Sunday, September 20

Who I Cradled

By PATRICK V. MIGUEL

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is one of the works in a seven-part series in line with the Dapitan 2020 theme Ina. All works that are part of the series are written by the Flame’s Letters staffers.

art by ELLA MARIE MERCADO/ THE FLAME

I was 14 and he was new to the world.

Everytime I go out with Rick, people look at me with their eyebrows arched high. I can see them gather around and mumble hurtful words about me. From behind, I hear them laugh and mock me for what I am. There is nothing I can do but let each word pass through me like painful shards. I ask myself, what is wrong with taking care of a child at this age?

As I stood inside the nursery full of toys and baby bottles, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It reflected Rick being cradled in my arms and also my appearance.

I looked ten years older—no one would have thought that I was 15. The shadows under my eyes were deep and hollow, and on my forehead were dots of swollen zits. My arms were frail like a thin bough, and my legs were spindly like matchsticks. The shirt that once fitted my body now hung loosely like a burlap sack. My hair clung to my face with sweat.

In my mind, the image reflected was a girl wearing a school uniform with arms wrapped around textbooks. Instead, it showed an exhausted woman in dismal from carrying the hardships of a mother.

I imagine it must have been what my mother looked like when I was in her arms at 15.

My mother died when I was 11 years old, and when she was buried, my dreams also went with her. With the loss of a maternal figure at a young age, I thought that I would fill the void by becoming the mother itself. It did not take long until I was the one nurturing and fostering a child like my own.

I turned my back to the mirror and placed Rick in his crib. It did not matter to me if I was tired or if I looked like a mess; when I see him peacefully dreaming, all my burdens are lifted. His eyes were still closed, but his ears were good enough to hear me singing. Every night, I tucked him in bed and made sure he was sound asleep.

I could have been studying in school, but I was confined in the house taking care of Rick. Each morning, I woke up early to prepare the bottles and milk, where instead I could have been preparing to go to school. I go out of the house with my backpack filled with baby formulas, diapers, bottles, and towels, but in another world, it could have been filled with textbooks.

The thought of what my life could have been passed my mind most of the time but I just brush it off and accept that this is my life now—I will never reach my own dreams to be more than what I am.

Time passed by, and I was right. Rick was once a child who crawled his way, but now, he is already standing on his own feet and he will grow more. I knew I had to leave him someday.

That day came, and I see Rick standing by the front door. With a suitcase by my side, I face Mrs. V and Rick. Their eyes were full of tears, but mine were only as glassy as the sky.

Being parted from Rick made my heart tighten; like a fist squeezing it hard.

Rick, now six years old, hugs me tightly. “Nana, huwag mo ‘kong iwan.” He grew up calling me Nana, and I felt my lips tug upwards.

I bent down to his level and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Kailangan ni Nana, Rick. Agsubli1 naman ako dito para bumisita. Gusto mo igatangan2 kita ng coloring book?”.

He turned his head and looked at Mrs. V. “Mama, make Nana stay, please. Magsisipag na ako at gagawin ko na homework ko, huwag lang siyang umalis.”

“Magpakabait ka ha.” I kissed his fluffy cheeks. “Huwag ka nang malungkot kasi malulungkot din ako. Gusto mo ba ‘yon? O sige na, kailangan ko nang umalis.”

I rose up and walked through the door where Mrs. V stood. Without any hesitation, I approached and hugged her tightly. “Salamat.” she whispers in my ear.

I broke free from her embrace, and picked up my suitcase. I began to leave the house and with it, also my motherly phase behind. My footsteps stride toward the path to reaching my dreams, but there is a part of me that remains hesitant.

I could hear Rick’s loud whimpers behind.

I turned and looked at them one last time. Our hands waved goodbye to each other, and after a minute I continued to walk down the road. They never saw my face after or the tears I shed as I moved forward.

I am not his mother. I am just the maid.

_____________________________

1Babalik

2Bibilhan

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