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The day after Christmas

By Büm Tenorio Jr., The Philippine STAR Published Jan 01, 2021 5:00 am

The day after Christmas, my mother got the spring back in her step.

She spent Christmas Day inside our compound, with all the gates of the house locked. Double-locked. And it pained her not to be able to share aguinaldo (monetary gift) with the kids from the neighborhood who would normally pass by the house.

No kids roamed around the neighborhood on the day that was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Blame it on the safety protocols and on barangay officials who made sure the rule would be followed to protect people from the virus. And to make sure no one could enter our house, my brothers made sure to double-lock the gates.

Just last year, on Christmas Day, just like the many Christmases of the past, the veranda of our humble house in Gulod was in a frenzy with early morning carolers singing and dancing and little kids lining up to get their share of P10 coins from my mother. The longer the line of children, the happier my mother became. The smile that radiated from her face as she shared her blessings was indescribable.

She loved the ruckus that went with her gift-giving. It’s a once-a-year source of ultimate joy for her. It was also the time to see again long-lost relatives or children of her friends from neighboring barangays.

In the simplicity of the scene came rushing back memories of the past. My parents taught my brothers and me to be grateful amidst our many wants. We were taught to accept things as they were and if we wanted to change them, we should aspire in life.

But last Christmas, there was no swarm of people in our house. The blinking Tivoli lights on our tree could not even lighten my mother’s mood. The day went by, oh so slowly. Deep in her heart she waited for the usual throng of children coming to the house. But they did not come. Bawal.

Deep inside her, she wished them well, as she wished one or two groups of kids would be able to sneak past the double-locked entrances to the house. But there were no kids on the street. And the padlocks latched on our gates were a symbol that times were not normal. They were also a symbol of love — for we needed to protect our mother, an immunocompromised senior citizen, from the usual crowd that brought merriment on Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas, the kids were still nowhere in sight. They don’t normally come after Dec. 25. But on Dec. 26, my mother got the spring back in her step. It was the day my brother Odick and I brought her to the cemetery to visit her husband.

She was excited. The joy that had escaped her on Christmas Day was the joy that came back the day after. She dusted her face with Johnson’s Baby Powder, making sure even her neck and nape would get powdered. While facing the mirror attached to the wall, she lined her lips first with her lipistik. She smudged the tint by biting gently into her lips. She was happy.

There was happiness in her every movement inside the house. Like when she went to her room to choose which bag would go best with her violet duster paired with black open-toed shoes. She chose the felt-bag, big enough to put her “everything” inside it. “Everything” means her bar of Toblerone or a mini-pouch of Kisses and M&Ms, a bottle of mineral water, her maintenance meds, a can of Coke, and Skyflakes. They are her arsenal in any event that she, a diabetic,  experiences hypoglycemia.

She’s always ready. Like one time, a few years ago, she was trapped in the elevator of a local hospital on the way to the clinic of her doctor for her checkup. In the darkness, she banged the door with all her might but no help seemed to come right away. Not the type to panic easily, she searched for her phone in her bag, turned on its flashlight and sat on the floor.

It took some 15 minutes before the maintenance staff rescued her. They found her sitting Indian-style on the floor, one hand with a chocolate bar and the other with her sandalwood fan. The first thing she told the hospital staff when the doors were opened: “Thank you. Gusto n’yong chocolate?” And when she was taken out of the elevator, the next thing she said was: “Itutok n’yo sa akin ang electric fan.” She is a character.   

In the cemetery the day after Christmas, if she could dash to her husband’s tomb, she would have. She was excited. She enjoined me to have a little program to make sure her husband would love all the more our presence by his gravesite. She sang a kundiman, the correct lyrics and the title of which she forgot. She changed her choice of song, Anak Dalita, the favorite kundiman of her husband. This time, she got everything correctly. She closed her eyes as she sang, imagining her husband before her, listening to her, holding her hands.

I was beside her, watching her close her eyes as her soul, alive and lilting, searched for the soul of my father. My eyes were damp. I was witnessing a beautiful story of love.

Later on, I realized that I was only poor in things that were tangible. But inside me was already a repository of lessons I would later on use in life. And those lessons I still use to this day. Foremost of which is to use the power of love.

I had my own imaginings that moment. In the simplicity of the scene came rushing back memories of the past. My parents taught my brothers and me to be grateful amidst our many wants. We were taught to accept things as they were and if we wanted to change them, we should aspire in life. But how do poor children dream? In my case, I dreamt with eyes wide open. “Bawal mainggit sa kaklaseng may laruan (Don’t get envious of your classmates who have toys),” my father said. “Dream,” my mother succinctly added. 

Later on, I realized that I was only poor in things that were tangible. But inside me was already a repository of lessons I would later on use in life. And those lessons I still use to this day. Foremost of which is to use the power of love.

Like how powerful the love of my mother to my father is. He would have been gone for 11 years already on Jan. 18, and yet my mother still draws strength from the love that they shared. “Umuwi ka na (Come home), Syo.”  Syo is her term of endearment for her husband. “I will help you take a shower. You’ve not taken a bath for long,” she continued in the vernacular. “I will cook your favorite dishes. Please send me money. Just come home.”

In the stillness of the morning she found the answer. She smiled. She prayed and smiled. She alternated praying and smiling at her husband’s tomb.

On our way back home, in the car, she was happy. The day after Christmas, the joy of the season came back to my mother’s feet — all the way to her lips. She was happy.