Saturday, July 7, 2012
The small town has gone to bed for the night – it’s half past midnight and except for the husbands struggling to get on their motorcycles to go home as the town’s lone watering hole was closing its doors, the policemen struggling to stay awake on another quiet, uneventful evening, hardly anything else stirred.
A statue of the Sacred Heart, dramatically lit in the churchyard next to it, watched over the scene. We drove past the elementary school along the national highway where she learned how to read and write, we then turned to a narrow street to the house where Ciano lived all of the 93 years of his life, the same route she used to walk as an elementary pupil some three and a half decades ago.
We stopped in front of the “dakkel nga balay,” though it wasn’t really that much bigger than most of the houses on the street. In fact, the house stood rather inconspicuously surrounded by various trees including one with pretty white flowers that seemed to glow in the dark. While for decades it was indeed the biggest house on this street – two floors, a receiving area, kitchen and dinning room at the first floor then another living room on the second and a couple of bedrooms, Ciano never found the need to add to it, except maybe to replace the nipa with G.I. sheets for the roof, concrete flooring for the first floor instead of the old one made from dried, packed, buffed carabao dung – he didn’t need to, the bachelor lived alone for most of the last three decades.
She stood infront of the gate now made of iron instead of bamboo as she did as a small girl, “Taaaaang! I’m home,” she would call from the street, afraid to enter the gate where Ciano’s geese once roamed freely and defended their territory fiercely by chasing after any intruder. Ciano would get up from planting corn, or feeding the chickens and pigs in the back, and fetch her and protect her from the geese. With her Tatang holding her hand, she felt safe.
Once, on a rainy day, Ciano led her to the edge of the house where the water dripped from the edge of the roof, making tiny holes on the ground below. When the rain stopped, together they planted corn along the neat line created by the dripping. Together they tended, watered when there was no rain, and watched the corn plants grow, until they bore fruit later that year.
I watched her stand infront of that gate, unmoving for a moment, with me foolishly expecting her to call out, “Taaaang, I’m home!” This time she opened that gate herself – there were no more geese in the front yard. After a few moments she came back out and together we unloaded all our bags, got back in the car, and drove a few meters down the road to the hospital.
I met Ciano myself about a decade ago when he visited Baguio. Dressed sharply in slacks and a crisp polo shirt, he kept on joking about how he can still “paint the town red,” and how just recently, while at the market, the tinderas teasingly flirted with him. A small man of just about five feet, with a gentle voice so calm it soothes, Tatang Cien, as she called him, spoke flawless English. She remembers his daily ritual of reading before dinner, aloud, which started her own fascination with the written word.
We’re at the hospital, Ciano is lying in bed with his eyes closed, struggling with each breath. Gently she runs her fingers through his hair, and gently speaks into his ear “Tang, it’s me, I’ve come to see you. I’m right here, Tang… I’m home.” Ciano struggles to reply with a moan.
One by one she introduced her children to him, “this is Leon,” placing her son’s hand on his forehead, “and this is Gabriela and my youngest, Aeneas.” Then finally she whispers, “thank you for taking care of me when I was small.”
While I silently thanked the man who helped create wonderful memories for my wife, and helped define the woman I fell in love with forever.