I last saw her when I was a kid–pushing grade six, she quickly reminded me in that birdlike voice that suddenly seemed so very familiar.
I guess that’s the way memory works–all of our past lies like a wide and sleeping country, submerged in all our every day forgetfulness, but tingles now and then to the right impulses.
The woman named Bathsheba did not look the same; where was the slight young woman whom I used to call Tita Batch, who once took me to Siquijor on a whim, when I was still a wee little boy, which was my first introduction to that mystical place? Her tinkling voice brought me back.
It was what greeted me when she opened the door to her hotel room, in that glorified hospital that marks the southern tip that is the Boulevard. “Is this you? But you’re not a little boy anymore!” she said. I think I must have replied, with a smile: “Sorry, but I couldn’t stop growing up. No one could.”
My mother had brought me here, to this hotel, after endless text messages that day, asking me that my Tita Batch was asking for me. “Do you remember her?” she asked.
“Of course, I remember her,” I said. “I still remember Siquijor.” My mind was suddenly running–there were quick slivers of thoughts that contained golden sunsets, a motorcycle ride around the island, an encounter with a strange nocturnal insect that gave me rashes for my remaining days in that island.
But Bathsheba had apparently forgotten all of that, I quickly realized. “I brought you to Siquijor?” was what she said, disbelieving, her voice still tinkling in that familiar way. “I don’t remember that.”
It didn’t matter. I have long since accepted the fact that all of us accommodate our memories to a set of definite totems that we hope can sustain us in this mad scramble that is life. It’s what grownups do.
“What I remember most is a letter you sent me once,” she later said, “when you were still in grade six.”
“I sent you a letter?” This one I didn’t remember.
“Yes, when I was still working as a nurse in New York,” she said. “I still have that letter. It’s pasted in one of my albums. It was a really well-written letter, for somebody your age–and I still show it to friends, and I tell them, ‘This boy here? He’s a writer now.’”
“What did I say?”
“You told me that one day you would love to visit Disney World. It was your dream.”
“I did? It was?”
I vaguely remembered having a Disney phase in childhood. I had watched all the films–both live action and animation, had drawn all the zany characters in hundreds of sketchpads, had collected all the brochures about the Happiest Place on Earth. I could still scrawl out, until today, Disney’s famous signature in one go, and without batting an eyelash; Mickey Mouse’s face is just a sketch away from any pencil.
So I told myself, she is telling the truth.
“And did you know that I live in Orlando now? In Florida,” she said. “So you can visit me any time, and fulfill that dream.” She laughed. I smiled, unbelievably non-committal.
But the years have taught me detachment, even from silly childhood dreams.
Soon, she was talking with mother about me–how I was like as a kid, for example. It was then that I caught a glimpse of myself, my past at the very least, as others saw me.
I was that needful kid? They called it something else. “Parayigon man na siya sa una,” mother said. Parayigon. The needful charm of little children. I shook my head a little, just enough that they wouldn’t see me.
I don’t remember much how the rest of that evening went. Only that it ended. That she had gone down with us in the elevator to our waiting car. That we had said our goodbyes, and she had said, “I hope to see you when you get to the U.S.,” and that I had nodded.
I remembered having this persistent thought though: that the past is an uncomfortable place of such aching familiarity–and there is a reason why it feels like a different country, why it’s perfectly behind us.
The car moved. It was already late at night. I looked at the silent witness of stars, and felt the tug of the present and the future suddenly colliding. I’m here, I told myself.