"Three of my Tita Deng's siblings died in the past few years. One of them was a brother she dearly loved. He was her housemate, her companion. Her friend. She never really recovered, I think. She is turning 88 years old this year, and our talks are now full of her laments in life. How difficult it is to be old ... and weak. Her increasing inability to walk. How lonely she feels."
While the rest of the nation were visiting the dead, I decided to see the living. It has been a few months since the last time I took Tita Deng out. I was always too busy, too tired, too preoccupied with work, friends and boys. Next time na lang (I'd do it next time), I'd tell myself when I'd wake up the next day with a hangover after a night of partying.
And I found myself saying that every week. Next time na lang. There was always an excuse I used to assuage my guilt but I knew I should see her soon. So last weekend, I called her up and told her I would be picking her up for lunch the next day. A date with her always takes time. I'd have to go to Antipolo to fetch her, then we would go to wherever we were going to eat, then I'd have to bring her back, before I head home. All in all, it takes about eight hours.
I slept early the previous night so I'd wake up early. I had already researched some restaurants we could try and I was looking forward to spending time with her. Tita Deng and I always had fun. We would laugh and talk about many things, she always had a sense of humor that hasn't been dulled by old age.
I was shocked when I saw her. She came out in a wheelchair, looking very frail and thin. Apparently, her health has deteriorated dramatically. She can no longer walk because her knees hurt due to arthritis and she is now forced to use a wheelchair, something she had always dreaded.
The process of getting her inside the car was strenuous. I had to lift her and put her in the passenger seat. Then, I had to lift her wheelchair and put it in the trunk. By the time it was done, I was sweating heavily.
Once I got in, I hugged her. "Tita Deng, kamusta ka?" I said.
She started to speak but I couldn't understand her words. Later on, I learned she fell down and hurt herself badly in September, and that she may have had a mild stroke. Sometimes, her speech becomes slurred and she finds it difficult to be understood.
I looked at her and suddenly, she really seemed ... old. Matanda na talaga si Tita. I suppose I always had a feeling she would live forever, that she would always be around. I was getting sentimental and sad, but I hid it from her.
I knew what she would like is for us to have a normal day together and act like everything's the same. So I greeted her cheerfully and told her how beautiful she looked in her blue dress.
We went to Eastwood and decided to have lunch at a Thai restaurant since Tita Deng loves spicy food.We had pad thai, tom yum goong, steamed rice, and squid with garlic. I noticed her hands were trembling and she would spill some food on her lap, so I arranged her napkin so her dress wouldn't get soiled. I regaled her with stories; my sister's pregnancy, my travels, plans for Christmas, updates about work.
"So Tita, anong balita sa iyo? (So Tita, what's new with you?)"
"Alam mo ba, natumba ako isang beses. Actually ilang beses. Mahina na talaga ang tuhod ko. Masakit dahil sa arthritis. (You know what, I fell down once. Actually, several times. My knees are really weak now. It hurts because of arthritis.)"
She winced and I could imagine how it must pain her. "Nabagsakan pa nga ako ng cabinet eh (A cabinet even fell down on me)," she said.
"Oh my God!!! Nakakaloka!!! (What the fuck!!!!)" The cabinet she was referring to was a big one that's around five feet ten inches tall. She said people found her with blood on her face due to a gash, but otherwise, she was unhurt.
"Nakakaloka! (The fuck!) Akalain mo, natumba ka na at nabagsakan ka ng ng cabinet pero ... buhay ka pa rin! (Imagine, you fell down and got trapped by a cabinet but look ... you're still alive!!" I said.
"Loco ka talaga! (You're such a smart ass!)" she said and we both laughed. I hugged her and smelled her shampoo on her hair.
"Aba .. naligo ka!" I said.
"Siempre, may date tayo eh," she replied, her eyes twinkling.
Afterwards, we transferred to another restaurant and ordered ube cake and a green mango-watermelon shake. Later on, I took her around the mall in her wheelchair because I know she likes seeing the shops and people watching. She doesn't go out anymore, and the only times she gets to see the outside world is when I take her out. I would tease her and push her wheelchair hard so we would be running across the hallway, and we'd be laughing afterwards.
"Para naman akong bata nito," she told me with a smile.
I remember something I read about how life comes full circle as we age. From a baby to an old man or woman. Once we rode strollers, later we'd be straddling wheelchairs. The wheel of fortune turns and sometimes we find ourselves right back where we started.
Time is running out. I don't know how much time is left for Tita Deng, and there's really nothing to be done about it. We all have to take our exit, at some point. She has had a long life, a good life and perhaps that is enough.