Road in headlights

Nightfall

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

During our family reunion on the Eidl Fitr long weekend, we decided to run off to Covelandia in Pangasinan (from Tarlac) for a beach break. Accordingly we arranged a three-vehicle convoy and ran. That despite the pouring rains.

The way there wasn’t so bad, even though we took four hours, lost each other here and there, and stopped for Jollibee in the middle of everything. It was low tide at the beach and we swam, with breaks for Lays and Mountain Dew.

The trip home was entirely different. It was half-past five in the afternoon when we left, the never-seen sun already setting. Our field of vision contracted as the light disappeared The convoy flew down the road; we were racing the sun to nightfall.

The only sound in the pickup truck was the engine humming the sound of a gas pedal at full depression. There was a knife-edged concentration in the driver, her every sense at its sharpest and every reflex at its quickest. All three of her children were in the backseat, with her sister’s son, her mother riding shotgun.

The danger was not only in the headlights turning on in the opposite lane, rendering eyes half-blind in sudden road-curves. There were no lamplights at all and hardly any houses, nothing marking the borders of the road but the occasional Jollibee sign and our own headlights.

The night, once it came, lay heavy as a dark blanket on the world, dimming everything but the oncoming headlights. Our convoy’s mad rush slowed to a crawl, forcing us to pick our way through the dark – and the floods.

Central Luzon, unlike Manila, had been under heavy rains for a week. On our way to the beach we had driven through floodpools so deep our wheels threw up fans of water, no matter how slow we were. But at least we could see them coming.

On the way home, the first floodpool our convoy met threw up a great spray of water over the leading van. Our pickup, close behind, did the same before the brakes slowed us back to a creeping crawl through the water’s unknown depth. Only then did we realize that without any lights but our own, we’d never see the floodpools coming.

We knew we were halfway home when we hit the road construction. Half of the road was impassable. What was passable was punctuated by flooded pot-holes that we only saw when the leading van lurched into them. On our way to the beach, we had seen a bus with both side-wheels in a ditch and a jeep being repaired on this stretch of road. The memory haunted us.

We made it safely home to Tarlac, stopped at Luisita’s Mang Inasal for dinner, and laughed off all the stress. Because we’d made it, and we were safe, and we’d do it all again anyway, for a trip to the beach with family.

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