Sitting beside my sleeping father today brings so many memories of the past. Papa has been drinking again, and smoking. Don’t get me wrong, my Papa is very gentle, mostly reserved and never caused any trouble in the house, or bothered any neighbor in the community. He barely speaks his mind, and most of the time, would opt to be an observer, than a ‘director’. He has been like that ever since, ever since, he came back from Saudi Arabia more than a decade ago. I was around 5 years old that time.
My papa used to be one of those many Filipinos swept by the promises brought by the OFW surge in the 1990s. Before going abroad, he served as a company driver for a small business in Manila owned by a Chinese, this Chinese, who happened to be his step-father. His mother, my Lola Nena, died when Papa was around 9 years old. He said she was very good in playing the piano, and she probably sings well, because my Papa does. He never knew his father. All he’s saying is that his father was gunshot, even before he was born. But he doesn’t know if this is true.
I remember, one of our priced possessions back then was this radio recorder. Not that it was expensive or high-end that time, but, it was our only way to send our love greetings and audio notes to papa in Saudi. That was long ago when computers were a thing for the rich and the modern West. My papa also had his own stereo in his bunk, it was a Sony, more high-tech than ours and had bigger speakers. Maybe he had that so he can hear our cassette-tape recorded messages clearly. He had a collection of various cassette tapes and betamax! He even had a collection of Michael Jackson albums and a complete series of Star Trek and the original Superman. As a little child, I thought these were the most mind-blowing possessions he ever brought back home when he finally decided to not renew his contract from work abroad.
The 9 year old me was all excited when papa came back home. He brought all these things from Saudi, some Barbie-dolls and of course, the mind-blowing tape collections. Finally, papa is back home, and our cassette-tape recording sessions are over. He is now here. But although he’s here, I feel so estranged. But that’s another story.
It was in the mid-90s when our family went through a financial crisis. Just some time after papa got home from Saudi. All four of us were enrolled (my Kuya and two sisters who were all in gearing up for college, and me in elementary school) and papa’s finances were depleting. I can only recall so little of all the many things they did to make ends meet.
But I have kept this one…
That morning, mama woke me up and said that we’ll be going to sell some things in Quiapo. I never knew what Quiapo was, and had no idea what’s in there. Papa was also all dressed up, and had this big box with straw strings all over. “We’re going to take these to Quiapo”. The box was big and heavy that mama had to carry it from one side, and papa on the other. And so we went on to Quiapo.
It felt as if we walked thousands of kilometers that day. Going from one street to another was an arduous task. Mama and papa were carrying the big box. I just held on to mama’s other hand. Those moments were just too hard. We were all sweaty belaboring ourselves under the sun selling all these things. But what’s harder for me was the thought that we were selling these tapes, these mind-blowing collectible tapes papa once held dear when he was in Saudi, away from us.
And stopping in between stalls, we endured waiting for people to look into our box. Mama and papa would often call out to people and tell that we are selling collectible tapes, dropping names of the best titles from papa’s collection. But sadly, our merchandise did not sell well. “Alam niyo sir,” said one of the customers, “CD na po kasi ang na-uuso ngayon. Pwede ko bang bilin ito ng mas mura?”
And papa gently smiled and replied, “Sige”… and gave it away.
Thank you po, Papa.