“Do you know I have had eighty-six books, apo?” he asked.
His muscles were weak enough to rock the rocking chair, or to extend and touch my hands to confirm I am there beside him. The sunset made his face shadowy, and his thin, grey hair orange. Too sad he couldn’t see the sun swallowed by the horizon when it was just in front of his house. I want to describe it for him, but I didn’t know how to.
“Do you know I have had eighty-six books, apo?” he asked again. I nodded, as though he could hear it. “Forty-nine days ago, it was eighty-six. Now, there’s just thirty seven left.” He paused to inhale. His breathing was so slow it alarmed me every time he did it. “When it reached eighty-six, I know I am dying. I’m so weak and, perhaps, pale. I decided to give them to everyone that passes by the house.”
I looked at the house. It couldn’t really be categorized as one. It was filled with shelves filled with books filled with dusts. Some shelves were empty. It must’ve been where the other books were once placed.
“One day, one book. Every day, I gave a book to a person. Eighty-five… eighty-four… eighty… seventy. The books were slowly… slowly fading. Mang Mario passed one day, I handed one down to him. It’s the Spoon River Anthology, I believe. Then there was Aling Rose, Manang Faye. I gave them books. Shakespeare. Fitzgerald. Lee. Hemingway. They were lost slowly. Until… now, there’s just thirty-seven left. Forty-nine days ago, it was eighty-six.”
I calculated inside my head. Forty-nine days plus thirty-seven left. They equaled to eighty-six. Lolo really was a math-major.
“You know why I use to do that?”
He giggled—a giggle that culminated to a cough. “Because I am dying. I know there’s just thirty-seven days left for me to live, because there’s just thirty-seven books in my shelf.” He sighed. “I don’t want them to be buried with me. Tomorrow, the numbers would lessen, and the day after that, and the day after the day after that. And I want to give the last book to the person I really love. I won’t die unless he receives it.”
I made a one-syllable laugh. It was a silly idea.
“I won’t die unless he receives it,” Lolo repeated.
I sighed. We waited until the sun was completely gone.
Every day, I visited my Lolo, and he told me over and over about the books and how their numbers were fading. I sometimes grew tired of listening. But I was a little worried. Lolo should not be thinking too much about death.
I visited and visited to discover that Aling Tinang already had the To Kill a Mockingbird, then Mang Tasyo already got the collection of Edgar Allan’s poems, that the authors were gradually getting out of the house—the authors Lolo loved so much.
I visted and visited… day after day… watching the shelves emptied themselves… listening to Lolo’s stories and imaginations… until there’s only one book left.
Lolo looked very weak and thin. His eyes were sunken and his muscles were trembling. His breathing was much alarming than what I imagined. But no one knew except me. Lolo wanted to be alone most of the time, not asking for help from anybody.
When I entered. Lolo was holding the last book. It was his book, dusty and almost devastated. It was called “The Art in the Setting Sun”. I had read it only once.
“Would you… would you want… want to have this, a-apo?” he asked, trying to breathe normally.
I couldn’t answer. I swallowed. I wanted to ask for help. I shook my head as though he could hear it.
“Take it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful novel. It’s… my work. Take it.”
A granule of tear went out of my eyes… until tears were washing my face.
“Please, apo, take… take this. The sun was surely… surely setting by now. Then… then you have to go.”
I took a deep breath.
“Please, apo, take this.”
With trembling hands, I took the book slowly from his weak grip. Then, giving all his force, he held my head and pressed his pale and cold lips on my forehead. He rested his back on the rocking chair and faced the setting sun, making his last sigh.
I waited until it was completely gone.
Reil is a second-year BSED-Math student from Ateneo de Davao University.