Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Leaves

I looked up to see the leaves of the durian tree days after we brought Pa home.  We were still in a state of shock.
It was the year of the severe drought and a clump of durian fruits have been growing abundantly above us. But the heat was so intense that in the afternoon, we can hear the fruits falling on the ground. We were worried that the tree won’t survive. We painstakingly watered it, just as we nursed a tiny ginger plant struggling to survive in a pot just a couple of steps nearby.  But sometimes, love can kill. I discovered one morning the abnormal wetness of the soil in the ginger pot, and discovered my sisters Eve and Ione, and even Titing, the house help, lavishing it with water. 
“You’re killing it,” I said, seeing consternation on their faces. “Water it only once a day.  Too much love can suffocate.”
To my surprise, they listened. The plant only got just enough water that it needed; and soon enough, it was growing well. Rona, the wife of Eve’s driver who came by for a visit had collected the fallen durian fruits, because they were so small and beautiful, and would look good on a Christmas tree.
But Christmas was still so far away. It was still after Easter, which like in the previous year, we spent inside a hospital. As soon as we arrived home, we made Pa lie on a bed we put right in the sala. We brought a pile of pillows to prop him up but we could never make him rest because he always wanted to move. It was as if there was no position comfortable enough for him. His daughters, whom he resented for being girls, had a hard time coping.  He made us wish we had a brother. From the sheer physical strain of lifting him and helping him to bed, an act that had to be repeated over and over again until our own bodies threatened to collapse, we began to wish we were men.
Stepping out of the house, I found myself under the shade of the durian tree. I looked up to see the leaves, and saw the blue sky instead.



The way I see it

The previous year, when Pa’s symptoms had petered down a bit and then, were gone for a while, I used to go home almost every week to see how he and Ma were coping. 
Pa would be too surly, and would harangue me with insults that reminded me of an unhappy childhood. Instead of being shaken, I’d take the chance to roam around the neighborhood with my camera, scouting for good pictures. It was the year of the drought, the strongest El Nino to have hit this part of Asia, and I would reach as far as the neighboring sitio of New Dumanjug and further up to the next barangay of Upper B’la to take photos of the grasses that had browned and turned to powder under the coconut trees.
One day, I came back after sundown to show him some of the photos. As I was doing it, I was bracing for what kind of insults and hurting words he would again hurl at me.
“Unsa na (What are those)?” he asked about one of my shots. “Lubi (Coconuts),” I said. “Nganong nagtuwad (Why are they upside down)?” he asked. “Because that’s the way I see them,” I said.
Then, as we scanned my other shots, he also saw another picture of coconuts against the blue sky. “Why are you shooting them?” he asked in Bisaya. “Because they’re beautiful,” I said. 
For him, who spent his whole life as a coconut farmer, the sight of coconuts must be as common as the calluses in his hands.
But at that moment, staring at my shots, he did not say anything.
His silence punctuated everything.



Home with the Cats

I’m the only one who comes home now; which is quite ironic, because I’m also the one who will soon be going away. But perhaps, I am not going away at all, because I will be carrying this place with me where ever I go; and in that case, I would always be here even if I would be in strange cities like Manila.
I often arrive here towards sunset, with not enough time to catch the last rays of the sun after I make a roll call of all the cats. These days, I often find most of them missing but when they’re here, the cats, starting from the dear yellow-spotted black matriarch named Oreo—looking gaunt now because of poverty and neglect—would all come gingerly or with great hunger to greet me at the gate. Then, we would talk about the old times, when they were fat and there were plenty of food around, and we are not yet leading such diasporic existence as we are doing now. Our stories are full of longing. Sometimes, I would arrive when it’s already dark, and I would open Titing’s knot at the gate, which is very hard to untangle, and they’ll rush towards me, no longer in attack positions as if I were a stranger, but with great hunger for food and human company.  
Once, I’m inside, I’d put the keys into the doorknob and when the door opened, I’d grope my way upstairs as I enter the darkest room of the house, where I’d turn the main switch to turn on the light.  All the while, I would talk to the cats, silently wishing that I could spend the whole time here with them, so that they will no longer starve; except that, I’d be thinking in retrospect, if I’d do that, I’d be out of my wits thinking where to get the money to buy our food? So, I console myself with thoughts about my work, although my work increasingly scares me these days. 
I dream of the day when I can finally be free to read my books and write my stories.
I’d spend the rest of the night with the cats, sometimes, reading aloud some of stories from my old New Yorker magazine before the rapt inattention of my captured audience. In most times, I’d skip dinner. To tame down the pain caused by my stomach ulcer, I would bring along biscuits or oatmeal, because the point is, there are only two people who can make me cook dinner and I have left them in the city. (I’m referring to my boys, who are not with me.)
So, spending my time alone with the cats, I’d long for the taste real food, just like what I used to have when Mother used to be here. Mother, however, had ceased to be Mother; we were supposed to switch roles now, except that, I’m not really as financially stable as a daughter, which means, I might not make a good mother to her. A good mother should have milk for her children, a steady flow of cash to bring food on the table, has a busy kitchen, with reliable househelp buzzing about. A good mother would not have anxieties about money, she is already well-provided for, and cash always flows towards her direction. So, aside from being able to take care of her ageing Mother and sending her sons to very good, highly-reputable schools, a good mother always has enough food for her cats.


I don’t have them so I will have to go away for a while.