The only sound that resonated in one of the crowded rooms inside the lonely mansion at Lugay-Lugay Street was her loud, ragged, and pained breathing. It was 9:45 in the evening, the night after Christmas in 2007. Families, relatives, and friends, rushed from different distant cities and countries to Cotabato City to be with her in her final moments. The golden silk curtains were drawn, the air-conditioning unit was turned off, all the lights were switched on—brightly illuminating every inch of every face, and of everything—in the house, and the white narra door that was always locked was now left wide open for the people to enter and see her in such a heart-breaking state.
She was lying on a hospital bed bought by her eleven children, six sons and five daughters. IV needles were injected on her bruised right hand. She was wearing an oxygen mask that did nothing but to amplify her agonized gasping for air. Her black, thinning hair was tied into a messy knot. Here caramel skin was too big and too loose for her now thin body. As I sat silently in a corner, my back against the whiteness of the walls, she looked very small and shriveled as a leaf that had fallen from the mango tree her firstborn son had planted in her garden.
The hushed sobbing of the crowd. The soft rustling of clothes being smoothed down and brushed. The anxious patting of the bare and naked feet, as the people in the room shifted their weight—left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. The holding of breaths. The passing of time. Her breathing slowly fading away. Silence. Her youngest daughter’s horrified wail followed by her youngest son’s urgent warning, “Stop it, stop it. Do not cry.” Her husband’s nervous laugh as he tried to crawl out of the room. These were the sounds that pulsed in the room as my heart thumped heavily in my chest.