It’s the wee early hours in the morning. I fell asleep . I heard the cock living next to our house stentorianly crowing to the world, saw the sun streak of the breaking dawn through the fissures of our roof pillars, made of poor plywood. I forgot that I pulled an all-nighter; I had to prepare for another bloody exams in school. I had to get higher grades from the two subjects I nearly flunked last mid-term test. I didn’t want to keep behind my smart-alec classmates. Besides, I had to study harder; I wanted to be on the dean’s list or more than that. I was so driven to do so since it was not that easy to save money for the next semester, especially both my parents worked so hard.
I left my room for the kitchen which is not just far from me. My room is just one place I share with my younger sister with wooden partition. I greeted my mother who was still lying in her bed while brushing my teeth.
“ Ma, I’m going to school now.”
My mother did not reply. She must have been sound asleep. I could peripherally see her half body inside the mosquito net. She had to cover herself for the sake of our two-year-old born sister who was also sound asleep with angelic face, next to her. I wonder what they were dreaming about. My father was sprawling across from her, passed-out, dead to the world, full of the alcoholic spirit that rendered him unconscious of my presence in the kitchen.
I skipped breakfast since I knew there was nothing mother would fix for me. I would just sip a cup of coffee despite my buzzing stomach. I would not care about it; I am inured to this misery. I would eat whatever was prepared on the table.Sometimes,I would subsist on my small allowance. As long as possible,I would tide it over because I didn’t want be such a burden to my parents. It broke my heart seeing them,particularly my mother preoccupied, absent-minded,or sometimes catching her crying alone at night when everyone was asleep already.
Since I was in a hurry, I did not mind my creased all-white uniform. We did not have a flat iron. Sometimes, we would borrow one from Ate Ning, one of my mother’s closest friends. Sometimes, I dislike her being a bigmouth toward her two children. Her roaring bawl could be heard in the neighborhood.
When we forgot to return her flat iron, we could no longer borrow it out of shame. One time, I could not bring myself to go to school because my uniform was so crumpled that I was very conscious of it since everyone could be nitpicky. So I tried to experiment by filling a bottle with hot water ; then, I rolled it over the clothe. Unfortunately, it could flatten the spots like the big ones seen up on the moon. I had no choice. I wore it with aplomb. I knew my mother had a pity on me.
I was so excited to go home because our last class was dismissed early. Since it was the final term, I had nothing to keep up with. Besides, I prefer to review at home than in the school library. I could find solace in the house , especially the presence of my mother bringing up our younger sister soothes me. My father was somehow busy with his job at my uncle’s mini-factory.
As usual , it has been my habit to buy a ‘pasalubong’ for both my younger sister and Mother. Sometimes, I buy two pieces of turon, Mother’s favorite, or purplish ube when no one sells it . If I guess that she’s tired of them, I buy two pieces of hamburgers. Anything I can get, mother would eat them. Nothing can describe my happiness whenever I see my mother smile in joy at something at my hand for her.
I decided to buy two pieces of turon again. I know it is her all-time favorite. Thanks to Aling Lucy; nothing beats her big and savory turon. Its wrapper is brittle, coated in brown sugar. But its banana slice with jack fruit adds to the heavenly taste.
When I got home on foot, Mikaela had arrived from her work already. She is working for a meat processing company. It saddens me that my parents are not even able to send her to college. So she has no choice.
“ Oh, Reggie. What is that?”, as she noticed something in my hand.
“ Some turon for mother and Mae”, as I put them on the table, “ Where are they?”
Mikaela was just quiet, confused. Her eyes popped out at my question.
“ Don’t eat them, OK? “ Don’t be PG as in patay-gutom.”
Mikael and I are almost close. We can banter with this kind of barbaric language. I felt that Mikaela wanted to blurt out something, but I skipped out on her because suddenly, I was conscious of myself. I had to change myself right away ; I smelled so disgusting; I was soaked in sweat after walking in the scorching sun. No wonder my skin is burning brown.
I decided not to call for both Mother and Mae. They must have been at someone’s house. I was sure Mae wanted to be comforted by the people she is familiar with. It is a matter of object permanence as I learned in psychology.
I stayed in my bed strewn with books , notebooks , and colorful highlighters. I had to review.We would have the last final term after that day.Actually, I did not have to worry about that because I found PGNC and Economics easy to commit to my memory. As far as my classmates are concerned, they know me as the “Father of Rote Memory”.
I leaned against the wall by the window so that I could be freshened up with the afternoon breeze although this air comes from our greedy neighbor’s pigsty. We, along with our neighbors, have been complaining about that putrid pig smell since we moved in our place. The owners just turn deaf to us. Despite that, I tried to stuff my mnemonic memory with all the key words until I dropped off to sleep.
I woke up to the sound coming from the kitchen. That must have been my mother. She must have been busy cooking something. Mae must have been playing. I heard her babyish voice from the living room. Whenever mother was busy, she would let Mae on the ground cluttered with her toys , gliding , talking to herself or her toys giving them new life to play with.
I stayed in my bed staring at the rusted roof which we have never thought of covering with wooden ceiling. I closed my eyes and was pleased with the busy sounds echoing around the house. It was like a lullaby that I wanted to sleep through. Maybe it’s better not to have the roof covered with wooden ceiling. It creates echoes whenever the people make happy noises . I just can’t stand the noise echoed around made by the nerve-wracking dispute between Mother and Father or between Father and John.
I came back to my senses when I heard Mae wailing. I got up and hurled out of my room to catch her. I reached for her in my arms trying to comfort her.
“ Why Mae?”, as I was trying to hush her , “ Hush,now. What’s the problem?”
Mikaela came down , surprised at what was going on.
“Where is Mother?” “ I heard her doing something in the kitchen”, I asked.
Mikaela was trying to hold herself. I did not understand why her eyes welling up about to burst into tears.
“ You should not let Mae play alone.”
As I said it, father came from his work. He looked bedraggled and exhausted. He may have gotten home to call it the day and been ready for lunch.
“What happened?” as he was reaching for Mae.
“ Suddenly I awoke to her crying.” “ Where is mother?” “ I heard her cooking in the kitchen while she was playing on the ground here.”
Father wanted to get Mae from me, but I refused because he had not changed himself yet. I was trying to calm Mae, “ Hush, baby” , “ Mother is coming.”
I looked back at both my father and sister . They looked gloomy, trying to hide their faces from me. I could not understand. I was bewildered.
Father sat himself on the wooden bench he made last year, quiet, staring into space . What was he thinking?
Mikaela decided to leave us , fluttering as if she was trying to wend her way through the door. Suddenly, John turned up, entering past her .Mikaela was surprise- stricken at his arrival , in pale as if she had seen his archenemy. They have never liked each other. Nervous, she turned back to father and looked worried.
Fred came up to father. “ They have come.” He murmured and left the room.
Father looked sadder upon hearing him and turned to me.
(What’s everyone so weird?)
“ Reggie, give me your sister.”
“Why?” “ You look dirty. You haven’t changed yet.”
“ No worries, son.” Fatherly calm, he was trying to hold himself not to cry. But what was the reason for him to cry?
“ Reggie, my son. I’m sorry.”
He had taken my sister away from me. It was too late to realize that I was letting go of her since I was confused what he meant to say, “ I’m sorry.”
“ Wh-y?” Shit.
I saw my father can no longer control himself. He cried. (When was the last time he did cry) ? Mae wailed all of a sudden , infected by his emotional state. Mikaela wanted me to ease my grip on her. She left us with her, teary-eyed too.
“ What’s happening here, father?” I pleaded. Then, I thought of my mother. Where was she ? Did she know what’s going on in here?
All of a sudden, my brother, John, came nearer with four men in white uniform.
(Who were they? )
“ Father, who are they?”
Father could not look straight in my eyes. He was tearing his hair, turning his back on me.
The three men gently grabbed both my arms. I tried to flinch.
“ Hey, what the fuck are you doing?”
Two of them trussed both my arms ,trying to put me in a straitjacket while the two supporting me not to hold back. I was trying to tussle with them.
“ Father, what’s this?” “ What are they doing to me?” Afraid. I was more confused. I didn’t understand what was happening.
“ Wait!” I shouted at the men. “ Does it mean that I am screwed up?”I was asking my father.
But father finally did look at me, surprised at what I said. He looked at me, worn to a frazzle. Then, he gave a nod at the three men.
“No, father!” “ I am not crazy!” “ Tell them I’m not a nut!”
At this time, I cried in fear. I cried that I might be gone in the head out of confusion.
I was dragged out of the house.The sun was still high up in the sky. I was shouting to my father. There were many onlookers. They were staring at me. They were supposed to be taking a siesta after lunch.I did not understand. I didn’t know what to do. I saw Ate Ning. She was looking at me too as if she was feeling sorry for me. I was trying to move toward her while being taken through the crowd.
“ Ate Ning! What’s happening? Where is mother? “ “ Where is she? Please, call and tell her what these fucking amoebas doing to me? …Please, I don’t understand this.”
She just averted her eyes from me, trying to hold herself, bleary-eyed. I could feel her . I was being escorted up to a white van with the word ambulance printed on its wall. I looked around. I heard some of my neighbors whispering under their breath,
“ He went screwed up right after his mother died. Poor, Reggie! He can’t accept her loss.”
“ What?” I was surprised at what I heard, “ Loss?.” I was dumb-founded. I was trying to grasp their words, clinging to the reality . I could no longer walk . My feet were heavy. I could not muster up enough strength to hold the situation. I was about to fall over. Beads of sweat trickled down my neck. The three men tried to usher me up into the van.
“ Mama!!!” I shouted around.
“ Where are you???”
Then, I burst into tears. I could no longer let the tears well up in my eyes. I could not bear it any longer. I was all perplexed. I didn’t know what this was all about. I wish it were just a nightmare. I wanted to wake up. It could have been a sleep paralysis. I tried to move my fingers as what a book advised I had read before.
Out of nowhere, my aunt, my father’s sister, appeared to talk to me.
“ Tita, what’s happening? I don’t understand. Why was it that they said…loss?”
Then it dawned on me. “M-other died???”
I covered my mouth with my hand , choked to tears, trying to control it while searching for her answer in her face. But she could not even look at me. Instead, she attempted to embrace and muss up my hair.
“ Oh, Reggie. Poor, Reggie!” At this time , she could no longer stand it .
“ Yo- your mother died already. Sh- she died three months ago.”
“ What??? “ My eyes popped out in surprise. Everything seemed stopped moving , darkening like the nightmarish limbo I am afraid to dream about.
Before she got it across to me, the three men in white uniform had to escort me to the van.
“ Wait! Tita! What do you mean Mama died already? I don’t understand!”
The three men tried to drag me away to the van . I shouted to them looming away.
“ Tita! “, “ Wh-at do you mean Mama died???”
I was already put inside the van, trying to talk to them through the peephole.
I saw my father running up to her and hugged her as the ambulance was moving off from our house.