On February 16, 2010, I paused after I finished Batman’s part in, “On a Deadly Trail: Three Journalists Killed in the Philippines” when I noticed a piercing sound that began at the neighbor’s ground and increased in intensity as it approached my window. It sounded like a fierce warning—so I thought it was somebody downstairs, a possible assassin, perhaps, whistling a secret code.
Ja said I was becoming neurotic because of what I was writing—but there was something about this particular sound, which was so shrill and so piercing as if it tried to attract attention. When the whistle grew very painful to my ears, I turned around to find out what was going on.
And when I did? Lo! A yellow bird, a tamsi, perched itself on my window grill, chirping with delight; its companion, perched on the clothesline, returning a piercing chirp. The sight was a treat after days of wrestling with my thoughts, staring at an empty computer screen for long hours. The birds made me think of Batman, a Davao broadcaster killed on Christmas Eve in 2007 and Geneboyd, a young photojournalist killed in Jolo, Sulu on November 12, 2004.
I remember how Batman last waved at us at Yellow Haus while I and Mandaya and Jepoi and Di were brainstorming for the maiden issue of I Love You, Baby magazine, the magazine that circulates in our mind. It was late at night and Batman and Tec, talking at a table away from us, stood up to go. He was gone a few weeks after.
I did not get to finish our last conversation with Geneboyd. We were at the Waterfront Hotel waiting for the press con to start and he was talking about that cartoon show a lot better than Spongebob Squarepants we used to be so crazy about in 2004. We had to stop because the guests had arrived and we had to listen and he had to take pictures. We all got down to work and rushed to write the stories afterwards. But the next thing I knew, he was in Jolo and something happened.
The whole thing was so unacceptable and senseless, I got the sudden urge to ask him, who was that cartoon character, again, Boyd? Please tell me. Please tell us what happened in downtown Jolo. But he could no longer reply.
I thought about the two journalists as I watched the bird on my window grill pointing its beak to the sky. I never knew a bird’s beak could be so beautiful. It was so extraordinarily sharp and I gasped at its thinness. I wanted to grab my camera and capture the moment. But the birds must have noticed. They started to fly, still chirping at each other and shrilly calling back to me. I strongly felt they were trying to tell me something I couldn’t make heads or tails of, a message that must be very important.
Suddenly, I wish I could understand the language of birds.