I was 9 years old when Kuya Mai passed away. He was my uncle but we call him Kuya Mai. A month before he was sent to the hospital, a fish bone was stuck in his throat. After that incident, I was so careful every time I eat fish that I even separate the bones of anchovies before eating so that I’ll not be sent to the hospital like him.
Kuya Mai had some peculiar things going on on his body. There were giant pimples growing on his legs. He occasionally let us- his nieces and nephews prick his giant pimples and he would say that the thick yellowish fluid that comes out is uric acid. That time, I have no idea what a uric acid is. To my eyes it was disgusting but I still participated as I don’t want to be left out. Kuya Mai loved kids. For a man who never got married, it was quite a wonder. During his trips from local seminars and trainings he would bring us goodies. He called those goodies “secret”. Most of the time it is a Nestlé made chocolate- a Kisses, Hersheys or a Gandour chocolate called Safari. Childishly, I secretly wished him to be always out-of-town so that when he came back he would bring us lots of “secret”. Sometimes he would bribe us with “secret” to massage his head or legs.
Kuya Mai was very fond of teasing us. He made odd nicknames for us that he found amusing. He called me “Dang-its”. He named my brother “P-borts” and my cousin Vj, “Vjirito”. We were the youngsters hanging around at that time. After he passed away no one ever called us those names again. When Kuya Mai is not drunk and partying, he spent most of his time at the house playing board games. He loved playing Scrabble. His Scrabble buddy is “Mana Cherry”, his cousin and my aunt. Innately curious, I would peek at the scoreboards and found Kuya Mai always leading. I sometimes wonder why Mana Cherry likes to play with him as she lost most of the time. Maybe it was because of Kuya Mai’s presence. He exuded an air of mystery- a way of drawing people in. When he was still alive, I remember having lots of visitors at my lola’s house during town fiesta. Most of the visitors were his colleagues and friends. The visitors would linger even after midnight- singing, dancing and drinking. Kuya Mai would be the leader of it all and sometimes in his drunkenness he would end up sleeping in the sala or in extreme cases on the floor.
After my lolo whom we call “tatay” passed away, Kuya Mai partly became the head of the huge family. The family is composed of 12 children plus 1 adopted child and an increasing number of “apo” or grandchildren. Kuya Mai was one of the rocks in the family, the “kuya” of everyone. He authored the annual family Christmas party where we would all gather to give thanks and celebrate Christ’s birth through sharing blessings and having a fun Christmas program and games. He also played the role of being the peacemaker, the fixer every time there is a family crisis. One memory I had of him that I would always remember was when my mother’s sister and I were practicing my declamation piece for the “Tuklas ng Talino”, a talent show conducted by my school every October, Kuya Mai stormed out of his room and reprimanded me for being not passionate enough for the piece. He performed the piece after that and I was awestruck with his performance. Later, my aunt told me that the piece that I performed was Kuya Mai’s original composition.
The day Kuya Mai was sent to the hospital in Davao City we were all sad. I remembered my mother’s words clearly. She told us not to worry for he would come back soon and would be strong and healthy again. I believed in my mother’s words for I was sure that death would tremble at Kuya Mai for he was a force to be reckoned with. A month passed and Kuya Mai was still in the hospital. We did not miss him so much though for his presence was written all over Nanay’s house. His collection of wine glasses were displayed in the cabinet and so as his posters. His potted antique jars were also decorated all over the place. The sala that he bought was there, my cousins and brother’s favorite hangout space.
When the day came that he would finally leave the hospital, we were all very excited. After my class, I immediately went home and took part in the preparation of his arrival. The kitchen was very busy. My aunts were cooking his favorite snack called “Tabudlo”. It is a dessert soup made up of sweet potatoes, coconut milk and sugar. Others were cleaning every inch of the house. Nightfall came and Kuya Mai have not arrived yet. By dawn, I heard one of my aunts weeping. I had no idea what was going on. I thought it was weird to cry when Kuya Mai would arrive anytime. When he finally arrived, all of my aunts went inside the house. No one bothered to go out and fetch him. I was annoyed. On my way to the ambulance my aunt stopped me. I told her that I was going to fetch Kuya Mai. “Kuya Mai is now resting with God.” she replied, her voice cracking.
Kuya Mai’s funeral was not gloomy. The house was filled with flowers and serene music was played every night. The house was always full of people. Everybody was sad and sorry saying that it was too early for him to leave this world. He was 46 years old at that time.
More than ten years later, I already graduated and is now working in the bank, I took the time to write everything I remember about him so that my nieces and nephews that were not able to meet him would know him even in memory. Although his life was short, it is worth remembering. He had a huge heart to everyone, he was a loving brother, a kind uncle, and a multi-talented man who lived a full life. I bet in heaven, he is a writer.
In his notebook that we found he wrote: “I wish to write you a letter as long as the creek. We once traced with stories of my childhood. The stories that etched themselves in the river’s current. There is no telling where the murky brew will take my stories. I wish that it could catch up within the light of day before my dreams become vapors that escape from the river’s mouth.”
Abi Andoy is a student every Saturday and a worker every weekday. She is from Surigao.