AS THE BAMBOOS SWAY | A grieving episode


On a bunk in a boat bound for Romblon, I woke up sobbing. At first, I didn’t really know why. When I closed my eyes again, the face of my late only brother, Ces, floated in my mind. He was smiling.

It was the smile he had in his coffin having died in September 22, 2018. It was the smile I dearly described as ‘nakakaloko’ as it was almost taunting. It was almost the same smile on most photos he had after his stroke and shortly after he died when the final and fatal stroke took its toll.

I love that smile.

I sighed, deep. I realized am still grieving.

Between having been back to the US after his funeral and my coming back after the New Year of 2019, I kept blurting to my wife, “I miss my brother.”

“You never said that when he was alive,” she repeatedly retorted.

I really never then did because I always assumed that he would just be there whenever I come home. He would just be there for us to pick up on esoteric discussions we had. We never argued although we pointed out our differing outlooks on situations, current and projections. Our only common ground is, if our current assessments of the situations and applied differing solutions, the world’s problems would have been solved. Our only common ground is we’re for serving the people – no matter how differing or complementary our thoughts were.

Nonetheless, the bulk of our interludes would be reminiscing on our childhood at Strike and Spare Lanes by Mabini St. It was a time when the bowling lanes was the only building on that side of the street fronting Aurora Theater and the Baguio City Hardware. It was a time when the building was sandwiched by hills teeming with grasshoppers within carpets of blades of grass and swaths ofsunflowers face to face with the sun all daylight long. It was a time when we could play cowboys and Indians or as 300 Spartans beating the Persians. It was a time when it took a minute when a lone vehicle would pass by the street followed or met by another.

It was a time when Ces would be under my wings as ‘saling-pusa’ playing ‘tumbang-preso,’ high-jump, ‘bahay-bahayan,’ and others with kids my age or a bit older at the neighborhood. It was a time long before the buildings mushroomed and dwarfed the bowling alleys on its sides and across covering the whole stretch of the street. It was a time long time gone when even the Strike and Spare Lanes had to be struck with raging balls of destruction to give way to a modern structure, a worthy look alike of all buildings around it.

Both of us, during separate times, shed tears when we visited where the bowling lanes once stood. In similar breathes, we sighed. ‘There goes our childhood.’

It was a childhood when I held my brother’s hand as we took ‘adventurous’ walks with our cousin Boy Delima all over the City with no fear – up Dominican Hill, around Mansion House and environs, across Teachers Camp to the margins of La Trinidad and other corners of Baguio. It was a childhood where we were not scared to cross streets because of scarce vehicles racing with each other.

It was a childhood where we could have the Burnham children’s playground all for ourselves; a time when we could race down Session Road from Patria de Baguio to the Plaza without bumping into anyone.

It was a childhood of scooping tadpoles on streams by the Baguio General Hospital, close to Scout Barrio, and skirting La Trinidad; a time of catching and disturbing spiders from their peaceful haven of dried ‘marapait’ or other leaves to move them to matchbox dormitories before and after we have turned them into gladiators on an arena of a reed, a ‘walis tingting’.

It was a time when half a turon at SM was only 10 centavos instead of the current 10Php.

Even when we entered elementary school, Ces was still under my wings. One time when he was new as Grade 1 and I was already in Grade 3, he sought me out during recess, crying. He told me he was bullied by one of the bigger boys his grade. Before the bell rang, I rushed towards the kid. I can still feel his shoulders when I pushed him, almost toppling backwards. I can still hear myself saying, translated from Ilocano, “Never, never bully my brother again. Understood?” I can still see his eyes. It was my first time I realized that I could instill fear in someone’s soul. All for my brother.

That incident, I believe, cemented my being a protector to my only sibling and developed a kind of dependency on his part on me. This dependency would be broken several times during our life-time.

First, I left him for two years when I entered the minor seminary for two years. I felt he was glad I came back to the mainstream for I was able to help him from the clutches of my parents’ over-protectionism of their ‘bunso’. At least I was able to intercede for him to join hikes and camps with the boy scouts as I would be there anyway; looking out for him. During our high-school days, although we had separated circles of clubs and friends, I was always there when he needed me; even when I started my college years and he was left behind in high-school, I was always there for him.

I believe when he entered college is when he realized he could no longer depend on me and developed himself on his own. I was gone for four years due my advocacy and he developed himself with a vengeance. Finishing his masters, he went on to be a graduate of Asian Institute of Management, served with the notable government agencies like the National Economic Development Authority and the Population Commission. He would go on to retire from the United Nations.

All the while I was already abroad, having abandoned him for the longest time, coming home on vacations only to include our esoteric discussions and our Baguio reminiscences; not realizing why he had those smiles after his first stroke after I discussed this matter with my sister-in-law, Salud.

We interpreted those smiles to be saying, when he was still alive after his first stroke, “I am sure because I am sick now that I will go ahead of you and you cannot abandon me anymore.” And at the coffin, his smile was saying, “I told you so.”

Whether or not our interpretation is true, I feel and to emphasize, true to his smile, we had a reversal. He had abandoned me with a vengeance – for life.

Everytime, anywhere – in Romblon or any part of the Islands, in Mexico or anywhere in the world, I miss my brother.#


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