Barangay Talon, Roxas City, Capiz, West Visayas, Philippines
I was fetched by Tito Guenie at 9:30 AM before I had a chance to brush my teeth. I had just finished eating breakfast when he arrived at Tita Elna’s. Tita Elna and her helper, Lynn Lynn, had prepared an impressive spread of chicken longanisa, boiled purple chamote (sweet potato), suman with mango, and Edna cheese omelette served with rice, buttered and toasted pan de sal, and a plate overflowing with citrine colored tambis. And to my delight, there were macaroons and cups of brewed coffee for dessert.
Now Playing: “Pagdating Ng Panahon” (When The Time Comes) by Aiza Seguerra
He had meekly knocked at Tito Dodoy and Tita Elna’s door, announcing himself through the screen and explaining that my mother had instructed him to get me home before 10. After a proper greeting and politely sitting down at the table for a cup of coffee (while I tried to FaceTime Joanna and Sara very quickly with the extremely rare moment of privacy), Tito Guenie motioned for me to gather my things so we could leave.
We walked towards the main road as he tried to make small talk, telling me how his wife– Auntie Monie– was scheduled to arrive that evening, how his son– my cousin Mac Mac– would be arriving that Wednesday. “Sana you should be staying some times longer,” he said apologetically, almost as if to say, sorry we didn’t plan this just a tad bit better.
It struck me how much my Tito Guenie, now 67 years old, reminded me remarkably of my grandfather– his father and my mother’s father, my Lolo Tatay. There’s a lot I don’t know about my grandfathers, who both passed away when I was very young. Truthfully, there’s still a whole lot I don’t know about my grandmothers who are both still with me.
But there are times when my mother, father, an aunt, or an uncle will do or say something, or emote in such a way that I know that I’m looking at something that has been passed down, inherited; that they’re sharing something that wasn’t originally theirs, but maybe my Inang’s, Tatang’s, Lola Nanay’s, Lolo Tatay’s, or maybe even their parents’. A story that I may never be told, but am meant to feel and naturally recognize instead.
Tito Guenie put me in a tricicad and told the driver to take me to the Briones subdivision (my mother’s maiden name) by the hospital, telling me he’d be following on his motorcycle. The distance from Tita Elna’s to Lola Nanay’s house would have easily been a $7.00 Uber ride back home. Here, it was less than 5¢.
We got back to the house, where I was told that Uncle Kelyon had planned a day-trip to the beach for us. Tito Guenie would not be joining us despite the fact that he was the one that was in charge of fetching me, and he left as soon as he saw me safely home so he could prepare his house for Auntie Monie’s arrival later that evening. As quickly as I had been put on the trike by Tito Guenie, so was I plopped into Uncle Kelyon’s beloved Isuzu, which was waiting for me upon my arrival. I have never seen anyone care more for their car than my Uncle Kelyon for his Isuzu. If that’s not what love looks like, i don’t know what is.
I still hadn’t brushed my teeth or changed out of the tank and shorts I had been wearing since after church the afternoon before (including to bed! …gross girl alert), but determined to not have anyone wait on me, I climbed into the car, sniffing my armpits somewhat discreetly on the way in. The A/C was on full blast, as was whatever air freshener Uncle Kelyon had doing the most in there. Call me thick, but apart from the obvious correlation between one’s hygiene and one’s social standing, I hadn’t realized until this trip to the Philippines how important air freshener is… everywhere. In guest rooms. In cars. In bathrooms. Everywhere.
Mom and I filed into the middle seat of the Isuzu with my 10-year-old nephew, Jeb, behind us. Jeb, the grandson of Uncle Kelyon and Auntie Elnor, is the son of my cousin Jasper, who works in Dubai with his wife. Uncle Kelyon and Auntie Elnor first took care of Jeb while they were first getting settled overseas, but when they sent for Jeb to live with them permanently, he ended up wanting to go home to the province almost immediately. And who could blame him? Seeing how cushy of a life he could have in the Philippines vs. an exciting yet somewhat limited existence in the Middle East, at only ten years old. Kid’s got wits, though they be self-serving in the tiniest of ways (and again, naysayers be damned if they deny him a pass on this one – he’s a freaking kid, after all).
Everyone buckled their seat belts, readied the vehicle, and prepared for take-off as Uncle Kelyon turned the ignition and in less than a minute had driven us three houses down the same street to pick up Auntie Elnor. Greetings lasted but a minute before they ended weakly, and once again, we were on our way to a beach in whatever place came up next in what felt like a game of “Random Location Roulette.”
We pulled into a grassy parking lot with a sign that was marked “Talon Adventure Park on Ayagao Beach.” I absentmindedly— yet audibly, whoops— asked if it was like an amusement park. Auntie Elnor was the only one gracious enough to smile cordially, yet not validating my question with a response.
As we walked closer to the shoreline, I discovered that Adventure Park was a strip of day-use huts along Ayagao Beach, and while it had ended up slightly lacking in the “adventure” department, the park seemed to be a popular weekend destination for everyone in the surrounding barangays. Peddlers of ice cream and crispy fried isaw wheeled their carts from hut to hut, each hut with its own grill topped with barbecue chicken, beef skewers, or in our case stuffed bangus in foil packets, sizzling audibly in its own juices above the red hot coals.
I picked a bench in the nipa hut, groaning as I lay flat and rested my head on a chair cushion Uncle Kelyon had brought from home, thankful for his foresight. Closing my eyes, I gave myself permission to drift to sleep and welcome the sort of dreams that accompany a nap at 1:00 PM, enjoying the soundtrack of naked babies laughing in the water, minus one tracks from karaoke machines patrons had brought from home (the hut next to us played “Pagdating ng Panahon” on repeat), and my mom and her sister-in-law making small talk as they arranged our lunch, discussing in hushed tones the importance of God, family, and diabetes.