This daughter came as a surprise in many, many ways.
Her siblings were adolescents, raucous and rowdy and rambunctious, when she came around on her own in this world.
Her brother was going to college and her sister to third year high school.
So you could see the gaps, in age as in mindset, in interest as in dreams.
And off she came into our lives, this bundle of joy, at a time when the missus and I were in the midst of celebrating our middle age years.
For a long time we have not had a small child in our household.
It has been a long time that toys did not get scattered.
It has been a long time that the walls had not been turned into a blackboard, with pentel pen to mark off creativity and its plain absence.
Like that daughter who, many years back, turned the wall into a questionnaire, with that famous question and the choices to check as if it were an examination.
Since I was the one named on the walled-turned-questionnaire—Papa, please check, was her command—I was turned into an examinee unwillingly.
I wonder now why this little girl who turned into a young woman hates to become a teacher like us, her parents, when in fact, like her younger sibling, she has turned our house upside-down many times over because, in connivance with her brother, this house was deemed school and our small rooms were classrooms, and our small living room a principal’s office.
Well, this second child of a daughter knows so much how a principal’s office looks like.
For several times, we were called by the Catholic sisters administering the school for reasons that had nothing to do with her academics but for exploring the sanctum of the convent beyond the school walls and for bringing along with her other friends to do the same.
Once, she discovered the joy of running through the stairs and sliding on the stairs’ wooden railings.
She was not contented to have discovered the joy of doing that.
She was overjoyed and she had to share that joy with her other friend—and which they did.
So off we were called to the principal’s office.
At home, the court room scene as a matter of course:
Why did you do that? You bring shame into this house! I accused, mad, furious, and raging.
She did an oral argument a good judge would see as valid, in and outside the court: They teach the same lessons everyday. Paulit-ulit na lang, lalo si sister. Alam ko na yung Bible story, yun pa rin ang ituturo kinabukasan.
She was six or seven and she could argue her case in my house's court.
It paid that this girl learned to talk straight, no baby talk, before she even turned one.
I do not remember exactly now but I was involved in the parent-teachers council at that time and the embarrassment these episodes brought was incalculable.
But children will always be children even if they have grown, even if they have become their own persons.
So this is the family context in which Nasudi Francine came about.
She was coming into a world of four grown up people and her world is all her own!
You could say she could have been an only child in so many ways what with her sibling having a ‘small community’ of their own based on the kind of world that they were exploring and venturing into.
When she came, she doubled my birth number, a good sign according to a numerologist of an expert symbologist would understand. Paving the attention of Umberto Eco here, quick! I was born 4-11, she 8-22.
So the megalotto and superlotto clues are there: 4-11-8-22. You got four.
Then the birthdates of the other children: 25-26.
I know these numbers will give you some kind of a quick pick when you rush your luck a bit.
One time, in that father-daughter bonding that we had, a rare one indeed in her four years because I left for voluntary exile when she was just a year old, she asked me: How many names do I have, papa?
Ilan ang pangalan ko, ha, papa? There was insistence in her four-year old voice as if eager to hear from me that all her names were her own and no one else's.
You have many names, and I gave one you also like, I answered.
Like what? She held up her hands, her small fingers ready for the counting.
Hindi Nasuli? One small finger, the thumb raised upright for me to see.
Ano pa po?
Korek. Ano pa po? The pointing finger, the one that I sometimes bite, or she offers me to bite. Like her index finger.
Leah, I said, testing her knowledge on names and identity.
Hindi ako si Leah, di ba? Si mama ang Leah e.
Sige, si Leah Francine ka.
Tama. Ano pa po? Her middle finger.
Ano pa, papa?
Leah Francine Nasudi Anchin A. Agcaoili.
Kompleto naman yan e. Ang haba pa.
Leah Francine lang sa iskul, di ba? I asked her.
Marunong na akong magsulat nun!
She gets her pad from her Dora bag, gets a Dora pen, and writes her name so Dora the Explorer would see her full school name.
From afar, you can only reminisce, remember, smile by yourself. Para kang sintu-sinto.
You can only keep on hoping—and utter a prayer for the children.
A S Agcaoili
May 27, 2006