It was the same routine every day since the community quarantine started: I would wake up to an empty house since my brother and mother had left for their 12-hour-shift jobs; I would open our remaining ayuda of canned sardines for my brunch; and I would pass by the picture of my father in our living room, a lit candle beside the picture frame, and mutter “I miss you.”
My father used to be the breadwinner of our family. During the day, he was a vendor of noodles, cigarettes, candies and chips along the sidewalks of Tapa King in front of Davao Doctors’ Hospital. His usual customers are DDC students or DDH nurses and tricycle drivers who worked the night shift. He usually sells these goods until 3:00 in the morning but can go as further as 6:00 AM. He would tell me that he doesn’t go home until he is sure that his earnings are enough to pay his loans, provide for our basic needs and for my allowance in school. During the lockdown, I wanted to apply for a job to help my mother and brother in our daily expenses. But instead, I was forced to be stuck here inside our house, merely lying down on my bed each day and staring at walls.
Our house was not actually a house for me. It was a small flat just along Malvar Street, one of the busiest streets in the city since was along one of the busiest hospitals in the city. My groupmates in my grade 12 research always tried to persuade me to do our research in my house since it was the nearest from our school. I always refused. “Dili man to balay. It’s not a home, just walls and a roof.”
The walls in our house were dirty. It was filled with vandals I made when I was a child. Growing up, I would call them my own version of graffiti, even when my squiggles looked different from the graffiti on the facade of the abandoned Durian Hotel, on the steel walls of several construction sites, and along the streets of V. Mapa. While those works were full of color and style, mine was written using black or blue markers, and some were written with crayons only. And while most of the graffiti writers compress each letter to another, making little to no space between them, mine was written with gaps in between letters which looked like they wobbled on the walls.
Most of the vandals I had written was the word Nakaraan which meant past. I had written that same word in different colors of crayons and in different fonts on the wall. I remember writing this word since it was flashed every beginning of a TV episode. Apart from Nakaraan, I noticed the word “The End” was also written in some parts of the walls.
My father said he never repainted it because it served as a remembrance of my work when I was a child. A few months before he died last November of 2019, my mother and I wanted to repaint them.
“Hugaw-hugaw lang man ni sa atong balay. And these writings serve no purpose. Why keep them?” My mother grunted at my father as she traced the squiggly lines of my writings, my graffiti.
But since my father really admired my weird writings, I never got ashamed of it. When my relatives came to visit Davao for vacation and started to ask about the writings, I told them that I really loved writing and I hoped to write a script for film someday. I was deeply in love with TV series and films while I was growing up because I only had our small TV to keep me company while my parents and brother were out for work. They never stopped working after all. Mahirap maging mahirap, my parents would always say.
I was excited the first time I went to a cinema together with my family to watch Spiderman. My mother did not talk that much then. I believed it was my father who forced her to use a portion of his earnings from selling chips and candies just so he could let me watch a movie. I could not help myself from getting excited when I stepped on the soft carpeted floors of the movie theatre. My mouth hung open at the blue lights bordering the steps of the staircase until finally, the big white wall, where the film would be projected, left me stunned. I never though this big wall is where movies are created. Who knew walls could tell stories? At that moment, when I was seven years old, I wanted to become a filmmaker.
And my father gave me all the support I needed: he bought me DVD copies of the award-winning films, assembled stereo speakers to give more cinematic mood, and adjusted the colour of our television just to give me the best experience. I could never forget my excitement every time a new episode of “Honesto”, “May Bukas Pa” and “100 Days to Heaven” was released every night after dinner; my joy whenever my father bought me CDs of cartoons and Disney films along the sidewalks of Ilustre; the satisfying smell of a cheap felt-tip pen and the creaking sound that the marker creates every time I wrote words on our walls as if they were show credits of a film I had created.
When I was in 12th grade, I learned that a degree in film or art is only offered by private universities and colleges here in Davao City. Universities that I knew we could not afford. My father gave me the best support I could ever ask from him—the opportunity to take the qualifying exam for a prestigious university that offered film studies, hoping that I would pass for a full scholarship. He even paid for the exam fee after a week of him going home at six in the morning.
My father was eager to let me study at the university where he once worked together with my mama. Both of my parents were cooks at the ADDU canteen, which is now commonly called as “Caf.” Right after I took the test, I heard him call his friend to borrow some money to prepare for my enrolment because he knew for sure that he would be paying again for the Medical Exams. Even though the results are not yet released, he was so sure I could ace the test.
“Paningkamotan nalang namo, nak. Buhataon namo tanan namong makaya,” he had said to me on the day I asked him to sign the parents’ consent for me to become a participant for a research congress.
He always said he would do his best to support me and that is why he never stopped working. And so I became busy with my academic works. I spent a whole week conducting the In-depth Interviews and Focus Group Discussion together with my groupmates, fully unaware that it would be the last week when I could still see my father.
On the day he died, I was on my way to a computer shop, hoping I could finish my school projects despite my drained brain. Before I left our house, my father called out to me.
“Nak! Asa ka? Naa pa ka’y kwarta? Naa’y 100 oh!”
I pursed my lips before I could reply. How could I ask money from him when he had not sold in his mini-store for three days now? I looked at him while he was sitting on our wooden bench. His back was hunched over his wallet as if he were digging for treasure.
“Naa pa man. No need, pa!” I replied before I hurriedly left. Perhaps that was his last money. I saw his wide smile, as if in relief, after I responded. How I hated my last words to him. If only I knew that hours later, our family group chat would notify me a dozen times. Each bell sound from the messenger sounded like church bells. I froze at the sound.
Si Tatay Roger gidala sa ospital, di daw kahinga!
I hurried to the Davao Doctors’ Hospital ER when I found out my father had a hard time breathing. He was given streptokinase and was advised to get treated at the ICU. The rest of the hours felt like a montage: my father gasping for air like he was drowning in the hospital bed; nurses, looking like ghosts, rushing in and out of the room to give him more shots of epinephrine, my mother holding on to me for dear life as if she would fall flat to the floor if I let her go. You have never stopped working, pa. I thought and I cried. He really had not stopped working. For me.
My father did not respond after the 10th epinephrine and was declared dead at 5:00 PM due to Sudden Cardiac Death secondary to ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction High Lateral Wall Type 1. Why I memorized this, I did not know. I repeat these words in my mind as if it were a script I had memorized just so I have words to give whenever people asked why he died. I did not have words to explain that too. And whenever I went home to our house without my father anymore, the words Nakaraan and The End on my walls seemed to throb.
I still managed to write and sequence the clips and narrations during “Lantaw,” a documentary film-making activity in our Creative Nonfiction class. It was the only way I could keep my mind off my father. Since he died, I cancelled my plan of buying a DSLR Camera, a decent laptop that would have Adobe or Sony Vegas applications that I was supposed to use in making videos for my college years. I knew for sure my mother could not afford to send me to a prestigious university despite her working overtime as a in a fast-food chain across Davao Doctors’ Hospital, and despite my brother who receives quite a good pay from an automotive shop.
It was not only my father who died, my dream of becoming a filmmaker died with him. My high hopes of achieving my childhood goal became blurry, like a defected camera that could not focus. I remember my mother asking if I had already submitted my requirements for the state university I would be attending instead. I checked my e-mail to view the requirements. One mail thread caught my attention—an e-mail from Film Editing Pro which I subscribed last 2018. They offered me a great deal for a limited time offer inclusive of cinematic video clips, audio effects, visual effects, templates, tutorial lessons, software, and the most amazing thing was a webinar together with some of the film editors of Universal Studios.
My hands suddenly became wet and I had the urge to tell my mother about this opportunity for film, but as I looked at her, I also saw the wall with Nakaraan and The End behind her. I felt trapped. I did not have the materials to install the software not money for the registration fee. I flashed one last look at the writings on the wall and the glint of joy I had when I was writing them. The thing about vandals is they would always remind you of how free you were to express yourself while you were writing them. Now, they were just a reminder of that self that dared to express. The self that dared to dream.
Another day with the same routine. But this time, after I passed by my father’s portrait, I traced my hand over the writings on our wall—the wall that my father never repainted so I could continue to dream of the films I would create and the stories I would write. The death of my father was not the death of my dreams. Because if I could still feel my father, no matter how far he is, I am sure that the child who wrote these writings on the wall, never left. My father was a big part of my nakaraan but I know he would forever be with me until the end.
I stared at the four walls around me and noticed a blank part. I found a cheap marker pen in my desk, took it, and wrote “Coming Soon.”
Gary Barela is a graduate of Humanities and Social Sciences (Batch Amihan) from Davao City National High School