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A Father’s Tale

A blog written by Leng Escalante

“Shine! Shine

Leng! Leng!” It was Papa calling me. Was it time for him to go again? I fixed my long hair behind my ears and threw the red little plastic shovel I was using to dig into the muddy soil. Don and i were making little tunnels through the garden so we could pour water into it later where our paper boats could float. It was another sunny Saturday when children would just play the whole morning as if the rest of the world didn’t matter. “Yes, Papa, I’m coming!”

I climbed the stone steps towards the front door, with sort of like dance steps and humming a song i just learned in Mrs. Reyes’ class this week. “…The sun will come out tomorrow… Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun…” She liked singing in class a lot, and that was just fine by me.

Papa was already seated at the front porch just outside the door with his luggages. He wore a brown hat that reminded me of many joyful summers in the farm. He looked worried. Maybe because he was leaving us again or maybe because he just saw how i recklessly tore one of the leaves of his Waling-waling orchid, the queen of Philippine flowers. We had a beautiful garden and he loved plants a lot, being a successful horticulturist. He made sure it looked and felt like the garden of Eden. And a budding orchid was priceless. I gave out a smile. That smile i always had when I’m nervous or needing forgiveness.  And of course, like many times before, it melted his heart and just smiled back.

fatherhood“What’s wrong, Papa?” He made me sit on his lap, despite my awfully soiled clothes. I was careful not to lean too close to his neatly ironed blue polo shirt. But it seemed not to bother him at all. “Nothing is wrong, Shine.” I knew he was lying. The creases on his forehead betrayed his words. “I will be traveling for my work. And I want you to be a good girl and study your lessons well.” I thought that was easy, playing with the hem of my dress that was a bit torn, taking a mental note to remind Mama to sew it later. I had been a good girl, both at home and in school, except for some childish tantrums. I was a Papa’s girl and maintaining honors in school was making him more proud of me as his firstborn. And that was fine by me.

“…Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrows ’til there’s none…” I was still humming the song. Papa cleared his throat. Another sign of stress. “Shine, listen…” I stopped humming and toying with my dress. “You have to promise me two things. First, never cry in front of your Mama.” “Today you mean, Papa?” “No, I mean never, ever cry.” Okay that was tough. Shouldn’t little girls like me were expected to cry a lot to their mommies? “I promise, papa.” Then he cleared his throat again. “And secondly, promise me that you will help Mama take care of Don, Bem and Allan.” That was even tougher. Mama just gave birth to Allan, he was just two months old. Nevertheless, i agreed. “Okay, Papa.” Maybe he would bring me lollipops and a new doll when he would come back. He hugged me. It was different. It felt different. He hugged me a gazillion times before but he hugged me too close and it felt like forever. I noticed his gray hairs and gray beard. Maybe he didn’t have time to shave this morning or dye his hair. “…When I’m stuck with the day that’s gray and lonely… I just stick out my chin and grin and say….” I was in my Papa’s strong loving arms and it was fine by me.

Two weeks have passed. The small tunnels through the garden were already washed away by afternoon rains, but the little red plastic shovel remained buried deep into the soil. The Waling-waling orchid has finally bloomed majestically and gave our own little Eden a royal atmosphere. Papa was due to come back today and I was seated at the front porch, in pigtails and well-ironed dress, still singing that song Mrs. Reyes taught us. “…so you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow come what May…”

Papa did not come back that day. In fact, he never did. My uncle came and informed us that Papa already left to be with God in heaven. Many people came to our house to stay for many days, people cried and wailed when they heard the news, and oh how Mama shed tears of pain and loneliness. There were flower bouquets all over the house but none as lovely as the orchid flowers in the garden. I did not cry. They thought I was too young to understand what was going on, but I wasn’t. I knew better. I was Papa’s little girl.

I sat at the front porch and looked after Don and Bem as they made castles through the soil in the small Eden that Papa left for us. It didn’t matter if they played the whole morning or if Bem’s shorts was a little bit torn. Allan was in his crib sleeping and still free from the cares and woes of life. It was another sunny Saturday when children would just play the whole morning as if the rest of the world didn’t matter. I wasn’t playing anymore. And it was their turn to learn and sing my song, “…Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow… You’re always a day away…” And that was just fine by me.

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