’La, the owl will not cry yet
Sometimes, I wonder how you lived through the years with that skin—paper thin, hugging your bones like your thin leather of skin was eventually made to look dull and plasticky. I think maybe one midnight, an owl will come sweeping through the darkness, eyes bulging out of their sockets, and call out your name as it rips through your fragile flesh. I think when I hear one, not only in my nightmares where the sound usually swells from, that you will finally submit. You taught me how the owls divine the living. At night, when your chickens are resting their heads under wings, the owls call out a name—coo coo coo …
Once before, they called out Lolo’s. It all made sense.
And you know me. I was not fond of your ways in my childhood. I endured your suggestions for medicine—boiled leaves that tasted like how your perming solution stank, or your “amiga-manghihilot” with her strange oils where strange roots were steeped in. I feared the soles of your slippers when I refused siestas. You loved your orchids more than your grandchildren. You yelled when I wished to follow you to harvest bananas. You ate mangoes with rice. And not long before I finally surrendered to your peculiarities, you overheard the owls hooting some nights before Lolo’s last, you quietly sobbed for a minute in your room and emerged out of it with dried cheeks. I heard the owl’s hooting, too, but I never knew what it meant until I saw Mama weeping in the living room with Tita Beng after receiving the news from the hospital where Lolo was confined in.
Ay, ‘La, I learned well in school reading my books, but your superstitions are their own science. Even now, I run to your amiga for hilot and boil lagundi and oregano for coughs. Sometimes, I wish those slippers were more than mere warnings—maybe I would’ve grown taller. I dislike children, too, as I grew up enough to grumble whenever I’m stuck with one to take care of or go with to cut down banana trees and harvest bananas. Diced mango with tomatoes and sili greatly accompanies rice. And to this day, I dread sleeping over at your house in a mountain barangay or I may hear the owl hoot.
Perhaps you have had enough of life to finally give up what is left of you. Nine children, countless apos, and some great-grandchildren have weakened your knees. You carried countless babies and children in your life that when they all grew up, you couldn’t carry yourself with what was left of your strength. But ‘La, ‘di pa minangis su mga kuwaw—the owls will not cry yet. I wanted to drag you to a hairdresser, but you seem to have affection for anything white: the curls of your hair, the flowers you chose for Lolo’s funeral, that variety of orchids that you love, our living room furniture, your catechist’s habit, the rosary beads you had hung on your bed frame, and that cat that ungracefully aged with you. Someday, you’d muse, buy me flowers prettier than your Lolo’s. I only laughed and put up with your jokes.
When I left for Manila to finish my undergraduate degree, your skin looked paler and thinner, the veins on your arms prominent under the midmorning sunlight when you were tending to your orchids. You had been refusing your cane, but that time, you had no umbrella to prop you up without feeling shame, and you held on to my arm, bony fingers digging at my skin, and you never sounded more casual. You may have been used to being left out anyway, with more than half your children and their family settling out of our hometown. Your words were kind, but the cold was not to your knees, and you had to sit in your comfortable rattan chair on the terrace. I remembered your hand barely waving, but you raised your arm anyway. I waved back. ‘La, ‘di pa minangis su mga kuwaw—’La, the owl will not cry yet—it was not even lunchtime yet, but you looked like you were waiting for them as you waved more weakly when I boarded a tricycle back to our house near the poblacion.
Here in Manila, there are no owls and no superstitions. Even if there were, they will be run over by Edsa’s traffic and loomed over by condo towers a hundred times larger than your house. They can’t perch on electric wires, and the only prey to hunt in the evenings are drunk college students throwing up on sidewalks. On rare times when nights are silent, I still worry about their cries. ‘La, ‘di pa minangis su mga kuwaw—’La, the owl will not cry yet—and when they do, I’ll just have some beaks to shut tight before you hear any of them.
Kent Patrick R. de Lima, 24, is a native of Iriga City, writing in English, Filipino, and Rinconada. He is currently based in Quezon City, finishing his undergraduate degree in creative writing.