I opened my inbox and read his message, “How was your class this morning?” I checked the name again and read the message twice. Beside the open envelope was his registered name in my phone: Papa. I stared at the screen as I was thinking of what to reply. But I couldn’t think of any. And I really didn’t know how to reply to a question like that from a person like him. I put my cell phone on the bed and went to the bathroom, thinking that maybe I could come up with a reply after a bath.
It was a strange message from a person so strange to me. My father’s message was like an admiration of a tough professor for his student’s work. For the student, her professor’s words were more than that. It was a bizarre treasure that would be kept in her mind and heart for at least, forever. I could ignore that message and a hundred more sweet messages from someone like my boyfriend, but not a message from my father. He was a man of few words so it was not like him to ask questions like that. Seemingly out of nowhere, a father’s message was saved in my inbox.
I am choleric. Most of the time I can handle difficult situations very well but often, in spite of being a control freak, I barely know how to react appropriately in unexpected situations. Receiving that text message from my father was one of those situations where I found myself empty. You could easily tell when I’m in this kind of situation for I would sit in a corner and stare blankly in space. At that very moment, I saw myself sitting on the toilet bowl. I didn’t know how long I was there but I still didn’t have a reply for Papa.
When I was younger, I was always confronted with this kind of situation. Every time I would hear Papa’s whistle, I would normally panic and quickly run to him. My father seldom called me by my name. It was often if not always, a long rough whistle
which sometimes meant “Faster!” or “You had done something wrong again!” or “Get inside”. Just like a servant, I bowed as I stood still in front of my father as he looked at me with wrinkled brows and intense eyes. I could never look at my father’s eyes for they only made me cry.
Other people enjoyed eating together with their families but my experience was completely different. My elder sister, my twin brother, and I would sit on a long wooden chair with our hands on our lap as if we were in school and observing proper behavior. Papa would feed each of us a spoonful of food and make us swallow it before he would put another spoonful in our mouth. The feeding process was like playing the game holenay where the players would put their marbles in a single file on the target line. The players should position themselves in the manohan—one meter away from the target line— and they would alternately strike the lined up marbles until someone would strike it. The first player would be Ate, next Adrian, and I would be the last one. And one of the major rules is this: If you’re winning, you should not stop the game because your opponent wouldn’t let you. At first, it was an easy process since Ate, Adrian and I are used to eating much but after six or seven spoonfuls, we would feel full. But his rule was to empty the plate, so my siblings and I had no choice. Consuming half of the food on the big plate, we thought we were winning, but Papa wouldn’t let us stop the game. In holenay, though you had already won a good number of marbles, the losers could always have the chance to win back their marbles, but in Papa’s game, we were the losers. And would always be. He made the rules. No matter how hard we tried, there would never be winners among his children. There was a time when I was already full and I ate another spoonful because the plate was still half-filled. Papa held the spoon near my lips and I widely opened my mouth. I slowly chewed the food and tried to swallow it but I just couldn’t, so I vomited and tried to cup it in my hands. I cried with fear as Papa looked at me while my shirt was spattered with vomit. He slapped my mouth and commanded me to go upstairs. With trembling hands, I immediately ran upstairs and threw myself on the bed. I was afraid of my father—afraid of his voice, afraid of his eyes, and afraid of his whistle. I was afraid of Papa. That night, I felt like I knew who my father was.
As I was brushing my teeth, I thought of many possible replies to my father’s text message. I even formulated in my mind the safest reply: “Ok lang man Pa.” But I knew it was a lie to text him that, so I dismissed the thought. I pondered and realized that Papa’s text message should comfort me because it could also mean that Papa gave me a pat on the shoulder, or a tight hug or a comforting smile— very comforting gestures I always imagined would happen. But the text message bothered me instead.
I once read an essay by Resil Mojares entitled “I Never Sang for my Father.” I was caught in an uncontrollable situation again when I read it. Like the author, I never sang for my father too. Nor had it crossed my mind to do such an affectionate act. But sometimes I wish I could. In fact, I wish I had.
There were thousands of things I really wanted to reply to my father’s message. I wanted to say, “Pa, my class this morning was really difficult and I had another sleepless night just writing the paper for my morning class.” or “What are you trying to say Pa? Are you really asking me how my class was or were you just trying to ask if I can still handle the pressure? Or what?” But of course, it was impossible for a daughter to answer her father like that. Especially my father.
While I was holding my cell phone, I received another message from him, “Day, ugma na lang nako ihatod imong allowance. Gikalintura ko. Ayo-ayo dinha.” I smiled as tears started to trickle down my cheeks. All my life, I have known him as my father and my enemy. All my life, I have known Papa as a food-shover, a disciplinarian; he was a monster— yes, a monster that I love. I found myself smiling, wondering what Papa was thinking when he sent me the message. I resolved myself. I put the cell phone down and went to bed.
Aimee Rosal is completing her BA in Creative Writing in the University of the Philippines Mindanao.