I love this photo. I shot it way back in 2010 for a school project. The location was Taal Lake, Batangas. I got lucky because there was guy in a boat as I was shooting and I decided to include him in the shot to give it more of a story. Sometimes I get chills when I look at this picture because to me, it feels so melancholic— a single person on a boat in a wide expanse of water. It’s easy to make up a story when the picture tells half of it for you.
Starting a new habit, methinks. Stories with pictures.
Took this while vacationing near Taal Lake, Batangas, Philippines.
I pushed the cart as carefully as I can to keep the water from spilling, the wooden wheels creaking beneath the weight. I had fallen asleep waiting for the buckets to fill, and once again had filled them to the brim. Normally this is my sister’s job, but she has gone away to the city to study under a scholarship.
The smoke that was emanating from our hut could only mean that Mother was already up cooking breakfast. Soon enough, the smell of food would fill the house. The sun had just begun to peak out from the mountains across the lake.
I parked the cart near the entrance to our home and tried to ignore the hard coughing sounds from inside. Three days I’ve been getting water for Mother’s laundry early in the morning, and three days I’ve witnessed Father’s violent coughing, only to be reassured by him that there was nothing wrong. I’ve seen Mother give him some ginger tea but it doesn’t seem to be working. Who knows how long he’s had this cough.
‘Dolores, I’m leaving!’ Father bellows from inside.
Mother answers but it is unintelligible to me from where I stand. Another fit of coughing and Father emerges from within.
He swallows down his coughs with an effort. ‘Juan.’
I smile at him, unsure. ‘Have you eaten breakfast?’
‘Yes.’ He begins to slip his feet into the fishing boots he keeps by the door.
‘And your ginger tea?’
He grunts. ‘Of course.’
‘Did you bring an extra sweater? It’s chilly today.’
‘For Chrissakes, Juan! You’re starting to sound like your mother!’ He tries to suppress another bout of coughing to no avail.
‘Father, maybe I should be the one setting sail today. You’ve taught me how to fish well enough.’
‘No.’ I almost jump at the firm suddenness of the word, ‘This is my responsibility as the head of the household. Let me fulfill it. You will have your turn.’ He pushes past me but turns abruptly. The dark brown eyes that looked into mine were oddly distant- looking but not really seeing- yet his hand on my shoulder felt warm. Present.
‘You will have your turn.’ He repeats, a sad expression crossing his face.
I nod, thinking this is what he wanted me to do.
I couldn’t have known that this would be the last conversation I had with my Father. That night, a group of fishermen came knocking at our door to bring my Father home. And when he came home, he no longer came home to us. He went to the place that good souls like his go on to call home after they have lived their lives on earth.
Mother, amidst her tears, had told me the promise she had made to Father. It was a promise he had begged her to make during the final weeks of his life, as if he knew it was coming to an end soon.
He had asked to be carried to the place where the sun met the lake’s waters, and there laid to his final rest. More than the need to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of his family, he had loved the sea.
When I was little, Father had taken me on my first fishing expedition. We caught enough fish, but we spent more time facing the horizon daydreaming. He told me then that the horizon is proof of how endless possibilities can seem, but how much of a mistake it would be to just leave it at that. If he sets sail now, he had said, straight toward the horizon, he is certain he will find something worthwhile.
‘People are often quickly intimidated by the things they cannot see with their eyes, so they are content with only marveling at them in their dreams. They don’t realize that some things need to be chased after for the picture to become clear.’
When I carried his body over the water, I was surprised by how light he was. All those years of sickness and suffering and not once have I heard him complain. He never said a word about how serious it had become. Or maybe, he didn’t want to part with the sea even for just a day.
I set him down gently into the water, directly where the sunset illuminated the surface. His body began to dissolve into a thousand pieces of stardust as the water embraced him into its depths. For a moment, I was unaware that I was crying until I felt my tears plastered in lines on my face.
As I set sail back to the shore, the only thoughts in my mind were thoughts of tomorrow. Tomorrow I will have to take out the fishnets.