By MARIA PAMELA S. REYE
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.
DEATH came into my life through a text message. It had a few simple words: “Wala na si mama.”
Despite hearing the news, I went on with my daily life. As always, I woke up before the sun peeked through the horizon. I ran past other commuters piling around the streets, in hopes of catching a ride before anyone else. I needed to get to work on time. The ridiculous amount of bills being sent to my apartment was enough to distract me from the event. My mother could wait; I needed to survive.
Once I got home, I grabbed the growing pile of letters from the table and checked them one by one. There were multiple bills from my phone courier and electricity provider. Out of nowhere, a little invitation card has also found its way. It was from my college friends—they were getting married.
I snorted, marriage? A ridiculous reality I can never have. It was something I craved years ago but now that I am drowning in debt, it would be too crucial.
A loud beep echoed as I sorted out the papers. It was another message from my brother— this time it was longer.
kahit wag ka ng pumunta sa lamay. kailangan lng natin pagusapan kung ano gagawin sa bahay & gusto rin kta makita. panadaliang bisita lang, pls.
I sighed, I owed my brother a visit—he was the only one I have left.
In the end, I took a few days off and hitched a ride back to my hometown. Maybe it was time to make alms with my past.
The province made for a somber sight. Compared to the cityscape, the tall rice fields dominated the countryside. The rain poured harshly when I stepped out of the tricycle. It soaked anyone who dared to set foot on the muddy road.
I stood in front of my childhood home with a heavy heart.
I took a deep breath to alleviate the fear that was taking over me, and yet, the smell of home hit me hard. It evoked some unpleasant memories.
As I placed my bag by the entrance, I saw the familiar bamboo living room set, the red checkered curtains, and the rocking chair I used to play on as a child.
At the same time, the coffee table reminded me of how she would throw the little trinkets on it at me. Sometimes, I would find myself running from my dead father’s photo flying towards me.
I walked further down the hall and saw that the once gray unpainted walls of the kitchen have been replaced with white tiles. Even the old rumbling refrigerator was gone. All that was left was the mahogany dining set. I hated it— eating with my mother was a nightmare.
I could hear the return of a long-lost sound: my mother’s silverware clanking on the ceramic plate, the chairs creaking while she reached for the fork, her face slowly etching into a menacing look, and bits of rice tumbling out of her lips as she screamed at me to get out. “Ay nako tigilan mo ko! Tong batang to wala na nga tinutulong eh hihingi pa ng pera para sa libro niya?”
I slowly dragged my feet towards the old bedroom that I shared with my brother. When I finally entered, I see the blue paint still splattered across the walls. My eyes widened at the sight. Not much has changed, the bunk bed still stood by the window, the sheets were still the same crisp white, but the ambiance felt different. It felt empty, abandoned— as if no one has lived in it for years.
The room felt unfamiliar and yet it held so many distinct memories. It was my refuge, a safe place away from the reality that haunted me.
My train of thought halted when my brother entered. His eyes were glassy and his skin was pale. It looked like death has been toying with him as well. I have not seen him for years but he was the only one who kept in touch despite the circumstances.
Kuya sacrificed everything to keep the family afloat. Every time I held his hands they felt rough— evidence of him working odd jobs. He did this so I could continue my studies but my mother disagreed. She wanted him to flourish into a better man, but my brother was relentless. He wanted me to have a better future.
Again, the memories came flooding in. I was seventeen, a few months away from graduating when my mother finally snapped. I wanted to continue my studies in Manila and even my brother was encouraging me to do so.
“Hindi ko babayaran yang lintik mong tuition,” she said while raising her hand at me. “Kung gusto mong magkapera gayahin mo yang nanay mo! Walang alam kung ‘di bumukaka at humingi ng pera!”
“Ma!” I begged, my throat was hoarse from screaming and my body felt numb from being beaten up. Blood trickled down my face and I could feel my hair stinging from her grip. It was all too much, I just wanted to run away from her.
“Ma?! Anong ma? Hindi kita anak,” she gritted her teeth. “Ni kailan ay hindi kita tinuring na anak!”
My knees buckled when I heard her words. I was slapped by the reality I was in. I was a leech; an unwanted child. My father was probably guilt-tripped into taking me in— a child from his extravagances and disloyalty.
I clearly remember that night, in the same bedroom with my brother, I begged him to let me leave home. I could not handle the guilt, the torture, and the dismay I have been experiencing. At first, he was hesitant but he could see the desperation in my eyes. His own home was not doing any good for me, nor him, nor our mother. We were all stuck in a poisonous cycle and I wanted no relation to it whatsoever. So I packed my bags, hitched a bus to Manila and the rest was history.
Now, I’m back in the same room, but this time, with a grieving half-brother.
The moment he saw me all of his resolves broke and he started crying. His hands were shaking when he held mine and with a hoarse voice he said, “Pinabibigay ni mama b-bago siya…” I looked at the paper he gave me and a strong urge to rip it apart came unto me.
It was an old pink stationary. It had flowers, small fairies dotted with glitters, and her familiar handwriting. It was funny how she did not even bother to address my name.
Noong una kitang nakita, isang malaking sampal sa akin na hindi lang pala ako ang mahal ni Donny. May ibang babae pala. Aaminin ko, hindi kita minahal, hindi ko kinaya. Sumisikip ang dibdib ko sa kaiisip na may iba siya at ikaw ay anak ng nakasama niya. May nagawa ba akong mali? Hindi ko ba siya minahal ng sapat? Anong kasalanan ko para maghanap siya ng iba? Masaya kami bago ka dumating. Si Archie nag-aaral ng mabuti, matalinong bata ngunit sinakripisyo niya yun para sa’yo tas anong ginawa mo? Lumayas ka lang sa bahay na ito at iniwan kami! Wala ka talagang ginawang mabuti sa pamilya na ito. Alam kong ayaw mo sa akin at ayoko rin sayo ngunit, sana masaya ka na sa buhay mo. Ang munting bilin ko na lang ay alagaan mo kuya mo at wag na wag kang hahati sa pamana ko! -Rosalita
Before I knew it, I was laughing. I could not hold back and whispered to myself, “This is ridiculous.” I crumpled the paper and threw it on the floor.
My brother gave me a concerned look, he did not anticipate my reaction. He probably thought I would be a crying mess by now.
“What’s wrong?” He asked. I shook my head to dismiss him, “It’s nothing.”
The reality that hit me years ago stayed fresh in my memory, “I just really hate your mother.” F