The joy of talking long distance with a four-year old daughter who is most severe with her demand of getting my phone number is endless, a kind of an alpha and omega of happiness that can never be substituted by something else.
Papa, anong number mo, she would ask me repeatedly, a ballpen on her right, and a paper ready infront of her.
She repeated the same question about my phone number during the last few times that I called home.
I told her many times: I have my number but I cannot give you because you cannot call me. I live so far away, unlike your lola's house. Many times more than that.
I guess it all began when my mother who lives in a village close by finally got her phone after months of waiting.
Francine would write her grandmother's number again and again until she memorized the whole set.
It helped that her cousins from Baguio were summering with their grandmother and their other cousin who lives with mother.
So you have three small children whose dream of happiness is to play the whole day.
It was summer when I came home to visit and the children were there in mother's house.
The four-year old daughter took me in instantly as soon as I arrived, hugging me and kissing me as many times as she could, and each time that I told her so.
It helped that I had all the bribes: a Dora doll, a Dora jeans, a Dora long-sleeved shirt, a Dora slippers that did not fit, a set of Dora ballpens, and other Dora paraphernalia.
But then after some days, the novelty of my visiting wore off.
The four-year old got tired of me. I had become less important than her playmates. And her indispensable Dora.
It was summer and the heat was punitive. So many times, the little girl was outside, on the streets in our small village, in other people's homes or yards where there were children of her age.
Other times, she also got tired of her playments.
So she would gravitate to her grandmother's place in the next village where her young cousins were.
So for many days, I would drive her there early in the morning and would fetch her in the evening after she has tired herself conjuring with her cousins all those games about Dora, school, fantastic stories, culinary delights, and watching Dora shows and animation.
For her age, the daughter is brilliant.
And I say this because I am her father. End of argument--take it cum grano salis.
Or the argument does not hold water: cadit quaestio.
In the early evening, as soon as I carried her from the car, she would fix herself a bit, make a little showtime with her ispantar a birabid way, and then go to bed.
When I called up home several days in a row, she would bring up after our hellos the topic of Dora being sick.
She goes to the street, she says. She goes out that is why she is sick.
You are not doing it yourself, this going out on your own? I ask her.
No, not anymore. Mama says I should not do it. So I am not going out without asking permission.
And what about Dora? I ask.
She goes out on her own. She does not ask permission.
Are you allowing her to do that?
She goes out by herself. Nauulanan siya e.
What is she sick of?
Inuubo, sinisipon, lahat.
You are coughing yourself.
Kasi nagkasakit siya.
Did you give her medicine?
There is no medicine.
Did you ask your mama.
You are coughing. Did you go to the doctor?
Yes. I did not cry, papa.
Good, you were brave.
Yes, brave ako, ano?
Of course, sweetie. Did you take your medicine?
Yes, mama says three times. Umaga, tanghali, gabi.
What about Dora?
She will take hers. Umaga, tanghali, gabi. Tatlum beses.
You be sure she will.
Opo. Tsaka hindi siya natutulog e.Patulugin mo.
Ayaw matulog sa tanghali.
Did you ask her to sleep so she would get well?
Then ask her. Did you sing to her?
Then you should, the way mama sang the lullabyes. Pampatulog.
Opo, kakantahan ko po.
Love you, sweetie.
Love you, papa. Padalhan mo ako ng maraming-maraming popcorn.
I will. Bye now.
The end of the line clicked.
Your five-dollar of a phone card promising so many minutes more than the usual but did not happen was used up.
You would have to scrimp for another five-dollar phone card again.
Maybe next time you try another phone card from another company.
A. S. Agcaoili
May 28, 2006