III. Ayaw paghilak kay makahilak pud ko.
After my mother left, I swore to make Papa happy. Maybe not as happy as he would have been when we were still complete. But proud and happy of the pieces of our family left with him. I promised myself I would never be the reason for his tears.
I knew Papa never loved the idea of me enrolling to a Special Program in my Junior High School. I was 13 years old that time and it was already three years since my mother left us and I thought making him proud with academic achievements was the best way for me to cope. But Papa didn’t want me to pressure myself. He had always wanted me to enjoy my life without academic responsibilities or burden. He wanted me to have a “normal life.” And it took me a few years to realize that I, my family, was not meant to have one.
Although I knew him as a quiet man, Papa talked more over the years. Most often about my mother. Whether it was through text or over merienda in his payag whenever I visited him after school, I would shiver at how angry his voice sounded.
“Unsa imong gusto, ipa-taurpalin ko nang dagway sa imohang mama kauban iyang lalake?”
Do you want me to print a tarpaulin of your mother flexing her lover?
He told me this on one of the days I went straight to his payag after training for a writing competition. I was tired that day, both from my training and from dealing with this “not normal” but “not extraordinary” family. Hearing him say those words made me feel more drained. Even when those words were true, that my mother left us for another man, I never wanted to hear those things from Papa. I was convinced that she will always be my mother regardless of everything.
At that moment I tried to think of an appropriate response for what he said. Should I agree? Should I tell him not to talk about mother that way? So I just bowed my head until my eyes gave out. I cried in silence, as I had always done in the nights where I didn’t get to sleep next to Papa or next to my mother, or even next to both. Crying in silence was not enough for all the things I felt at that time, so I sobbed without daring to look at him.
While I cried, I thought about my mother. Where was she now that her little girl is crying? Should I still call her “mama”? What should I refer to her then? It was funny how kirida and mistress became names for women who have affairs with married men. But how about a single word for widowed men who steal wives from their respective home? Was there any word that could describe how painful it is to the husbands and children to see their wives and mothers lighting up somebody else’s tahanan?
But then Papa did something unexpected, he hugged me. I stopped crying almost immediately out of shock. I could feel his dry and chapped skin against my arms, and I could smell the sweat on his faded blue loose t-shirt with little holes and ripped hem. He must have worked the whole day here in the store, I thought. And here I was adding more stress to his already tiring day.
“Anak, sorry na. Ayaw pag hilak kay makahilak pud ko,” Papa said in a voice so soft I almost didn’t hear him. Papa was not a fan of hugs or physical affection, but this hug was not the biggest shock to me. It dawned on me that no matter how sad he was about losing my mother to another man, what pained him more was seeing me lose myself in all the stress and hurt I had been feeling.
So I hugged him back in silence. The most comforting silence we had ever shared.
There were those times in my life where I have wondered a lot about my father’s behavior. Is it true that he is psychologically incapacitate, like what the annulment papers say? He could have hurt my mother. He could have left us before my mother did. But why does he always remain calm even when it hurts? How does he manage to choose peace most especially when his whole family is hurting? Papa always knew better. He knew just how to respond to how I feel, to how my mother left, and to how he could keep this family “normal.”
I knew I had to stop taking note on how he handles every situation. It was time to show him the aftermath of his responses.
IV. Nakauli na ka?
“Papa, 3rd place ko!” I called him, crying. I won 3rd Place at a SciTech Writing competition when I was in Grade 10 and about to graduate from my Special Program.
He was silent at first and I didn’t really expect any reply. Letting him know that his little girl achieved something was surely enough for me to be proud of. I was still at school that time, fixing my things in our publication office. My fellow campus journalists who also won in their different categories invited me to celebrate with them in the sugbahan in Torres, just in front of our school.
“Congrats anak, proud kaayo ko sa imo,” he finally said. I heard his voice crack on the other line. He was crying.
I cried harder. My tears were not from my achievements, but it was from the tears I heard from him. No award could equal to the satisfaction I felt. It was as if I was a child again being given all the gifts she had asked from all her relatives on Christmas. I could not ask for more.
His payag was just a five-minute walk from school, so I started to walk home. When Papa asked if I had told my mother about my win, I mumbled a yes.
Ever since I was a child, and years later when I won in writing competitions or in other school events, my mother would just reply with a simple “Congrats.” Now that she knew how to use Messenger, she would send a large thumbs up emoticon. But Papa’s bragging of our, me and my brother’s, achievements would not end there. He would spend weeks telling his friends about how I placed 1st at writing competitions and how my brother had a published article at the University of Mindanao. He never seemed to have few words when he talked about us—his family.
When Papa noticed I was not talking on the other line, he asked me what he always asked before he would end a phone call or a text conversation: Nakauli naka? Are you home?
Home. I lived in different houses because of my parents’ separation. I was already used to not going home to the same house I had slept a night before. Back then, Papa would ask me to stay with him in Catitipan, then I would come home to my brother in Ubalde the following day, but most of the time I stayed with my late grandparents. Regardless of that setup, I always knew that I was welcome in his place.
Papa was never perfect. He had his lapses and limitations. He had his share of bad times and breakdowns. But he always knew what to do. He always knew how to respond.
So when he asked that question whether I arrived home or not, I found myself just a couple of steps away from his little sari-sari store. When he saw me by the small bamboo fence, he rushed to me immediately and we shared a hug. He didn’t even wait for my response, but I was always glad for his.
“Yes, Pa. Nakauli nako.” I’m home. Pa.
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.