By Frances Rose S. Yap
THERE is a certain photograph that illustrated American recreational activities in the 1980s Philippines, particularly in Cebu. And this is depicted by a tall man with a fair complexion, riding on his black and red, American brand, TREK mountain bike. This man was wearing a white shirt with a blue bird printed on it, tucked in black cycling shorts that ended above the knees, and it traced the figure of the rider’s left leg that balanced him and the bicycle. His right foot was stepping on the pedal on the other side of the bike. He wore maroon and desert-coloured trainers and long white socks that extended to the shins. The photograph was taken at, probably, Busay. The road was paved with concrete, perfect for an easy trail of mountain biking. The man in the picture was my father. He had this costly hobby along with many more.
My mother, Tata, is this down-to-earth woman and a mother of three. She has this routine of beautifying, putting on her uniform — blazer, pencil skirt and heels — then giving us good-bye kisses in the morning before leaving to work for PLDT (she worked there for 25 years). Through loyalty and dedication, Mama put my two older siblings through college. Mama is many things: she cooks well and listens to the good music of the 70s and 80s. But what stands out the most is how she expresses her sentiments. I remember this one Nescafe commercial on TV that asked, “What’s your reason for waking up in the morning?” and she turned to me and said in the simplest of ways, “Ikaw.”
During enrolment, or first day of classes, we would be given school forms to fill out. I dread doing this because every time I reach the part that read “Father,” followed by a colon and a long blank, a surge of uneasiness would creep in. What should I write? Since grade school, we’ve gotten used to getting blanks to answer during quizzes and exams, some of which were stomach-churning. Yet none of these where nowhere near as stressful as one particular blank that the school forms offer. Imagine a child, not knowing what to write, trying to figure out the answer. How damaging could accumulated moments of distress be for a little girl?
My father was good-looking. But sometimes, with handsomeness comes idiocy. He was an unfaithful husband, an unstable employee, an unsatisfied man. He was a computer engineer who jumped from one company to the other — the mark of a man who doesn’t live up to commitments and quits when the going gets tough. He had every toy a grown man could want: mountain bikes, gym equipment, cars, and contemporary gadgets at that time. From the stories of Mama, he lived the pattern of a man who grappled with restlessness and aridity. He was a man trying to juggle work, finances, kids, wife, hobbies, friends, and girlfriends. It’s kind of ironic how some husbands complain so much with just one wife, yet other husbands still add mistresses to an already chaotic equation.
The day came when his whole charade, along with the front he had put up, was running thin. Mama could no longer take the feeling of insecurity from the failing marriage and financial problems. They had a huge, horrible argument that day. They traded screams while the neighbors, as if watching some intense soap opera, paid dear attention. The fight continued on the curb outside our old and rusty gate. That afternoon, he did the unthinkable: he threw a rock at Mama and hit her in the head. She had to be rushed to the hospital.
In some blank space somewhere, that act left an indelible mark to last beyond the decades to come. By the time Mama was home from the hospital, he was gone.