To remember the first rains of summer is to remember for always what summer brings to a father whose life has been and will forever be marked by exile and the experience that attends to being absent in his household especially during the days that his children need him most.
There is always this guilt somewhere here, even if you can easily justify your absence by appealing to the persuasive power of emotions—and that excuse about not having enough money to put food on the table of the family especially when the children are moved by what pasalubong you can bring home each evening, with that threat that the gate would not be opened for you to get in when the pasalubong is not to their liking.
The guilt, of course, is founded on the illusory gift of self to children—an illusion that is based on the parental fear that you might not be giving the things that you were deprived of when you were a child yourself, believing that you have no right to deprive them of the very things that you were deprived of in the first place.
And so you run away—away from it all, away from the humdrum drama of the everyday to seek fortune and fame somewhere else, some miles and miles away from home—with only the memory of children’s laughter to keep you company.
To be an exile is not easy, this you now understand.
So you guard the days on the dumb calendar—and count the months to speculate on possible joys you can have when you get back to the homeland and spend some good days with your children, imagining that you wake up on normal days with the youngest on your side and, in the early hours, books in tow, would ask you to read “Cinderella” for the nth time.
The heat when you came back on that year was unbearable. May was it, and you had hoped for the rains to come.
But it did not come right away but so many days yet after.
And when it came, you knew what joy was.
Your younger daughter had just had first of baby teeth fall off, her baby teeth getting ready to welcome her sixth birthday.
The rains were sputtering when her tooth fell off and we were both watching the leaves in their rhytmical swaying with the cold wind. There was gaeity in the dancing of branches of trees that still dot our otherwise blighted landscape, what with tall homes blocking our visual access to the mountainsides in the east.
But the rains came and the insects of the earth began to chirp.
Like cupping with your hand the first rains of May as my father did, and with the grace of the palm of a man of the soil and sun rubbed the cold water on my tummy to drive whatever evil resided in there, I did the same to my youngest daughter, as I did to the first two children years before when life in Marikina was easier, less complicated, and the misty mountains in the east had still the charms of mistiness.
On the last days of May after the Mayflower festival of queens and kings and that obligatory barefoot procession to the Virgen Buenviaje in Antipolo, we get all those funny feelings of hot and cold of the weather after a long spell of heat.
The last spasms of summer heat gets into your nerves and challenges the capacity of your ability to withstand the push-and-pull of day and night, with the break of day playing up a drama of long-day brilliance of rays dancing on water surfaces and edges of leaves as the sun streak through the clouds with its promise of more sun and, yet, in the afternoon, another stage show greets the homeland you have just gone back to with dark clouds and the ‘Bose-like’ of thunder and the blast of lightning. This is the time you hear people say, “Agbobolingda manen ‘diay ngato, apo, pakawanem kadi! Ken ti anak ti sal-it, anak ti sal-it a talaga! (They do the bowling up in the heavens. Damn the child of lightning, damn the child of lightning!”
In the summer of 2007, this is what I did to the daughter who has been growing up each day even as I was away: I cupped the first rains of May, the profuse rains marking the end of the summer season and the beginning of floods and storms and the commenment of the time for planting the rice that wouldl feed a multitude of our own starving people.
And then one of her front teeth fell off, the falling off inaugurating some terror in her child’s eyes as she sow blood, red and terrifying, oozing out of her mouth and staining the paper napkin she used to clean up her lips.
Shhhh, I tell her. Shhhh.
Will it come back? she asks. She means her missing tooth.
No, I tell her, as honestly as I could.
But we will ask the house rat to replace it for you.
Ayoko, I am afraid, she tells me.
Now, now, I thought that you are brave.
Yes, but I do not like rats.
I know. But have you seen their teeth?
Yes, strong and shiny and white.
Let us ask then to have your teeth look like them.
What will I say?
Come, I tell her. I carried her on my shoulder.
Tell the rat: “Bao, bao, sukatam iti baro.”
I cannot say that. That is her, protesting, remembering perhaps her primal fear of rats.
You want a brand new tooth, I say it, deliberate, each syllable stressed. I threaten her, however veiled the threat is.
She looks at me, pleading.
She gets her tooth, says the Ilokano phrase while she throws her tooth to the imaginary rat at the roof of our house welcoming the first rains of May.
A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa, November 28, 2007