“If there’s a will, there’s a way…”
My teacher’s voice resounds in my head as I look at my father’s lifeless form inside his white coffin. Here is the first man who broke my heart, and the only man I think I have ever truly loved next to my grandpa. He’s dead now, but he was as good as dead to me in his lifetime.
I stand there, idly, looking at my father’s dead face. I trace with my eyes the contours of his face – I have his nose, too ‘Filipino’ from every possible angle; I have his jawline, mine a softer version of his. I feel eyes boring on my back, piercing gazes from the audience behind me, their hushed gossips an orchestra playing at a small rural town wake. I don’t care. I stopped caring a long time ago. I don’t even know why I’m attending his wake at a house in the middle of the fields where cicadas are the only things you hear at night. A good five-hour drive from home. I should blame my boyfriend Alex for this.
Somebody approaches me—my father’s eldest son, who was a mere nine months younger than me, and offers me coffee. I refuse. God knows what sort of bacteria is infesting their water, or their unclean cups.
My father’s wife, Maritess, hasn’t spoken to me since I arrived. For some reason, the woman who caused my parents to separate has the guts to play bully on me. She stares at me wildly, bearing with it a story worth more than twenty years of hatred; I reply with my arctic stare. She looks away. And then does it again later. It’s been a game of tug-and-war between her and me since I got here yesterday, and for some reason, I always win. What a cowardly bitch.
I have long forgiven the fact that my parents never made it to a real relationship because, in my mother’s own words and in my father’s unsaid agreement, Maritess got Papa busy with her when Mommy was busy attending to her rising career and to a newborn me some twenty-five years ago. I just don’t understand why she should be that mean to me. She’s dumb, I conclude.
I heard her complaining why I was there when I arrived yesterday. Dumb and plain stupid as she is, she never had the guts to tell me that to my face. She’s too dumb to put the blame on me when it was Papa’s siblings who called me and asked me to come to his funeral. My supposed half-siblings told me I could stay at their place. I boldly said, “No. It’s gonna cause your mother more grief than she can handle. I don’t want her to die from my presence.”
I knew they are not rich. I’m not either. But I’m out to show them I never needed their—I mean OUR—dad to help me out. And I turned out more than okay without him in my life. They don’t need to know of the troubles my boyfriend goes through once every while because of the trauma I had from my father. They never will. My boyfriend and I rented a car and stayed at a hotel instead of staying with one of the relatives (that’s saying goodbye to the Boracay trip altogether) all because I needed them to know that I turned out better than any of them. Because Papa left us. Because Papa never cared for me like he did for them.
“Fuck you Papa…you’re a man-bitch,” I whisper into the cadaver. The angels will be mad, but I never got the chance to be this close to Papa; never got him to be this silent and not talking about all the good and happy things he has to say about his life.
Someone approaches me again, Nancy or Nene or Nena or whatever, one of my father’s sisters. She touches me on the back, below the shoulder that is bare from the white tank top I am wearing. Right where my koi tattoo is. I can tell that she is feeling my tattoo, maybe to know if it’s real or not. What a hypocrite gossip. She tells me I should stay at her place for the night, all the while she is feeling my back with her rough hands. She could use some lotion. Maybe I should leave her my Victoria’s Secret. It could make her happy, maybe. I say, “No thank you, Auntie. We have a hotel room.”
“Your boyfriend can stay at the hotel, you stay with us. You know, it’s not very good for an unmarried couple to share a room and a bed…” she says, a bit cautious about saying the unmarried bit. I retorted, “We are living together Auntie. And besides, Papa fathered two children from two different women within a year. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be sharing a room with my boyfriend of two years.” I keep my voice low and sweet—and that is to be my best Madeline impersonation of all time. I win.
Auntie N bites her lip. She looks down on her plum-colored toenails then shifts her gaze to my aquamarine ones. “We have to talk about your father’s last will,” she says bashfully, like a first grader on her first day of school. What a fucking hypocrite. I heard her yesterday talking with Maritess about my tattoo. Loud and clear, she said I look like a fucking whore. I just rolled my eyes and whispered to my boyfriend, “I could fax them a fucking copy of this whore’s diploma.” I laughed off my own remark, and Alex laughed harder. I said, “Do they even know what a fax machine is?”
“We can stay late if you want. We just don’t want to stay here,” I tell her. She nods and leaves. She’s probably gonna report to the rest of my father’s brood how distastefully disrespectful I am. I’m laughing my super evil laugh in my head. And then I turn to look at Papa again. My schizophrenic mind tells me he is frowning. He’s probably unhappy over how I treated his little sister. “I don’t care Papa. I. DON’T. CARE.”
Papa still has the stubbles I used to love as a kid. On those rare visits of his, with my mom’s consent of course. I remember loving the feel of it on my baby cheek. This small town is barely five hours from my family home, but he never cared to visit me more than twice a year. In my first ten years of life, Mommy was always careful about saying only good things about Papa. She never really wanted me to bear hatred on him, even if they split a little after I was born because of his infidelity. He did make the occasional calls, missed my birthdays by a day EVERY SINGLE YEAR, and sent postcards with my name misspelled. For a time I thought that was charming and misspelled his name on my letters too.
I knew the situation I was in. He has his own family—that’s why we couldn’t see each other as often as we should. As a kid, I still ate up his reasons of being too busy and of visiting being too expensive. Of course he is Papa. He was infallible.
And then logic tells me there’s no excuse for visiting the expensive new mountain resort north of my city with his family and not dropping by to see me. There’s no logical reason for him to be on a trip to Cebu with his only other daughter apart from me on her birthday, and not calling on mine. Everything fell into place in one of my English classes in freshman high school. Clichés. Example: IF THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY.
“You never willed it, Papa. You never wanted to see me. You broke too many promises. You broke my heart ten million times. Even Alex can’t fix it. I wonder what you’d tell God when He asks you about me. I could be your ticket to hell. That and the way you treated me. You never loved me, AT ALL. I was just the product of some good orgasm and your pretense at love. You don’t know how to love. Neither do I, and it’s all your fault,” I say to Papa. I can feel my eyes burning. The first time since I learned of Papa’s death that I felt like crying.
Papa died of a bus accident. What a pity. He was the only one who died from the accident; and he died because he panicked and had a heart attack. Everyone else in the bus didn’t get anything worse than bruises. He was on his way to see me.
“Fuck you papa, you bitch…” I tell him again. My evil laughter is ringing in my head, and the first teardrop for my estranged father makes its way to my cheeks. ”You’re always late. This time, you’re too late…”
And then Alex comes to my side and holds me. He kisses me by the ear and whispers, “they wanna talk with you babe.” He then wipes the lone tear on my cheek and presses my hand.
In the kitchen, the wife, the four legitimate kids, and the five siblings of my father huddle around the dining table. The dirty dog they call pet is half asleep underneath. I can smell its putrid dog smell. I keep wondering how they can stomach it.
“Good that you’re here,” one of Papa’s brothers exclaims. “We are going to settle your father’s properties. He didn’t have much, but I’m sure he wanted all of you to have something” he announces with an air like a lawyer.
“Uhm, aren’t we supposed to do this with a lawyer? Like, this is legal shit,” I say. Their eyes widen as I said the profanity.
The eldest child, Rafael (or was it Raffy?) intervenes, “Papa left a letter to me, Ate. I think, we all think, this is enough. And besides, we cannot afford hiring an attorney,” he says. He got shy over the last bit.
So I shut my mouth and stop myself from embarrassing any of them any more than I already have. They continue with all the gibberish about who’s getting the what and the where from my father’s loot. My ears stand in attention as Raffy (or Rafael? whatever) says my name. He takes out a sheet of yellow paper and reads a letter, apparently, from my father to me.
And then he stops midway into the “how are you” part. He says, “I think you should read it by yourself, Ate. That’s the letter he was bringing with him on his way to see you—before he died.”
To the very end, Papa never got it right. What’s so hard about M-A-L-I-S-S-A? Sigh.
Papa, as usual, is saying a lot of shit in his letter. I am struck only by the last paragraph.
“I love you my little Princess, my firstborn. I love you Melissa. I always have. And I’m writing this because I know I can never will myself to say it to you…because I’m scared. I’ve become too scared of your success, of your smarts. My child is more intelligent than me just like her mommy. I’m as proud as I’m scared. But I love you baby. Remember that. I am so happy that Alex is none of the scaredy cat that I have been.”
My hands are cold. My feet are cold. My mind is in a panic mode, willing for Alex to come get me, or at least come and bring me my inhaler. I can’t cry, much as I would want to. Fuck you, again, Papa. Fuck you, and your last will. You never really made it.
Hannah is a 21-year old graduate of AB English from the Ateneo de Davao University and is currently working as a content writer for a local BPO Company. She was under the tutelage of such Davao writing greats as Dr Macario Tiu and The Don Pagusara and is in the process of finding her “own voice” in her pieces.