My elder brother Gaddie and I were sweeping the yard early Monday morning when we grew nostalgic. It must have been the yellow and green leaves of the himbaba-o trees that kept on falling to the ground at the slightest whisper of the wind. It must have been the brisk sound of the broomstick hitting the ground. It must have been the fact that the last time we swept the yard together in Gulod was when we were kids.
While doing our morning chore in the family compound, our conversation brought us to grade school field trips. I got to join only once but my Kuya Gaddie was not able to be part of any school excursion. Our parents couldn’t afford the P40 fee for the field trip. But long before we were able to see the planets and the stars in the National Planetarium and the zebras and elephants in Manila Zoo, we already saw them in our imagination. Thanks in big part to our respective classmates who would exchange stories about the field trips we were not part of. (I got to visit those places when I was in Grade 6. Kuya Gaddie got to experience them when he already had his own children whom he accompanied on their field trips.)
In those days, almost half of the school population could afford to join the excursion. But my brother and I would always wake up early on the day of the field trip, run to the gate of the school to wave goodbye to our schoolmates. One by one, they would hop onto the tourist bus, joy written on their faces, excitement in their every step, revelry in their voices. The scene was repeated when other students were ushered to the next buses in line.
By the gate of the school, Kuya Gaddie would hold my hand, our eyes set on our friends who made their way to their seats. We would leave the premises of our public school when all that was left were the fumes of the buses.
We would walk home. And dream again that maybe next year, we would be able to join the school field trip. It never came while Kuya Gaddie and I were still together in school. But we continued to dream.
In our dreams, we imagined the giraffes that craned their necks to reach out for the leaves being fed to them or the lions roaring at the sight of guests outside their heavily fenced den. We imagined the changing of the guard at Luneta. We imagined the comets and asteroids at the Planetarium. We imagined a better life for us.
I was in Grade 3 when Kuya Gaddie entered high school. When he finished high school, he found a job at Asia Brewery as a factory worker. It was our eldest brother Ronnie, also a factory worker, who put him there. Both of them helped our parents, both farmers, in putting food on our table. Both of them helped fuel my dream.
When I was in Grade 6, Kuya Ronnie saved money so I would experience a school excursion. I cried. My Kuya Gaddie escorted me to the schoolground before the crack of dawn, made sure I brought with me my packed meals prepared by our mother — one for lunch and another for early dinner. I had no extra money in hand. But Kuya Gaddie gave me an extra reminder: “Don’t lose sight of your class adviser. Manila is far. Don’t get lost.” Then he brought me to the bus and waved me goodbye. There was pure joy on his face when he saw me off.
Finally, one of us was joining a field trip. And it was me, not him. But he was content because he knew I would deliver a good story once I got home from the field trip. I did not disappoint him.
To this day, I don’t disappoint him. I make it a point to value his wisdom all the time. He is one reason why I want to do better in life.
To this day, I tell him stories. Stories of love — the ones I found and the ones I lost. Stories of my dreams — the ones I conquered, the ones I failed to achieve, and the ones I still pursue. Stories of hope and devotion. Stories of lost faith in people and ideas that he restores for me with his stubborn conviction.
He regales me with stories, too. Like how it took him many years to let go of the pain he felt when he lost Nikka, his daughter, who died when she was 10 in 2007. And how much he misses his eldest son, Nikko, who now works in Canada. He tells me about his and his wife Alma’s dream for their youngest son Nikkelle.
He reminds me of other things we shared before – like our love for reading komiks. And how we once shared a pair of shoes. (He would wear the shoes in the morning and when he came home from school, I would wear the same pair to my afternoon class. More often, in my hurry, I wouldn’t tie the shoelace anymore. To this day, I am not comfortable tying my sneakers’ shoelaces.)
We always remember what our parents taught us when we were kids: that envy is the enemy. We were taught to dream. And those things we did not have, we should aspire to get through fair means.
The pandemic allowed Kuya Gaddie and me to rediscover each other. Not that we lost touch. Only, we were not given much time to celebrate each other for a long time.
I had been far away from home for far too long until the pandemic. Every member of my family lived close to each other. I only went home during the weekend — for the last 25 years. The city was my home and I had stayed longer in Manila than in Gulod. I was 23 when I tried my luck in Manila to fulfill my dream of becoming a journalist.
Now, most of the time, I stay in Gulod, and work from home. When I came home in May, I felt the joy of my family. Finally, we were complete. I was the only one working in Manila. And what joy it was for all of us to be together.
Kuya Gaddie, who now runs his home-based milk tea business, and I bond each day as I engage him in early-morning reveries as he sweeps the yard or as I join him in cleaning our compound. And always, always, the stories of our childhood are a good starting point. We never get tired of reminiscing about the school field trips we were not able to join.
We missed those trips. But we found each other. That’s the greatest excursion of our lives.
Banner illustration by Jaymee L. Amores