Wednesday, October 12, 2005



The glare of sunlight blurred his vision as he opened his eyes to see the silhouette of a bare-breasted man. He felt a searing pain in his shoulders and nape as he tried to move his hand to scratch his eyes. His hazy vision added to the discomfort he was experiencing and amidst the uncontrolled wincing and moaning, he gestured for help.

"Don't move," whispered the man to his ears.

"Who are you? Where am I?"

"I am Pastor Briggs. Please don't move for you might bleed again, you are badly injured and a little rest will surely help. We can talk later if you wish." He stared at the man and felt the genuine concern in his face, noticing the radiant smile that looked familiar to him. Ignoring the throbbing sprained shoulder and the pulsating wound on the back of his head, he delved inside his mind for the familiarity of the man's name.

Pastor Briggs? Where have I seen this man? He searched the inner corners of his brain for some answers but what he found were labyrinths of jumbled information, not unlike a library in total disarray, that triggered a pulsating sensation in his temple and before he could utter another word, a blazing light blinded him, numbing all sensations that caused his consciousness to leave him without warning.

He woke up to the glare of sunlight and it did not blur his vision this time for he clearly saw the image of a pretty face that diminished his discomfort. He tried to be careful with his movements to arrest the nausea that was starting to build up and with minimal effort, gave out a gentle smile which elicited a favorable response.

"Do you want to eat now?" the woman's voice soothed his aching body and eased the budding turbulence of confusion in his system. She held out a wooden spoon with a sticky substance that looked like cheap glue although he was surprised that his taste buds reacted favorably to the sight of the food.

"Who are you?" he calmly asked.

"My name is Diana, I am the eldest daughter of Pastor Briggs." Her bedroom voice with a congenial lilt plus the sweet smile impliedly showed extreme hospitality and cordiality. He noticed that Diana was scantily dressed giving him the impression that she just came in from a swimming pool. But just the same, something triggered the adrenalin in his brain to prod his mind to search for information in his brain.

Pastor Briggs? The name started to confuse him again but he tried to hold on to avert the impending blackout. He nodded and opened his mouth as if to signal his consent to be fed. The taste of the food, which had a very natural flavor, was not bad at all and it gave him just enough energy to think clearly. His motor senses seemed to function normally after a jackstart and was gaining ground with his logic senses.

"Who am I and where am I?"

"Your aviation license bears the name Aaron Almarcx and you crash-landed here at Isla Paradiso." Diana remained smiling at him, providing him with a respite from the confusion by being mesmerized with her beauty, her svelte figure and fair skin made her more alluring. But the spell was instantly broken when the bare-breasted man, he remembered as Pastor Briggs, came inside the nipa hut.

"Isla Paradiso? Why am I here?" he continued asking.

"Don't you know? You were sent by the Lord." Pastor Briggs answered his query without any fanfare. A nice tan was evident in his skin and like Diana, he, too seemed to have just left the pool, as obviously indicated by his wet hair. Diana stood up to relinquish the wooden stool to Pastor Briggs and with a gesture, the old man took hold of the wooden spoon, presumably to continue the chore of feeding him.

It was apparent that he was suffering from amnesia and he feared that more questions could aggravate the confusing situation. Aaron tried to steady his senses to ease the rising panic and exerted his full effort and concentration at the food. Each mouthful gave him a little more confidence and he sensed the memories coming back as the confusion in his mind began to get organized.

Even against his will, Brother Almarcx had no choice but to ride along with the current tide of circumstances. Partially, he remembers Pastor Briggs as the hated rabble-rouser, a religious leader of some kind, who capitalizes on environmental concern to lure people into his ecological congregation. In fact, he was one of those lobbyists who forced Pastor Briggs and his die-hard ecologists to abandon the comfort of the city and settle in this island. Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

Of course, he had to play the game of pretension for the moment and suffer the inconvenience of missing his Clicker, the handheld device that he uses to control his VidiBox, Food Dispenser, Airconditioner and Massager. He had already inspected the plane that morning and he was sure that it can be serviceable again after some improvisations with the broken wing. The remaining fuel seemed enough to carry him safely back to the mainland which lies just a few miles away.

The salinity of the sea water improved the tone of his skin and the daily swimming gave him the necessary exercise to recover his health in a period of two weeks. His mental condition also improved and he believed that he was back to his normal self for he seemed to remember everything except for some trivial matters, like the reason why he came to this island in the first place. He couldn't find the logic of staying with these self-proclaimed Saviors of Nature for he knew that he, Aaron Almarcx, was profoundly against the so-called Save The Earth Movement.

He spent each night in the company of Pastor Briggs and Diana for the required orientation which, to him, turned out to be an indoctrination to the congregation's dogma of suppressing progress brought about by modern technology. He got sick and tired of the litany about the irresponsible dumping of garbage, pollution of all kinds, air, water, even noise pollution, uncontrolled logging and the like. But he persevered for he was afraid to show his abhorrence to his present benefactor.

Some other elders tried his patience with explanations on the hazards of modern technology such as the aerosol which harms the ozone layer, toxic materials of semiconductors, asbestos and mercury poisoning, chemical fertilizers and over-production of synthetic materials, particularly plastic. The last one rang a bell in his mind, that it has something to do with his job, but he could not thoroughly handle the thought and his mind yielded an incomplete reply.

His boredom with the wooden bed, the nipa hut, the bland food, the humid nights and the mosquito bites compounded his agony. His only consolation was Diana and he could see nothing else whenever he was with Diana. He failed to get acquainted with all the other inhabitants of the island simply because he was not interested to socially mingle with the Conservationists.

With all honesty, he admitted to himself the necessity of preserving the natural resources but he couldn't force his mind to accept the bigotry and be a fanatic. He believed that the leader, or any leader for that matter, has their own ulterior motives as attested by the Guyana Tragedy, the Synanon group, the Davidians and many other short-lived cults that existed before his lifetime. What he wanted most was independence and not restriction. If a paradise would exist, it would surely be a blissful place for happy people doing their own thing and not a land of prohibition.

While fixing the broken wing of his sports glider with rattan and bamboo poles, Brother Almarcx couldn't help but admire the blue waters and the greenery in Isla Paradiso. He enjoyed the clear sunshine that warmed his body and the sweet-smelling wind that caressed his hair. Half his mind was focused on the clean environment but he saw to it that his concentration on the repair was not diminished a bit.

He was surprised to find that, save for the cracked cockpit pane, his plane was not severely damaged and he could fly and leave the place anytime he wished. There was a sudden attack of wanderlust to conduct a test flight but he was afraid to waste the fuel. Besides, he wanted more, his heart was pining for something he could not define, the inherent character of man not being content with his bounty - and he was sure it was Diana.

Feeling the euphoria, he ran towards Diana who was sitting under a coconut tree and invited her for a short ride. But Diana was firm, as everybody else, in staying away from the plane, reasoning that it is one cause of pollution, calling the plane a devil's tool. Failing to convince Diana, he ran back to the glider and hastily made up his mind. He entered the cockpit and started the engine which emitted a soft roar at first.

Shouting, Pastor Briggs warned him of spilling the avgas in his test flight but he simply ignored the man. He was fuming mad because he failed to convince Diana to ride with him and his plan of snatching her wouldn't work but he had decided to take the flight outside of Isla Paradiso anyway, never to come back anymore. She waved him goodbye but the roar of the engine drowned Diana's voice and he let out a grin, not for goodbyes but a promise, or more of a threat, that someday, he'll be back to get Diana. But for the present time, he was hell bent on leaving the place and no one can stop him.

As the plane left the ground, his mind automatically started to sort things out. Questions were involuntary raised like - how could these bigots survive, why are there people who believe in Pastor Briggs, why did I come to Paradiso? The last question seemed to give him a different but still hazy answer this time. He tried to focus his concentration on the puzzle but suddenly, the plane glided in free fall, almost hitting the blue-green waters of the sea.

He immediately held on the throttle and adjusted the levers but he didn't gain a comfortable altitude. Although he was flying very low, just several feet above the water, he estimated that he could reach the mainland if he could maintain the speed and, if luck comes his way, a tailwind might help him. He exploited his skills in flying and his worries did not last long when the desired wind pushed him to a safer altitude.

Cruising at a moderate speed, his mind wandered back to the nagging questions. He felt his mind cooperating and bits and pieces of information suddenly made sense; the clogged waterways, the bald forest, the smog, the acid rain, the very harmful ultraviolet rays, chemical poisoning. His supervisory position at the Stanford Plastic Factory has something to do with his predicament. Little by little, the picture was getting clearer for him to understand.

He played back the question in his mind: Why did I come to Isla Paradiso? Something stirred an eddy in his head similar to the ripples in the swirling waters below and he held tight to the throttle in a gesture to resist the impending vertigo. Plastic! He noticed the haze in the atmosphere, the smog indicated the nearby shores of the mainland. Looking down, he saw the now murky waters and the visible garbage, mostly plastic, added to the repugnance.

Although dizzy, his thinking was clearer now and he knew that he had made a daring escape from the land of synthetics by deliberately crash landing into the natural world of Paradiso Island. He now remembered his practical admission of his mistake and the surrender to the ideology of the Conservationists. The mainland has no future with people dying of lung ailments, skin cancer and other uncontrollable diseases due to the toxic waste in the inland waters, the garbage in the oceans and clogged drainages, the lethal particles in the air, and the government was doing nothing... so many reasons for him to leave.

With a little panic and a lot of shame, Aaron Almarcx maneuvered the glider in a 180-degree turn. He knew that he should go back to Pastor Briggs and ask forgiveness for Isla Paradiso is his final destination, at all cost. The glider plane responded well to his steering but the wind gave him the undesired push and the unexpected nosedive caused the cockpit to be awashed by a big wave. The movement was repeated a number of times and he felt water seeping in the cracked window pane.

There was no way to gain altitude with the heavier payload and worse, his vision was somewhat impaired. Several gallons of the foul-smelling sea water entered the cockpit, dragging the sports plane down and no amount of his aviation skills could avert the impending crash. As a last resort, he bailed out to finally join the vast garbage dump in the guise of a sea. Aaron Almarcx, with regrets in his heart and tears in his eyes, struggled in futility to free himself from the maze of non-biodegradable plastic of all kinds.
**** This story was first published in Philippine Panorama, July 1994

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