By Charita Gil
I wake up to the smell of tsokolate boiling and the faint conversation from the kitchen between Mother and Father—or Nanay and Tatay, as we say in the Philippines. I hear the slowly approaching band playing for the townspeople at five in the morning to celebrate the town fiesta happening in six days. The music is a series of hills and valleys of exuberant notes that pleases my ears.
Sleepily, I walk to the small kitchen. Tatay is now frying tuyo—salty dried fish—which completes the perfect breakfast of rice and hot tsokolate.
“Can you hear the band?” I say, my voice rough from sleep.
“They sound as lovely as ever,” Nanay says, pouring tsokolate into three cups. “I can’t believe it’s fiesta again. It’s the band’s first march. I wish you were still a member of a band, Ronan. I remember when I saw…”
I walk toward the bathroom in quick, big strides as Nanay recalls every small detail of the day she first met Tatay, who was a dashing drummer of a local band. I’ve had enough of that story; Nanay would always recall it this particular time of year.
But I can’t suppress a smile as I wash my face. I don’t have to peek over the kitchen to see Tatay’s smiling face. I suppose he’s smiling more to himself than at his chatterbox wife. I know they love each other much more today than any other day.
The same time the following year, Nanay shakes me awake at five in the morning. I sit up and frown. I can hear the sound of her difficult breathing. We’ve been to the hospital twice this year. A stressful year, unfortunately. My parents are in their late fifties. I am an only child—a menopausal baby.
She says, “You’re coming with me to the beach.”
“Is it okay to go out? You’re short of breath.”
“That’s why we’re going there.” She believes that exercising in front of the sea before the sun rises can cure asthma.
I can smell tinapa—Filipino smoked fish—being fried by Tatay as I walk toward the kitchen. Nanay is behind me. I pause. “Can you hear the band?”
“Oh, it’s their first march,” Nanay smiles. She walks past me and toward Tatay. “I can’t believe we’re celebrating fiesta in six days. I miss this lovely music. Ronan, I wish you were there playing the drum, too. Do you remember when we first met…”
I turn around to go back to my room, but Tatay calls me back.
Nine months later
“I think we should stop eating tuyo,” Nanay says, covering her nose and eyeing the tuyo on the table with distaste. “I need to use the nebulizer.” She’s short of breath as she rises and walks away.
The telephone rings; I pick it up.
“Hello, is this Ronan Calvez’s house?” a man asks on the other end.
“Yes, this is Martina, his daughter.”
And then, “This is General Hospital calling.”
I swallow hard.
“Mr. Calvez was brought here from his office half an hour ago. He had a heart attack. I’m very sorry to say this, but…”
I drop the phone.
Mr. Calvez didn’t make it…
The delectable blend of smells of tsokolate boiling and tuyo frying from the kitchen wakes me up. I get up and walk toward Nanay in front of the stove.
“I thought we should stop eating tuyo,” I say.
“What can we do? It’s our favorite.”
I smile sadly. It’s good that frying tuyo doesn’t seem to remind Nanay of Tatay. It was he who always fried tuyo.
I sit down at the table, pause, and smile widely. “Nanay, can you hear the band?”
I don’t get a reply immediately. She lays down three cups on the table, but then hesitates. She picks up one of them and puts it back into the cupboard.
“What band are you talking about? I don’t hear anything.”
I freeze. I lower my gaze as the lively band passes by out front. It was a wrong question—a moment of forgetfulness.
“I’ll wash my face first,” I say.
In the bathroom, I cry as I wash my face. Nanay has been depressed since that fateful day two months ago. I don’t even want to look at her.
In the years that follow, I’m really careful. When the band passes by out front, I don’t say anything, and neither does Nanay. The music no longer pleases my ears. The series of hills and valleys of exuberant notes has become a series of oceanic ridges of depressing ones.
Six days before the town fiesta
The noise from Nanay’s nebulizer makes me get out of the bed and walk toward her room. We just came home yesterday from a week’s stay in the hospital. Nanay had a severe asthma attack. I almost lost her.
“Is it hard to breathe again?” I ask worriedly.
She puts the mouthpiece away and turns the nebulizer off.
“Why did you turn it off?”
She hushes me.
When I hear the approaching band, I start to walk away.
“Do you hear that, Martina? Can you hear the band?”
Slowly, I turn to her.
“How I miss this lovely music,” she says thoughtfully. “Your father…” She looks into my eyes. “Don’t you know he was once a member of a local band? He was onstage that day, the most dashing drummer I’d ever seen, playing the drums. I fell in love with him first. I can’t forget how—where are you going?”
I can’t take it anymore and run to my room, crying. Deep in my heart, I know why she’s saying that after all these years. No, I don’t! I can’t hear the band.
I’m ready to leave town. Yesterday was the day I accompanied Nanay to her final resting place, beside Tatay’s.
I’m all alone, so I’m leaving. I don’t want to hear the band ever again.