As the white casket where my aunt Maria now rested made its descent into the hollowed-out earth, I could not help but utter a cry I could not hear. The rest of my relatives mourned with me—my father, trembling as he did, cried the most. Sobs and wails pierced the air around us as if our mouths were not muffled by face masks and handkerchiefs.
She was a good woman and my father loved her very much. When she was still in the hospital, he made regular visits and brought her food. I even remembered how he would always prepare a hot glass of milk for my aunt Maria whenever she visited for the New Year. She was the only sibling my father spoke to since my grandparents died 20 years ago.
After the burial, we chewed on siopao and chicken burgers and drank soda out of palm-sized bottles, while the older relatives had coffee in paper cups. My father had told me to prepare a cup of coffee for him when Tito Ariel approached him. My father averted his gaze from him and folded his arms on his chest.
“‘Bro, tara,” Tito Ariel said, motioning him towards the tent a few paces behind me.
My father hesitated but then gestured to me for his coffee. I hurriedly poured the coffee granules in his cup of hot water. He took it and walked towards the tent where his remaining siblings were. He did not even stir his coffee. I could imagine the granules clumped like little islands slowly melting into the water.
For the first time in 20 years, he was reunited with his siblings. All of them sat on benches facing each other. Not one of them spoke. No one even attempted to bring down the face mask covering their mouths to speak. Until Tita Olivia, the eldest living sibling spoke.
“Let’s all just forget everything that happened in the past. It’s all behind us now.”
I heard Tito Toto snickered. I could not mistake the astig tone of his voice for anyone else.
“That’s easy for you to say. You could easily accuse me of anything but when you finally found out it was not true, parang wala na lang. As if everything is okay again. But if any of us does something that you think is ‘nasty,’ you’d want us begging on our knees for a decade before you accept a ‘sorry.’”
“She’s the oldest, ‘To. Respeto naman,” interrupted Tito Peter, the American citizen.
The bickering went on. From what I knew from eavesdropping on them through the years, there had always been a feud among the siblings. There were divisions, and where there were divisions, there were alliances, and where there were alliances, there were turncoats – and my father was sick of turncoats. So he refused to talk to them for many years. He made sure to keep his distance but continued to give help to whom he truly cared for—my Aunt Maria.
I remembered how my father would heat water in a kettle for my aunt’s glass of milk. When the kettle let out a hissing noise, it meant the water was already boiling. The water has to be really hot, my father had said then. Your aunt does not want milk curds floating on top. She wants things to look smooth, in order.
My father was known for his loud voice, he had the loudest among his siblings especially when they would watch basketball games on TV. But looking at him now with his arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes glued on his shoes, I did not know what he was thinking. He was silent despite the shouting match among his siblings.
But then Tito Peter shouted “Do you think she would want this?”
Everyone went silent as if they finally remembered why they were there.
“‘Coy,” my Tito Peter called out to my father. “Let’s put everything behind us already. Forgive your brother na. Whatever happened to the two of you in the past, let’s let it stay in the past.”
I heard my father scoff.
“Bro, I’m sorry,” Tito Ariel said chokingly.
But my father walked out. Until now, I did not know what happened between the two of them in the past. I could still remember how my Aunt Maria kept telling my father to forgive Tito Ariel but my father would always shake his head. Blood is thicker than water, whatever, he snorted.
The meeting ended after my father had left. The remaining siblings hugged and kissed each other’s cheek saying “I love you, ate. I love you kuya” before leaving like things were as normal as it could get. Some of them laughed that they weren’t able to drink their coffee because of their bickering.
“It’s not hot na,” laughed Tito Peter referring to his coffee. “We completely forgot about this.”
The other siblings laughed and I wished could have heard my father with them.
My Tita Sita went after my father and they walked away together as they spoke. They were far from me now. I imagined my aunt explaining to my father about the importance of talking as a family while my father would just scoff at her. But to my surprise, my father put his face mask down to his chin and spoke. I could not understand what my father was saying but whatever it is, I could hear the slightest hint of his famous loud voice like a hissing kettle. I guess that was enough eavesdropping for now.
Liane Carlo Suelan is a HUMSS graduate from the Ateneo de Davao University – Senior High School. He was also the Literary Editor of the Blue Bridge 2019-2020 and a fellow at the Davao Writers Workshop 2019. He is an incoming freshman of BA Literature in the University of the Philippines Visayas.