Thirteen years ago, my brother Nicko and I were given away to another family. Mama never told us to prepare anything that could have enlightened us why we had to come with the two women waiting outside our doorway. She told us to be good and the rest would be provided. I had no instinct as to where those women would take us.It was as if I was deceived by the absence of any instinct as a child. But now that I have already arrived in this age with a little courage to confront my own ghost, I think of the woman named Joy who treated me as her son when none of her children would love to.
Out of Mrs. Joy’s meekness, I oftentimes found it difficult to utter any word when I was with her. It made me hesitant to tell her that I was hungry, that I wanted to take a piece of pan de sal she had placed on the plate. She was a woman in mid fifties who wore a loose duster all the time. Her crimson hair clipped back. The thread at the end of her faded blue scarf began to lose. I always found her sitting alone on her chair. A mug of coffee slowly grew cold by her hand. She would look at the vacant chairs as if waiting for the arrival of a long gone beloved or friend. I knew nothing about the silence of her mornings. What I remember was that no one had arrived to join her.
I was living in a house that was different from ours, in the village called Novatierra, Lanang. There I couldn’t see large trucks passing. The only sound I could hear was the growling of her dogs caged in a dark cell.
On the first week of our stay, I found out that the two women who fetched us were hired as helpers. They would move every couch in the sala where my kuya and I had slept. Behind those were the dogs’ excrements which they had to remove. They knelt, scrubbed the floor with rugs, almost to the point of breaking their backs. I was handed a cloth too, and rubbed the floor until it was clean enough.
Outside, at the back of Mrs. Joy’s room, I discovered a roofless bodega. The bodega was unlocked and could be visited by anyone in the house. It looked haunted because of thick cobwebs. Dead leaves had fallen. I wonder whether the impossibility of cleaning Mrs. Joy’s whole house made the two helps leave after a few months.
Some strange things were on the corner. There was a white cabinet with empty picture frames inside. The shards were scattered on the ground where I was standing. I also found a small bike, but its one wheel was detached from the bike. One of Mrs Joy’s sons must have owned it before. I tried to ask Mrs. Joy if I could fix the bike since I had no toys to play with in her house. But she only scolded me. She told me not to touch anything in the bodega because those were meant to be thrown away. What was wrong with her? The bike was still in good condition. I could’ve fixed it and call it mine, but I thought someone in the house had really owned it? Who was that child?
I learned Mrs. Joy had two sons. The elder son, a long haired man was just living in the same area with his small house built a few meters away from Joy’s. The youngest son would always come home late with smell of liquor invading the house. Three of them were left in the house, but it seemed surreal to witness how uncommunicative they were to each other. It was as if their words were only meant to be said if the elder would reprimand the younger after not flushing the toilet bowl; or if one had to mock the other when a foolish remark would be released out of rage.
My kuya and I were obedient. We would bathe the dogs on a certain day, but we had to tame the dogs for it might possibly bite us. And I knew that Mrs. Joy had loved what we were doing, even though we were not commanded. When we entered back the house, she would caress our heads because as she said, we were kind. I began to think that maybe we were also sent as helpers to help Mrs. Joy. But I never had the courage to ask her if the case was true.
A few months after, my brother admitted that he had missed our family, and that he wanted to go home. I had missed my family too, but what more could we ask for? We couldn’t eat friend chicken everyday in our house.
The following days, Mama and my two younger sisters came to visit us. I was happy to know that mama wanted us to go home because she said that she had missed us too. But how I didn’t understand why Mama would bring kuya only. It was difficult to find out what goodbyes meant. At that time, neither Mama nor Mrs. Joy had explained why I was left. What I only knew was that Joy and Mama were close friends. I stayed for more than a month. But when the third week of August came, I was surprised to see my elder sister knocking at the gate. She introduced herself to Mrs. Joy. She asked if she could borrow me because it was Kadayawan week. My sister had promised that she would return me that day, so we left. But ate lied, and never returned me that day. Then I heard that Mrs. Joy was looking for me. She said I should have said goodbye.
Neil Teves, is studying Journalism and Broadcasting at Holy Cross of Davao College. He has been a fellow for Creative Nonfiction to the Ateneo de Davao Summers Writers Workshop, the Cagayan de Oro Young Writers Studio, and the Davao Writers Workshop, all during 2018.