When I miss home, I run to the liquor store to buy that phone card that is a wonder miracle, if you are lucky and the phone company is not going to play its trick on you by robbing you of your precious minutes and dollars.
There are two stores I frequent, reached via kadilak, ie., lakad.
The first is to the south, towards Normandie, the owners French and Spanish speaking (where did they come from, these people?).
The second is to the west, towards the Western, to the Viet/Korean/Cambodian store (I do not know know yet which is which because this part of the Western is a mix of many races, with Filipinos, Hispanics, Pakistanis, Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Whites, and Blacks).
The owners look like all those races and the language they speak sounds like a combo of all the Asian languages.
In this second store, the Seven-11 had been robbed and some pedestrians had been held up. Last night, someone threw a three-seater sofa on Carson Street several blocks from Western and burned it, the fire a red orange and reaching out to the apartment building fronting the street.
In a little while, two firetrucks arrived, the ambulance with the wang-wang accompanying them, just to extinguish a burning sofa. You bet you need to be careful in this part of the big city after ten in the evening.
So I chose to walk towards Western. I passed by the burning sofa with the firemen busy with their hosing.
I get into the Viet/Korean/Cambodian liquor store.
There were many Hispanic, Asian, and Filipino cards, all promising the eradication of homesickness. And fast, quick, in minutes.
I looked at the coloful choices, hung like the Ilocano sausages in the merkado in Laoag.
I do not like that X card. I have been cheated of my five dollars the last time I bought it.
That one, that M, promises so much but does not deliver.
That other one, that A, could be used anywhere in the States. You only have to dial a 1-800 number for a fee.
That other one, you have to go through all the prompts: if English, press 1; if Cambodian, press 2; if Spanish, press 3; if Korean, press 4; if Tagalog, press 5. Whoa!
I looked at the two cards I have not tried: one sporting a 'mega' image with the mega word, the other a super something, with the 'super' word.
I chose the super, remembering the Filipino superstar (I am not for Sharon Cuneta; she is too young for my taste and I like Nora's rag-to-riches-to-rags-topwhat-now story, that roller-coaster of life and luck and love) and her admission to a drug rehabiliation center or something, in San Francisco, as part of the indictment deal (or do they legally call it that way?) I remember that Nora and I have sung together in an exposition in Las Vegas. If only for that, I ought to connect to her, I thought.
So I said, That super something, please.
What, what? the Cambodian/Viet/Korean owner asked.
I do not understand his English. Perhaps he does not understand my Filipino English as well.
I point to him the card hanging above his head. That one, with the blazing Manila Bay sun, I told him.
Manila Bay, what, what?
That one, with the red insignia?
He handed me the card.
I ran to my apartment on Harvard, number 8, a lucky Chinese number that would give me all the 'bestest' of the best luck in the world.
I dialed my home.
Leah Francine got my call. Hello?
Anak, musta na ang bunso namin?
Naglalaro po ako. Kalaro ko si Barbie at si Dora.
O, musta naman sila?
Si Barbie, ayaw matulog.
Di ba kinakantahan ka ni mama. Kantahan mo rin.
O sige. Kakantahan ko ng A-B-C. Pero si Dora, magaling na.
Oo, ginamot ko.
Saan ka kumuha ng gamot.
Yung gamot na bigay ni mama.
Kaya magaling na?
Oo, pero padalhan mo ako ng duktor-duktoran.
Ngayon na. Para malaman ko kung may sakit.
At damit ni Dora, ha, papa?
I imagined her raising her hands, her fingers on the ready to show the perfect number for the perfect wish: ten clothes for Dora.
Okey, then, I told her.
Papa, anong number mo talaga ha? Isusulat ko, tatawagan kita kapag may sakit si Dora. Tatawagan din kita kapag ayaw matulong si Barbie.
End of story: I gave her my number without the country code and the area code, just the seven numbers.
I imagined her dialing my number.
I imagined her giving up after several attempts to call me long distance.
So I gave her my number, the correct one but she could not call me. I could not tell her that at this time, we simply could not afford an international call, what with the mounting bills at home.
Sorry sweetie, I told myself.
I dictated to her my number, one number at a time.
So sorry, I told myself again. I will give you my complete number next time so you can tell what is up with Dora and Barbie.
A. S. Agcaoili
June 3, 2006