Goddamn it. Why did I forget to turn off that freaking alarm?
I lazily reached for my phone and undid all the morning alarms since the sembreak has officially started. I wanted to sleep for a few more hours to compensate for those simultaneous sleepless nights but my consciousness was already wide awake. Great.
Bumaba ako at naabutan ko naman si Nanay Meling na parang rattled dahil pabalik-balik siya sa paglalakad. Nang nakita niya ako ay huminto siya kaya naman nilapitan ko siya.
“Bakit, Nanay Meling? Any problem?” I asked while rubbing my eyes.
“Naku, Chloe, buti at nagising ka,” sabay hawak niya sa balikat ko at nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang naluha.
I told her to calm down but her tears fell continuously. Ilang minuto pa ang nakalipas bago siya tuluyang kumalma at sinabi niyang isinugod daw sa ospital ang pamangkin niya dahil sa taas ng lagnat. Wala kasing sariling pamilya si Nanay Meling kaya tumutulong siya sa financial needs ng mga kapatid at pamangkin niya. Hindi naman siya makaalis dahil may binilin daw si Mommy at doon ko lang nalaman na maaga rin pala siyang umalis.
“Wait lang, Nanay Meling,” sabi ko naman at saka ako tumakbo papunta sa kwarto ko. Kumuha ako ng pera sa wallet ko at binigay ko ‘yon sa kanya pagbalik ko.
“Naku, Chloe, hindi na kail—”
“I insist,” sagot ko. “By the end of the month pa darating ang sahod n’yo, ‘di ba?”
Hindi na siya nakatanggi at nagulat ako nang bigla niya akong yakapin. Pagkatapos no’n ay nagmadali nang umalis si Nanay Meling at naiwan naman akong nakatayo ro’n dahil sa binulong niya kanina habang nakayakap sa akin.
“Ang bait mo talagang bata pero hindi ko alam kung bakit hindi makita ng iba ‘yon.”
I didn’t know why but I felt strange. I’ve lived my whole life being called as rude, inappropriate and other nasty names so hearing those words baffled me. Me? And kind? In a single sentence? That seemed wrong.
Napasigaw naman ako nang nakita kong nakatayo sa huling step ng hagdan si Jazer habang nakatingin sa akin. He greeted me with a smile and his annoying dimple showed itself.
“Ang aga-aga, galit ka kaagad?” pang-aasar niya kaya inirapan ko siya at lalo nakuha niya pang tumawa.
“Ang aga-aga, nambubwisit ka,” I retorted.
Dumiretso na lang ako sa dining area at nakita kong nakadikit sa ref ang binilin ni Mommy kay Nanay Meling. May appointment pala sa dentist ang mga bubwit pero hindi siya makakapunta dahil may emergency raw siya na kailangang asikasuhin. Yeah, right. For sure it was work-related.
I let out a sigh of disappointment. I shouldn’t have expected too much from her. After all, her work seemed more important than her family.
“Ikaw ba ang sasama sa kanila?” tanong niya habang naglalagay ng mainit na tubig sa dalawang tasa.
“Sino pa ba?”
“Pwede ko kayong samahan.”
Napatingin naman ako sa kanya nang ilapag niya ang isang tasa ng kape sa harapan ko at umupo siya sa katabing upuan.
He’s the nice one, I thought, to the point that people could get the wrong idea about his motives.
I sipped my coffee as silence enveloped the both of us. Saglit naman akong tumingin sa kanya pero napatigil ako nang nagtama ang mga mata namin at kumunot ang noo ko dahil ngumiti na naman siya. Damn it. What the heck is wrong with him?
“What you did earlier was really heartwarming,” he suddenly said.
“I mean, ‘yong kay Nanay Meling,” sagot niya. “Ibang-iba ka talaga ‘pag nasa bahay. You seem . . . warmer?”
“Are you joking?” Ano bang pinagsasabi niya? Me? A warm person? Bigla akong kinilabutan.
“No,” sabay tingin niya sa kape niya. “Siguro hindi mo lang napapansin pero nag-iiba ka pagdating kina Kuya Larry, Nanay Meling at sa mga kapatid mo. You allow them to see the real you.”
“Real me? Are you saying I’m just putting up a façade in front of everyone else?”
“Hmm . . . I wouldn’t say that. Instead, that’s how you protect yourself,” he said while looking at me with an empathetic expression. “Right?”
Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin dahil hindi na ako makasagot. I hated the fact that he said it without a doubt, as if he really knew what was on my mind. When I thought nobody could understand me, he was there, saying the words I wanted and needed to hear. I was keeping myself from falling but it seemed like it was inevitable.
“You’re annoying,” I muttered as I stood up with the cup of coffee on my hand and marched towards my room.
“Where are we going, Ate?” Czanelle excitedly asked as I put the dress on her. Hindi ko naman siya sinagot dahil baka matakot. Noong bata ako, sobrang takot ako sa dentist at naaalala ko pa ang araw na dinala ako ro’n ni Nanay Fe habang iyak ako nang iyak.
Buhat naman ni Jazer si Clark at pagkatapos naming mag-prepare ay umalis na kami. I booked a taxi since Kuya Larry went with Mom earlier. Tanghali na at balak naming sa labas na lang kumain dahil wala si Nanay Meling.
“Let’s go, parating na ‘yong taxi,” sabi ko naman sa kanila.
“Wait lang.” Jazer ran to the bathroom and I saw him holding the kids’ toothbrushes. He put it in his bag, as well as a roll of tissue and a face towel. Pagkatapos no’n ay saka kami lumabas sa bahay at sumakay sa taxi.
Bumaba naman kami sa restaurant na malapit sa clinic na pupuntahan namin at doon na lang kami kumain. Czanelle and Clark were enjoying themselves with food, unaware of the probability that they would be crying their hearts out later.
Pagkatapos naming kumain ay si Jazer na ang nagprisinta na mag-toothbrush sa kanila at naiwan naman ako ro’n para magbayad. Hinintay ko sila at nang bumalik ang tatlo ay nagsimula na kaming maglakad papunta sa clinic.
We arrived at the clinic after several minutes of walking and several children, along with their parents or guardians, were already there. Some were playing, some were roaming around but most of the kids had anxious faces as they listened to the cries of those who were lying on the dental bed.
“Good morning,” bati ko sa babae sa front desk at sinabi ko naman ang pangalan namin. May dalawa pang check-ups bago kami kaya umupo muna kami at binitiwan namin ni Jazer ang dalawa.
Clark seemed relax as he ran to the playground area where toys were scattered and kids around his age were also there. On the other hand, Czanelle seemed to know where we were. Her hand was gripping my shirt tight and she was quiet the whole time. All of a sudden, Czanelle cried and climbed onto me, burying her face between my neck and shoulder.
“Ate, ate, ate . . .” she repeatedly sobbed as she heard the wailing of the other kids.
Hindi ko naman alam ang gagawin kaya agad akong tumingin kay Jazer. He immediately caressed Czanelle’s head and I patted her back. Para namang bumigat ang loob ko habang ginagawa ko ‘yon dahil ngayon ko lang siya nakitang umiyak nang ganito. She was frightened but I couldn’t do anything.
Makalipas ang ilang minuto ay tinawag na kami. Kinuha agad ni Jazer si Clark at sumunod naman kami ni Czanelle.
The area was quite scary but there were a lot of toys and a tablet hanging above which was playing a cartoon movie so that kids would be distracted. Luckily, it was effective to Clark. Jazer held him down as the dentist checked his teeth and gums. He whined for several times but Jazer and the dentist managed to calm him down so the check-up and cleaning went smoothly.
“Very good, Clark,” sabi ng dentist at pagkatapos no’n ay binigyan siya ng maliit na stuffed toy.
Binuhat naman agad ni Jazer si Clark at iniwan saglit doon sa playground area. The dentist told me to put Czanelle to the dental bed but before I could even move, she cried harder and clung to me, unwilling to lie down.
“No! I’m scared!” she sobbed. “Ate, I’m scared.”
Buti na lang at dumating agad si Jazer para kunin sa akin si Czanelle at siya na ang naghiga sa kanya ro’n. I was trying hard to hold back my tears but when I felt her tiny hand squeezing my fingers while being pinned down by Jazer and the dentist, I lost it. I squeezed her hand back to comfort her as she continuously cried and called for me.
After several minutes, the distressing check-up has finally ended. Agad kong pinunasan ang mukha ko bago pa may makakita. Czanelle was tired from crying so Jazer carried her while stroking her back. Ako naman ang pumunta kung nasaan si Clark at mukhang nag-eenjoy pa siya sa paglalaro.
We stayed there for several more minutes to let Czanelle calm down. Umupo naman ako ro’n sa playground area habang binabantayan si Clark. I didn’t expect that accompanying them to the dentist would be this exhausting.
Nang kumalma na si Czanelle ay umalis na kami ro’n at ako na ang bumuhat kay Clark. Imbes na umuwi ay dumiretso kami sa park. There were a lot of people watching the fountain at the center as it changes its color every few seconds. The three of them were mesmerized by the sight and I took a photo of them while staring and smiling at it.
They looked happy, I thought. I couldn’t remember when was the last time I felt really happy, or maybe I haven’t experienced that yet. I’ve been comfortable living in this dull and gray world of mine that positive feelings seemed out of place. I’ve been longing for happiness since I was a child and standing few meters away from me were the people who could give me that . . . yet I was too scared to walk towards them.
“Anong ginagawa mo?”
Nagulat naman ako nang makita ko si Jazer sa harapan ko kaya agad kong pinatay ang phone ko. Sinilip ko naman ang mga bubwit at magkahawak-kamay sila ro’n habang pinapanood pa rin ang fountain.
“Wala—hey!” Bigla niya akong hinatak papunta kina Czanelle at Clark hanggang sa nandoon na rin ako sa pwesto nila kanina. “What the—”
“Watch it with us,” he said while looking at me and I could see the colors reflected on his eyes.
“When will you let go of my hand?”
“Oh. Sorry,” sabay bitiw niya sa kamay ko.
I averted his gaze and looked at the fountain instead. My heart pounded heavily against my chest and it was frustrating because the walls I built were starting to crumble one after the other. I was about to be vulnerable again and I wasn’t sure if that would be good or bad for me.
Makalipas ang ilan pang sandali ay napagdesisyunan na naming umuwi dahil madilim na at pagdating namin ay naabutan namin si Mommy sa sala. Czanelle and Clark ran to her while Jazer and I stayed at the doorway.
Umakyat ako sa kwarto dahil napagod ako ngayong araw pero bago pa ako makahiga sa kama ay tumunog ang phone ko.
It was a message from Dad.
You’re going to Singapore tomorrow. Someone will pick you up at 6 A.M. See you, Chloe.
After reading his message, I started to overthink and overanalyze again, scared of what would be coming if I wasn’t prepared enough.