It was right before COVID-19 blew up that Raven and I had the chance to travel to Cebu for my annual leave last year. A 2-week period I scheduled months in advance with the hope that I would be there to celebrate what would’ve been my dad’s 70th birthday.
Well, I made it but Daddy didn’t. He died two months before. But still, I had already bought the tickets in November and my mom needed the company. I mean, it wasn’t just me who lost him, after all.
Rumours were already circulating about the virus. Masks were optional and travel quarantines were yet unheard of. My main concern, of course, was Raven: How do I get a 3-year old to properly wear an adult-sized mask?
Turned out I couldn’t. We were still queuing for check-in at the Melbourne Airport when I gave up. It was pointless. I decided that we just social distance instead. Stay as far away as possible from other passengers, especially during our layover at Singapore.
Thank God she’s such a good traveler. Never gives me any problem at all as long as I give her something to do. She’ll entertain herself with the airplane’s instruction manual if she has to. When she did, I took a picture of her and was about to send it to daddy. Like a reflex. Tan-awa imong apo, daddy, o…
Then I remembered he was no longer on the other end to receive my message.
And he would not be waiting for us at arrivals, either.
It’s these little things that break your heart, you know. Those sudden re-realizations when, in a split second, you forget that the people you love have already passed away.
The layover in Singapore was uneventful. Raven promptly woke up without a fuss when I gently woke her up at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and we had to disembark the plane. That was us bloody early in the morning taking selfies on the passenger boarding bridge before security staff asked us to move along.
We didn’t really do much while we were in Cebu. I didn’t even have anything planned. I was just happy to be home and unwind from life. If there’s one thing I have come to notice, time in the tropics move so slow. Maybe that’s why Filipinos have all the time to gossip and mind other people’s businesses.
Over here, it’s a totally different lifestyle. Everyone just wants to get things done as quickly and as efficiently as possible so they would have enough time to do the rest of everything else that needs to get done. Time is such a precious commodity that it’s almost a sin to waste it on bullshit.
Anyway, it was good to see mommy again. Some idyllic afternoons, we would catch a trisikad to go to the cemetery to visit daddy. A public mode of transportation that I quite enjoy when there are no vehicles speeding around us like hell. It’s not exactly the safest, I know. But then again, this is the Philippines. You just roll with it and enjoy the ride.
Well, we could’ve taken the car but I didn’t trust myself to drive there anymore. I have gone soft, in favor of proper road rules and driving courtesies. I was no longer in the game of playing Cebu’s traffic game notorious for speeding, overtaking, lane-hogging, and beating red lights amongst many other violations commonly committed but blatantly ignored or accepted as the norm.
Most days, like I said, we would just be at home. It was all very laid-back. When Raven wasn’t playing with her cousin who was the same age as her, she would be drawing or making paper dolls with her mommyla. I don’t even remember what I did while I was there. Nothing, really. Which was the plan anyway.
On the rare occasions that we went out, it would be at the old SM, where I believe daddy still hangs out even in the afterlife because he loved that place. I have tons of memories of him and with him at SM — how he always ended up with a cup of coffee or a bottle of water at Bo’s Coffee Shop after browsing through books at National Bookstore; hitting up Booksale for secondhand books before dining out at Sbarro or Max’s Restaurant when he wasn’t in the mood for Harbour City’s steamed rice and chicken feet.
One time, I spotted a familiar plaid shirt with a bit of a pot belly underneath and for a moment, I froze with the anticipation of seeing daddy. I looked up and it was a totally different face. I was stuck in a totally different time. Back to when daddy was still around and SM was our meeting place and how I could easily spot him from a hundred miles away.
Again, all these little moments that catch you off guard. Back to a new reality that can be just as confusing when memories of the past are thrown into the mix.
You have no idea how much I’m missing my dad right now as we speak.
While waiting for mommy to do her errands, I took Raven to this playcentre across from Booksale. We have this thing where we take turns on who’s gonna do what first. She waited patiently while I browsed for books so when it was her time to play, I had to extend the same courtesy as well.
But, geez, when I was there, Booksale was a complete mess. And I say that because it was one observation that truly stuck in my mind. There were boxes and boxes of unpacked books taking up space on the already narrow aisles I had to stretch my trunk leaning over and into the display table just to be able to read the titles. Like, seriously?!
That didn’t stop me from staying, though. If there’s anything being a Filipino has taught me, it’s resilience. And for that, I got myself The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which turned out to be a good read. Also came in handy while waiting for Raven to finish playing.
The day that we were to fly back to Australia happened to be on a Sunday. As per sort of like a mini tradition when daddy was still alive, we went to Sto. Niño Church to light candles. My dad was an avid devotee to the Holy Child. It was one of those religious practices that he passed on to us growing up because he believed he passed the CPA Board Exams because of Sto. Niño. That was the start of his devotion, I think.
The thing with me is that once I’m in the Philippines, it’s like I don’t wanna go back to Australia where a job and a husband await me. The night before our flight, I couldn’t be bothered packing. Not that there was anything to pack, really. Just dried fish and dried mangoes and this traditional cast iron pitcher I bought for making sikwate (hot chocolate). Also, several big bottles of Cream Silk Conditioner. A girl can’t get any more Filo than that.
Mommy did the packing for me early in the morning and I let her. I sensed it was her way of showing me her love, given that her love language is acts of service. She may not be the most expressive in showing affection but watching her organise my luggage with so much care showed me everything she could not easily show.
At that moment, she was my mom and I was her little girl again. I needed her and she felt needed.
It’s one of those things you really only truly understand when you become a mother yourself.
*Raven at 3 years old