Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Danger in the Dark
I have always loved darkness. I love staring at the various shades of the twilight, as the shadows of the trees stare back at me. So, I never considered a walk at night to be tinged with danger. At least not until one midsummer Friday night, when I was on my way home.

My home, by the way, is in a sitio at Compostela Valley. It is called Bagsak from the term “basacan” which means “rice fields”. We live in a 25-hectare farm, half of which is owned by my grandfather and the other half by a family friend, now ran by my father and uncles. Only a few families, most are farm workers, inhabit the place. We are a close knit neighborhood, even though our houses are some 200 meters away from each other; separated by trees and bends of the road.

It was in that place that I learned to trust darkness. I used to brag to my friends that they could walk there by night without the fear of being harassed. Until that fateful Friday night last summer which almost ended in a catastrophe; when the place that taught me to see the magic of the night taught me to distrust darkness.
That night also stripped me of my arrogant belief and reliance on my instincts. I used to think that I could actually feel it when someone was coming or someone was watching or danger was hovering over my head. That belief made me feel invulnerable to danger. But at least in that one moment, I lost the gift. The spirits must have stripped me of the “powers” I thought I possessed.

That night, I did not make a call home to ask for someone to fetch me from the main highway. I was looking forward to enjoy the one-kilometer walk home alone. To me, it was magical to be ambushed by the shrill cry of cicadas while fireflies illumined my path. The experience was enough to release the stress accumulated from a week’s work in a city, which was a three-hour ride from my place.

When I signaled that I was getting off the bus, I noticed the surprise on the faces the other passengers. They must have seen that the street was dark and quite. There was no house nearby, no light post, and no one was waiting for me at the shed. One elderly woman asked me, “Ikaw ra isa day?” (Are you alone, lady?). I saw the anxiety in her eyes for my behalf, and I gave her a confident smile.

As the taillights of the bus disappeared in the night, darkness embraced me. I wasn’t in a habit of using a flashlight. I thought I would be safer if I didn’t use one since nobody would notice me walking in the dark. And as darkness engulfed me, I had no inkling that danger awaited me ahead.

I was a half-kilometer away from our house savoring the peace I longed to feel, when I saw a flicker of light. I couldn’t say if it came from a lighted cigarette or a firefly. But I trusted the place so much to entertain the idea that someone with cigarette was waiting with something evil in mind.

As I turned a bend in the road, I sensed footsteps behind me. Impulsively, I glanced back and saw a dark figure. That was then I started to feel scared and alarmed. I began to run, so did he. One by one, the fine hair on my neck rose and bristled. So I put on a burst of speed but at the very instant, he leapt to catch up with me. Then, I felt his body colliding with mine. The impact knocked me off my feet.

I must have lost consciousness for a few seconds after my head hit a rock. The next thing I knew, my attacker was dragging me down to a canal. I struggled to get back to my feet. I started to scream but he immediately clamped his hand over my mouth.

My fear was magnified and my heartbeat raced. I felt as if my veins would explode with terror. I could not believe that what I had heard on radio and seen on TV was actually happening to me.

He pinned me down with his body and started to kiss me. I was trying to think but my mind froze. Desperately, I pummeled his back and bit his hand, but he pulled his hand back and slapped me.

It was a good thing he did. It ignited a blaze of rage and fury! Pain! Numbness! Touching Hands! Nauseating breath! My fear was transformed into anger.

I struck at him, catching him in the face. As he tried to get on top of me again, I remembered what my father taught me about self-defense, I thrust my forefinger and middle finger aiming for his eyes. Immediately I felt him loosening his grip. I broke free and began to run, but I did not get very far. The man caught me again.
With all my remaining strength, I kicked him between his thighs (something I had seen on TV). He cried out in pain.

I fled from there, running faster than I had ever run in my whole life. I didn’t bother to look back and see if the man was still chasing me. All I could think was to get away from that maniac. Only when I reach our house did I stop running.

My legs were aching; my breath came out rasping in my throat as I looked in agony at the empty road behind me. As I stared at the darkness, it seemed to mock me. The mysterious darkness seemed to give a lie to my declaration that my home was a peaceful place.

We reported the incident to the authorities. They theorized that it was not a chance attack. The maniac must have known that I was going home that night and planned it. Unfortunately, the police could find anything that could help them identify my attacker.

As I write this, I still shudder at the memory of that night. In fact, the episode somehow seems to have become more terrifying.

That terrible experience made me lose my confidence and arrogance in walking at night all by myself. But when I cannot avoid walking alone at night, I make sure that I have my cellular phone, a flashlight, and a tube of tear gas.

That taught me that danger exempts no one, sets no apt time, excludes no place, no matter how familiar and how peaceful it may appear to be. That night taught me that to walk alone at night is to invite danger.

Danger in the Dark by Jodge (Joan D. Gervacio) was published both in Print Version and On-line Version. March 19, 2002, Young Blood Section, Philippine Daily Inquirer.
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