We had an unexpected lunch with a second-degree cousin who is so dear to us earlier today. We were already on our way to do our grocery shopping in the nearby supermarket but the supposed activity was deferred temporarily upon seeing her.
Nothing much has changed with her. She was still the same woman who had been so good to us growing up. With her long black, wavy hair, brown skin, soft eyes, innocent smile, prominent mole just above the corner of her left eye and a bulgy tummy that is unsightly huge as compared to her curvy lady stance and which has always been the center of my brother's random jokes and contemptuous eyes whenever she visits us in our home, we saw her but this time, walking hand in hand with someone who is now obviously so dear to her.
Time moves by so quickly. Before I knew it, she was already engaged. The one who I have been considering as my older sister all this time is now bound to get married, at long last.
The year was 1996. It was the first semester of the school year and I was absent. I could not anymore remember the details, the surrounding, the temperature, the time, the people who were present during the conversation, what they are wearing and in what pattern or color; all of those were now a blur. But what I do remember now from that time was the intention of our visit to my parent's hometown. We were set to spend a day or two in Ilocos Norte to attend the wake of our great grandfather; the father of the father of our father to be exact. It was the first week of the school year and I was absent. I was not too happy about it.
It was the last night of our stay in Ilocos and I had already grown accustomed to the busyness of the surrounding that time. At the center of the sepia backdrop was me seeing clearly the soft mourning of the wrinkle-filled wife who has been left behind by her dearest Pat, my great grandmother, my mother's ka-jive; the restlessness of his children and grandchildren, making sure that the visitors were all well-served and overflown with assorted pica-pica and bottled soft drinks; the chatter of the people who were just simply there to catch up with good friends who they had not seen for years then; the irritating sound of people gambling and drinking under the night's sky who are apparently insensitive to the fact that they should instead be lamenting with the lovely family that our great grandfather has left behind.
The place was simply chaotic and at the center of it all was my two brothers and I, all of us taking in all that we can and should from the frenzied surrounding and secretly wanting to go home and just stretch our legs and sleep the whole night back in our place. We just do not have any clue what was happening back then.
Armed with a lot of patience and an attitude of an actress, I was able to cope up with the monotonous flow of the environment. It was as if I was watching a movie, in which the protagonist is unidentifiable, in loop and listening to a record that was just skipping over and over again and long been broken. I was already getting dizzy with it.
After an unlimited hours or so of waiting, we then get what we wanted. We slept hard until the sun peeked unto us and uttered its glaring "Hi!" once again.
We packed our stuffs and was then good to go. But just like any of our previous visits and succeeding visits to Ilocos, we were then halted again by a good number of people who are either our relatives or just good old friends and neighbors of my grandmother and mother. The news of us being there might had been carried by the wind and even though it irks me most of the time, I still could not help but feel warm all over because of the unbelievable love they are giving us everytime we get the chance to visit the place.
And that was the very first time I saw her. She came with her aunt who was my mother's first degree cousin. I was just a mere 7-year old that time. My birthday was then nearing. She was already 19 years old and was then helping to clear out the banig we had used the other night. Like all the other 19 year old girls I had looked up to because of their unusual but pleasant body figure which is very far from my chubby little kid figure, I had looked up to her that way too. I silently hushed to myself that I will, too, have a body like that when the right time comes.
I could not remember anymore the exact conversation my mom and grandmother had with her that time but all of us traversed the 12-hour bus ride back home with her. After that very faithful day, she had ever since openly became a huge part of the household and she, in turn, found a family in us.
She was the first child from the third wife of my mother's first degree male cousin. He was a respectable civil engineer back then. He was the kind of man that everybody loves to hate but could not. He was rich, he has a good nature, he was caring, he came from a highly regarded family. All about him was reputable except from this one, tiny glitch. He was a womanizer and had four wives and eight kids during his lifetime.
She was the third child from his lovely brood of eight. Those eight kids had a great life while he was still living. All of them had lives that any kid would want to have. They were well-known, they were all popular, they were swimming with toys and gifts, they were dipping their whole body in an ultra extravagant life. They all had a seemingly good future back then until he reached that faithful age of 54 when his life came to an end. According to the folks there and just a side note, all of the engineers who handled and lead DPWH's office in Ilocos, in which he was no exemption, died at the age of 54; thus the name Highway 54, to identify them, came through.
I would like to believe that what happened thereafter to his families, especially his kids, are all known to him. It is just that he could not do something from up there to alleviate the hard life his kids went through all those years after he left this world and joined the Creator. All he could do was watch their demise and utter a little prayer to God to make things better for the jewels he had left on earth.
She was never an exemption from the hard life thereafter and it had not gotten any better as their mother chose to abandon her and her siblings and live her life on her own. I just could not imagine how she could stomach to be away from them, even just for a second. Unlike their half brothers and half-sisters who grew up in the loving arms and guidance of their own mothers, they were left in the care of her aunt; the sister of his father who treated her differently as compared to her brother and younger sister. She was the least favorite and she was the most pitiful among the three of them. Maybe that is the reason why my grandmother chose to take her in and give her a life and education that she deserves.
With her story in mind, I have come to appreciate more the presence of a father and a mother. I feel so blessed to have both responsible parents ever since I was born, who never left me and are supportive enough to guide me through this twisted but, at the same time, wonderful journey on earth.
Despite the huge age gap between us, I treat her as an older sister; an older sister that I could never have in my entire life. I could still remember those times when she would obligingly accompany me to school and fetch me, also, after the last bell rings; when she would carry the lunchbox with my meal inside, from our home to school, during lunch hours just to satisfy my ever-hungry stomach; when she would emanate nothing but patience and a smile while she takes care of me and my brothers; when she would spend and endure those lonely nights in our house when we have to go and spend the night somewhere else; when she does not fail to bring us knick-knacks and food everytime she comes to visit us; and a lot of other gestures that were nothing but filled with love and thoughtfulness from her. All of those were instilled in my young mind and I really thank her for all the things that she had done for us.
As we were having our lunch with her and her soon to be husband earlier today, I could not help but feel overjoyed for her. I have never imagined that her life will come to this point but I think that is how God really works. His plan for us will surely outdo, a number of times higher, our own plan for ourselves. We just have to trust in Him no matter what.
She was still the same woman but now with a man who loves her truly and a seemingly brighter future ahead of her.
Between happy conversations and a good meal shared with her earlier, I smiled from across the table to her. She smiled a lovingly smile at me back and I know instantly from there that she was happy and contented; much happy than her heart had ever experienced and desired all this time.
September 16, 2010. Written by Lav Acacio.