Thursday, March 25, 2010

the things you do on your late mother's birthday

1. You wake up with a start, realizing you promised your sister who was cooking dinner six hours earlier that you’d only be a few minutes in your bedroom, that you just need to lie down for a bit because you had a long day.

2. You go to your sister’s room and apologize for missing dinner. As usual, she laughs it off.

3. You change the desktop image on your laptop. You choose an old photograph of your mother with you and your two sisters. The photograph is the one taken when you were eleven months old.

4. You remember that you were tasked to organize the mass and dinner marking your mother’s birthday, and you call up your Tita, your mother’s younger sister and her only surviving sibling, to remind her of the change in plans. She picks up her mobile phone and greets you happy birthday. You say same to you, Tita. Her voice is almost exactly like your mother’s.

5. You have breakfast with your sister and you hear your father’s yaya asking your sister’s permission to go to the market. Your father wants her to buy flowers for your mother.

6. You rush off to the university where you teach and preside over the final preparatory meeting for the summer national writers workshop.

7. You return to the institute after the meeting and work on more preparations for the workshop. As you do this, you get calls from your aunt and your other sister about further changes in the plan. Your youngest cousin, your aunt’s only child, texts you that she has arrived at the university.

8. You change your Facebook profile picture and upload the picture on your laptop’s desktop.

9. You go with your cousin to inquire about graduate studies. You make her leave her car in the parking lot and the two of you go off on foot.

10. You feel hungry, so you and your cousin look for lunch. You drag her to the canteen at the main library. As you make your way to the rear of the building, you think of your mother and imagine how she looked when she was a college student researching in the very same library. Because you’re lacto-ovo vegetarian, you don’t find anything to eat, so you decide to go to a restaurant on campus where you’re sure you’ll find something edible.

11. You have lunch with your cousin and you talk about her plans now that she’s pushing 30. She talks about her mother and you think of yours.

12. You walk back to the institute to attend to the summer workshop preparations and you make your cousin wait for you on one of the sofas. When you check on her five minutes later, you find her sound asleep in her chair.

13. You finish work quickly and return to your cousin whom you promised you’d walk around campus with. She goes back to the parking lot to get her walking gear, and you go to your faculty center office to get yours.

14. You bring your camera with you, so you can take pictures of you and your cousin on your walk. As you make your way around campus, you identify which family members attended which college. Your cousin recounts stories that her mother has told her about your mother. The stories are all familiar and this comforts you.

15. You laugh when she recounts the story about fleeing the Japanese. It’s one of your favorite stories from your mother’s childhood. It is World War II, and the Japanese have occupied the Philippines. Like everyone else who has heard of the Japanese’s cruelty, your mother’s family has to run to the mountains for safety. Theirs is a family of six: your Lolo, your Lola, your Tito, Your first Tita, your mother, and your second Tita. The children are still very young. Your mother is around four years old; your second Tita is a toddler. As they escape, your Lolo is carrying several bags and holding on to your first Tita who is a deaf-mute. Your Lola is carrying your second Tita. Your Tito, being the oldest, is also carrying luggage. Your mother is left to fend for herself. They go some distance when they hear your mother cry out. They turn and find her struggling to get past a fence. Her panties are caught in barbed wire.

16. You get thoughtful when your cousin talks about talking to her late father and how she feels he’s just there. You realize that is how you feel when you talk to your mother. You also realize that your youngest cousin is the first among all of you cousins to bear the loss of a parent.

17. You finish your walk and see your cousin off at the parking lot. She has dinner plans, and you have to go hear mass.

18. You change to your regular clothes and make one final check at the institute before leaving for the Catholic church on campus. You have made a special petition for your mother’s soul for the 6 p.m. mass.

19. You arrive at the church right on time. This is the same church your mother helped build with donations when she was still a student in the university. You remember her stories of Father Delaney.

20. You listen to the priest’s sermon. He says that you are in the last stretch of Lent, and that next week you will be remembering the passion of Christ. But, he continues, today you are pausing to remember the Annunciation of Jesus’s birth. He says that it is meaningful that we remember birth at the same time as we remember death. He says that in our faith the end marks a beginning.

21. As instructed by the priest, you pause to kneel for a while when reciting the Apostle’s Creed to mark the fact that today is the Feast of the Annunciation. Your mother’s name is Anunciacion.

22. You light a candle for your mother after the mass. You take a photograph of the candle. You also photograph the Garden of the Mother and of Healing. This is where you often go when you miss your mother.

23. You read the list of petitions for the 6 p.m. mass posted on the church bulletin board. You cannot find your mother’s name in spite of reading the list through five times.

24. You think someone must have made a mistake. You rummage in your bag for the receipt the woman at the parish office gave you yesterday for your petition. You want to check if you made a mistake writing the date. But you cannot find your receipt.

25. You go to the parish office and ask the same woman you talked to yesterday if your petition was included in the 6 p.m. mass. You tell her you cannot find your mother’s name on the list. You are embarrassed that your voice cracks as you explain to her what happened. She is horrified and hurries out of her cubicle to check the list.

26. You watch her unlock the glass covering the bulleting board. She removes the pegs attaching the list to the corkboard. She says that some changes were made to the 6 p.m. list. She removes the list to reveal two other lists. You are both relieved to find your mother’s name. Mass was said for her at 6 a.m. and 12 noon.

27. As you struggle to regain your equanimity, you get the urge to cook pancit canton for dinner. You call your sister and tell her your plan. She says she is preparing chopsuey for dinner, so changing it to pancit canton is not too difficult. You figure it’s your mother’s birthday and pancit is served on birthdays.

28. You go to three stores to buy additional vegetables, pancit, and quail eggs before hurrying home.

29. You tell your sister about your mother’s missing name on the list.

30. The two of you start preparing dinner. While doing this, you text your other sister to tell her you are cooking pancit. She says you are crazy because pancit is for long life. You laugh when you read her message and show it to your other sister.

31. Before you sleep you resolve to write a list of the things you did on your late mother’s birthday.