Copyright 2005 by Rachelle Arlin Credo
This story is all about me and a woman named Tala. She is an old woman but she was my childhood best friend. One time I discovered a secret about her. This changed the way I see her as a person. Because of this, I went away. After a few years, I decided to come back only to find out an even bigger secret about her…but this time, it’s too late.
The wind lightly batters my face as I peer through the window crevice of the PUV. I close my eyes gently as I try to imagine home from five years ago. On retrospection, everything was very provincial and conservative. I remember Grandma sitting on a wooden chair as she carefully weeds out the mongo seeds from a hollow dish of abaca. Seated next to her is Miko playing with his shiny marbles while plying Grandma with his endless questions of "Whys" and "What ifs". There's Uncle Mel, the poultryman tending his domesticated birds and his wife Aunt Thelma, picking flowers and watering the plants. I also recall my brown mongrel, Snifmark which got its name from its frequent sniffing of visitors and postmarking them with his muddy front paws as they pass through. I giggle as I remember how those people would scramble off their feet and run with their might when they get a glimpse of Snifmark. They were probably daunted on bringing home those unwanted paw marks. But most of all, my memories bring me back to sweet ol' Tala. Oh, how I miss her! I wonder if she still wears that jovial smile on her face as she wanders about the neighborhood.
The brakes suddenly screech and I'm bestirred from my musing. A man in his late 50s slowly pushes open the side door and steps down from the vehicle. There's only eight passengers left now including me and the woman beside me at the backseat. As I glance on my side, I notice that the woman is inching her head on my shoulder. I try to fidget a few inches away from her but there's not much space to move. In one fell swoop, her head slumps on my left shoulder. Aaaargh! I grind my teeth in disdain as I endure the heavy weight leaning on me. I'm about to nudge her to rouse her from sleep when something caught my eye. This woman looks like Tala! I rub my eyes in disbelief and gaze at her again. This time, I discern the difference. Although she shares certain similarities with Tala but this woman is certainly younger. Tala on the other hand, is already on her late 40s but only looks younger because her laugh lines camouflaged her aging beauty.
Memories of my friendship with Tala swiftly flash in my mind like a slide show. I recall the times when we used to play with the neighbor's calves and quickly bush up when the owner arrives. I also recall the times when we used to play "chinese garter". We would often bicker because I thought she was cheating when I couldn't reach the garter on her shoulder level as I attempt to reach it with my legs. My favorite recollection is when we portrayed "Family" and she played as my mother while I played as her daughter. My heart wrenches as I remember the good old times I spent with Tala. Although Aunt Thelma told me that my biological parents died from a car accident when I was two years old, I felt like I'm not missing parental love. Tala was always there for me and not once did I feel the absence of love or lack thereof. I was about twelve years old when things began to change. I was on my way to my room upstairs when I overheard Aunt Thelma and a few neighbors prating on the kitchen. I wasn't taking interest on their colloquy but my ears perked up when they mentioned a woman who has lost her mind. I moved slowly to their direction and eavesdropped blatantly.
"I really pity her so much. She used to be the best painter this town has to offer but now, she can barely swish a brush on a canvas," a woman's voice said.
"It's all because of that no-good Fredo. I've always discommended their relationship but Tala was obstinate. Love does make a person blind and even stupid," Aunt Thelma quipped.
"If only Fredo realized how much Tala has given up for him and how much she has suffered just to fight for her love, he would have resisted the lure of that brazen Dessa!" another woman uttered.
"And now, Tala has lost her mind over some unrequited love and unfaithful husband. But at least now she wouldn't remember anything in the past. It would just hurt her to reminisce a dreadful past," Aunt Thelma remarked.
I ran hastily towards my room. I need not hear any more to realize the truth. I cried all my tears out as the words sank in my mind. Tala was crazy! No wonder she was indifferent and full of good spirits. She was out of her mind! My chest tightened with the new realizations dawning in.
From then on, I never talked to her again. I avoided her everytime she tried to approach me. I didn't eat with her during dinner like I used to and I made new friends to take her place. By and by, I was able to get over her. My new friends were very friendly and I was enjoying their company. I missed Tala sometimes but the shame that goes along in keeping her company was too much than I could take. So, I went on with my life without her.
Highschool graduation came and I went to the city without notice. I told everyone I wanted to study in the city because of their technological advancement and outstanding facilities but the truth is, I just wanted to bail out of our town's atmosphere and to get away from Tala's sight. It was a tough decision to make but I had to because Tala's presence was making me uneasy.
The city life was nothing I ever expected. Being a rural person, I had a hard time coping with the changes. I was like the fictitious character Babe in the movie, "Babe in the City" who tried the whole kit and kaboodle just to fit in. But after a few months, I was finally able to adjust and adapt to my new life. I gained new friends and I was able to concoct a "night life". I was enjoying every bit of my time that I almost forgot the people back home. From sending three to four letters every month, it lessened to one letter a month until there was none. They called me on several occasions via long distance calls but I only answered a few telling them I was busy with my schedule and that college wasn't easy. I guess they understood because I haven't had so much letters since then and the calls became seldom. There had only been cards sent during special occasions and a letter imploring me to go home because Tala was sick. But that was during our Final exams so I didn't heed.
I bounce on my seat as the vehicle passed a huge hump on the road. The woman beside me awakes from her slumber and having realized she had slept on my shoulder, smiles at me and gestures an apology. I smile back and tell her it was alright. I glance at the houses on my right. The houses are still the same. Nothing much has changed. I wonder if everything's the same back home. My thoughts drift back to Grandma, Aunt Thelma, Uncle Mel, Miko and Tala. I wonder how they would all react when I present them my diploma. I'm sure they would all be proud of me. I curve my mouth into a smile as I play wonderful images in my head.
I wonder how Tala must be now. She's probably still casting that magical light on other people's lives with her charming smile. As soon as I get home, I'll ask her forgiveness. I know I was acting like a jerk when I neglected her. How could I be such an ingrate! It's not her fault and she should not be punished for something she didn't do.
I open my plastic bag of goodies and check them one by one. I must make sure I'm not missing anything. I feel myself grow more excited as I scrutinize the presents I have bought for all of them. There's a 10-meter floral cloth for Grandma, a new shirt for Uncle Mel, a pair of new shoes for Miko, five cross-stitch sets for Aunt Thelma's needlework and a new Sunday dress for Tala. It took me almost three hours to shop for Tala's dress because I wanted it to be very special. I can almost see her eyes widen in surprise as she sees the dress I have for her. I can't wait to hug her and show her my gratitude for all her love and care for me.
The PUV veers to the right and I tap the metal right above me. It screeches to a halt and I pay my fare, a 20-peso bill, to the driver. I immediately step down and run towards the house, the home I've always longed all these years. My excitement surges even more when I saw the house, old and gray like it used to. As I open the gate, Snifmark comes out, wagging its tail and barking. Perhaps it's his way of greeting me. I rub his head with my hand and carefully survey the horizon. Grandma isn't in her wooden chair on the veranda and Miko's nowhere to be found. I wonder if someone's at the back. I place my things on the wooden chair and move on a course to the back. Still, no one's there. I wonder where they are.
I grab my things and open the huge back door of the house. To my surprise, everyone is seated all around the narra kitchen table and they all look up to me in surprise.
"Surprise!" I bawl in delight to break the silence. But to my disapointment, no one responds. They merely look at each other and then look at me again. Then Aunt Thelma stands up,approaches me, takes my things and places them on the table.
"Aunt, what's wrong? Where's Tala?" But Aunt Thelma says nothing. She moves closer to me and then hugs me tight.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. We tried everything but..." Aunt Thelma cries on my shoulders.
I push her from my grasp and hold her on both shoulders, "What are you talking about? I don't understand."
Seeing that she is unable to finish, I rush down to Tala's room. There I find Tala lying still in bed. I hold my breath as I approach her slowly. I can feel my heart wringing and my mind whirling at the sight of her lifeless body. I can't believe it. I must be dreaming. I hold her hand and squeeze it a little. It's still warm. I place it against my heart. No, I'm not dreaming, This is real. This is no dream. My heart breaks slowly as the reality finally convinces me.
"Why, why did you leave me?" I cry as I shake her body slightly. "Why? I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I left you..."
I hear footsteps from behind and turn to ask, "When? When did this happen?"
"Just an hour ago..." Aunt Thelma grumbles while sniffling.
I feel all the more indicted when I learn I could have caught her alive if I've only come earlier. I hug her tight in total regret. I whisper in her ears the words I've always longed to tell her. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry.." I stab my chest with my clenched fist in total vindication. Then I burst into more tears.
It took me almost two hours to recover from all the wailing and crying. My eyes still look baggy and red from piping them too much. But somehow I have regained my composure. I ask Aunt Thelma to change her clothes to the one I bought. I want her to look beautiful on her deathbed if it's the last thing I can do for her. After changing, I comb her hair gently and form it into a chignon. I learned that skill from her and now is the first time I'm doing it to her. I shed another tear as I watch her from a distance. She looks like she's just sleeping.
"Here's something she wants you to have," Aunt Thelma mumbles as she hands me a neatly folded paper. I thank her and open the paper. Then Tala's words appear in sight. It's a beautiful inscription in script letters.
I'm sorry to make you go away. I know the real reason why you left this town. It wasn't because of the reasons you told us. You left because you wanted to shun me. You didn't want to see me. Although my heart cried in pain when you left but I know you are happy with your decision so I respected that. I know you were thinking that I am insane like most people think I am. I can't blame you for thinking that way. But I just want you to know that it is not true. All you saw was a facade of the pain and disapointments I went through in life. I don't like people pitying me so I decided to just put on a mask. It's easier that way. I'm happy and other people are happy too.
But I never thought that my scheme would just drive away the person which meant the world to me: YOU. You are the source of my strength and my only reason for living. Without you, my life is meaningless. That's why when you left, I felt my world stopped. I was thinking about you all the time. The pain I felt when you rejected me was worse than the pain that Fredo inflicted on me when he eloped with Dessa. But you were very young, I know you didn't know what you were doing.
I'm sorry if I wasn't able to meet your expectations. I tried my best but I guess that wasn't good enough. I'm also sorry for not having revealed my real identity to you. I know someday you will understand.
I forgive you and I love you. Remember that wherever I am, I take you with me...here in my heart.
I feel a twinge of guilt as things become clearer to me. Tears pour down like rain from my eyes when I realize how I was merely taking her for granted. I clench the letter and place it close to my heart.
"I love you too, Mom. Thank you for everything. You will always be with me forever...in my heart," I mutter between sobs.
Rachelle Arlin Credo is a freelance writer
and web columnist. She writes articles, essays, short stories, and
poetry for various magazines and online publications. Her works have
been published in Poetic Vibes, Health and Home Magazine, Poetic
Hours, Sunstar, Women's Journal, Fresh Literary Magazine, Savvy
Insider and The Pink Chameleon Online.
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