Friday, June 06, 2008

Diyan Masalanta

It was a slow day, the kind of day that’s meant for skipping work and going to the movies instead. I asked my sister to go with me but she’s the type who would rather grow warts on her face than cut her working hours. Being boyfriend-less and all my best friends working in Makati (Intramuros, where I work, is so many worlds away, they say), I ended up walking along Manila Bay a few hours before sunset.

Proverbial Manila Bay at sunset. I scoffed a little and looked around. The bayside was littered with lovers HHWW (holding hands while walking) and sitting on the wall embracing and kissing. There were a few families doing PG (parental guidance) things like riding bikes and flying kites. All in all, the bay looked like a scene straight from a postcard and there is no better day I can think of to come across her again.

She was weaving through the crowd, touching people on their foreheads with a banahaw leaf she kept brandishing like... like…oh, but what else is it but a magic wand? She was still wearing her raggedy clothes, which I think were once green but now looked like something a boy who ate too much wasabi puked out. She has become paler than I remembered. She looked diminished. But the way she moves --- her sensuous dance hasn’t changed at all. She moved with the same grace she had when she danced under the guava tree, the day Tia Elisa ran away. It was a sliding, gliding kind of dance that followed no earthly music. And everyone she approached, lovers most of them, shivered almost imperceptibly the moment she touched them with the banahaw. She smiled every time the lovers drew closer together, and frowned when they drew apart. All this she did inconspicuously --- invisible to all but me.

I tried to think of a way to talk to her, but my mind drew a complete blank on things to say. How do you speak to a goddess after all? Because I knew from the first time I saw her that she was one of the Old Ones, and my mortality felt like a barrier between us. I have heard that those who dared to speak and were found insolent were punished. This particular goddess I could not afford to offend for she is Diyan Masalanta, the patroness of people in love.

She has fascinated me ever since I saw her fifteen years ago, in my grandfather’s backyard, dancing her slow dance around my Tia Elisa and her lover, Manong Pancho. Theirs was a heated discussion, I could tell by the urgency of their movements and the abruptness of their speech. The same banahaw leaf touched my Tia Elisa’s bosom and the day ended with her running away with Manong. My grandfather was livid when he found out and I did not have the courage to tell him about the dancing woman. But she lived in my imagination, and I poured over old books of lore until I found a name I just felt was right --- Diyan. That was her. Diyan Masalanta because of the havoc she wreaks inside men’s hearts.

A small breath of air, much like the fluttering of a leaf, brought me back to the present. With growing terror, I realized Diyan was staring straight at me, in all her unearthly presence. And for the briefest second, I flinched. I realized I was genuinely scared she has touched me with her leaf.

Then she smiled.

“The girl who sees…” she said, her voice a soft, lilting sound.

I stood stock still, like a cat in caught in the headlights of 20-wheeler truck. “Please…” I managed to say.

“Please what?” she has stopped dancing. She just stepped closer towards me. Her head was tilted as if she was studying me; I felt like an amoeba under a microscope.

“Please don’t hurt me?” I replied, unsure if that’s what I wanted to say.

“Hurt you? I never hurt anyone.” She frowned. She took a step back. “When did I hurt anyone?”

“I didn’t mean it that way…” I stammered.

“People hurt themselves, Ibiang.” Her use of my pet name took me by surprise “They are given the greatest gift and they curse it. They are given joy and they stomp on it like some disgusting thing. Look at me. I am worse for wear. I toil and grow worn to shreds with each passing decade. My question, mortal, is this? Why do humans detest love?”

That was it. She looked tired, thus diminished. How many years, eras has she done this? And what she asked of me was not an easy question to answer at all. Why is it Love is deemed crueler, and a wreaker of havoc, above all?

“They do not detest it, goddess. They are terrified of it, at least I think I am.” I remembered how I felt when I thought she has touched me. “Love is worse than gold, because gold you can lose to thieves. But losing love is something entirely your responsibility. And I… I don’t think anyone who knew love and lost it could ever erase that shadow, that blight from their memory.”

“So is that why some would rather not have love start at all?” she asked pointedly.

“Some.” I answered, which sounded more like a confession. “Some.”

“Foolish mortal.” Her voice was sharp, but her eyes grew gentle, almost sad. “You will find me again. I have not touched you yet. Sooner or later, I touch everyone.”

Diyan Masalanta gave me one final look and turned away. She picked up the lost steps of her dance and tapped people with her leaf. The sunset has started and everyone the length of Manila Bay huddled closer to each other for warmth, for sharing the perfect moment with their loved ones.

“Feel that cool breeze…” I heard one girl say to her boyfriend as she burrowed deeper in his embrace.

I started walking back to Intramuros, knowing someday, the breeze will come for me.