“You’re going back to your hometown today?” A woman whom I consider as my best friend raised her voice as she asked. “For how long?"
The two of us easily made our way through the unusually bare street of Pedro Gil as we headed to the LRT station. It was nice to slowly drag our heels without much worry if we would be bumping into people; which helped alleviate the fatigue we felt from working as instructors in a university.
There were less honking of horns and less black smoke belched into the air.
If only everyday went like this.
“I know you wanna check up on your mother, but you could use this time to rest up as well. You’ve been such a workaholic these days, it’s not like we’re getting a raise anytime soon.” It was my friend’s turn to tap hers as well. “Well, it must be nice to take a vacation leave to go back to the province, huh? I don’t have one to go back to, so it’s all smokes and trashes for me here in Manila.”
“Oh come on, it’s not as if it’s all rainbows and butterflies there.” I said matter-of-factly.
“Wait, wait!” She stepped in front of me. “Do you think your childhood friend would still be there?”
“What childhood friend? I had no friends.”
“You know, the crazy one! The one who was hallucinating! Omg, you should take care, he might still go cray-cray on you!”
Perhaps I can be considered lucky; as I have been able to eat three times a day for as long as I can remember.
The only let-down is that my childhood memories are nothing to be fond of. I mean, I lost my father at such a young age. It also did not help that my mother was busy with work, so our older cousin ended up taking care of us instead. Well, despite being busy, our mother was actually able to show a lot of love and care; just not to me, but towards my younger sister, Cecilia.
Inay said that she saw our departed father in Cecilia’s eyes – that’s why for the most part of my childhood, sadness and envy towards my sister governed me.
It can’t be helped that I was a little bit rebellious that time, as I was just trying to get the attention of our mother. I would normally be outside playing despite the sun setting hours ago, and I would normally be scolded for disobeying her.
Aside from that, I always was the center of fights – I was always involved in squabbles with other kids. It would sometimes get so bad that even other children’s parents are already telling me off, saying how I had a bad attitude, especially for a girl.
Not even a second was wasted as I immediately grabbed my luggage. I went straight to the bus terminal and flashed my ticket for the kundoktor to inspect before letting me through. I was able to board the bus with no worries at all. Good thing I bought my ticket early last week.
I tried to catch my breath as I sat down. I quickly pulled out my phone and glanced at the time. It should still be ten minutes before the provincial bus would depart.
I continued to stare at my phone for no reason at all. I just said goodbye to Marcie and she wouldn’t have been able to contact me right away since she was probably already walking through the unsafe streets of Tondo.
It was not too soon after I decided to put my phone away when the bus engine roared and the images outside the window moved. I sighed a little as memories continued to flow in my head like that of a peaceful river.
And because I was always anxious, lonely, and misunderstood, I was often accompanied by myself. Well, except when I was with Andres.
He was the only son of Mang Tino and Aling Sabel, the owners of the biggest store in town.
We met one day when I joined the yearly Palarong Pinoy competition, where kids duke it out against one another as they played traditional Filipino games like patintero, tiyakad, sangkayaw, and many more.
Sungka was the last game then, which was a count and capture game that involved dropping of cowrie shells into a large wooden canoe-shaped playing surface.
Andres and I faced-off in the Sungka finals where I came out as the victor. He couldn’t accept his loss to an ordinary kid like me – and a girl at that – so he would always come and visit me at our house in his attempts to defeat me in the said game.
The goddess of victory never smiled at him.
It was almost two hours into the road when the thoughts of my childhood friend fluttered by. Everything that happened became clearer I drew closer to our hometown; it was as if the memories stained by time were slowly being brought back to their original colors.
I didn’t know why, but I could not help but revisit those memories that I tried to forget for the longest time now.
We played every day, from after school until sunset. We also talked about a lot of things – how our day went, what we ate, our thoughts on various things, and even what we felt as we went through our day.
I could say that our friendship grew deeper as time went by… That is until my 15th birthday came.
I celebrated my birthday with my family, and once the merriment was done, I noticed that there was a faint rustling of the leaves behind our house. I went to where the sound was coming from and saw Andres silently waving at me with a flashlight in hand and a playful smile on his face.
I hurriedly went over our fence and went after him into the woods. After I caught up with him, he mentioned that he saw something peculiar and he wanted to show it to me as a gift. We unfortunately got lost in there for a few hours so I never got to see his gift.
The clock already struck midnight when we were found by the townsfolk, they mentioned that they found us unconscious on the floor.
That time, I had thought that it was only Andres whom they were looking for as he was the son of a rich couple. I was shocked to find that even my own mother was worried sick – there was a mix of sweat and tears when she hugged me tight that night.
I walked on the dirt road while dragging my luggage along.
I stood by an old wooden door before taking out my keys. I chose the head with pointy edges and inserted it into the keyhole before turning the knob slowly.
I went inside and saw my mother with a needle and thread in one hand and a piece of cloth in the other.
“I’m home, ‘nay.” I offered a hand and she extended hers. I pressed the back of her hand against my forehead before giving her a quick hug. “How are you feeling now?”
I missed her. It’s been quite some time since we last saw each other or since I last heard from her, especially since she was not too fond with the technological advances in terms of communication like social networking sites.
“Still under the weather, but I’m feeling better now. Especially since our family is whole again, even for a few days.” A smile formed from her wrinkly mouth. “Right, honey?”
Inay broke away from our hug and glanced at the picture frame by the living room that held the photo of our beloved tatay.
Well, her beloved husband. I don’t remember him as he passed away even before I could remember. I ‘m not sure how I can love someone that I don’t remember, but I am forever grateful to him for the love and care he gave to our mom and for letting me come into this world. Oh and Cecilia too.
Upon seeing Inay with more color in her face, my heart was filled with much joy. However, it was short-lived as my mood sank when I saw a photo of me sitting in the middle of Andres and Cecilia.
Oh how fast those seven years went by.
My life took a one-eighty then. It was as if something changed within me .The way I went along with other people improved as well. I became more responsible and stopped running away from household chores we as well as my homework.
However, that was also the start of Andres acting and talking weirdly. He described a world opposite that of ours, where spectacular and horrendous creatures lived.
Even before he said further details on it, I already refuted them.
Andres kept trying to convince me of his story but it was to no avail. In the end I decided that everything he talked about, all that he said he experienced… was all in his head.
As we grew older, we drifted apart. Until came a time when I moved to Manila and lived in a dorm as I studied and eventually worked there.
What I never fathomed was why each denial that came from my mouth left me with a heavy feeling in my heart.