It was exactly noon when I arrived. The scorching heat of the sun had completely desiccated the ground that I could hear the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feet as I trod from the gate to our house. My heart was filled with a familiar excitement as I neared the doorstep. It’s been almost four months, a third of a year if you think about it, since I last visited our home and I was surprised with all of the changes around me.
I didn’t know that the plant I had planted in a pot years ago outside the house would live long enough to be a tree, and give our house a good shade from the assault of summer sun. Under it, I found Mom sitting on a bench, holding a small mirror up in front of her to get a clear view of her face. She studied her visage, the fine lines beginning to appear around her eyes and her forehead, then applied and smoothed her favorite moisturizer on her face like the way I have always seen her do since I was young. She saw me approaching when she put the mirror down. A smile escaped her pale lips as I hurried my steps to get closer and hug her. It was the first real hug I have had for months, the kind that felt warm and good.
“Have you been drinking again?” Those were her first words when she let go of our embrace, as she looked down at my belly.
“No, I did just what you told me to do. Eat and eat and eat. What’s for lunch?” I suppressed my breathing to make my tummy look a little smaller.
She led her way inside our newly renovated house house, saying sorry for every mess we came across as we walked past the tangled curtains, clothes lying on the doorstep, the refrigerator standing proud in the middle of our living room, and the clutter of clean chinaware on our lunch table. I deposited my bag in a hollow of my bookshelf—the spaces left by the books destroyed by the typhoon Sendong. I took my usual seat at the other end of our table. Papa always liked to sit beside Mama, so I have always taken that position, while they sit by the opposite end, which I have always found just right because I am the eldest of us three boys.
I waited for Mama to serve my lunch. It came in one plateful of rice, a bowl of beef sinigang (my favorite dish), and a cold glass of Coke.
“Ma, the broth tastes too spicy for me,” I complained.
“Sorry. It’s a leftover of last night’s dinner. I knew you were coming, so I had some reserved for you.”
The moment I looked at her, she did not say anything. From the way she looked, I knew already that something was spinning in her head.
“It’s fine,” I told her in all honesty. “Happy Birthday, Mama.”