Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Seated on a boulder, Joey heaves a sigh to flush out his fatigue. Training his sight on the downslope of the mountain, the panorama seems to tell him that age is fast catching up on his 40-year old body. The climb to his favorite mountaintop used to take an hour or so but now the trek was stretched to almost half a day. Perhaps it’s natural for man to defy the supremacy of time regardless if the defiance ends in futility.
Joey destroys the seal in uncapping the bottle of mineral water. He crumples the soft plastic seal and pockets it. A stickler for rules, Joey is used to the mountaineer’s motto of leaving nothing but the footprints and taking nothing but memories and photographs. As if to remind Joey that he had left the camera in the car, he gets a glimpse of a bluish creature moving in the bushes. It may be an animal or a huge reptile but his mind is stuck with the oddity of the color.
Before he can think of spying on the creature, Joey’s drying throat announced its priority over any petty endeavor. He quickly lifts the bottle to his mouth. Seeing the forming rainclouds as he drinks, Joey’s veins start to cry out with fear. The connection is far-fetched unless one had experienced a rainy rush hour in the metropolis. And unless one is connected with the Traffic Bureau, the root of Joey’s unclouded fear couldn’t be discerned.
Losing the creature to the grassy expanse, he shoots a glance at Manny who is busily pitching the pup tent. A personification of the Malayan mariner of the olden times with his heavy-set physique, square jaw, and flat nose, Manny is a treasure to be around. He acts as driver, cook, hiking companion, and confidante rolled into one. And the best thing about Manny is his naturally passive character not unlike a good soldier with nary a complaint.
Placing the plastic bottle on the ground, Joey’s hand gropes under his leg to touch the boulder as if the big stone will recharge his human batteries. The whiff of mountain breeze seems to bring back his strength and composure. Truly a nature lover, Joey professes that his continual nature-tripping sometimes gives birth to the brilliancy of accomplishing seemingly unsolvable tasks. In contrast with religious people who pray for their needs, Joey seeks guidance from communing with nature. And since nature is nearest to God then meditating with nature is just on the same level, if not higher, as praying to God.
But even geniuses have their lapses. Until now he cannot come to terms with his decision in moving from the Department of Environment to the Presidential Assistant position. Perhaps it was the honor of being named Traffic Czar or maybe it was due to his preoccupation with his pet project. Nevertheless, like an actor in a low-budget movie, he is only as good as his last successfully accomplished assignment. That’s the reason why the fear of failure is now eating on his capillaries. Bigger than the rock he is sitting on is the traffic problem weighing on his frail shoulders.
It’s lonely at the top, indeed the sages were right to say so. No one to listen to you, no one to throw suggestions, and no one to amuse you. It’s a good thing Manny is around such that Joey is like hitting two birds with one stone. He can have the luxury of nature and the benefit of a companion, such perks for a reputable technocrat.
Manny latches then unlatches the flap of the pup tent as the final touch to mean he was done with the pitching. Fluttering in the breeze with a matching rhythm, the flap waves to beckon Joey’s tired body and mind. Like a tenor clearing his throat, the mild roar of thunder signals the need to seek refuge in their fragile shelter. And the eventual heavy downpour confirms that fact.
Joey’s mind shifts from consciousness to stupor which he largely attributed to the drone of the pouring rain. But his imagination is stronger than his deliberate pretense. His mother used to say that his brain is like a non-stop machine which works even in his sleep. But unlike his father who wakes up at dawn and sits on the toilet bowl for hours of pondering on petty matters, Joey has the computer for his refuge in boring times like that. However, Joey has that firm resolve to stay away from technology when he is communing with nature. No laptop, no cellphone, not even a calculator.
Since quietude has set in a while ago, Joey gropes for the flashlight to note down his observations. First in the list is the bluish thing in the bushes, second is the extra cool breeze before the rains and next is the downpour which sounded like a hailstorm. Before locating the power switch, Joey is surprised to see the brightness of the shining moon. Although the soil is a bit soggy and the breeze is chilly with the high humidity, everything seems to be summer dry. Being observant and investigative of the milieu are the traits he developed during his masteral studies. How come he didn’t notice that the tent was neatly folded beside Manny who is fitfully asleep nearby?
Joey brushes his eyes with care not to displace his contact lenses. He blinks several times while folding his legs on the sleeping mat. The downpour a while ago would certainly soak everything. A conundrum it is and certainly a good item to ponder on. Joey embraces his legs to shield himself from the chill of the wind. Applying the theories cached between his ears, Joey starts to gather data from what he sees, what he hears and what he feels.
His sight pans at Manny who remains deep in slumber. There was never a time he had heard Manny complained, giving him the impression that Manny’s only problem in the world is the sum he needed to send to his family in the province. Manny was lucky to have a simple mind and even luckier to be living a simple life. What a terrific guy. If only he could be like Manny.
“Careful of what you wish for.”
Being used to the wilderness, he was never intimidated by wildlife because his motto is peaceful co-existence. In fact he had already experienced an African safari once and twice had been to the Amazon jungles. But hearing a voice from nowhere is an entirely different animal. And the voice that just spoke penetrated every sensory gland of his body. Considering the diction and academic English intonation, it’s either he is dreaming or he has gone crazy.
“No, you are not crazy.” The voice is pleasant to the ear.
Joey’s head moves forty-five degrees to face the direction where the sound came from. His hands automatically release the pull on his legs upon seeing a big, colorful bird that one sees only in the zoo. It is perched on the biggest branch of a nearby bush like a proud roosting cock. The question cropped up again. Is he dreaming or has he gone crazy? A third item cropped up in his multiple choice list. His eyes may be playing tricks on him.
“No tricks,” the voice is now relaxed and accommodating.
“Who… what… who are you?”
“There’s no need to talk aloud.” The bird with a dominant blue color in its plume throws a glance at Manny who is using the knapsack for his pillow. Manny remains in a fitful sleep like a babe in the woods, so like Manny who is unmindful of the problems of the world.
Joey realizes that the voice is actually telepathic. So it’s not superman and not a plane either but a bird. Yes, it’s just a bird and not just any bird but a talking bird who… which… that talks sensibly enough like a human. A bit of humor never fails to energize his stressed brain cells in mysterious situations like this one. And the dumb fowl is good fodder for his humorous state of mood.
“Pardon me but you can attest that I am neither dumb nor a fowl.”
Sensing an imminent debate with the unwelcome guest, Joey unwillingly lets out the white flag of surrender by shutting down his logic machine. Since according to the feathered biped his eyes are not playing tricks and he’s not crazy either then he is definitely dreaming. His college professor in psychology said that a dream is your subconscious personified. It is actually your alter ego trying to get a share of the limelight. So you don’t fight a dream, just cooperate with it. In other words, play along and wait for an opportunity to seize control.
“This is not a dream.”
Accepting the statement at face value, Joey stands up to seat himself on the nearby boulder. He pulls up the waistband of his khaki shorts while his sight moves around like a camera taking shots of the entire setting. He confirms that he is on the same terra firma with the same number of scattered shrubs and trees on the grassy mountaintop. The half-consumed plastic water bottle lying beside his muddy rubber shoes is additional evidence. It looks real, indeed it is real.
“Now you believe me.”
The bird flaps its majestic wings in a way that it would reflect the rays of the full moon directly above them. It hops for a lift off and glides low before roosting on Manny’s muscular arm. They are now face to face like two gladiators sizing up each other’s strength and capabilities. Dreaming or not, Joey senses the excitement in the unpredictability of the forthcoming episode with the talking peacock.
“A boulder of correction but you know I’m not a peacock.”
Joey agrees with sincerity, feeling sorry that the euphemism insulted his intelligent guest. Peacock only crossed his mind just to make everything simple. But in case he is dreaming, how in the world would this kind of creature enter his subconscious? As an environmentalist and a dedicated member of the Earth Savers, Joey is used to the flora and fauna including the avian race. But never did it occur to him that his mind would entertain folkloric characters like this one. And an Adarna bird at that.
“Now you are talking sense.”
Real or not, it’s perhaps the time for a showdown instead of wasting precious time. Recalling the folklore, the Adarna bird can neutralize an incurable disease thru its splendidly wonderful singing. What a coincidence with the current videoke craze. And another coincidence is the seemingly dreamless slumber of his aide-de-camp unmindful of the bird’s weight on his arm. But come to think of it, Joey is not sick of anything nor is he a prince in distress. But perhaps the Adarna bird may have a cure for his nagging problem, the task of solving the urban legend called traffic.
Based on his recollection, the Adarna lives in the seventh mountain and only the pure at heart is given the privilege of befriending it. He may not be a gallant warrior but certainly he cannot be considered an anti-hero. Legend says that the cure comes in the form of a symphony or was it a rhapsody? Whatever. Old time storytellers said that the bird’s song first heals the soul and the physical remedy follows. In case it can offer something to relieve him of his torment, why not? But what does a feathered creature know about the traffic problem in the metropolis?
“Any problem is my forte.”
This dream may be getting out of hand but it’s definitely looking favorable. The talking bird is beginning to sound like him so maybe his subconscious is trying hard to please him by providing the problem-solver in the form of the talking bird. And in case the wise bird has the solution to his problem then it was really he who has it. Joey gives his feathered guest a half-smile half-sneer as if telling it to spit it out.
“The solution is in your head.”
I see, everything is in my head anyway. Joey is considered a genius in his class, a card-bearing Mensa member with an enviable IQ. That’s the reason why everyone in the government was coveting for his services. Those offers were supposed to be steps to the ladder of success. But now he seems to be in a terrible rut. For who has the brains to solve the biggest headache of the metropolis? But something tells Joey that the solution is really somewhere inside his head.
“Yeah, just sort it out.”
Joey slides down from the smooth rock and sits on the grassy ground to feel the stone-cold surface of the boulder on his back. Correct. The solution may be somewhere inside his head simply because he had undergone a deep and thorough study of the problematic city streets. There’s the lack of discipline for instance, the inefficient road regulations, the sad state of the roads and the…
“You’re on the wrong track.”
I am? Isn’t it that you need to know the problem before you can think of a solution? Determine the problem, isolate the problem, gather data, evaluate the data and then formulate a solution. He didn’t earn a Ph.D. for nothing. The elements involved in a certain problem begins with the human factor followed by…
“I said you are on the wrong track.”
All right, genius, I give up. Joey’s mind wanders to his first ever success. His doctoral dissertation had reaped unexpected accolades from the reviewing panel such that it was immediately published. Nuclear power, once a taboo word, is now slowly but surely getting a nice billing as the savior of humanity from the deadly pollutants. Gone were the fears of a leak and only the skeptics are afraid of a meltdown. Eliminate inefficiency and spare the world from man-made pollutants.
Pollution? Is pollution the solution? Come to think of it, pollution is actually the primary urban problem although it’s another story. In fact Joey has targeted pollution since the very beginning of his career but nothing came out of his efforts except the advocacy to change the fuel types. And the foreword of Joey’s masteral thesis contains the phrase “anything that creates pollution is inefficient.”
Joey stands to face the Adarna bird with an authoritative stance. He wonders how its very thin body could support the colorful thick plumes, large wings, and long tail. It’s big round eyes show a semblance of a lamb’s meekness and a deer’s elusiveness. The silvery talons look soft and firm but its golden beak, appearing like long-nose pliers, can pass for a deadly weapon.
“My beak is used only for eating.”
Eating? It used the term eating instead of feeding. His Ecology subjects during his college studies differentiated the two words as eating is the ingestion of food with style and manner while feeding as simply the ingesting of food for nourishment. Further, eating is a description for an action by an intelligent being while feeding is used for plain creatures. And chewing is a big part of the eating ritual. With the gastroliths in its gizzard, this ornithological wonder doesn’t need chewing capabilities.
“But I prefer the term eating.”
Okay, if you insist to be an erudite bird. It’s best to get down to the crux of the matter than segue into irrelevant topics. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Instead of hunting for game, their nature trips are normally intended for hunting ideas that’s why Manny has been used to Joey’s caprice of setting out on short expeditions without prior notice. And in the few times that Manny offered an unsolicited conversation, he once quipped that Joey was like seeking for a wise old hermit who would provide the solution to his mountain of problems.
“You’re going hardcore folklore with that hermit of yours.”
Hardcore folklore? Joey fails to restrain a chuckle. If a hermit is a hardcore folklore then what do you call an Adarna bird who is usurping the authority of a wise old owl? Joey’s taunting stare meets the Adarna’s greenish pupils. The bird and the man are locked in a visual combat, engaged in a game where the first one to blink loses.
Manny stirs. The bird opens its wings and hastily leaps away in search of the nearest bush. The small branch appears to be unaccommodating to the visitor’s weight. After tottering dangerously, the bird hops 3 times on the ground before making a lift off. Soaring high as if to show the recent development in the sky, the winged sage then perches on a bigger bush.
“Now you understand that everything is as real as the cracking dawn.”
Indeed the sun is sending a cue that it is about to roll up the dark curtain of the horizon. It dawned on Joey that his logic machine had already started up by itself. He is again fully aware of the environment. First, the folded tent. Second, the dry environment despite the heavy rains just hours ago. Next, Manny there, sleeping like a log so unlike the ever-alert assistant that he knew. The list of proof is long - the proof that he is only dreaming.
“Are we going back to that premise again?”
Joey notices that the Adarna bird speaks with a one-sentence limit not unlike an American parrot which was just released from captivity. But in fairness to the talented bird, it certainly is far superior than the black mynah which has no brains to speak of. This feathered creature talks sense, a lot of sense. Joey’s time may be running out so he should push for at least a hint of what he is searching for.
“I don’t normally speak.”
Ah, good, now we are getting somewhere. Joey feels that he is finally gaining the upper hand in the telepathic battle. Words versus words. And like a seasoned guerilla officer, Joey hatches a simple strategy. He didn’t wish for the intrusion of the bird. All he longed for was to get, even just a clue to the solution. Now here’s a smart aleck, so to speak, so he might as well engage it head on. The solution is the main agenda and nothing else.
“It’s in your head.”
A stubborn bird. If it knows something why doesn’t it say so? Although just an elective, Joey’s salesmanship subject during his college days etched in his mind the word persuasion. A good salesman gets good sales thru persuasion. Persuade the client and eventually he gets convinced. So Joey searches the tracks and cylinders in his gray matter for the techniques of persuading a wisecrack. Bargain. Offer the customer a discount or a rebate or a freebie. Joey starts to think of what he can give to the bird in return for a favor.
“The solution is in your head.”
It’s plain obvious that the bird is now mimicking its talkative, nonsensical relative. Enough of this parrot sense. The conversation is getting nowhere. Or maybe it failed to read Joey’s mind. If it’s a devil cloaked in colorful feathers then it may ask for his soul. If it’s a hermit dressed in a birdie costume then it needs nothing from him except a cigar or a match maybe. And if it’s really a bird with business sense then it would prefer a suet in the bird feeder. For sure its got the answer and it definitely wants something in return.
“That’s quite true. But I can only give the answer thru a song.”
And so the omniscient bird is now spitting two-word sentences. It’s very smart to have improved its vocabulary and sentence construction in such a short time. Joey’s mind stirs to excitement upon realizing what his newfound friend just said. The song of the Adarna is a universal panacea. He has no ear for music but he possessed an obliging ear for the lyrics as long as the lyrics are interesting to him.
“All right, shoot!” Joey’s stentorian voice fills the air. The bird shakes its head in dismay to Joey’s bad choice of words and loud reaction. It’s long neck curves then straightens in a way to indicate a relevant development. Manny is awakened and he sits up wide-eyed. But before Manny can utter a word of surprise, Joey raises his hand in a gesture of “quiet, it might fly away.” The ever-obedient Manny is stopped on his tracks to watch what is to happen.
“Sing, sing for me, please.” The die is cast and the script needs to be fulfilled. With or without an audience, the performance should go on. Joey terribly needs the solution to the traffic problem and he is willing to barter anything for the song. His palm remains up in the air, giving Manny the message to remain acting like a mannequin in a cheap boutique.
“Okay, here goes.”
The bird brushes its beak against the interior of its right wing as if to emphasize the silvery crown on its pileum. After opening it’s mouth wide in a manner of testing an invisible microphone, it goes in a combative stance. Joey’s sinews automatically tighten in anticipation of an aggression. But the big-brained avian slowly relaxes its stance then stretches its neck as if its head wanted to reach the skies. And like a budding crooner, it closes its eyes in aid of concentration. Then the music plays.
“Smoke coming out from the exhaust pipe.
Polluting the air with the carbon monoxide.
Fluorocarbons from the spray canister moving up to the ozone layer...”
It’s not a mere singing bird. There’s music aside from the voice so it’s a karaoke bird. Joey emits a series of chuckles before noticing the rhythmical movement of the leaves and twigs of the bushes creating a violin-like sound. The tree branches are swaying with a crack-crack-crack sound and the tall grasses provide the choreography for the short instrumental portion. Truly a complete show unfolding before his eyes.
The music is now starting the crescendo in preparation for the awaited refrain. The rising notes sound electrifying and seem to be producing a magnetic field that greatly increases the gravity’s pull on the eyelids. Manny instantly succumbs to the lure of the lullaby. He falls down on his side like a felled log.
But Joey’s mind is quicker than his eyelids. Knowing fully well that the soothing effect of the Adarna’s song can lull one to an involuntary sleep, Joey grabs the plastic bottle resting beside the boulder. The mineral water can deter his impending trip to dreamland. But maybe not for long. The cool dripping water from his head only added to the heaviness of his eyelids. Joey’s hand tightens on the plastic bottle then it moves in a down and up fashion. He is scraping the sharp bottle’s mouth against the soft skin of his bare leg. In exactly half a second, his eyelids expose back the maximum view just in time for the refrain.
“Mother nature isn’t happy for sure.
With the slowness that she cannot endure.
Land, water, air, you can compare.
Cheers for the fastest bird in town.”
The bird makes a slight bow while the extro is fading. As it opens its eyes, its face gives a pleasant gesture that can be mistaken for a proud smile. Slowly one of its wings goes limp like a hand suffering fatigue from holding up the microphone. The Adarna’s keen eyesight glances at the lone audience who appears totally convinced. It then hops for a liftoff and circles above the sleeping mat like a plane looking for a landing slot in the crowded Kai Tak airport. Finally it alights on Manny’s arm.
Dreaming or not, Joey smiles in satisfaction. It’s not the lyrics of the song that mattered but the message hidden between the lines. Like a real symphony, the fusion of the music and words had produced a different and much higher perspective of a message. A compound is a mixture of two elements where such mixture loses the identities of each element. Words and music, music and words combined become a song that is the language of the soul. And Joey’s soul is rejoicing in triumph. His sharp mind completely received the gist of the message. Anything that creates pollutants is inefficient. And efficiency is the key word for the solution. If everything in the assembly line is efficient then the production is on the dot. One misstep and the efficiency of the entire system is derailed. Any movement should be in harmony with other movements to create a symphony of vehicle symmetry on the road.
Joey’s deep thinking is interrupted by the rustle of wings. Manny remains knocked down on his side. The winged diva, still perched on Manny’s accommodating arm, again raises its head up high seemingly proud of the red streaks on its shiny sternum. But unlike before where its tail was pointing downwards, the long rear feathers are now pointing upwards. Joey recalls the joke why the chicken raises its head when drinking is because it is praying to God to allow it to urinate.
Seeming to lose its balance in agony, the plumed creature glances at Joey as if asking for assistance. Suddenly something drops from its behind, apparently making a nest out of Manny’s arm! Before Joey can react, the bird takes flight without warning. Displaying its natural aerodynamism, the bluish hue soars in the blue sky and loses itself in the horizon with the breaking dawn as the lone witness.
Joey sits back on the smooth surface of the rock to continue his postulations. He is used to waking up from a wonderful dream, knowing that he has to remember everything. Efficiency is the code word. If vehicles could travel faster, the road usage is lessened. And if the road usage is lessened then there would be no traffic. Vehicles emitting zero pollution are the most efficient ones. The generous bird was right. The solution is in the success of his pet project, the advocacy for use of nuclear power. Nuclear-powered cars emit zero pollution that’s why it is faster.
But the travel can be faster than that. If the road usage is zero then there never would be traffic jams. It wouldn’t matter if the ATO (Air Traffic Officer) inherits the headache. What matters is freeing his hand of the present problem. Flight then is the ultimate solution. All vehicles should fly so there’s no more use for the silly and inefficient roads. And only nuclear-power can make things fly.
Joey flicks his fingers the way he does whenever he gets an answer to a difficult question. It is already light, just in time to get back home with the bacon once again. He gets really excited with the thought of composing a detailed position paper to be presented to his boss - the president of the country. And in euphoric times like this one he needs to share his success with the most important person in his life, none other than Manny.
Joey rushes to waken Manny but his faithful butler is not on the sleeping mat. Getting back to the boulder, Joey scours the environment, moving his head like a periscope probing the periphery of the mountaintop. But all corners yielded no result. Manny is nowhere in sight. Joey shakes his head and smiles. Of course, he remembers Manny’s morning habit during camping trips, that of moving his bowels in the privacy of the bushes. And this morning is no exception.
Several models of nuclear-powered vehicles were already approved, in principle, by the Department of Science and Technology. Amid the opposition of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the license to operate is almost a sure thing. Besides, the prices of crude oil is getting steeper and steeper like the never-ending steps to the ladder of success. Nuclear power is indeed the salve to soothe the country’s sagging economy.
Quoting Joey’s elementary science teacher, take the steps one at a time. The traffic woes will be a thing of the past when the vehicles on the road become more efficient. As the cost of oil is lessened, more money can be set aside for the improvement of the roads. Faster travel can save a lot on fuel and the savings can be translated to the improvement of fuel, eventually shifting to the most efficient nuclear power. Next step is to invite the German designer who was bragging about his flying car. And, if everything goes right, the use of hydrogen as fuel is next in the agenda.
Joey’s mind shifts to multi-tasking mode. The logic side of his brain continues to evaluate the data while the motor side of his brain commands his legs to prop him up. Joey picks up his knapsack at the edge of the sleeping mat and puts it on top of the folded pup tent. Like an expectant father about to hatch his egg of an idea, he paces the length of the unfolded sleeping mat, unaware of the forming rainclouds.
Joey finally notices the mud piled up on the sleeping mat. The blackish heap is trivial but nevertheless food for Joey’s curious mind. Kneeling down to inspect it, Joey senses the sprinkling of droplets. The sky has suddenly become so dark and looking heavy. Joey touches the heap. It isn’t mud, it is actually a stone, a cold stone like Manny’s icy personality. Fear takes over his composure as the droplets turn to drops, big drops of rain. The sting of rain cascading down his leg made him conscious of the deep abrasions caused by the plastic bottle. Indeed, there’s no waking up from the monstrosity. The ugly wound is a solid reminder of the mysterious event, as solid as the folklore that the Adarna bird’s droppings could turn a human assistant into a slab of stone.