Malilong: Formal theme

·3 min read

When we were in high school, we were made to keep two notebooks for our English class. One was labeled Formal Theme, the other, Informal Theme, and those were where we were supposed to hone our writing skills or what passed for them.

I love the Informal Theme because it was less structured. We were told to write about anything and I enjoyed the freedom. At one time, I wrote a love letter to my teacher, who was more amused than angry when she read it to the class. I felt like melting under the stares of my classmates. But embarrassing as it was, the exposure actually helped me as it opened a door to a lucrative, by my modest standards, career. I became a ghostwriter for lovestruck schoolmates, many of them much older than I was.

I did not enjoy formal theme writing as much. The topics were boring: How I Spent My Summer Vacation, My Most Unforgettable Experience and the like. It was drab and it showed in my work. Once, I tried to embellish my daily summer routine of gathering firewood and feeds for my mother’s pigs, tilling the farm, fetching water and carrying a sackful of root crops on my shoulder from the farm to the house and got a stern reprimand from the teacher for my labors. Stick to the facts, she warned.

Today, I will write about my most unforgettable experience pre- and post-Odette and being a formal theme, I will stick to the facts.

We did not want in warnings from the government on the severity of the typhoon and having experienced Ruping some 30 years ago, I steeled myself against a similar onslaught. We filled our empty drums with water, bought rechargeable lamps and portable fans, and on the night Odette was estimated to hit us, went to bed early, hoping to catch a long night’s sleep and wake up to find a world unscathed or at least unchanged. Of course, I was wrong.

And here will start my story on my most unforgettable experience. The lights went out at nine that Thursday night, signaling the start of a journey back to the old life when conveniences like a refrigerator were unheard of, where we bathed with water from a pail on days when we could not go to the spring, and windows were kept open to keep the temperature down.

We had to scrimp on water to give our little hoard a longer shelf life. While before, all it took was to turn the knob to savor the soothing feel of a warm shower, I had boiled water mixed with the unheated one on the pail. I have learned to bathe in sections, one scoop allotted per section.

Darkness, which I used to fear, became a friend. My fingers had become adept at locating the Vicks vapor rub when my allergies acted up and I started sneezing. But the absence of television was the greatest deprivation, next only to the missing Globe signal and the lack of Internet connection.

A couple of weeks after Odette, the water reappeared, although in trickles and only for a few hours. Yesterday, the lights also came back. My most unforgettable experience has a happy ending.

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