My father doesn’t talk much. And when he does, he only replies. I gather those replies growing up, thinking this was how he shows me he cares for me—a sort of reciprocity for the things I say to him.
I. I-text ko kung nakauli naka.
Ever since I was 10, I didn’t live with Papa and Mama anymore. He had to move out after their separation where he lived at Catitipan, and I stayed with my late grandparents at Lanang. And though I lived far away from him, I was always comforted with the thought that every time I told him I was leaving, he would reply with this gentle reminder: let me know when you’re home.
His hidden payag and sari-sari store has been Papa’s source of income for more than a decade now. At an early age, I learned the names of the popular network providers, Smart, TalkNText, Globe, TM, and Sun, before I even memorized the multiplication table. In honor of his two children, he named the store after my older brother and I: Leboi and Pipai’s Store. His store has been a tambayan to some and a home for the many, especially among those who work in call centers and stores along Torres and V. Mapa.
On the day of his 46th birthday, when I was on my way to a small room my brother and I shared at Garcia Heights, the rain started pouring. The noise of the raindrops on the trapal roof of tricycles made me think of how heavy rains scared me when I was young. Not because of the deafening thunder but my father’s voice. What scared me the most is how he would respond to what those rainy days brought – flood. When the water would begin to gather outside our store, he would curse merciless private vehicles who would pass on the road in front of us causing flood water to splash towards our direction. I was too scared of his loud voice to realize that after he had cursed the cars, he would always ask me if my brother and I were safe.
Papa would scratch the back of his head while looking at the lower surface of the tindahan turning into soft mud from hard soil. He would start ranting about how he was going to clean his store the following day: picking up pieces of trash buried in mud, washing the mud stains off of the wooden chair, enduring the muddy floor that buried his feet in every step. As a child, I had to listen to all of those, not knowing how to help him with anything. Up to this moment, I am still clueless on how I should have responded: both to how the flood thrashes our store and to how Papa felt helpless in fixing the store—the home he built for us.
Growing up, while I watched Papa absorbed all the dust, street noises, heat of the sun, and other people’s criticisms while he was starting to build his sari-sari store, I also watched Mama build her whole career. Back then, she worked as a General Secretary of a famous insurance company. I remember entering her office, feeling like it was a mall during Christmas season: everything was white, sparkling, and jolly. My voice would echo from calling my brother across the table. Their pantry never ran out of food – jelly ace, Oishi Prawn Crackers, Moby, viands, and a lot more; their chairs have wheels, they have unlimited hand sanitizer with the dispenser against the wall that appeared to be so high for a 7-year-old.
While my father had to scrape mud from the old wood which he would use to build the little payag, my mother never had to scrub the floors of their office since it was mopped by a janitor every day. These are the places where they spend 8-10 hours of their lives, working. And us? We waited for them to come home.
I never saw any one of them less just because of what they do. I love them both equally, but I feared Papa more. He is silent most of the time, not because he wants to remain that way, but because he was used to not having anyone to talk to. Papa grew up with his grandparents where the household considers talking about what they feel as a crime. Nonetheless, he made sure that my brother and I were always heard. And I was always thankful for that.
II. Naa man lagi mo diri?
Ever since my mother left us for another man, the man he met in her clean and white office, Papa always asked us why we were there in the payag with him, and not with Mama.
After he found out about my mother’s infidelity, he chose to stay in the payag with my brother and me. Coming from a broken family, he did not want us to experience what he had gone through. When my mother left us, I was just nine and my brother was 11. Old enough to come home from school by ourselves, but young enough to decide where to celebrate the holidays.
While we still stayed together in the payag, Mama would intentionally go out of the room and sit under the coconut tree outside the house. She would be found giggling at her phone with the man on the other line. I knew my mother was already too deeply in love with that man to make her remember that this little family existed. Her little family existed.
Afraid that he might not take it and might end up hurting her, Papa left. The memory of him packing his clothes while Wency Cornejo’s Hanggang played in the background is still clear to me. It was the last time I have seen them together in the same room.
Reggie Faye is from Los Amigos, Tugbok, Davao City. She is a freshman from University of the Philippines – Mindanao, under the degree program Bachelor of Arts in English (Creative Writing). She graduated from Davao City National High School, where she took up the Special Program in Journalism during her Junior High School and the Humanities and Social Sciences (HUMSS) strand in her Senior High School.