Manila hadn’t changed a lot since Susan and Ted arrived. It was just as chaotic, with masses of people and traffic or jammed traffic circles taking the place of order and reason. From afar it had the appearance of any other large Asian city. The same wide disparity between the rich and the poor; with the very rich occupying their compounds and the poor overpopulating their shanties, the middle class was outnumbered by both. This was from where discontent grew. It festered while Ted and Susan were there. The open rebellion Ted saw flared up more and more frequently, and there was always a demonstration somewhere. In the rainy season, in some places, the streets would flood waist-high; and that typhoon had blown in and blown out like crazy. Huge fires (often caused by humans) left whole sections of the city in ruins; and, as with forest fires, the recovery always began immediately. Sometimes walls were left standing, only to be blown over later, killing people sometimes. Everywhere there was rebuilding, with hod carriers mixing and carrying cement and block layers laying block. Some people were in the repair business, marketing patch it and don’t pitch it, and Susan and Ted lived across the street from a gas station. It looked busy, with cars, buses, and jeepnies pulling out of there all the time. The chaos was something they had to get used to.
Their apartment was better than most in Manila. It had running water, having a pump made it possible. It was the low water pressure or having no water at all that created the extreme fire danger; fires that would displace thousands of people. Their one entrance was in the front. A very long, narrow walkway from the front to the street was what increased the risk of them getting trapped in their place, if heaven forbid there was ever a fire. On both sides of the walkway there were separate apartment buildings, with kids and more kids and with parents who were pulling their hair out. All the buildings seemed linked because there was no space between the walls (which with no firewall increased the danger). Ted and Susan never worked out a contingency plan for what to do in case of a fire, but man, it wouldn’t have been easy to come up with one.
It was hot for November. They had already gotten rid of all of their furniture. They were sleeping on the floor. Ted wore a T-shirt and boxer shorts. Without looking at Susan he could see her in the lightweight summer pajamas she always wore to bed, which was silly considering how hot it sometimes got. He had rigged the mosquito netting, similar to a tent, from the ceiling. Casually, enjoying a rare moment, they talked for most of the night, chitchating mostly. Linda was already gone; Don was back in Mindanao, or somewhere. The window was open, and they heard their neighbors fight with each other. They always fought. Would you believe they didn’t have air-conditioning? Susan, without knowing why, started talking about her feelings. The empty room suddenly felt full of things that Ted wanted to chuck (these were hard things), and the story about an early date when he forced himself on her (they were making out in a parking lot and went too far for her). There really wasn’t time enough to talk about everything, every time he had forced her to do something. For a long time she talked, telling Ted that at some point it had to stop, and, as she went on, she began to cry. That was when the floor began to shake; oh God, the floor went one way; the ceiling, the other way, and before the shaking stopped, they thought they saw a fire in their neighbor’s apartment.
“Fire!” he shouted, and in less than a minute they were running out the door. She had a pale, white face; she stumbled as she ran. He had grabbed her hand, his wife, as she was all he had, and pulled; and they almost fell down the stairs. The scared couple ran…and she was scared indeed, really scared, couldn’t have been more scared (with it being her first major earthquake), and against which she had no defenses…ran out the front door, down the walkway, all the way to the street. Immediately hundreds of people joined them. Some of them sat down on the curb; none of them had taken the time to grab anything, except maybe grab someone’s hand. Some held babies. Others counted heads and looked for missing children. All of that time with people in the street, in the neighborhood, and all over the city, they waited for the next shock; but Ted didn’t see a fire, while he waited. He saw now that there hadn’t been a fire, figured it had to have been a candle, lit by their neighbor, just as the shaking began and the electricity went off. He tugged at his nose, hard, as though he was getting rid of snot. He hadn’t been prepared for an evening like this; even without the earthquake it would’ve been hard. Lately, she had been hammering him; so far he hadn’t hammered back. Hearing her say, “You know you’ve given up your country” really bugged him.
“You know you’ve given up your country” you know was a cheap shot. When a man is tormented by a decision like Ted was, boxed-in by it, he has to find someway to break out. Ted wanted to lash out and blame his government, rage against it, which he’d been doing, and it hadn’t helped. Ted was shaking his head. He began to talk gibberish and pop his bottom lip. “Am I going crazy?” he wondered. For the first time Susan looked at him. She said, “We’re not dead yet.” Ted repeated, “Hindi aco patay.” She said, “What’s that?” He replied, “‘It means I’m not dead yet.’ It’s the name of the play Alfred is doing in the dungeon.” And then she said, “We’re standing out in the middle of the street like this, a busy street, Taft Boulevard, and this happens. Our apartment could’ve burned down. The whole the neighbor with it. There will be deaths or I’m imagining all of this. They chase us out of our apartment and you’re in your boxers. He’s in his boxers, oh God, we’re in for trouble. And you’re talking about a play, go figure”
On their way back inside Susan said to Ted, “I’ve never been through anything like this. I was glad you were with me. I’m glad you grabbed my hand. By the way I forgave you a long time ago. But Borneo…I don’t know if I would want to walk across Borneo.”
He said, “This has been something, some night, holy shit, hasn’t it been? Not the earthquake part so much. That was kind of exciting. My first thought was that you were shaking the bed, stop that shaking! but we weren’t making love.”