-This account may seem heartrending, but read on. It’s a perfect example of how Pinoys always make a joke out of an otherwise sore situation. Or maybe, my family is just one demented bunch.-
Last weekend, my family went to visit a very ailing Lola Cuning, bedridden from the complications of diabetes. Her feeble condition has made her unable to utter coherent sentences or to even make out our faces. When she woke up from her sleep, and realizing that we, her apos were already inside her house, she called my mother’s name, and promptly, my sister and I followed her into the bedroom. Lola was a heartbreaking sight to behold. Her body had shrunk to almost half her normal size. She had always been fond of taking trips to the hairdressers, but now her tresses looked as flimsy as paper and cropped too short like a little boy’s. Keeping the authority of a grade-school teacher even after her retirement many years ago, she was a steely character all her life, and always had very loud opinions on everything. But there was nothing loud about her that afternoon. She could not even speak a simple hello.
Much as she hated scenes, mother started to weep like a child. Seeing her aunt swathed in diapers and shrunken like a raisin, perhaps, tore at her insides. And the fact that the old woman was twisting around the bed and staring at walls did not help at all. Whether she was in pain, or that she wanted to say something but was powerless to do so, her discomfort was palpable. Mother wept and wept, talking to her like a child, while Lola tried to stare at her with bulging, gray eyes, and then closing them again, as if in agony or lament.
I was never much for scenes too, but my eyes soon began to water when the sick woman also failed to recognize me. How I hated it when she kept glaring at me for a full three seconds, as if her very eyes wanted to grow tongues, only to close them in complete resignation, perchance telling herself the effort was to no use. My sister, the spineless one, stayed outside the bedroom, not even wanting to smell the antiseptics, occupying herself with the cats and the old wall pictures.
Mother stopped crying eventually, and after a while she went out to talk with my other titas. Two cousins came, including Ton-ton, the favorite apo. For some reason, five cousins including my spineless sister and myself, found ourselves together around Lola’s deathbed. As we all were trying to make light of the situation, bantering with one another and trying to talk about anything except our grandmother’s impending death, Lola Cuning suddenly made an audible sound. This prompted Ton-ton, who slept beside her on her sickbed every night, to make a joke on the situation.
“Who’s going to bet with me that if I mention Jimmy’s name, Lola Cuning will open her eyes?” he addressed all of us suddenly.
Jimmy was the only boyfriend Lola ever had, at least as far as we all know. They have one lovechild, Ton-ton’s father. I am not certain who left who but they had never been a married couple. I think it was Jimmy who left Lola Cuning when she was already with child.
True enough, the favorite apo executed his dare.
“Lola, Jimmy is here. Shall we open the door for him? He has some red roses too, Jimmy. Uuuuuyyy.”
Startlingly, the ailing grandma opened her eyes, raised her hand as if to say hush, and moved her head sideward as if to say no. She was also suppressing a smile, and if we just imagined it, I am in doubt.
Our group roared with laughter. She knew we were just joking, and in her labored-breathing condition, she gamely played along.
“La, do you want some lipstick?” I playfully suggested. “I know you love red lipstick.”
“If she could speak, she’d tell you to shut up.” My spineless sister replied. Then imitating our grandmother’s curt voice, she said, “You animal, I didn’t ask for your suggestion right?”
The group doubled over with amusement. Then addressing my sister I said, “Well, if she could speak, she’d tell you how much you’ve gained weight since the last time.”
And faking Lola’s brusque, straightforward manner of speech, I said. “Hoy bruha, how did you become so fat all of a sudden? What ever happened to you? Dios mio! Have you been left too long in the kitchen?”
Everybody laughed. My sister laughed too, but stared at me with dagger eyes.
Suddenly, Lola Cuning raised both of her hands to caress the favorite apo’s face. It was an emotional, tender moment, but it lasted all of five seconds. My sister, apparently in need of vendetta, abruptly cut the drama.
“Hoy Ton-ton, don’t think that she’s trying to do drama with you. If she could speak, she would have told you to please have your hair cut, because it’s beginning to resemble a thick weed bush!!!”
And then continuing in a doting grandma’s mushy tone, “My dear apo, please, cut you hair na, ha? It’s so thick na. You’re gwapo pa naman. Sayang.”
We all could have died laughing.