I was walking down the unfamiliar streets of Ecoland at 10 PM, when I finally answered my mother’s phone call. I had missed nine calls from her.
“Asa na ka? Pagdali na kay nag-inom imong Papa,” my mother told me with conviction in her voice.
I shivered at the tone of her voice and the thought that my father was drunk once again. When Papa was drunk, we should all be at home, either asleep or doing our usual evening routine. He would start acting like a teacher—checking the attendance of his students. After all, he was my first teacher who taught me how to be a good daughter by always choosing to be with my family no matter what.
I walked towards the bus station, unable to find a jeep. As I waited for our bus to depart, I thought about my groupmates whom I left with tons of work to do. We were all cramming to pass our Movie Trailer for our Literature subject that was due before midnight. I did not want to leave them but I had no choice. I had a greater deadline from a more terrifying teacher.
It was already a quarter to 11 when the bus driver started the engine and readied to go. My mind pondered on the things that might happen if Papa would home before me. He might not let me go to school the next morning, just like when I accidentally broke the left-side mirror of his motorcycle when I was in Grade 6. He would bring up that memory, and other memories of me letting him down, whenever he was drunk.
He never congratulated me whenever I get an academic award nor did he utter a simple “Kaya mo yan!” whenever he would see me studying in our sala. Every quarter of the school year, I always had a certificate to show to him how I was achieving academically in school things but there was never a hint of a smile on his face that would tell me he was pleased.
The remarkable thing about Papa when he was drunk was that he would always bring burgers and fries from Jollibee for us. I never knew the real reason why he always did that but I could only assume that maybe, by bringing home a snack bought from my favorite fastfood chain, he would catch a glimpse of the child who used to run out of the house whenever she heard the sound of his motorcycle.
At the corner of our kanto, I saw Papa waiting for me with a cellophane full of Jolibee snacks hanging from the side mirror of his motorcycle. That moment, I prayed he would treat me like the daughter he always played chess with. I asked for his hand for a mano, but he suddenly slapped me on the face.
“Gago kang bataa ka! Ganina rako naghulat diri. Unsa kang klase…” my father barked, furious at me for going home late.
The rancid smell of alcohol and cigarettes welcomed my nostrils. I touched the part of my face where his large hand had been. There were warm tears, like acid, which burned my face. I never thought that my father would ever lay his hands on me. He never beat nor hit me before.
I tried to calm myself as I sat at the back part of his motorcycle. I did not grasp his shirt nor hugged him for support like I did when I was younger where I hung on to him for dear life, not because of fear from falling off, but because I wanted to be always close to him.
My father waited for me at the right corner of our sala. He told me to sit down and offered me lousy and cold fries. We were silent for a moment. I stared at his dark complexion and sad eyes.
“Unsa na oras? Ngano dugay ka niuli?” he asked why I went home late.
“Nagbuhat man gud mi’g project. Unya na dayon ang deadline. Daghan kayo mi’g gibuhat. Kung di nako to mapasa, basig mabagsak ko,” I answered, explaining how busy we were in college.
“Sige nalang ka’g eskwela. Wa na kay oras diri sa balay. Pangutan-on taka. Unsa ang mas importante? Ang imong pag-eskwela o kami na imung pamilya?”
Tears began to fall from his eyes. What was more important, family or school? Did I have to choose? I thought by choosing to be great at school, I was choosing my family by making them proud.
I had never seen my father cried before. The image of his tears falling down from his cheeks weighed heavy in my chest. I started crying. I realized that I’ve been preoccupied with my studies that I’ve forgotten how to communicate with the people at home. I recalled all the times that we shared together back when I was younger. Montage of images, our memories together, ran through my mind. I remembered how excited I was every time he came back from his work, how we used to play my kitchen set together and how he taught me to play chess games. I even remembered one time, when I was five years old, when my Lola tied me outside our house. I refused to get inside because I was waiting for him to come home. It felt like a thousand of years had passed since I felt close to him.
I said my apology for going home late. He said sorry for slapping me earlier and explained that he was just afraid that something might happened to me on the streets. I just nodded, making him believe I understood what he had done. Part of me wanted to tell him it was not fair for me to choose between them and my studies because I didn’t know which one to choose. But I kept my silence, hoping that this very moment would not be one of the memories he would bring up again when he would be drunk.
Catherine Llego is a graduate of Davao City National High School and is currently studying BA Literature and Cultural Studies in the University of Southeastern Philippines.