Monday, October 13, 2014

The sorry boy

It was still dark, but with a faint hint of the coming dawn. A slight mist was hovering all over the surrounding, and the early calls of the roosters were heard from a distant farm. I stepped out of the porch and in a corner I saw my nephew's bike. I went back inside, picked up my phone, a white towel, and a bottle of water from the fridge. I tucked them all in a small bag, heaved it on my back, and quickly mounted the bike. 

The breeze was hitting my face fiercely as I sped up along the deserted road. I looked up and saw dark clouds swirling as the last remaining stars slowly fade into the threatening morning. My head was pounding, the way it has been since the day before, and the day before that, and the other one, and the previous one. The pain in my legs shot up as an uphill drive made it difficult to pedal. 

After a stretch of fishponds and trees lining up the roadsides, the entrance to the cemetery came to view. A few meters of bend with overgrown grass and you can already see the mausoleums, the arches containing family names, white crosses, and empty faced angels in a sprawling land of graves. 

My destination was a bit further in. But even from afar, I can already see the familiar white tomb. Once there, I dismounted the bike and left it standing on its own. 

Softly, I ran my fingers at the surface of the white tomb and felt the dusts and the cold bitter night that went through it. I sat flat in the pavement in front of the gravestone. I couldn't remember how long it has been - three minutes, ten, or twelve - I was staring at the name inked in a golden thread until my eyes went blurry. I couldn't breathe. My chest felt like it was going to explode. I realized I was crying very hard, so hard that the entire cemetery sat in silence to listen. 

He was my best friend, my grandfather. When I was a kid, he was superman to me. He would make me anything, anything I desire: a swing, a wooden train, a sling, drums, a tree-house. I remember how he would always tie my shoe laces, how his gentle hands would put a towel at my back as I ran around that small church in Pasay where we used to live. His crisp commanding voice, the smell of his pomade, and that golden tooth that peers whenever he smiles encouragingly at me.

When my cousins would not let me in their games [because I was the youngest and I always destroy whatever they were doing], I would run into him, crying. He would scold them, sometimes beat them up, and he would carry me away in his arms telling me not to cry and that everything will be fine. Afterwards he would buy me any candy I would fancy. He would play with me for hours and hours while patiently answering every stupid childish question I throw at him. 

In the afternoon, he would force me to sleep. And despite my relentless protest, he would carefully run his fingers in my hair while singing his familiar Igorot folk songs. At night, when I'm too scared to go to the bathroom, he would patiently come with me and wait until I'm finished. Whenever I see large spiders, or flying cockroaches, he would kill them, smashing them in his old slippers. 

I remember how he always told me that I have nothing to be afraid of the dark. That I'm brave. That I have to be brave. Because brave runs in the family. 

Fifteen years after and I'm still running towards him as helpless as that kid I used to be. Fifteen years and, still, I can't muster the brave boy he wanted me to be. 

"Sorry," I said. Sorry because I still fail at many things. I still get rejected the way my cousins did then. And I'm still scared of monsters, of spiders, and of the dark. 

"I'm sorry," I said. Because I was crying. Because I'm weak. And because I couldn't be like him.

I always wanted to be like him, my grandfather. He was a warrior. He survived the Japanese war as a guerilla. He always held his head high, chin always up, chest beaming with confidence. Even in sickness, he went through it gallantly, staring into my eyes like putting up a final lesson on how to handle pain with pride and honor. 

As the morning broke, in between hiccups and tears, I finished telling my grandfather what happened. I stared more into his quiet tomb as if waiting for it to give me words of comfort, or maybe any sign that he could be listening. Nothing came.

I crawled above the white tomb and lay there for I don't know how long. It was only until the sun was up in full flight that I decided to get up. I kissed the white tomb one last time, walked towards the bike, kicked its stand, and sped along the narrow bends of the cemetery. 

Before I emerged myself in the main road, I took a quick drink from the water I brought in my bag. For a while I watched the morning as it further unfolds around me. It was beautiful. Nowhere the dark clouds can be found. The air was blue and patches of fluffy-cotton white clouds strewn the sight. 

I kicked the pedal once more and sped along. Against the wind. Against the world.

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