Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
The news of your death, mother, opened up the old wounds in me.
Cory Aquino has died too, her vital organs failing her. Life failed her too, in the end. And the country is in the doldrums, as it has always been.
There will be mourning. There will be weeping in the streets.
Death is the story of the fragile lives we lead, as is our country’s.
It could have been different, not running parallel, Cory Aquino’s death and yours.
But mother, you chose to die on her death day, making your death hers too.
Or hers, yours.
And to think that you never mothered close to ninety million docile and uncomplaining people like what she did.
Your mothering was just a bunch of five women who now have come of age, unto their own, looking for ways to define their own individual lives much unlike your own of desire and passion.
You have tried to fill up the vacuum of your heart.
You have tried to fill up the vacuum of your soul.
And you thought you suceeded, mother.
But you never did. I swear to God, you failed.
And in this death of yours, you will longer have the chance to succeed.
Your failure is final.
I see your desires, wanton and yet true, crumble.
Now you have just the spent passion of a woman who has known what love is a number of times, scarred in some, wounded in some others, and terrorized in that last one that meant only wretchedness and pain, and the promise of redemption.
The news of your death brought me deep sorrow.
It was like a knife, its pointed end thrust into the core of my heart.
For I have not known you, and now you are gone.
I remember the last time we met.
I came home from America for the first time to see you after years of being away, years of longing and yearning for you.
You have begun to lose your mind then.
The country was in chaos, and so was Cory Aquino’s reign.
Coup d’etat became a byword of the country.
The rogue soldiers, first moved by a genuine feeling of reform in the way the country was run by elites who never knew what hunger was, acted as if the country was theirs for the keeping.
Each time country people heard of coup d’etat, they would just shrug their shoulders and go on with life’s daily business of running after jeepneys to hang on to either to go home, or to go to work.
The dead president had it all coming, including her death this time.
Was she called the reluctant heroine, preferring to bead her rosary in a genuine way unlike a madonna who had all those black beads gleaming for the television cameras to capture and feed onto the screens of unsuspecting cerrado Catolico viewers?
I accosted you of faking your having lost your mind.
I accused you of faking it all, this chance to not to know anything at all so that you can escape what memory cannot accept, what fear cannot turn into courage.
The beatings you had from him must have scarred you to death. They must have made you believe you were dead.
One twilight in that wretched thatched house of yours, I remember it all, I saw him hitting you hard in the face, in the cheeks, in the head.
Do you love him? he asks you, his voice harsh and hard, the voice of a man damned, one coming from the regions of hell.
Do you love him? he repeats, and the spanking begins, first on the left cheek, then on the right.
You were just there, in one corner of that wretched thatched house, slumped like a sack devoid of its contents.
I was in the grades when I first saw those beatings that became frequent until I thought they were the most normal thing one kept woman had to go through.
For you were his concubine, now I know. And fully so.
You gave him children one after another, and you remained his paramour.
It is like our kept country, kept forever by its leaders, kept forever by its colonizers, kept forever by its neocolonizers.
You stayed with him, mother, and during the good times, there was laughter in your house, the one you kept for him, one poor house with a thatched roof that you kept for him, even as the meals in that house were no longer coming as regularly as they should.
I was the last of your daughter when you came back to my father after you ran away for the first time.
You bore your first bastard daughter before, before you came back to my father.
But so few knew of the circumstances of that birth so that at first glance, ours was the most normal of all poor homes in that village of ours.
You came back, with your bastard daugther in tow.
You ran away, remember?
You ran away when you had her, Manang Ria.
You ran away so that no one would ever come to know.
You ran away to your father in Isabela, in those newly formed towns of homesteaders who also ran away from the famine Ilocos knew.
You ran away to your father in his homestead to hide what cannot be hidden.
You brought her there, your bastard daughter whose own life would be one of turmoil and terror.
Manang Ria would shake off the stories of the barrio people about her not being the daughter of my father.
She had the looks of the daughter of another man, and whoever that man was, that man who promised you what paradise was, could have talked in his drunkenness for the idle talkers of the barrio to know.
He could have said that he had you in the banks of rivers, in the fields, at the top of those hills surrounding our place.
He could have said he would meet you while on your way to church at the break of dawn.
You were young mother, and everything was possible.
He was young too, and everything was possible.
We were living in interesting times, and those times were times of need, deep and urgent, and your love for others could have been one of those needs.
And so you came back to my father. You came back because your own father told you to come back.
He had come to my father, yours.
He had come to know the truth about your leaving my father.
He had come for his own understanding.
He had come for his version of truth about the many lies you told your own father to cover up for all the misdeeds you had done in your youth, one you never had, because even as you were about to begin to understand what it meant to be young, you had your firstborn.
And soon your own father had to send you back, your bastard daughter in tow.
It was Manang Ria.
I would hate her.
She would remind me of the wayward life you led, one without kindness and compassion for father, one about real passion without any responsibility.
How could you have done that, this act of loving without even a thought about a future however vague for all the children that would come out of your womb?
We were not your guaratees for a good future, mother.
But you made us just do that.
We were the pawns to a life of slavery in a new form.
In much the same way, ours is the story of the country too, one led for a time by Cory Aquino whose death now you share.
Now, let me go back to those beatings that I saw.
He would beat you in the twilight hours, and your voice would be loud, telling him, Puñeta!
But your cussword had weight only in the beginning. Or so I thought.
Your man did not understand any letter of that word.
He did not understand Spanish.
You did. The Spanish cusswords, you did.
All those Spanish-acting family of yours, with the lands they grabbed in Pangasinan, they spoke those cusswords with much gusto, and you picked them up.
But your lover who came from the boondocks of Ilocos, in those far-flung places, did not know what that was, and he kept busy with his hands on your face, landing each slap on those cheeks that could only speak of vehemence.
He would slap you, pushed you agains the wall, pushed you to a corner, and there, in your unsafe littler corner of a thatched roofed house, you ended up in whimper, with your whimper.
I would watch you from there even as a president talked about a country becoming great again, even as politicians talked about roads to be paved, bridges to be built, rivers to be forged, fields to be furrowed, and dining tables becoming filled with food again.
Most of the time, the radio would be on to drown you cries and I would listen to the promise of politicians, and the promise of redemption of your cries.
But hunger stared us in the face, and the twilights reminded us of the kind of life that we would have to go through.
I saw him beat you and I promised myself I would never allow my man to even touch me if I did not want to.
The ritual would be the same in those twilights: he would beat you, and he would love you right after, his anger calming down, and you making him believe you love him so, that he was the only man you love and no one else.
His loving you would be fierce and brutal, but one heck of a love just the same.
The nights in those good times were nights of dreams, this you would tell me one time, unsure whether I would ever understand.
And now, mother, you are dead.
And Cory Aquino the president died with you.