It was one warm February afternoon many years ago, just way through siesta time, the scorching heat seemed to remind everyone that summer is just a few moons away. He was seated on one corner of the balcony, one arm leaning on the railings while the other hand gently patting to sleep the back of a toddler, his grandson, who was lying on a folding bed next to him. It was a wonted scene because even though the kid had a nanny, he would regularly babysit his grandson personally while the parents are out working.
But that particular afternoon was quite different from most. I just arrived home from a periodic conference that adjourned earlier than usual and found my father gazing blankly at the clouds. He seemed to be in deep thought that he hardly noticed as I climbed my way though the stairs toward him. It was only when I held and kissed his right hand in greeting that he took notice of my arrival. For some reason I preferred to just leave to him whatever it was that he seemed to be pondering on at that moment and just quietly sat beside him after quickly kissing the cheek of my sleeping nephew. There went a few seconds of silence as we savored the gust of wind that somehow cooled down our immediate surroundings.
“Manguli kaha ta sa inyo ’tay no?” I asked him, breaking the silence and somehow bringing back his mind again after minutes of wandering. But my asking if he was interested of visiting his hometown only elicited yet another blank stares at the clouds.
I was only in my teens when my mother passed away. And I have learned from my older siblings that after our mother died ,Tatay has considered visiting his hometown somewhere in the Visayas. But since traveling from Mindanao would need a relatively large amount, he never managed to finance the trip as there were many other more important expenditures to address. With meager income and the sole earner of the family who was trying to raise a brood of eight, he just had to prioritize and set some things aside. And so the planned homecoming remained on the backseat for many years.
“Maayo lagi unta pero dako man tingali ug gasto …” he finally muttered, his eyes still fixed at the clouds. His remark expressed much interest on the idea of going home but I realized that up until that time, the expenses for the travel is still giving him second thoughts.
He was already 73 years old then and has retired from government service several years prior while I and most of my older siblings are already employed and some are already raising families of their own. Preoccupied with our respective lives, my siblings and I somehow forgot about Tatay’s long planned homecoming as he too has not discussed it with us anymore, or to me at least.
Growing up, it was a wonder to us siblings that Tatay hardly talks about his family. While we have met almost all of our immediate maternal relatives, he could only manage to introduce my older siblings to a couple that he said helped him when he first arrived in our place. All we knew then was that he ran away from home at a young age but the reason of him leaving his family was never clear to us. It was a curiosity shared among us siblings as we grew up.
“Ayaw nalag hunahunaa nang gasto ‘tay. Ako nala’y mangitag paagi ana”, I said to him. Assuring him that I would be the one to find means to fund the trip brought a pleasant expression on his face and somehow lifted his spirit. So, we then started planning the trip and decided to do it on the coming summer, sometime in May, when my elder sister, the mother of the toddler he was babysitting will be on a break from her teaching job.
I was very excited with our plan but my excitement was more for him. Being away for more than fifty years, I couldn’t actually imagine what he could possibly be thinking and expecting of his homecoming.
In the many years that he was away from his hometown, Tatay has practically lost contact with all members of his family. In a time were snail mails were the only means of communicating with someone from afar, it was easier to lose than maintain contact with people. And I was not sure if Tatay was interested on it.
Then came a situation where my father had to necessarily make contact with his hometown. His application for retirement from government service required him to submit, among other documents, a true copy of his Birth Certificate, which he doesn’t have in his possession. He was advised to request a copy from the Civil Registry Office of his birthplace. As fate would have it, the Civil Registrar at that time happens to know a relative of Tatay, a cousin who is a retired school teacher. The Registrar, as I have learned later, consulted Tatay’s cousin on the validity of his existence. Eventually, my father was able to secure the required document and a few weeks later received a letter from his cousin. My elder sister saw the name of the sender when it arrived but Tatay never discussed anything about it. It was only years later that he started to gradually open up and shared bits of details about his family, not really voluntarily however, but more because of the constant prodding of my sisters.
But months before our conversation on the planned homecoming trip, Tatay must have felt it was high time for him to reconnect with his family. I have learned that he kept requesting my younger sister to write to his cousin and when she finally did, Tatay’s cousin promptly wrote back. And so, Tatay was officially reconnected with his family, even if only through his cousin just yet. What it only lacked then was his actual homecoming.
However, just when I thought everything was all set for my father’s long overdue homecoming, things suddenly took another direction.
Midway through April, Tatay was complaining of stomach pains which he initially dismissed as a minor gas pain. However, when the symptoms persisted, we decided to have him checked. H e was given home medications which served him well for days until the symptoms resurfaced with some others. This time his doctor ordered that he be admitted in the hospital so that more extensive tests can be ran on him. Unfortunately, the laboratory results revealed serious issues on his kidneys and lungs. He was confined for about five days until he started complaining with just about anything and was adamant in expressing that he would rather rest at home than stay further in the hospital.
After his doctor cleared him for discharge, we arranged for the hospital’s ambulance to take him home. While seated on a wheelchair waiting, I brought him to a side of the building where one could have a view of the sea. Again I noticed those blank stares which reminded me of our plan. Much as I would like him to push through with the trip, but with his condition then, I realized it’s no longer wise to proceed with it as the long travel could surely take its toll on him. And he must have been thinking the same himself because I could see the loneliness in his eyes as he gazed through the horizon. After pondering on the situation and considering other options, I sat beside his wheelchair and placed my arm around his shoulders and told him of my new plan:
“Ako na lang ‘say mouli sa inyo ‘tay… ako nalay ‘say makigkita sa imong mga paryente didto. Magkuyog lang ‘nya tag balik didto puhon kung medyo lig-on naka para mobyahe…” He just nodded in agreement to my suggestion that I would proceed with our plan by myself but would do it again with him once he regains enough strength to travel.
But at the back of my mind, considering his age and his state of health, I already doubted if he could ever regain the needed strength to be able to travel back to his hometown.
I really wanted to proceed with the plan even without him because I wanted someone to personally reconnect him to his family and tell them of his story as it was something that he certainly would have wanted to do himself. And I just felt that I had to do it as soon as possible.
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