Tarlac Dike by Kerima Polotan

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Tarlac Dike
by Kerima Polotan

The Tarlac Dike that is reported to have cracked and sent was the dike of my childhood. Many years ago I lived in Tarlac, in a house off Tañedo Street whose kitchen over-looked that dike. It stretched from one end of town, from the railroad station all the way to Agana Bridge, and the dike was what I took to Tarlac High. People lived in crude little huts huddled close to the wall, on the land side, and from the dike as I walked by, I could look into their lives.

The dike curves ever so slightly in my memory, as though describing the arc of a slow ball. It was made of cement and had steps on either side, ever so often along the way. You could walk up to the ledge and walk into the river if you wished, but the river was not the fearsome one reported today but a friendly, familiar one in which the debris of living floated – old chairs, dead pigs, empty sardine cans.

It never flooded in the years I lived there but the waters rose to the ledge when it rained, lapping against the wall. In summer the river behind my house disappeared, and it was the unending puzzle of my young life where it went because then in summer the riverbed dried up so completely that we could cross it, my friends and I, balancing ourselves on the huge stones that the June rains hid, on our way to the barrios across, where the fruit trees awaited our plunder. And such plunder it was! Guavas, unripe mangoes, chicos, the fruits of childhood that haunt the periphery of the tongue no matter how far one has gone and what diverse tables one has sat at.

I had a good friend then who would later become one of the richest women in the province (or so I’m told): but I don’t suppose she cares to remember the nipa hut she used to lived in and the horse that pulled the rig which was the source of their livelihood. I remember helping her walk their horse occasionally – a privilege, I thought, because it was a handsome animal. A calesa ride was five centavos, a fast and...
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