Since I came home to Davao for the holidays, Trixie and I have had this ritual of afternoon walks along Mama’s front yard. Trixie’s chocolate point fur and icy blue eyes seem to catch our neighbor’s attention, especially the children. It is an understatement to say that she easily became the darling of the crowd in the subdivision where my mother lives.
But she is more special to Mama’s eyes than any of her pets at home.
She has easily become her baby in a span of weeks since we arrived from Manila. She probably knows that the woman feeding her is my mother. Maybe, cats can smell that too, just like how they know their own kittens by their scent. Mama refuses to give her any dry cat food. She believes it’s harmful for the cat’s kidneys. Instead, she mashes some boiled squash and minces chicken meat for Trixie.
“You used to like this when you were a baby, Raymond,” Mama recalls while she blows the newly boiled squash. “I also used to mash sweet potatoes when squashes were expensive. They were your favorite too!”
Since then, the two have become inseparable. Most afternoons, Trixie keeps her company in her bed having siesta. And at night, she is Mama’s TV buddy while watching her favorite Ang Probinsyano for another episode of Cardo overcoming another near-death experience. Maybe, Cardo was a cat in his past life too.
For a 28-year-old man like me, I have countlessly used Trixie as my response for the undying question thrown at me in family gatherings: “kailan ka magkakapamilya?” Doesn’t family come in all shapes and forms? But how can I tell that to an elderly aunt or uncle stuck with an antiquated idea of what a family is? So, I seldom join family gatherings to save me from lengthy unsolicited advice of having to raise another human being in a country where living costs tons of money none of them are willing to pay anyway. Besides, that is just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t know Mama’s only son is gay.
“You never really liked cats when you were young, Raymond. I know you strayed Mingming away when you were 13 because you didn’t like it taking cat naps on your favorite shirts in the closet,” she says, breaking the afternoon silence while holding Trixie’s leash in one of our afternoon walks.
“What a terrible liar I was! Sorry Ma!” I laugh.
The sunset bleeds the sky orange. Davao’s horizon is kinder than the concrete jungle in Manila, where looking up to the sky is a luxury to do. In Manila, every second counts for a cog in a machine, but here in Davao, time breaths. Mama’s face is glowing, being hit by the gentle sunlight. Her wrinkles growing visible; her smile radiating.
“Uy, Trixie not those!” she giggles as she carries Trixie away from chewing the snake plant near the gate.
I grab the cage and let Trixie in. Her blue eyes are begging for me to set her free.
“Bukas na naman tayo labas. Mama’s plants are precious, Trixie. You shouldn’t be eating those,” I promise her while handing some cat treats in her bowl.
“Your father was the one who loved plants,” Mama says while cutting the plant’s edge where Trixie bit. “When he was courting me, he never gave me a bouquet of flowers. For him, it was foolish to kill a plant just to show affection. So, he gave me a pot of succulents instead,” she also reveals that Papa was the one propagating the succulents he gave to her.
“Your father changed me, Raymond. Well, love did,” she chuckles, hiding the tone of nostalgia in her voice. “And having these plants around reminds me of him even if he’s gone,” she adds.
“I miss him too, Ma.”
Papa was one of the doctors in Davao who contracted and succumbed to Covid when the pandemic ravaged the country in April 2020. Although it has been two years since his death, there was never a day I regretted not coming back home to grieve with Mama. Flying back to Davao was impossible then. All flights were canceled. The pandemic robbed me the chance to finally say to my father who I am. So now, I will not let it slip away.
The dusk settles in. The lamppost in the village starts to light up the street.
“I know what we’ll have for dinner. Spaghetti! Your favorite!” Mama announces, lightening up the mood, and rushes to the kitchen.
“Si Rick, Ma.”
My voice halts Mama from walking any further. She turns and looks at me.
“Si Rick. He gave Trixie to me as a gift,” I confess.
“Anak nga kita. Nagmana ka nga sa akin,” she teases and hugs me. She sits on the couch with me.
She later knew that Rick and I have been together for almost a year now, and I have been meaning to tell her all along. She also knew that I met Rick in the same company I’m working in Manila. And he will be coming over for the holidays to meet Mama, too.
“Disappointed? Why would I be?” she asks surprisingly. Her forehead curls.
“Your only son is … this. And I can’t give you any apo.” My voice softens, embarrassed with what I just said. My aunts’ faces suddenly flash in my mind, whispering the embarrassment that I am.
“Trixie. She’s my apo.”
Mama holds my hands and hugs me.
“And I don’t care what they say,” she assures me.
“As long as you’re happy. Are you?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
Never thought the day would finally come for me to know how it feels to breathe freely. I hug Mama tightly.
“Well, then, that’s all I need to know.”
She kisses me on my cheek.
I follow her to the kitchen where she asks me to help her prepare our dinner while Trixie patiently waits in her cage.
December night’s cool breeze creeps in the house, but I could only taste the sweetness of Mama’s newly cooked spaghetti filling my stomach and my heart full and warm.
Gilford is a graduate of the BA English (Creative Writing) program of UP Mindanao. He is currently teaching creative writing and literature courses to high school students in a Montessori school in Quezon City. While doing so, he’s also studying his master’s degree in history at UP Diliman.