The importance of Sudoku | Inquirer Opinion

The importance of Sudoku

/ 04:15 AM April 15, 2024

My grandfather didn’t finish college but he made sure all three of his kids graduated without facing the challenges he endured. Forced to work prematurely in corporate Dubai, he became excessively detail-oriented and strict in his principles. He was a man of reminders who only needed to warn you once about not wearing your slippers inside the house, closing the toilet seat after use, turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. It was these reminders that made him appear so intimidating to many.

Menacing as he may appear, his reminders also had an enticing warmth. I remember him reminding me to limit myself to one Yakult per day, telling me out of concern that too much probiotic can be bad for digestion. I remember his deep baritone voice as he reminded me that a royal flush is higher than a full house, his gambling addiction already prominent from the early stages of my childhood. I remember the quirk of his eyebrow as he reminded me to get a small plastic tube from the wooden drawer of his bedroom, how he saw my curious eyes and explained in detail what an inhaler is and why he needed it.

Most vividly, I remember him telling me about the importance of Sudoku, scribbling on the back of the tabloid with the belief that the continuous exposure to the puzzles would keep his memory intact. The grids preoccupied his days, a puzzle of nine rows and nine columns where he could exercise his inclination for order and control. A whole world of 81 squares under his command. His obsession with puzzles cultivated his distaste for people who easily forget things.

Lolo was interesting in that unique way that he seemed to reveal more of his personality the more he scolded you. It’s as if he can only be soft through his reminders, like love for him only manifests as a warning. It felt like his order and structure were the things that bound his family through thick and thin. But for all that meticulousness, my family was met with a puzzle that no warning could anticipate. On an April afternoon in 2021, my mother halted my Zoom class with a scream. When I hurriedly went out of my room, I saw her in tears, on the phone with someone as she struggled to speak. It was the face of the woman who had just lost her father via a telephone call. We were told that the body would be instantly cremated, that we would not be given a chance to see Lolo for the last time as a safety precaution to minimize the spread of the virus.


It never really dawned on me how serious of an issue COVID-19 was until it killed my maternal grandfather. Until then, it was just numbers, cases on television screens of how many were infected in each barangay, how many people were vaccinated, and how many people were needed to gain herd immunity. It was entirely different when it had a face; when the virus transformed potential into memory. When it gnawed on your insides and infected people you knew to be more valuable than a death count.

I suppose it would also be a little appropriate to blame the hospital. My grandfather, with chronic asthma and acute pneumonia, had been put in the ICU the moment he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Unfortunately, he was left unattended at night, and by the next morning, the nurses woke to signs of struggle in his hospital bed and his endotracheal tube forcefully ripped out by his right hand. Unlike Sudoku, the virus was unpredictable and erratic. There were no numbers to guide all his efforts at maintaining order and control. For a man of reminders, he had forgotten that his life depended on the tube and impulsively took it out due to severe chest pain. An ironic end, I must say, a man so obsessed with memory had forgotten how important it was to live.

Lolo’s death is a testament to the dreadful state of patient monitoring in the Philippines. How many more breaths would he have taken had a nurse been at his side? His death reminds us of the country’s urgent need for improved protocols, better staffing, and enhanced training for health-care professionals.

I look at objects and see him. The Yakult has gone moldy and the slippers stay outside. The faucet is always off when I’m brushing my teeth. The inhaler, like an old relic of a distant past, remains useless and untouched. I think about the Sudoku and the puzzle’s gaps. I am reminded of the blank monochromatic squares in my life that he could have filled with a thousand possibilities long gone.

Bonnin Jara, 20, is a philosophy student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. He enjoys slices of life, fan fiction, and the dark academia genre.

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TAGS: COVID-19, Sudoku

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