My sacrifice is a broken spirit… please do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.
Those were my words when I ended my prayer as I was taking a ride on a passenger boat on the beautiful waters of Puerto Princesa.
I needed a break, from my work’s pressures, stressful break - ups with women and so much more. So I was sitting on the wooden passenger seat savoring the breathtaking view in front of me. The air that touched my skin was warm and I could smell the salty whiff of the sea. I closed my eyes and hoped that that day, just for that day, I could leave everything that burdens me behind and put my feet up.
The boat’s bow touched the shoreline. The passengers were all excited. I grabbed my bag and slowly got off the boat. I stepped on the shallow waters of the seashore. My feet in black rubber slippers got soaked and it felt good. I walked all the way to the beach when suddenly, a gentle wind blew and I heard its soft rustle playing in my ears. My heart was hushed. That was exactly what I needed.
I went to the front desk, took my room key and went straight to my cottage room. I was appreciating the room’s cozy and tidy look when a gush of tiredness suddenly hit me. I never felt so exhausted in my whole life. I place the key on the small table beside my bed. I hugged a soft white pillow and immediately fell into a slumber.
The rush of water on the seashore woke me. I checked my watched. It was 5:30 in the morning. I have slept for long hours. With a light feeling, I got up and brushed my teeth. I washed my face and changed my clothes then I grabbed the telephone and called the front desk for a cup of brewed coffee.
It was already sunrise when I went outside my cottage and sat on the coffee table on the veranda. After a few minutes, the waiter arrived with the heavenly aroma of my freshly brewed coffee wafting from the mug on his small tray. He placed it on the table. I took the vintage looking mug, savored my coffee’s aroma and took a sip.
The scenery in front of me was perfect – gorgeous blue water, bright vast sky, glittering white sand and green long leaves of coconut trees surrounding the seashore.
It was July 28. It was a beautiful day, a day that –farthest from my mind- I would meet three women who would teach me things that would definitely make a difference.
I have just finished my coffee when I noticed a woman exercising in front of the beach. She was stretching her arms upwards and sideways. Then I realized I haven’t exercised in front of a beach for a long time. I stood up and approached her.
The woman was wearing a pink knitted sweater and beige jogging pants. Her hair was gold, short and curly. She had a white complexion. She was beautiful and I was guessing that she was about 60 years old.
I greeted her first. “Good morning.”
“Hello young man. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Her smile was warm.
“I’ve never seen a more gorgeous day than this.”
“In this island, every day is a beautiful day.”
She bended her waist side wards starting from the right to the left.
“Do you live here?” I asked
“Yes, since I got married. My husband was from this island. I was from the city.”
I took a deep breath and took pleasure in the coolness of the air around me. “You must have loved this place for a long time now.”
With her hands on her waist, she stood straight and said, “This may sound a little bit overstated but I tell you, I have lived here for more than half of my life but I always find myself falling in love with this place over and over again.”
I looked at her and saw a sweet smile on her lips. I smiled too.
“So, are you having a vacation?” she asked.
“Yes, but just a short one. Tomorrow I’ll be back to work. I just needed a day to relax.”
“Not a bad idea.” She slowly sat on the sand.
I sat beside her.
“When you’re old, you tend to slow things down. You eat slow, you walk slow, you move slow,” she said.
I looked at her to see if there was a feeling of sadness in her face but instead I saw sparkling eyes and a bright expression.
“I like it,” she added.
She looked at me and saw the questions in my eyes.
“How old are you?” she asked.
I smiled. Two days ago I was thinking about my age and told myself how old I am.
“I’ll tell you something.” She looked at me with a soft gaze. “The grace of your youth will only pass you once. Don’t waste it in some nonsense stuff that would just bring you down to the pit.” Then she gave me a wink.
I smiled again. “I guess that’s what we young blood need to know.”
“When you are young, you love to do things in haste. You eat and just before you start tasting your food, you want to finish it immediately. You walk and just before you start doing so, you want to reach the end of the road. And when everything’s done you’ll realize that you missed a lot. People should learn that it’s not what you get in the end that matters. It’s how you get there and what learning and experiences you got along the way. You have to take it slow and relish every moment. That’s what I appreciate when I started to get older and older in time.”
I nodded. What she just said made sense. Having so many stressful things in my life that time, I knew I needed that little piece of advice. Then I thought that maybe it could be a blessing to be able to meet a woman who is twice my age in this fascinating beach on a beautiful Saturday morning.
“By the way, I’m Noah.” I extended my hand to her.
She took my hand. “I’m Esther.”
“Come on, young Noah, let’s have breakfast. I’ll treat you to a hearty meal.” She tried to stand up slowly but I was quick enough to get up and helped her manage her balance.
“Thank you,” she said.
We went to a nearby restaurant. Esther chose a table facing the beach. She said it was her favorite spot. In an instant, a waitress came to us to take our orders.
“Good morning, Ma’am Esther,” the waitress greeted Esther with a sense of familiarity.
“Good morning, Marriot. This is my new friend Noah.”
“A bowl of cereal with sliced bananas and a piece of bead for Ma’am Esther?” the waitress confirmed with a smile.
“You got it right dear,” Esther replied. “What do you want to have Noah?”
“Do you have ham and eggs?”
“Ok, I’ll have those.”
“Ok sir… I’ll serve your orders in a few minutes.” She smiled and left.
“So what keeps you busy Noah?”
“Well I’m currently connected to a Japanese shipping company. I’m the head of Marketing.”
“And that’s what you’re running from, that’s why you’re here?”
“Partly yes.” I smiled.
“Do you like what you do?”
“Of course, I just needed a break.”
“That’s fine. It’s good to take things easy sometimes. But you should not forget to love what you do. ”
The waitress came to us with our orders.
“I never thought a few minutes could be that quick,” I said in surprise.
Esther laughed. “That’s one thing that I like about this restaurant, they serve fast.”
“Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Thank you, Marriot.”
We started to eat. My food was very tasty and I could see that Esther was enjoying her cereal too.
“Where’s your husband?” I asked.
“He died 5 years ago. He was sixty years old and I was fifty six.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“Do you miss him?”
“I think about him everyday and I miss him every time I do that. But I don’t feel sad. If I would then what’s the point of heaven?”
“That’s how my mother thought too when she lost my father.”
“She must be a fan of heaven too.”
“Yes, and more than that.”
“That’s the greatest challenge to humankind. To believe in what is unseen.”
“Yes…it could be very difficult. But when you get to the lowest or the darkest or the most difficult point of your life, you won’t need any theory or any intellectual idea more than you’ll need the existence of spirituality.”
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I experienced it myself.”
“Young man, one thing that I could say is that wherever your heart is now, it is perfectly on the right track.”
“Thank you, Ms. Esther.”
I continued to enjoy my food. We laughed, we joked around. Esther loved to crack jokes, those witty ones and I admired her for that. She talked about her husband and how she was able to become victorious amidst her loneliness and loss. We talked about my projects in the company where I was working. We talked about life – how short it is and how we should make the most out of each day. Esther told me that our focus should exceed more than what our human bodies can touch and see – something that is eternal, something that lasts forever.
Esther took the last spoonful of her cereal. “I’m full,” she said.
“Me too.” I finished mine too.
“My home is just a 20-minute ride from this resort. I think I’ll go home for now and take a nap. Just have fun and enjoy the day, okay?”
“Okay…Thanks for the good breakfast. It was nice meeting you, Ms. Esther, and I hope to see you again.”
She gave a very warm smile which made me think of my grandmother.
“You take care of yourself, Noah, and don’t forget to pray.”
I smiled back. “I won’t”
I was still sitting on my kawayan chair breathing the salty but cool breeze from the sea. In front of me, I can see Esther walking slowly under the coconut trees. The gentle wind was blowing her golden short hair. The coconut leaves were dancing above her. It was as if the trees were welcoming her as she slowly passed by them. It was a comforting view. Then I wondered how many people Esther met every morning in front of the beach. How many people have she laughed with and how many of them heard the story of her life and learned from her thoughts. I do not know. But one thing that I am sure of is that I am one of those people who have been blessed to have met Esther even for a single morning. Esther continued walking farther and farther until I could see her no more.
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. I just had a swim and was on my way to the seashore when I noticed a very fair little girl making sandcastles about five meters away from the shoreline.
I got off from the water and approached the little girl.
I sat beside her sand castle and said, “Hello.”
“Hi!” she said with a friendly smile.
“Do you like to make sand castles like these?”
“Yes!” she beamed.
She scooped some sand using her little red trowel and placed them on her little red pail. When the pail was filled, she pressed the sand down, turned it upside down and made another tower in her little kingdom.
Her kingdom was composed of two tall towers and three shorter ones below them. She also made sand fences around her castle and a small alleyway that would take you to the main door of the two main towers.
“Who will live in your castle?”
“My papa, my mama, my little sister Abby and my little brother James.”
“Can I live there too?”
“Sure! I will make another house for you.” Again, she placed some sand on her little pail using her trowel. She had bits of sand on her cheeks and he looked so cute with her long straight hair that matches the short bangs hanging on her forehead.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“My name is Hannah.”
“How old are you, Hannah?”
“Where’s your mother?”
“She works in the restaurant of this resort. My father works there too. He cooks delicious food.” Her smiles were bright and innocent.
“What about little Abby and little James?”
“They are at home with my grandmother.”
She finished filling her little pail and immediately turned the pail upside down and made another small tower beside the three other small towers.
“There you are!” she exclaimed
“Is that my house?”
“Yes, you can live there if you come to visit my kingdom.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you little Hannah.”
She just smiled and I smiled back.
I looked around me and saw people lying on the sand enjoying the cool air. Some were happily swimming. A couple was walking along the seashore holding hands and there was a group of teenagers playing volleyball.
“Do you play here every afternoon?” I asked, wondering if her parents are not afraid to leave her playing on the seaside alone with a lot of people around her.
“Yes.” Her hands were busy reshaping the fences of her castle.
“Aren’t you afraid?” I was concerned. If I had a daughter aged seven, I would never let her play in the beach alone.
Hannah looked at me with innocent eyes. “Afraid of what?”
“Of… being alone here.”
“I’m not alone. There are lots of people around me.”
“Exactly. You are playing here all alone by yourself with so many people around. They might harm you or something.”
Suddenly, Hannah stopped what she was doing and turned her attention to me with her two round eyes fixed on me.
“What?” I asked.
“You sound like my mother.”
I burst into laughter. She was one interesting little thing, I thought.
I never had a sister or a brother. I grew up as an only child and I must admit that having siblings has always been my fixation. I had all the toys that I wanted when I was a young boy but I missed the experience of having siblings to play with, to talk with and to grow up with.
“So what do you say to your mother whenever she tells you these things?”
“I tell her that nothing will happen to me because I could promise her that I will stay close to the restaurant where she’s working.”
“Where’s that restaurant?” I wanted to make sure that she is really close to the restaurant.
“That one.” She pointed the nearest restaurant from where we were sitting. It was indeed very close.
“That’s my mama.”
“The one with a short hair and pink blouse.”
“Oh…you look like her.”
We both laughed. I was convinced for awhile but I was still unsure of her safety.
“What if somebody tried to take you?”
“I have my friends here,” she answered.
“Can you show me where?”
This time, her tiny fingers were pointing to some life guards walking around the beach.
“They promised to watch over me.”
I gave a short laugh. “Fine, I’m convinced.”
“See, I’m safe here.”
A gentle rush of the wind embraced us and Hannah lifted her arms. The sight of the little girl warmed me and suddenly I felt comforted within. Hannah reminded me of innocence and peace.
“This is my second home.” She turned to me and saw twinkle in her eyes.
“I can see.” Then I heard her laugh.
“Where is your first home?” she asked.
Her question made me smile. “It’s somewhere in the city.”
“And your second home?”
“Well…I don’t have a second home.”
“It’s okay…this can be your second home too!” Her eyes were bright and she sounded very excited.
“Where is your mother?” Now that question surprised me.
“She’s in my first home.”
“Why didn’t she come with you?”
“She’s busy with her garden. Maybe next time I’ll bring her here.”
“And I will make her a tower too!”
“That would be great, Hannah.”
“Do love your mother?” she asked.
“I love my mother too. She’s my guardian angel.”
That statement surprised me for the second time. Sometimes, it’s good to be with little ones. They say things which are funny on the surface but are actually deeply profound.
“Well, my mom is my angel too.” Immediately, after saying those words, I thought about my mother and felt a spurt of loneliness. I realized that I missed her. It has been a while since I took her out for dinner and we haven’t had the chance to talk like really talk. I was too busy with my work and the rest of the things that occupied my mind.
“It’s sundown, “she said.
“Yes…and it’s beautiful.”
“Hold on,” she said.
“I need to pray.”
Hannah closed her eyes once again, put her hands together and with the setting sun in front of her, she uttered a prayer:
Thank you for this wonderful day. Thank you for giving me my mama, my papa, little Abby, little James, Grandma, my beach friends and the rest of the people that I love.
Thank you for this beautiful home where I could play every afternoon especially for the sand that I use to build my castles. Thank you for the air, for the sea and for the tall coconut trees around me.
Thank you also for my new friend, Noah.
It was an unforgettable sight seeing a little girl praying like an angel. Her words touched something inside me and I felt so blessed that I was speechless.
She slowly opened her eyes and turned to me, “It’s getting late. I have to go to my mama now.”
I felt a little sad that she had to go. “Ok, little Hannah…It was nice meeting you. You take care of yourself.”
She smiled and got to her feet. She waved her little hand and said, “Good bye, big Noah.”
I laughed and said, “Good bye.”
Then she ran to the restaurant bouncing and leaping.
I was still smiling when I fixed my eyes on the view in front of me. The sunset was trying to play with my emotions with its orange pinks and purple hues. They blended with each other so well and it seemed like they were really supposed to be where they were.
I remembered Hannah’s prayer. It was just a simple prayer from a seven year old girl but it was filled with sincerity and gratitude. I wondered how many times I offered a prayer just for thanksgiving. How many times did I thank God for my mother, for my family, for my friends and for all the people that I love and who love me? I guess I just needed one little Hannah to help me figure that out.
It was cooler that night when I walked beneath the tall coconut trees on my way to a seafood restaurant on the other side of the island opposite from where I was sitting with little Hannah that afternoon. I was a little hungry and while walking I was also thinking of what I would want to have as soon as I get to the restaurant.
In a few minutes, I reached a beautiful haven filled with round lanterns and oriental ornaments. The place looked warm and relaxing. Its walls were made of shiny nipa. Its floor was of wooden tiles and the tables and chairs were made of glossy bamboo.
I smiled and chose the table at the center so I could have a clear view of the whole restaurant. A waiter took my order and asked me to wait for a few minutes.
Just after the waiter left, two gentlemen and a lady approached the platform in front of me. The first gentleman positioned himself at the keyboard while the other one took the guitar. The lady sat on the chair at the center of the stage and held the microphone. Yellow lights filled the platform and the music started to play.
The band played country songs. I love country songs but I haven’t listened to any country song for the past months, so it was a good experience listening to them on that cool Saturday night. And I loved her voice, yes, the singer’s voice. It was soft, sweet, soothing. I was looking at her from where I was sitting. She had a slim build and had sun kissed skin. Her hair was like water flowing down to her waist. She was stunning.
My food came and immediately after I started eating, the next song played. My attention was on my prawns and squid but my ears were wide open. It wasn’t difficult for me to realize that I wasn’t familiar with the country song that she was singing. I paused and turned my eyes on her.
If one day, I will tell you that I don’t love you. Don’t believe me ‘cause it won’t be true. What I’ll tell you now is the only truth, From this hour until time gets loose. So wipe your tears and look at me. I am yours and will always be. Hold me in your heart, And never let me go.
Her voice really had the power to captivate hearts. Her song was slow, smooth and beautiful. I lowered my eyes on my food before I could forget that I was eating.
The music stopped and the other customers applauded the band for the great performance. I clapped my hands too. The vocalist said thank you, bade the customers goodbye and slowly left the platform. I wanted to hear more songs from her though. I continued eating and finished my food.
I went out of the restaurant at about eight in the evening. I was thinking where else I should go. I looked around and saw a lot of bars along the sidewalk. I decided not to waste my time in those places. I spent almost half of my life trying to find fun in them and now I can only say that I’m tired of them. I turned my back and went on the other way.
I was walking, still unsure of where to go. My legs were leading me back to my cottage so I thought I would just call it a night and rest. But just when I thought that my day was already perfect, I noticed one woman sitting on a bench beside the coconut trees. The lights on the pathway were quite bright so it wasn’t difficult for me to recognize her. She was the woman singing on the platform at the restaurant this evening.
My mind was in a dilemma on whether or not I should approach her. I didn’t want her to think that I’m one of those guys who usually make cheap advances on a beautiful woman like her. Still, I approached her. It will only be a short chat anyway, I thought.
Her gaze was fixed on the dark canvass of the sea and it looked like she was in deep thought while the friendly wind was playing with her long flowing hair.
“Hi,” I said.
Immediately, I caught her attention and she looked at me. Then for the first time, I looked at her closely and noticed her hazel eyes.
“I’m sorry to disturb you.”
“It’s okay,” she said.
“Well, I was walking and I saw you and I recognized that you were the one singing in the restaurant this evening.”
“Can I?” I was asking her if I could sit on the bench beside her.
“Sure,” she said.
“Thanks. Great voice by the way.”
She smiled again. “Thank you.”
“Do you sing there often?”
“Great…so since when did you start living here?”
“Oh…that’s quite long.”
She gave a soft laugh.
“I’m Noah.” I extended my hand to her.
“Rachel.” She took my hand.
“It’s an honor to meet the siren of this island.”
She just smiled.
“So Rachel, are you sure you don’t mind if I sit here and have a little talk with you?”
“Don’t worry. I’m used to talking with strangers.”
I sensed something in the way she said those words. Confidence? Certainty? It was as if that she had anticipated meeting somebody that evening and she was sure of what was going to happen during the conversation.
She smiled again and said, “I’m sure you’re here for a vacation.”
“Yes…I came yesterday and I will leave tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s the fastest vacation I’ve ever heard.”
I smiled. “Got to get back to work.”
“You must be working hard.”
“Yah…I think that’s a good description for that,” I replied. “Do you also work in the daytime?”
“I sing at night, I teach music to little children in a small school here on the island during the day.”
“That’s very nice,” I said.
A group of people passed behind us. They were laughing and talking loud. They made me think about the strangers that Rachel was talking about.
“How often do you talk with strangers, Rachel?”
“Every time I sit on this bench.”
“How often do you sit on this bench?”
“It depends on my mood.”
She gave a sweet laugh.
“So, what do you think about these strangers?” I asked.
“They have one thing in common.”
“They all have a unique story to tell.”
My eyes were on her while hers stared into oblivion. It seemed like she was absorbing all the words of each story of every stranger that she met. And she looked beautiful.
Her eyes turned to me and said, “What’s yours?”
“Nothing special,” I replied.
She gave a smile and turned her gaze back to the darkness in front of us.
“I believe that all stories are special. Every word, every detail that comes out of them came from something great and from a power beyond our control. The thing that makes them different from each other is the way the main character thinks, feels and reacts in every circumstance. I guess that makes each story interesting, beautiful and worth telling.”
“What do you do when these strangers start telling their story?”
“I listen and… and when their stories really hit me, I write songs about them.”
“Just like the last song that you sang tonight?”
“Yes, just like that.”
“Well, you must have had heard a lot of relationship issues then.”
“Definitely yes,” she answered me in a very comfortable tone. “You’re not going to tell me your own relationship issues, are you?”
I burst into laughter. “No…definitely not.” The truth was that was one of my personal issues that time.
“So, what does the siren have to say about this relationship thing?”
“I learned that a relationship’s foundation should not be built on shallow grounds like passionate emotions or fairy tale dramas. It should be built on solid grounds of values like respect, honesty, friendship and love. Above all, there should be love – real love, not just the cheap love that you find on the streets enticing people with worldly fascinations, stirring up hollow and superficial human desires.”
I never expected a young woman like Rachel who was in full bloom of her youth to speak out those words easily with dignity and conviction. I admired her for that.
“What can I say is I guess those strangers really taught you some pretty good stuff there. How old are you, Rachel?”
“You’re still a baby,” I said.
“I’m not a baby.”
“Of course you are.”
“Why, are you that old to be my uncle?”
I laughed. Smart girl, I thought.
“Fine. If you’re not a baby, then what are you?”
“I’m a fine young lady who hates it when somebody regards her as a baby because it’s not really how things are.”
I smiled and said, “Ok, young lady, I got your word.”
“Do you have any plans of moving to the city?”
“No. I love this place, but sometimes when I have a chance, I do visit the city.”
“I can’t blame you. This really is a wonderful place.”
“Wait a second,” she interrupted. “You’re supposed to be the one who’s telling me you’re story and not me telling you my story.”
“You know what, sometimes it’s good to play a different role from the one that you’re used to. It refreshes your mind.”
“Are you married, Noah?”
“Why, do I look married?”
“Hey, I won’t buy that. I know that’s just one of your strategies to know my story.”
She laughed. “Just answer the question.”
“No. I’m not married. Are you?”
We were silent for about a minute while the breezy air touched our skin. She checked her watch. I checked mine too. It was 9:00 in the evening.
“I have to go. I still have an early class tomorrow.”
“Ok…thanks for your time, Rachel.”
“It’s always my pleasure to talk to strangers like you.” She gave a charming smile.
She started to walk her way to back home and before she was far enough, she looked back at me and waved her hand. I waved back wishing she didn’t have to go. She gracefully turned around. Her long skirt was leisurely blown by the wind as the shadows lovingly took her in its arms.
Today, I’m taking a ride on a passenger boat on the beautiful waters of Puerto Princesa. I’m sitting on the wooden passenger seat again, savoring the breathtaking view in front of me. The air that touches my skin is warm and I can smell the salty whiff of the sea. I close my eyes and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
The boat’s bow touch the shoreline. I stepped on the shallow waters of the seashore. My feet in black rubber slippers get soaked and it feels good. I walk all the way to beach then suddenly, a gentle wind blows and I can hear its soft rustle playing in my ears. I smile and my heart is hushed as my second home welcomes me.