Ted chews the pancit he has shut into his mouth. He stares at Melissa and raises his brow, as if to ask her if anything’s wrong. She hasn’t said much throughout the meal, and she’s only spoke to him intermittently since he arrived.
“Have I told you this pancit is delicious?” he mutters.
“Thanks,” she says, folding her arms.
He piles strips of cabbages and mushrooms on the side of his plate. “I don’t like vegetables, darling,” he’d say, “I just like the noodles.” She used to argue with him that the taste of the vegetables have seeped into the noodles anyway, and that’s how the real pancit guisado should come as, so he might as well eat them, the lot. She can’t be bothered now, though. Besides, in their arguments, he always wins.
He shrugs his shoulder, tips his bowl a little, twirls the last pancit with the fork, and stuffs the noodles into his mouth. He smiles. “That was divine, honey, thank you.” He grabs his lemonade, pulls out his chair and walks straight to the lounge where the sounds of the Australian Open are heard.
“Would you care to join me after the wash up?”
“I’m not washing the dishes tonight,” she says, looking down, still with folded arms.
“Beg your pardon?” Ted’s brows draw together.
“I think it’s time for you to do a bit of help here.”
“Since when did the flow of the tide change?”
“I’m tired tonight. I don’t feel like washing and someone has to do it.” She feels like yelling at him: “Why do I always have to wash up for you? Why do I always have to cook for you? Why can’t you do it for me?” But she has no energy left.
“What’s up yours?”
Melissa freezes. She feels the tears fall from her eyelids. “My sister died and I want to go back to the Philippines!”
The cup in his hands nearly falls as he tips backwards. “Oh, I’m sorry, darling. Goodness me, what happened?” His eyes look sincerely as he is getting up and walking toward her.
“Childbirth. Got no money. Died. Gone.” She storms each word, then feels she doesn’t need to elaborate anymore. She has been strong in withholding her emotions, but this time, she just can’t control it. She stares at the room while her tears flow. “I want to go home. I’ve never been home in a while.”
“Could you afford it?” His brows meet again as he sits back in his dining chair. “How could you do it if you don’t have the money?”
She hates that “you” and “me” things in their marriage. “His mails”, “my mails”. I am not allowed to open his mails, as he is not allowed to open my mails. But we’re married. It’s bizarre. Isn’t marriage about togetherness, in sickness and in health, and in having mails from anywhere around the world? She remembers her parents back home. Things are always “ours” in their marriage. “Our children”, “our house”, “our lunch”, “our project”. Here in Australia, “his privacy”, “my privacy”.
“I’m asking you, Melissa.” He says. “How could you afford it?”
“I’ll manage, Ted. I almost have enough for my trip home. Just a bit more, and I’ll be swaying my tails off to Armidale Airport, to General Santos, and down to our front door. I’ll be there hugging my mother and father and brothers.”
“I think you better wake up, Melissa. I don’t think you can ever do that.” Ted warns. “And if you think you can borrow money from me, forget it. You know I have saved all my life to prepare for this retirement, and now is my prefect chance to tour Australia. I don’t want to postpone that simply because of an unexpected thing in your family. You know we’re leaving in four months. Things have been pretty much set up for that. The camper van is already smiling and ready for us.”
“Ted, I can’t bear to think about the pleasure-seeking lifestyle we have in Australia, and the survival lifestyle my loved ones have to endure over there. It’s weird. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Darling, you can not solve the poverty of the Philippines. You simply have to accept the fact that it is a poor country, a third world country. If everyone is struggling over there, then, so be it. Maybe they are destined to be like that.”
Melissa feels sick. She doesn’t know what to say. They didn’t choose to be poor. They don’t love nor want to be poor. She feels that she probably doesn’t know many things about world poverty, economics, and that sort of thing, but she knows she feels happy every time she sends money home. She feels she’s done her bit to make things a little bit better back home.
“Darling, you’d be better off sending your money. You can’t make your sister alive, that’s for sure. She’d probably appreciate it better if you spend it toward the interment and the needy family you left behind. It’s certainly better than having to see your sorry face.”
She bawls at his reaction, and runs to their bedroom. There’s a heat running along her back that feels like thorns, pricking her. She feels exhausted, too tired to talk to Ted. There’s no point in arguing with him. He’s always the concern in their talks. Everything is about him, and his superannuation, his savings, his financial advisers, his investments, his pension. His pension is always the one that prevents her to move and work in Brisbane or Sydney. She’s only in her late thirties. What’s stopping her? She sighs.
She shakes her head, and thinks that there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. She allows silence to take over everything she feels. She just wants peace and nothing to think about. She has learned during the years that she’s been away from home that silence of the mind is important in being resilient.
She closes her eyes and lets the night breeze calm her. She hears Ted’s footsteps coming toward their bedroom door, perhaps to check on how she’s been. She hears him leaving and slumping his bottom again on the couch in front of the television.
She breathes in. She feels her heart racing, and her blood rushing. She tells them to slow down. She remembers a church song:
Peace is flowing like a river,
flowing out to you and me.
His peace is flowing like a river,
flowing out to you and me.
She imagine a train chugging on its way to Sydney. She starts to think calmly: What if she leaves him, and moves on her own to Brisbane or Sydney or anywhere? She doesn’t need to be with him. He can look after himself, with his investment options and his travel-around-Australia plans.
She can be a dressmaker, in the shopping centres, maybe. That’s something she’s good at. She can do it. Why not? “Thank you, Melissa, for mending the hem of my work skirt,” they’d say. “You do an excellent job.” That would be a delight. She smiles.
Erwin Cabucos teaches English in Brigidine College, Brisbane, Australia. He was born in Carmen, Cotabato and graduated Psychology from Notre Dame University in Cotabato City. He also finished in English Education from the University of New England, Australia. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.