The following story is fiction. It is an excerpt from my novel Tides Ebb as Islands Dream. If you enjoy it, please consider buying the novel! (Featured photo: “Binz on Rugen” by Wassily Kandinski. (Photo: WikimediaCommons Public Domain))
Inside the store, Gerri’s oldest daughter turned on the radio and started switching the stations. She stopped when the dial landed on “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” The younger daughter stood on a chair, imaginary microphone in hand singing away. “She likes this song very much. It was the favorite song of her cousin. Her cousin used to play this song on a CD and sing it with my daughter.” Although Gerri smiled as her daughter played pop star, it was obvious that a deep sadness had come over her.
“What’s wrong, Gerri.”
“Like I say before, sometimes people have a different feeling sense about something. For my daughter, this one is a happy song and she dance when she hear it. But my feeling is different because my experience different. This was Carmelita’s favorite song but now Carmelita is gone so it make me sad. My daughter not understand that Carmelita is gone. She’s too young to understand still.”
“What happened to Carmelita?”
“Carmelita was the niece of my husband. She lived with her family on Olango. She was a very beautiful and special girl. When she was born, God gave her a special gift. It was the same gift of the aunt of my husband and also of some other relatives. You see, Sean, when Carmelita hear the music she also see beautiful colors. You and me, we can only hear the sound, but for Carmelita, she could see the sound. She was always so happy and she would tell us about the sounds and colors she see. This song she love so much because when she hear it she always see lots of gold and blue—the colors of love she would say…and pink and purple the colors of passion. For Carmelita, colors were like a person’s emotion. Different sounds were different colors. Each bird’s call was a different color and the waves crashing on the beach showed her many colors because their sound always change depending on the tide and the wind. The world of Carmelita was very different from the world of you or the world of me. Have you ever heard of such a thing Sean?”
“Maybe I have. I remember reading something similar in a psychology book when I was at university. It was something about how the brain mixes senses for some people. Like they taste shapes or feel sounds. I think there is a name for that.”
“Yes, there is. A doctor told us the name. A psychiatrist from Cebu Doctors Hospital heard of Carmelita and he go to Olango to meet her. After that, he wanted to study her. It was okay until he took her to the city. There was so much noise she almost went crazy with all the colors that explode in her head. She cry for two days in Cebu so the doctor, he just come to Olango to visit with her. He gave her family a CD player and he gave Carmelita many different kinds of music. She was so happy. That song about the jet plane was one of the songs on a CD he give her. She learn so much about music. She learn the guitar. Her dream was to be a music teacher. One time she tell me she hope someday to listen to her students play a concert and she can see all the beautiful colors and maybe she could paint a picture of that. It was a beautiful dream that she had.
“But not all the sounds were beautiful colors for her. Some sounds showed her colors that scared her or made her want to cover her ears. Rain was nice for her, but the wind and rain together sent her hiding in the closet. She have to close her eyes and cover her ears. During a typhoon, she cry for days and would not eat. She would talk like a crazy person about what she saw. Sometimes she would scare the other people with what the sound show her. Many people think she was crazy. But her family understand and we know she have a gift.”
“Synesthesia!” Sean’s exclamation startled Gerri, “Oh, sorry. I mean the name for her condition…ah, her gift. The name for her gift is synesthesia. I just remembered. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Yes, maybe that is what the doctor say. Synanetisia?”
“Synesthesia. But please continue. What happened to Carmelita?”
“There was one sound that scare Carmelita too much. She say the sound show her colors that are more ugly than thunder. The dynamite fishing. Every time there is blast, Carmelita run in her house and pull her sleeping mat over her head. She tell me that when there a blast, it is not just the color that scare her but she say the color grab at her and try to choke her like an evil demon. She say the color she see was not black, but it was just darkness. Cold darkness….like a death. Carmelita say that the color of thunder and of the typhoon was scary but not ugly. That colors still nature…still part of life. The colors of the dynamite blast is like all colors dying…like no color at all. Carmelita say that colors are life, the colors are a gift. But the sound of the dynamite kill the gift of color.
“There was a while, maybe five years ago when the fishermen were making lot of dynamite for the fishing near Olango where her family live. Carmelita was maybe fifteen years old. She could not go to school, she only stay in her house and cry. Nobody know what to do. The father of her try to stop the fishermen, but they only argue and say they need to feed their families. The father of Carmelita beg them and tell that the noise is killing his daughter. The fishermen only laugh and say that Carmelita is just a crazy girl. My husband then try to help the husband of his sister, and talk to the fishermen he know. Even they don’t listen to my husband.
“After one month, the bombs stop. The reef on that side of the island gone and all the fish too gone. The fishermen go to another place. Maybe Palawan to do muro ami fishing with the sticks and net. The relatives of my husband not care where the fishermen go. Everybody just happy there is no noise of blast fishing for a long time. Especially Carmelita.
“A few months after, some more dynamite fishermen come again. One day Carmelita is riding her bicycle on the path and she hear the blast noise and see the cold ugly darkness. She screamed and have accident on her bicycle. Her head smash on a rock and she is like sleeping for a long time. Her family take her to the hospital on Mactan. The doctor from Cebu, he go to Mactan also. For two days she sleep and then when she wake up her gift was gone. Not gone, just different. Before she see colors when she hear sounds. When she wake up she hear sounds when she see colors.”
Sean was fascinated as he listened to Gerri’s account of what happened to Carmelita. Had he not heard of synesthesia, he may have thought the whole story was fabricated. Gerri paused as she poured another cup of goat-dirt tea. She looked at Sean’s empty cup of coffee, poured him some hot water and gave him a packet of instant coffee. After a few sips of her goat-dirt tea she continued, “Everybody laugh at first because Carmelita’s gift change. Her parents happy because they think that the blast fishing noise not hurt her again. But then Carmelita start to cry. She say her dream can never come true. If she always hear different music when she see color then she can never be a music teacher and she can never see the music her students play. Her whole life dream is gone and she cry a lot.”
Gerri paused for a minute and looked at her two daughters playing inside the store. Sean mumbled to himself, “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”
“Oh, nothing. What you said about Carmelita’s lifelong dream being gone…well, it reminded me of words to a song that my mother used to sing when she was feeling melancholy. Something about, ‘Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.’ And then a line about life being unkind.”
“Maybe I hear that song before. Maybe it is like what happened to Carmelita. Life was unkind to take her gift and to take her dream away. At her home, she have many troubles because of sounds in her head. When the sun too bright she hear a very high noise and when the sky too cloudy she hear deep thumping noise. They have to make the inside of her house black so she not hear so many noises or she start to go crazy. When she talk to people, she could not look at the clothes they wear. When the clothes of the people have many colors Carmelita hear many different sounds. She say it like hearing too many radio station at the same time. She say polka dots are terrible noise for her. I see her once when she see polka dots. She have to close her eyes and cover her ears. She say it like someone put a pin inside her ear. Her next birthday we have a small party, but nobody can wear polka dots. And no bright colors. Just plain clothes like black or dark blue or grey.
“Before the change, Carmelita like to swim with goggles in the sea and look at the coral and the fish. After the change she cannot do that because there too many beautiful colors. But for Carmelita the colors make too many noises and she not happy any more. The beautiful flowers on the island fill her head with too many sound. After the change, nothing can be beautiful for her. The doctor from Cebu try to help, but he don’t know how to help. He take Carmelita to Cebu and do something in the hospital. He try to give her medicine but she only sleep from the medicine. Nothing help her and she become sad and more sad.
“Her dream gone forever and her life is every day too many noises. Even she a young and beautiful girl she never smile…she never happy. The noise from the colors make her more crazy and more sad. Her life become very bad until one day she decide she not want to live more. She wait for one night with no moon. A dark night when she could see no color and when that night come, she walk out into the water.
“I think she find peace that night. When they find her body the next day, she had a smile on her beautiful face.”
Sean was speechless. He looked around at all the beautiful colors of the tropical morning. It was impossible to imagine life the way Carmelita had experienced it. Her reality was beyond what Sean could imagine. He immediately recalled what his college mentor had once told him, “Everybody has their own reality.”
We enjoyed our annual Hanami or “flower viewing” picnic recently. This year we went to Hodogaya Park, up the hill from where we live. The weather was perfect for the event. Here are some photos:
春風に (haru kaze ni)
吹き出し笑う (fukidashi warau)
花もがな (hana mo ga na)
A Spring breeze
Flowers, tooMatsuo Basho, Spring, 1668
How many, many things
They call to mind
Matsuo Basho/translated by R. H. Blyth