husband’s bank? I could have made Malaysian friends who had lived in Manila for years. I could have gone to stay with one of them. Then again, how many times could I do that? I didn’t want to be another “helpless expatriate wife”.

I decided not to sit and brood inside the cloistered bungalow, ruminating over Ondoy, but to do something. Realising that the lower floor could flood soon, I used the light from my mobile phone to pack whatever food and candles I could find, and groped my way upstairs to the bedroom.

Ondoy raged furiously all night, sheets of rain pounding the bedroom windows relentlessly, the roof rattling unceasingly. My only coconut tree in the garden continued to stand despite repeated blows from Ondoy. The papaya tree had already yielded; split into two and uprooted.

I received a text from Das. He had to stay to assist the bank’s employees who were affected by Ondoy. Many were stranded in the office, or caught in the flooded streets. ‘Brace yourself’, ‘don’t leave the house under any circumstance’, his text ended. I felt let down. What about me? Who was going to protect me from Ondoy? It was unfair. Why must I stay alone in this dark house?

My mind whirled. I was losing it. Got to protect my mind, I said loudly to myself. I drew the curtains to shut Ondoy out of my mind, after peering at the garden one last time. I thought I saw a weeping willow there instead of the frangipani. I avoided a second look, and shuddered. Fear dried my throat. I stifled a cry.

I crept into bed like a frightened child, my heart pounding. The flickering candle affected my fickle mind. I was listless and restless, and slept intermittently. A flash of lightening woke me. My thoughts went to the weeping willow standing desolate, drenched. Was it Ondoy taking on that insidious form?

At one point, I felt I should pack my bags and leave for Kuala Lumpur right away. I didn’t want to live in a country gripped by fear, hounded by typhoons. But if I did, I would never be strong enough to face adversity again. In the confusion of trying to decide to stay or not to stay, I must have dozed off.

When I awoke, I did not hear any wind or rain. It was eight in the morning. Ondoy had left. I resolved that I would leave for Malaysia only when I wanted to, and that I would not allow Ondoy or any other super typhoon to mess with my sanity. 

End