He stopped by the door of the viewing room – hesitant, anxious, grievous, he couldn’t place the feeling. This was the first time in years since he had seen him. And, also would be the last.
The man took a deep breath and pushed the door open, heart banging on his chest as if it might tear an actual hole and fall to the ground. He scanned the room, looking for familiar faces, saw his uncle sprawled on one bench by the water dispenser – asleep; must’ve been up all night. He also recognized his wife, sitting by the front row talking to a woman whom he did not know. Again, he scanned – he saw a flash of white, but ignored it – this time searching for the innocent eyes of his children; a girl and a boy, maybe 8 and 11 respectively. He had seen his children about two months ago when his wife paid his family a visit in Sta. Rosa.
He didn’t come because of work – they said. But, really, it was something more.
“Uy!” (Hey) a woman’s voice called, along with a poke on his shoulder. He didn’t notice his wife had acknowledged him.
“Hey,” he said, lamely.
“Maray ta naka abot ka,” (You made it) he saw her eyes glisten, as if telling him that she didn’t expect his presence.
Why should they? When we haven’t seen each other in so many years.
“Syempre man, tugang ko baga yan.” (He’s my brother, of course I came.)
“Mari na, tukawi na. Nuarin ka nag abot?” (Come, sit. When did you arrive?) and they sat down on the second row of benches – still further away from the white area.
“Kasubago lang,” (A little while ago) his brother’s wife then started to prattle as she always did. Often times, he would zone out and let her talk, occasionally nodding when the pitch of her voice rises. But, this time, he actually listens…
“Bigla nalang siyang natumba. Nagkakaon kami sa arong tapos naulog siya sa tukawan – ” (He just fell. We were eating at home and then he fell from his seat – ) …for a time. He had heard this drone from the telephone and did not want to relive it. So, he asks “Hain su mga aki?” (Where are the children?)
“Yaon sa arong, kaiba si mama.” (At home, they’re with Mother.) he nods at her answer, fixated on the small crevices of the wooden bench, not really seeing, still avoiding.
His wife then stands, probably noticed his lack of interest. Still, he doesn’t move or avert his eyes. He sits there and pretends that nothing is wrong. His wife comes back and offers him some refreshments. Glad for a distraction, he clumsily snatched a fudgee bar, tore it open and ravaged it in one bite.
He was antsy.
The wife sat down beside him again, a hand landed on his shoulder, so light yet felt like tons of steel being drilled into him. He looked up and their eyes met. An understanding sparked, igniting the pain, regret and anger that he had been refusing to confront upon hearing the news.
A tear fell from her left eye, gave him a soft smile and calmly hugged him. He felt like he was under a waterfall, being doused by cold spring water and all his energy being sapped as he struggled to stand firm below it. His wife pulled away after a while, composed herself and stood by the coffin. It was white, inlaid with gold bulbous things. There were cut flowers in beautiful bouquets; dead, like his brother.
He sniffed and stood up, legs feeling like jelly and stood beside the wife. Taking a deep breath, he gazed upon a familiar face; before, full of life, possibilities and mischief, now, pale and empty. He broke down then and there.
A picture of two boys playing by a fish pond rose in his mind, the older one pushing the younger into the water and playfully jumping in after. They splashed water on each other and laughed. Another image of them flashed, going home dripping wet, the shouts of their frustrated mother echoing in the small living space as she spanked the older.
He laughed at the memory, hysterically, wiping the mucous from his nose with your elbow. He then bent down and kissed the coffin’s glass. Remembering, again, how they would buy ice cream after.
The man took a deep breath as thoughts of him continued to flood his mind; a montage of their lives as brothers… friends. He smiled and cried and uttered his apologies to deaf gods. All the while the widow tapped his back, silently crying along as her wounds opened up once more to accommodate for his to heal.