“Ate! Ate! Cake!” Czanelle beamed as she offered me a mouthful of chocolate cake. Kinain ko naman ang nasa tinidor niya at ngumiti siya sa akin habang punung-puno ng chocolate ang paligid ng bibig niya.
Tiningnan ko naman ang mga pumunta rito sa bahay para sa birthday ko. I didn’t know what to feel or what to do because this was the first time I had people to celebrate with besides Nanay Fe, Nanay Meling and Kuya Larry.
Napatigil naman ako nang makita kong nakatingin sa akin si Mom. She was sitting on the wheelchair since, according to the doctor, she would experience disorientation and loss of bodily function as the disease progresses. She was looking at me intently, as if she was trying to remember me.
Talking to her became one of my fears but I gathered my courage and walked toward her direction and my heart sank when I saw the photo he was holding. It was her holding me when I was just a toddler.
“M-Mom . . .”
Nagpabalik-balik ang tingin niya sa akin at sa picture. Doon ko lang din nakita ang notebook na nakapatong sa lap niya. She caressed the notebook while curiously looking at me so I gently took it from her. Pagbukas ko ay nakita ko kaagad ang family portrait naming tatlo noon at ang picture nilang apat sa Singapore. The next pages were filled with sloppy handwriting and scribbles but reading the words she wrote almost made me cry.
Our names were written repeatedly as well as our birthdays and physical description. She remembered me and my birthday because of this.
“Birth . . . day . . .” she muttered while tightly holding our photo.
“Thank you, Mom,” I replied and I had to hold back the tears that were threatening to come out.
Niyakap ko siya nang mahigpit at agad na tumulo ang luha ko nang maramdaman ko ang kamay niya sa likod ko. I was sure she’d reject it just like most of the time but today was different and it made my birthday more special.
“Cry . . . ? Okay . . .”
I couldn’t understand what she was saying but the way she stroked my hair was enough to discern her feelings. Even if this would just be for today, I was glad that I got my Mom back.
“I missed you,” I whispered and we stayed like that for a minute.
Pagkatapos no’n ay humiwalay ako sa yakap niya at ngumiti sa kanya. Nanay Meling approached us and brought her some food. Umalis muna ako ro’n at balak ko sanang sa gilid lang pumwesto pero biglang hinatak ni Queenie ang braso ko.
“No slumber party?” tanong niya kaagad at may hawak na siyang glass of wine.
“H’wag mo akong itulad sa’yo.”
“Uh, yeah. You’re not that cool.” Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin. “Speaking of cool, what can you say about Jazer?”
“Witch, he planned this.”
Hindi ko alam kung ano ang naging itsura ko nang sabihin niya ‘yon pero ngumiti siya nang nakakaloko at agad akong umiwas ng tingin. My cheeks felt hot and when I saw him smiling while talking to Kuya Larry, I could feel my heart throbbing loudly.
“You’re so obvious,” she teased.
“Oh, shut up, bitch.”
“Just tell him you love him and get—what the hell?” Bumitiw naman siya sa akin at pagtingin ko sa tinitingnan niya ay magkausap sina Jazer at Katrina. “That leech.”
She marched toward their direction and she just left me there, flustered. What the heck was that? Love? That freaking bitch.
Pinanood ko na lang silang tatlo at sinamaan ng tingin ni Katrina si Queenie. Iñigo looked so done with both of them but the way he stared at Queenie with a subtle smile on his face made my heart flutter. Ugh. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t cringing at them.
Dumiretso na lang ako sa table at kumain ng cake. Nandoon din si Clark kaya naman kinarga ko siya at sabay na kaming kumain. He was giggling the whole time and that caught Czanelle’s attention. She ran toward us and sat right next to me while devouring another slice of cake.
“Ate, do you want chocolate?” she asked with a cute expression.
I suddenly remembered the first time I met her and how she asked the same question. Anger and envy overwhelmed me that time and I told her to go away. I was selfish and hurt back then and I didn’t think about their feelings.
Tinanggap ko ulit ang binigay niya sa aking cake at ngumiti siya nang malapad.
“Do you really love chocolates that much?” tanong ko sa kanya.
“I love chocolates!” she beamed while licking the fork. “And I love Mommy! And Daddy, and Clark. And I love Ate and Kuya,” she giggled.
Napangiti na lang ako dahil masyado na siyang excited at nahawa na si Clark sa kanya. I was about to get a glass of water when Dad suddenly sat across us.
“Daddy!” tawag ni Czanelle at tumakbo siya papunta sa kanya.
Dad’s expression softened as he welcomed Czanelle in his arms. Our eyes met and he smiled proudly, which surprised me. Actually, I still couldn’t believe he came home just for this.
“Dad . . . I . . .” My voice faltered. “About—”
“Let’s talk about that later,” he said. “Just enjoy your—”
“No,” I interjected. “Let’s talk, Dad.”
He looked at me with curiosity but I didn’t want to worry him so I gave him a quick smile while hugging Clark tightly.
“I might change my mind if we don’t discuss this matter now,” mahina kong sabi at matapos ang ilang segundo ay napabuntong-hininga si Dad.
“Alright. Let’s talk upstairs.”
Mga 7:30 PM na rin umalis sina Queenie. Si Dad naman ay may board meeting kinabukasan kaya kinailangan na niya ring lumipad pabalik sa Singapore ngayong gabi. I went outside to get some fresh air but the silence of the night made my thoughts louder.
I sat in front of our gate and looked at the sky. May stars pero hindi ganoon kaliwanag tulad noong nasa probinsya ako. I suddenly missed Nanay Fe and her kids. Kumusta na kaya sila?
Napalingon naman ako sa likuran at nakita ko si Jazer. Nagbihis na siya ng pambahay na white shirt at shorts, at halata sa mukha niya ang pagod. Ibinalik ko naman ang paningin ko sa langit.
“There are no stars to gaze at,” I retorted and I heard him chuckle.
He sat right next to me and I remembered what happened earlier. I felt sad and uncomfortable when he was acting distant toward me. That moment was truly frightening because I thought I’d lose him, too.
“Thank you,” I muttered, still looking at the sky and I saw him staring at me through my peripheral vision.
“Walang anuman,” he chuckled.
Napatingin ako sa kanya at nakangiti siya sa akin. His dimple came into view and the way he looked at me made my heart thump.
“I treat my birthday as a normal day. Hindi naman talaga ako nagce-celebrate,” I stated. “But this year, you made it special. All the people I treasure . . . you brought them together. It made me happy. Thank you.”
“You deserve it,” he said. “Simula ngayon, hindi ka na mag-isa tuwing birthday mo.”
Magkahalong saya at lungkot ang naramdaman ko nang sabihin niya ‘yon. I was right to talk to Dad that time or else, I’d definitely change my mind if we delayed the discussion.
Nagkatinginan kami nang sabay naming tawagin ang pangalan ng isa’t isa. Tinuro ko siya para siya na ang maunang magsalita. Besides, I don’t think I’m ready to tell that to him.
“Go,” I encouraged. “What do you want to say?”
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang tumayo at pumwesto sa harapan ko. I felt dizzy upon looking at his expression and I almost yelped when inched closer. The next thing I knew, he was already putting a necklace on me.
“Happy birthday,” he whispered.
I glanced at the necklace and saw the flower-shaped pendant, similar to the ones he made as ring and bracelet before.
“Bagay sa’yo,” dagdag niya at doon na ako bumigay.
I lunged at him and we almost fell to the ground but he supported both of our weights. My face was buried between his neck and shoulder and if I could, I wanted to stop the time to cherish this moment. I tightened my hug and he must have felt something was wrong because he started stroking my head.
“Dahil ba ‘to sa sinabi ng Daddy mo?”
So he already knew it.
“Mmm,” I muttered and I was close to crying but I held back my tears.
“Susunod ka sa kanya ro’n?” tanong niya pero hindi ako sumagot.
These past few weeks, Dad had overworked himself to keep the company thriving. In addition, the condition of Mom was kept as a secret so they were pressuring him about her removal from the board of directors, as well as her position. Dad would not tell me the situation so I had to ask Shang.
I confronted him about that matter and he told me that he needed me, but he also didn’t want to take me away from Mom and my siblings. Honestly, I’d prefer to stay here but I couldn’t leave him alone.
Dad was single-handedly taking care of our family after what happened to Mom. Sooner or later, I’d have to take over, and I want to use this opportunity to observe and to learn from him, even if that means being away from home.
I don’t know how long it would take, maybe a couple of months or several years, but one thing is for sure—I’d leave at the end of the semester and that would be in three weeks.