Friday, July 28, 2006

Questions and Answers.

"Don't say I didn't warn you." Emma reminded me. "I'd hate to say 'I told you so' pero ikaw ang nagpupumilit."

"Really its ok," I answered. "I was invited so ano ba problema?"

"Wala naman. Left"

"OK- I don't see a problem. I've met them already diba?" I asked as I steered the car according to Emma's instructions.

"Correction," she replied. "You've met SOME of them, AND ON different occasions AND ON different places- Left ulit dyan - You've never met ALL of them- in one place at the same time".

"Yes, but my impression was they're ok naman," I argued. The roads are starting to get narrow and negotiating with tricycles is proving to be difficult. "Don't tell me- you're embarrassed?"

"No!" Emma answered. "Ikaw bahala. Basta. DONT say I didn't warn you".

Those were Emma's words. I should've listened.

It all started a few nights ago- Wednesday, I recall- I was in my room, writing some email to my mom regarding her trip home when the phone rang. Emma is the one who usually answers the phone (because sometimes I'm too lazy and I pretend not to hear it ringing), but at that time, she was still at the office, filling in a time quota. I got up, picked up the cordless and answered.

"Hello, pwede po ba makausap si Emma" replied the guy on the other end of the phone. He sounded like a teenager.

"She's not around. May I take a message?"


"Ah- Wala kasi sye eh- May pagbibilin ka?" I was a bit amused at the caller. Maybe he got intimidated because he didn't reply. The next voice I heard on the phone was of a woman, and she sounded much older. Unlike the kid, I recognized her voice- She was one of Emma's relatives... I think.

"Ay hello, Aldrin ikaw pala, wala ba si Emma dyan"

"Wala po eh, Mamayang 9 (pm) pa po sya nagpapasundo sa office," I answered. I didn't ask her name even though I was unsure of who it was that I was talking to. I thought that it would be rude because she remembered my name, while I can't remember hers.

"Kasi birthday ko sa Biyernes, pero yung handaan sa Linggo"

"Wow. Advanced happy birthday po," I greeted. "Ilang taon na po kayo?"

"Nako mag sisisenta na ko," she answered followed by a laugh. I don't know whats wrong with me, but I find it easier talk to older strangers than with people around my age. We chatted for a bit and that is how I got myself invited to lunch for the birthday celebration of Emma's "Tita Lorenza" aka "Aling Loreng" aka "Aunty Lo".

Fastforward a few days later, and here we are, driving to her tita's brithday. Along the way, Emma was trying to convince me that I shouldn't have come along. "Pagsisisihan" ko raw.

I had difficulty making the narrow right turn into a small vacant lot where other cars were parked. The lot was uncemented but the barren areas and the uneven grass suggested that this lot was used as a parking space by the surrounding households. After parking, we entered a small iron gate made of fencing wire- and there we were: We are at Emma's Aunt's place- and I was about to meet her family.

Like what Emma said, it wasn't the first time for me too meet some of her relatives. I've met some of them- like her mom's sister- when they visit Emma or her mom at our house. Birthdays and holidays usually.

It is, however, my first time to be a visitor in their house- and I was really excited about it. Secretly, I was hoping that I could meet up with some of her cousins that I've met before and dig dirt on Emma- para naman may pangganti ako. Nauubusan na ko ng pang-asar sa kanya eh.

Emma walked in first and she led me into a small clearing beside the terrace where most of the people were gathered. There were several long tables and around them were a mix of monobloc chairs and wooden benches.

The people? The people were crazy! Its as if each table has its own party- Everyone was laughing and yelling and teasing each other- and alcohol wasn't even being served yet (more on this later). I listened to them as I followed Emma towards the terrace- Ang lakas nila mag asaran. I took a quick look at Emma and I came into a blinding realization: This is where Emma gets it. This is the reason kung bakit ang galing nya mang asar. Her family members grew up teasing each other- they would take each others' flaws and use it in a witty comeback for jokes and stories. I could just picture Emma going head to head with her relatives with the puns and wisecracks.

I felt really good coming to that place. I thought that my own family is a bit too..."poised" for this kind of fun. Just watching the guests made me smile and Emma noticed it as we stepped into the terrace.

"Ba't naka ngiti ka?" she asked.

"Wala lang, masaya dito eh," I replied with a grin.

"You look silly," Emma said with a whisper. "Umayos ka naman please. Ayan sila."

Hearing Emma say "umayos ka naman please" felt a bit harsh- I thought that maybe she isn't really embarrassed by her family. Maybe, she was embarrassed of me. This realization wiped the smile from me face. I've decided to be serious and well-behaved. Like what my lola used to say, "Its only right to be polite in someone else's house".

As soon as Emma stepped into the terrace, she was greeted by everyone. She kissed and greeted the celebrant, Aunty Lo, and hugged her other titas. Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy, and everyone was busy asking how everybody was doing. Our family gatherings were never like this- reunions were always held in restaurant somewhere- maybe because most of my relatives have migrated out of the country. Events like birthdays are rarely close to home (literally). Here, everyone was close to one another, and no one can interrupt the chatting and the laughter.

Except when a stranger steps into the terrace makes the caged dog start barking. Yup, that’s my entrance.

"Oy, andyan ka pala!" said the old thin woman wearing a bright red and orange dress. I recognized her voice from the phone conversation a few days ago.

"Happy birthday po," I greeted Aunty Lo, as I took a stepped forward towards her to give her the cake that Emma picked out.

"Ay. Thank you!" Aunty Lo replied. "Ikaw naman Emma, Di mo naman sinabing kasama mo pala mo sya".

It felt good hearing Aunty Lo say that. Although I'm not her relative, it reminded me of that "Ang paborito kong apo" McDo Commercial years back. It made me smile, but that smile was short-lived.

"Mahirap na kasi iwan sa bahay," said Emma while taking cake from Aunty Lo and placing it at the dessert end of the buffet table. "Baka masaktan, lagot ako sa mama nya"

A few of her relatives laughed, and I saw Emma looking at me. I knew she was trying to find out if I was offended by the strangers at her joke at my expense. I'm not really affected by what insults she says, but at that day, its was the way she said it that concerned me.

Her tone sounded like she was genuinely annoyed. It made me feel like I did something wrong but I couldn’t figure out what it is. Call me dense, but I can be very insensitive about these things.

Looking around, I figured that this is not the place to talk about it. It was a birthday celebration, and I didn’t want to spoil everything by being insulted or worried. I shrugged it off and smiled.

We arrived around 1pm and many of the guests have eaten already. Emma and I were given plated and lead towards the buffet table.

"Di ka sanay no?", Emma asked.

"Yeah," I smiled. "Nakakapanibago". I was a bit relieved that she talked to me, but in a way, it felt bad because I knew she was pointing out differences between my family and hers.

She was talking about the food, and what were served at Aunty Lo's birthday were not like what I normally get to eat. There were grilled veggies and seafood, karekare, pancit, embutido, fried chicken, and others that I cant recall the names. I noticed that Emma was watching me when we got our food. Hindi naman ako maselan, but she already used the perfect words to describe the experience: hindi ako sanay. If I would compare it to a restaurant, I would compare it to Cabalen.

We sat at the table together with most of her immediate relatives. The food was very good actually. I planned to return to the buffet table to taste the other foods that I wasn't able to get, but I kept to my thoughts and remained silent and behaved. (Sayang kasi when I noticed that Emma was looking at me at the buffet line, kinontian ko yung kinuha ko). I spoke only when I was spoken to, politely smiled when someone cracks a joke, and when I was asked questions, I made sure that I gave a satisfactory answer.

One would think that the best environment to eat is with family and friends, with everybody laughing and telling stories. Even though I was smiling at that time, surround ed with friendly faces, my thoughts were still focused on Emma. Underneath the small talks with the people around the table, I was still worried about Emma. I was still searching for whatever it was that I did wrong, and that killed my appetite. I finished my plate, placed the spoon and fork together as a sign that I was finished.

I waited for Emma to finish eating. I watched and listened to her eat and talk to her relatives- she was having such a good time that I just wanted to be invisible- I didnt want her to think about anything else. I didnt want to ruin the laughs and chatter that she was enjoying but she noticed that I've finned lunch ahead of her.

"Umupo ka na lang, ako na" she said as she got up and took my plate so she can put it away.

"Tulungan na kita..."

"Ako na," she interrupted with a stress on her voice.

I couldn't do anything about it. I felt like a small kid. Sumunod na lang ako. She put away our plates and I kept quiet and listened to the chitchat of her relatives. They seemed to enjoy their conversations very much, and I enjoyed listening to their stories very much. It made me remember that time when Emma was talking about her Singapore experience. I enjoyed listening to her then, we can talk for hours but right now, she doesn't seem to be in a talking mood.

Emma was gone from the table a long time. I was beginning to feel a bit awkward since apart from the familiar faces, I don't really know much about her relatives. I looked for her and I saw her coming out from the kitchen door, and with her was the cake we bought from Sugarhouse. We stopped by Rockwell Powerplant before heading to the birthday. Emma wanted to be a bit extravagant about her tita's birthday because she was her favorite relative. I remember when she was a lot younger; she would stay for weeks at her aunt's place every summer. I assumed that Emma has a lot indebted to her tita and this is her way of showing her appreciation. I thought it was very sweet of her.

Emma has taken cake outside the box and has lit a small candle (which is odd because the cake didn't come with a candle) for the birthday song. I found her relatives' reaction funny when it was time to cut the cake. At first, they want to taste it but they kept commenting that they didn’t want to "destroy" it. "Makakain ba to?" Aunty Lo asked. "Parang plastik eh."

I smiled when I heard Emma laugh from that comment and when I thought about it, it’s rare that I hear her laugh in such a way. It was so unrestrained- and she didn’t mind if it was too loud because everyone else was laughing. I sometimes think that being with my own family (or specifically, me) would mean that she would have to act in a certain way. She was so comfortable- perhaps that time, she didn’t have to worry about putting the best foot forward. In that place, it was ok for her to let down her guard. She was in the presence of her own family after all.

And a thought occurred to me: does she consider me "family"? It’s a yes or no question I've asked myself before, but I haven't concluded with an answer because I felt like its a lose-lose situation, but it’s a question that we both have to ask ourselves.

"Ayan o," said Emma while handing me a small plate and a fork. I didn't notice that she got me a piece of cake.

"Thanks," I said, ignoring the tone of her voice that made me feel that she didn't really want me there.

I was walking back to the table with my cake piece when Aunty Lo held my arm.

"Aldrin, Ikaw muna umupo dun sa mesa ko."

I looked at the "mesa" she was referring to. It was a mahjong table and 2 of Emma's titas and one of her male cousins were waiting for the fourth player. It wasn't much of a gamble since they were just playing with one peso bets.

"Ayan may mapeperahan na kami," one of Emma's titas commented. They easily knew that I was a newbie in mahjong when they saw how clumsy I was with handling the mahjong pieces.

I know how to play mahjong a bit. I watched my Lolo play with his colleagues it when I was a lot younger. I thought that they have different rules because when I watched them play, they had different calls and moves. It felt like what I understood from the game from watching my Lolo and my mom and my uncles was useless but hey- at I know what the pieces are called. I told Emma about this so she pulled a chair and sat behind me. She was my "miron", my coach. I mentioned before that Emma is a competitive player- and I think that is her competitive nature that makes her a kind of a... "mean" coach. In one of the games, I accidentally revealed my hand, and she pinched me. Negative Reinforcer. Ako pa raw yung makulit. I guess being half Taiwanese, she has some sort of in-born affinity embedded in her genes. Since Emma was doing most of the playing, this gave me time to eat the cake lol.

Whenever I don’t know what to do next, she would whisper at my right ear. Sometimes she would even lean over and pick up the next mahjong piece from one of the stacks. This got me really fascinated- she wouldn't immediately look at the face of the mahjong piece, but she feels it first with the tip of her middle finger. "Pinipintahan" or "keeping the suspense" she calls it.

"Ang cute mo naman. Ba't di mo na lang agad tignan?" I asked her. I may have said that a little too loud because Emma elbowed my side. Her titas may have heard me because I caught their eyes shift from their blocks towards me for a second.

"Kelangan eh," Emma answered. "Ang panget kasi ng diskarte mo kaya balance lang."

Ouch. She shot me again. I felt really embarrassed when I noticed that her titas were giggling. Its a good thing that Aunty Lo came back. I really wanted to walk away from the embarrassment.

"Natalo ba?" Aunty Lo asked.

"Di naman po gaano," I replied with a smile.

"Pag wala kang ginagawa dun sa inyo, pumunta ka dito para lagi kaming may kalaro"

I'm beginning to see what Emma sees in her aunt. Even if I may have done something to offend Emma, I still felt welcome in their house. "Susubukan ko po," I told Aunty Lo.

Emma kept quiet beside me when I was talking to her aunt. When Aunty Lo relieved us of our position at the mahjong table, Emma spoke to me softly. "Tara dun tayo sa loob."

She escorted me inside the house into the living room she she asked me to sit at the wooden sofa. It was much cooler inside the bungalow house. The big fan at the center of its high ceiling began to rotate when Emma turned on the switch at the wall opposite the door.

This is as private as it can get, I thought. There were kids in the living room with us. I assumed them to be some of her nephews or the neighbors' kids.

"Is there anything wrong?" I asked. I genuinely felt bad that she's been annoyed at me all day.


"Galit ka yata eh"


I knew something was up. Definitely something major. We grew up together. Although I can't say I know everything about her (I think it’s impossible for a guy to understand everything about a girl), I know her well enough to sense that she is upset about something. She didn't even ask why I was asking.

Awkward silence. She didn't want to talk- its one of those moments na mahirap mangapa ng sasabihin. I have no one to turn to so my focus began to flutter to anything that could catch my attention: The warmth of the afternoon, the gentle breeze of the wind blowing through the screen windows, making the light-blue green curtains dance, the hardness of the wooden sofa underneath the softess of the yellow embroidered throw pillows, the sound of children playing outside, and the splashes of running water from the kitchen which was concealed behind a small black divider. Ate Lydia told me that Aunty Lo and her late husband, like her, were once OFWs, and the perks of Duty Free shopping has filled their living room with electronics. I counted at least four- and these are not simple components- they were complete sound system- 5.1's at the very least. There were also a VCD, DVD players and a PS2 (probably used by Aunty Lo's son) underneath the big screen TV.

I was looking around if they have PS2 titles lying around when this little girl came running towards Emma. I'm familiar with her face as well. Her parents bring her over at our house Christmas to visit Emma and her mom. I think she may be too young to remember me since it’s been a while since Emma and I spent Christmas together.

The girl was shy, although she seem to know her "Ninang Emma" well enough to sit on Emma's lap

"Hello", I said, sliding closer to the two. "Ano pangalan mo?" I asked, trying to sound like a nice person.

The girl didn’t reply so Emma coached her into saying her name "What’s your name daw," I heard her whisper into the girl's ear.

"Apple po," she finally answered. It was cute to watch~ she said her name like she was introducing herself in a Little Miss Philippines pageant. I waited if she would quote a "kasabihan" after stating her name.

"Hello Apple," I greeted. "I am Kuya Aldrin."

"Ano daw?" I heard Apple whisper to Emma.

"Aldrin pangalan nya," coached Emma. "Say hello to your kuya Aldrin."

I really wanted to talk to the little girl so I waited for her to say hello. I smiled at her and I tried not to look intimidating.

"Boyfriend ka ni Ate Emma?" Apple asked.


Have you ever been in one of situations where you wish you can just press Ctrl+Z and undo a mistake? I'm sure I have.

If it were an adult who asked that question, I'd say "My relationship wish Emma is unique" or "I feel something special about her" or "we are really close." But how can you explain this to a child? How can you tell a 6 year old that my relationship with Emma is undefined, or vague, or "a blur of uncertainly but it just seems to work"? So I did what any self-respecting guy would do in that situation.

"Sa kanya mo itanong," I told Apple. I smiled and closed my eyes, because I didn't want to look at Emma when I just turned the table on her.

The truth is, we haven’t really talked about it yet. We have been getting along pretty well (except right now). I may be wrong but when it comes too my relationships, I apply the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule (and yes, I've been into heated arguments because of that, mostly with women). Part of me was really curious how Emma will respond to the question, so even though I was facing Apple and smiling, I was all ears to the slightest sound Emma will make.

"Ewan ko ba sa kanya"

OK class, lets analyze.

"Ewan ko"- this simply means that she doesn't know. Combine that with the word "ba", its becomes "Ewan ko ba," which has a "confused" connotation. "Ewan ko ba sa kanya" means that she gets confused because of me.

"Anong ewan?" I asked her, I noticed that my voice got a lot louder, so I toned it down to a whisper. "Anong ewan?"

"Malay ko sayo"

Hmm... thats new. "Malay ko sayo", a tagalog expression which means she is not really aware about it.

There are a lot of things I want to ask her, but I just kept silent. There's a time to talk, and right now isn't one of them, I thought. Instead, I just talked to Apple about whatever it is that concerns 6-year old, which can be summarized into 2 syllables: TV

We were talking about Spongebob when one of Emma's cousins entered the room to give Apple a cone of ice cream.

"Paaaaaaaat!" exclaimed Emma who stood from her seat to give her cousin a hug. I think among her female cousins, she is closest with Pat. She came to our house as well, so I know her too and there was no need for introduction.

"Emmaaaaaa!", Pat replied.

"Aldriiiiiiiiin! Its so good to see you!", I said to myself since nobody seemed to care that I was there.

Emma asked about her studies so I assumed that she was in college. Pat was carrying her nephew-brother, cousin- I can't really tell. She immediately passed in front of me and sat between me and Emma.

They began chatting, and from time to time, Pat gave me a look. Maybe she recognized me, because I haven't seen her since they were bridesmaids in the wedding they attended earlier this year.

I couldn't really hear what they were saying because they were talking in whispers. I decided not to pay attention, at least until I heard giggles. OMG they giggle a lot. I can't remember seeing Emma giggle before. She really looked cute when she giggles- but when she noticed me looking at her, her face suddenly turns serious.

I felt out of place. It a good thing that there's Apple to talk to. She stood up from Emma's lap and sat beside me to eat her ice cream. The kid was kind enough to offer me a lick, but I declined.

The giggling session was interrupted when Emma's tita (I didn’t know who) called her from the screened windows. Emma stood up and went to talk to someone at the aluminum doors. The only people who remained seated at the sofa was me, Apple, Pat and her cousin/nephew/neighbor's kid- I didn't really ask. It was awkward for a few seconds, because I didn’t really know what to say to Pat, except "hi" with a smile. I should've just kept my mouth shut.

"Hi kuya..." Pat replied. "kelan yung susunod na update, ha?"

I didn't know what to say. I was slack jawed. I need to go to that shop where Adam Sandler bought his Universal Remote and maybe, just maybe, this day can still be saved.

"Ay alam ko na, sama mo ko sa susunod na update," she said like it was a genius idea.

I forced myself to a smile. "Sige, I'll try."

Crud. It would seem Emma told her about the blog and she's been reading it religiously. Oh yes, I'll add her to the next update alright.

Emma returned to her seat and the 2 cousins commenced chatting.

It felt awkward sitting there, listening to them talking about this blog. If there was a list of things that drive me nuts, I thought that Emma reading the blog out loud was number 1. I was wrong, listening to Pat go on and on about the blog, asking personal questions, was the new number 1. You see, there are reasons why men like us don’t really like to talk about our feelings, and there are reasons why I didn't like talking about the blog in real life. Stomach-overturning embarrassment like this is one of them.

"Totoo ba yung..."
"anong nangyari nung..."
"anong ginawa mo..."
"edi nagtabi kayo..."
"kayo ha"
"edi pagkatapos non..."
"talaga bang..."
"kayo ha"

I couldn't stand it anymore. (This blog has gotten me into so much trouble; I'm beginning to hate this lol.) I looked over at the kitchen and checked if there was a knife around so I could cut my ears off.... Darn. Wala. I wish there's a way we can turn off our ears like the way we close our eyes.

"Kumusta first kiss nyo?" Pat asked with a laugh.

OMG. The forehead moment. Don't tell me they're going to talk about that about that?! I didn’t want to listen anymore but my ears seem to hear better. Sure, we've been holding hands, and texting each other more and giving each other embraces before going to bed and before I leave the house in the morning- there was even a time that she slept in my bed because she insisted to keep me company when I had to work overnight in front of the PC- but other than that, the forehead moment was all we had. (Hey, it’s not as bad as it seems, you know.)

"Actually nakiss nya na ko dati," Emma began to say. I looked around for a bunk or a hole that I can use as a rudimentary bomb shelter

"Diba nung debut ko, nagbeso beso kami nung dance namin?"

"Oh yeah- her debut" I thought to myself as I sighed in relief. I wouldn't have recalled that kiss if she hadn't mentioned it. All I remember then was I was one of her 18 roses. It wasn't much of a kiss because it’s a besobeso- and she gave each rose a kiss before the dance begins.

I looked around for an excuse to leave before Pat can ask another question. Bathroom? Too obvious. Play mahjong again? Too suspicious. Get more ice cream? That’s it!

"Apple, gusto mo pa ng ice cream?"


"Kuha kita ha?"

I stood up and excused myself to get Apple another cone of ice cream. I could've sworn I heard Pat snicker when I stood up. The screech of the springs the aluminum swinging doors made never sounded so beautifully until I pushed them to get out into the terrace. I walked casually towards the dessert table and looked for the Ice cream cones and the scoop. (Ubos na yung cake, and I'm glad that her relatives liked it)

I got the ice cream- but I didn't want to return to the living room yet. I took a peek at the mahjong table and the birthday celebrant is still there, with her sisters and the other guy (I didn’t catch the name).

It was in that situation where Emma's eldest Tito arrived. He was “Kuya Fred”, and Emma warned me about him. She said that if I want to avoid getting drunk, we should go home before it gets dark. Di nya ko paaalisin hangga’t di ako umiinom, and he believes that any guy hasn't really drank unless he is... well... drunk.

He arrived like an alpha male and in his hands were plastic bags containing bottles of Fundador and J&B (I think I saw a Carlo I in there too). I watched him as he walked from the yard, to the terrace and towards the mahjong table where Aunty Lo was sitting. From all the greeting that he received suggested that everyone knows him, and he knows everyone.

Except, of course, me.

"Good afternoon po," I said politely. I realized that I was blocking the way to the front door so I stepped aside.

"O... Kaninong baon ka?" he asked. It was the first time someone referred to me as a "baon". Not only did I feel intimidated, I felt insignificant. I was just someone who someone else dragged along.

Things got worse when I felt everyone's eyes on me again. I didn't notice that Pat was a behind me, she was carrying some clean glasses and putting them back at a small wooden table beside the long buffet table.

"Kasama po sya ni Ate Emma," Pat interrupted. "Namamanhikan."

Everyone became silent. "Help!" I thought to myself as I immediately looked around for Emma- She went to in the kitchen and I can't see her.


(to be continued)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Coming Soon...

I was having lunch with Marne (an officemate) and her husband when our conversation streered towards this blog. Marne is one of the few officemates who knows about this site. She said they read "In Similar Situations" the other night and she didn't know that I... er... we restarted updating the blog. She was curious about the future entries and I told her that Emma and I are both worried because our moms are coming home soon.

"The future is uncertain," I told her. "We are both waiting for them to return, pero nakakakaba talaga eh"

A few minutes after lunch, I got an email from Marne with an image attachment. She's a graphics artist and the image was her idea of a joke. Emma found it funny when I showed it to her.

Here it is:
Image Hosted by

Thanks Marne! lol

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In Similar Situations

It was dark already when we got there and I'm really worried about him when we parked the car. I looked at this face and I knew then that this situation is very difficult for him. I tried to tell him that everything is ok, but I know that he can asses the sensitivity of the situation better.

We exchanged numerous text messages and phone calls today regarding the trip that he was obliged to take. I asked him if it would complicate things if I came with him to Quezon City, and I even said that it was ok if I didn't come, but he insisted that it will make things easier for him if I'm there by his side. I said yes. I'll go with him. I can’t say no. I won’t say no.

And now... We are here, sitting inside the parked car. The objective is but a few steps away, and yet it felt like it was more difficult than before. On our way to park the car, people already saw us, and we both knew that there was no turning back.

I noticed that the fervor that I usually see in his face has left him. In its place were a blank stare and a look of hesitation which continuously deters my eyes. I can’t stare at him that long because it pains me to see him that way. He did not talk about his feelings but I knew he has the same pent up anger that I nurse inside me. We are in similar situations after all and this worries me. The object of his hatred was just a few meters away, across the street. I felt the weakness around him, and I knew that this time, even though I'm scared of surrounding myself with strangers, it’s my turn to be the sturdy one.

"Ok ka lang?" I asked moments after he killed the engine.

There was a brief pause before his reply and I thought he didn't hear me. He only noticed me when I unlocked the car door.

"Ha? uh... ok ka na? Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah. Shall we go?"

"Ok. Tara"

We got off the car and I walked towards his side. It was a quiet village and the sound of the car alarm activating echoed off the tall walls and apartments along the street. This attracted unwanted stares from the house across the street where we are supposed to go. I bowed my head and pretended to straighten the black pants that I wore earlier today at work.

We started to cross the street towards the house. From the outside I can see the yellowish electric light as it glowed on the flowers and the opened curtains. We haven't reached the yard yet but I was already overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The air was thick with the smell of different flowers. Beside the gate were guys, huddled together, obviously catching a cigarette break. They were the guys who saw us as we pulled over at the curb. I don't recognize any of them but it seemed that they recognized us because they gave us nods of greeting as we approached. I just smiled, nodded back and continued walking.

We've both been to this house before; at least that’s what I was told. I can’t remember because I was too young. It feels strange to see the actual place that I heard so many stories about. Sad stories. Stories of memories that people hope to forget. Stories that are a little too familiar. We went through the gate and noticed that tables and chairs were set up at the yard. This was a gathering, but this is certainly not a party. No one was laughing, but there were conversations spoken at a whisper. The people wee gathered in groups, most of them were older women, while the men were outside the gate.

We walked along the stone path at the yard and it lead to the wooden main doors of the house. This house is bigger than ours in Makati, but this one is older. "His grandparents used to live here", I thought. I've never really had an idea how his relatives from the father side live. The only relatives that I got to know were from his mother's side. Looking at the house and the people in and around the house told me that their lifestyles were totally different.

We stopped in front of the steps leading to the main doors. At the top of the steps was a man in his early 50's, and beside him was a woman who I assumed to be his wife. On their faces was the look of sadness and exhaustion. They wore tired smiles as they welcome guests. The wife has a disheveled look, it’s as if she hasn't slept well for the past few days. I couldn't help but compare. She looked younger, and even though she was in stress, I have to admit that she is pretty. "She doesn't look as sophisticated though," I thought to myself.

Although we were guests, my companion was reluctant to approach. I knew that we had to talk to this man because his was the only face I recognized in that place. I saw him first from the old photo albums in our house in Makati. Those photo albums were tucked away in a box and in a closet in an unused room in the house. Nanay scolded me when I opened them. Di ko na raw dapat pinapakialaman yun. I took a second look at the man at the doorway and I concluded that resemblance is undeniable. The man at the door looked so much like his son.

As we stepped closer, I heard my companion exhale a sigh. I could only assume that he was pacing himself- an act of self control. I knew that he didn't want to be in this place. He wouldn't have come if not for his deceased ninang, and he can’t believe that his mom actually forced him to come. I heard them arguing over it on the phone two days ago. He told me about this conversation with his mom, and even though they weren't really in good terms, his father is still his father, and she didn't raise him to ignore his responsibilities and obligations to his family.

"Pa..." Al said to get the attention of the man at the door. I knew that it was difficult for him to address him as his dad, knowing what his father had done, and knowing how he felt about it.

"Oi," replied the man.

One syllable each, nice greeting, I thought to myself. I've seen them talk before, but it was in a place with less people. I wondered if they were looking at each other eye to eye, but I couldn’t turn my head because it would've been impolite to stare, although I noticed that the people inside the house looked at us at the corner of their eyes. I can’t help but imagine that they were whispering about us at our backs. "Sino yung kasama nya?" I can imagine the people around us asking. I felt out of place- I'm not even part of the family, who am I to be in this funeral wake?

"Good Evening Aldrin," said the wife. I thought her voice would sound like a shrill of an evil witch who I characterized her to be in the stories from Tita and my mom. I was mistaken. Her voice shook but it was soft. She wore a smile, and I thought that she is uncomfortable in welcoming his husband's son that isn't hers, let alone speaking his name.

"Condolences po," I replied and gave the couple the mass card that we brought with us.

The situation is very awkward for all of us and I could only cling to Al's arm to tighter to remind him that I'm there with him, no matter what happened. The four of us wouldn't have moved, and the void was already beginning to scare me. The silence was broken when a young lady, who I later found out was Aldrin's Tita Vivian, his dad's spirited younger sister, noticed us and dragged us away from his dad to introduce us to some of Al's other relatives.

He didn't have the change to talk to his father again that night. I assumed that they are avoiding each other.

It’s a cliché, I thought- older men sacrificing their family just to be with pretty, younger women. The story is old and the details have blurred- but is, unfortunately unforgotten, and the characters remained unforgiven. If this were a book, I have read through it time and again, and yet I still don’t know who the dedicated mother should blame. The younger woman or the unsatisfied man? Now, looking at the characters directly, and how they lived their lives apart, I find myself not in a position to judge. It is a sad reality that they have to live their lives as a broken family- even sadder that the story of my own broken family has intertwined with them as well.

After being introduced to Al's relatives, we walked towards the casket where Aldrin's ninang laid in peace. I wondered how he felt. I knew then that his deceased ninang was the farthest from his mind.

Is it more difficult to live without a father, to have an entire life looking for that paternal approval of your existence but only to be eternally frustrated because he has denied you from the very start- Or to have a father but be disappointed because his morals are questionable, and he has no regard for the principles that you have been brought up to uphold?

He opened up to me years ago. He felt like sometimes, his very own existence was the very proof that his parents made a mistake- that if he was not conceived, then his parents could've lived without the deception, lies and pain that they had to go through. This was not far from what I feel about myself. We are in similar situations after all.

If this were a book, all I can do now is what I can do best: to stand beside the son. I looked at Al's reflection on the glass casing of the casket and tightened my grip on his arm. He turned his head towards me and his lips gave me a momentary smile.

This was enough to tell me that he will be ok.

-Emma Lew.