I stood outside our house, waiting for my best friend. I was holding a Tupperware of spaghetti and salad, which Nanay prepared last night for Noche Buena, and a white Coca-cola shirt from Ate. I guess the weather was moody on Christmas. It was a bit indecisive. It rained at dawn and became gloomy in the morning. Then it was sunny and rainy at the same time in the afternoon. I could almost inhale the mixture of dust and rain. It irritated my nose. If I was still a kid, for sure one of the elders would shout at me from the window to get inside for I might get a fever. The raindrops were getting bigger. I decided to go inside the house and get an umbrella. The umbrellas were neatly placed behind the house’s front door. I chose the white one with a blue floral design. I went back outside. Raymond finally arrived three minutes later. He was my best friend for eight long years and one of the reasons why I did not hurry in getting myself into a relationship. He brought me to movie houses at least once in three months. He bought me mefenamic acid whenever I had my period. He would come to my place on weekends and ask permission from my Tatay and Nanay if we could stroll around the neighborhood for the night. He was tall, skinny, and beautiful. He was the most beautiful gay guy in the world.
“Bes, where are we going?” he asked. I texted him only earlier if he could accompany me somewhere.
“You will see in a while,” I answered while handing him the Tupperware.
“I am not going anywhere if you won’t tell me. And what are these for?” He was referring to the Tupperware and the shirt.
“I am visiting Papa Rudy. Can you come?” I said without even looking at his face. I did not want to see his reaction. I walked ahead and he followed.
Papa Rudy was my grandmother’s second husband. They started livingtogether even before I was born, which was in the early 90’s. They got married when I was in fifth grade. Papa was a real grandfather to me. When Nanay was busy he wouldpick me up at school. He would bribe me to take my siesta so that I could come with him to Palm Beach on weekends. He secretly gave me money to buy candies when Tatay refused. When I was in high school, he would stay up into the late night when I failed to come home past my 10-PM curfew. Once he provided for my attendance at a youth conference in Camp Philips, Bukidnon, because Nanay lacked the financial means at that time. He did all these small small and big things for me.
It was ironic to visit someone who lived only two blocks away. Two blocks, yes. But these two blocks hindered me from seeing someone I really missed for one year, one month and twenty-seven days. Two blocks for me was like travelling around the world. Two blocks took me forever to see Papa.
The rain was pouring hard as Monda and I approached Papa’s house. I remembered the night I last saw Papa. It was also raining hard. The entire town had no power. He was wailing in pain in his room. I hurried in to ask him what was wrong. He would not say anything. He was just there lying in bed face down and weeping. I pour some oil and carefully massaged his back, feet, and hands. He was very cold. He was running a fever for a day already. I pulled his blanket over him. I did all I could to ease his pain. I went out of the room and silently prayed to God. That night, I thought he was dying. When tatay decided to take him to the hospital, Papa would still not stop wailing in pain. Tatay informed Papa’s cousin, brother, and two children from his first wife about his condition. Papa had water in his lungs. He was a chain smoker; could consume two packs of cigarettes in a day. He also used to drink black coffee thrice a day, at the least: before every meal. He stayed in the hospital for three days. I was not able to visit him the next day because I had to process my enrollment for the second semester. Tatay and Nanay paid the hospital bills and asked Papa’s daughter if she look after him after he got discharged. I did not agree on this. As much as possible I would have wanted Papa to stay at our house, but I could do nothing. My parents feared Papa might burn the house down since he was beginning to get forgetful. There were several times when he even pissed in his trousers. When grandmother died, he began to age fast. My parents worked the entire day and would be home by evening. My older sister had to work in Malaybalay, Bukidnon then. My younger sister, meanwhile, was still too young. And I had to stay in the city on weekdays for my classes. We could not hire anyone to take care of him, what with the meagre salary my parents earned. So Papa Rudy stayed at his daughter’s, but after a few weeks she gave up on him. Papa then lived with his cousin and his unmarried brother two blocks away from our house. I could not blame his children, because they grew up without him always around. No doubt his children loved him, but maybe not as much to be patient enough with him. At times I blamed myself because I, too, had somehow given up on him. I could still look after Papa had I only chosen to transfer school. I could go home every vacant period to check up on him. But I had my dreams; I messed up in my studies many times before and I was making up. I thought the university could offer me a better education. I then convinced myself that I could take care of Papa after college, when I had gotten a good paying teaching job. I guess I thought of those things to appease my conscience. I came home almost every weekend but could never muster the courage to see him, even if he just lived two blocks away. I had given up on the man who treated me well. I had given up on the grandpa who spoiled me with junk food and candies. I had given up on Papa. It was partly true. I told everyone how much I loved and cared about him, but never had the time to visit him. I always had my excuses. I said I was busy in school although I lay in bed and cried over Kenny Roger’s Through the Years on my playlist. I missed him so much the whole time but I chose to be eaten by my cowardice. I was a coward.
“Ayo! Ayo!” Monda and I were in duet calling out for someone to open the gate. A mango tree stood tall beside it. The last time I was inside their house was tnine years ago. Papa brought me along with him on special occasions. It was a warm house made of cement, with galvanized iron roofing, and it had plants on the side. Manong Popong, Papa Rudy’s youngest brother, came out to let us in. I handed him the food and the shirt. Papa sat on a Monobloc chair outside the house, near the front door. He had grown so old, a lot older than the last time I saw him. I first noticed his hair. He was getting bald. His fingernails were long. Papa had always cut his nails. His strong arms that carried my heavy school bag now looked weak. He appeared very sick.
“Pa, I am here, Lablab. I brought you spaghetti and salad,” I said while kneeling down to clearly see his face. His facial expression was that of a confused man. He was trying to remember who Lablab was. He said nothing but he slowly stood up. I straightened up and embraced him. He smelled the same. It was the same scent on a bright day of May when he married my grandmother. I said a few things to him and bade goodbye. I could not bear to be there any longer. His appearance was far from the Papa Rudy whom I called my personal superhero when I was little. I told him I would be back soon.
Raymond was teary-eyed when we got out of the gate. He had seen Papa in his vibrant and virile years. He understood how I felt and hugged me while I cried holding up the umbrella. The sky was the same kind of sadness that afternoon.
Maybe Papa Rudy has forgotten who I am. He has forgotten the little girl he watched over for eighteen years. Perhaps his old age has made him forget everything about me. His memory of names and faces might have been blurred, but I believe what remains clear is love. It was love I saw in his weary eyes. It was love that made him stand and receive with tenderness my warm embrace that rainy Christmas afternoon. The truth is I could not just stay there because it hurt me so much to look at someone who could longer remember me. It hurt me to see him that way.
I do not want to lose my memory of Papa and of everyone I love. I do not want to forget every little thing that made me happy and sad, every little thing that made me feel so human. I want to hold everything together in my hands. And so I write them. Tonight I am sitting by the window where Papa used to sit and wait for me until I arrived home from a nightout with my friends. I sit on the very same chair where he used to smoke and drink his mug of black coffee in the early evening. I sit here remembering everything about the man who said I was his favorite grandchild even if I was not of his flesh and blood. I look up at the sky and the stars are brightly twinkling. What comforts me is although we are no longer living in the same house, at least we are under the same blanket of stars on a Christmas night.
Loraine Jo is studying Bachelor of Secondary Education at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.