Yes, the old man is happily home at last!
With a big sigh of relief,upon his arrival at Zamboanga airport to board a plane that will take him to Manila,...this old man, with arms raised, muttered with extreme joy, "Yes, I am finally on the way to a new and long journey."
Everyone accompanying the old man didn't exactly understand what he meant! But each one of them clearly sensed his extreme happiness and childish joy!- - - The same kind of joyful anticipation that an incarcerated prisoner feels when he is finally released from prison!
It is now more than seven years since his loving wife Choleng passed away unexpectedly. After his wife's untimely demise, he went to live with one of his daughters who had built a house in a home lot (in Lumbayao) which the old man inherited from his own parents!
Everyone thought the old man was finally back home since Lumbayao was where he was born, lived, and grew up with his own brothers and sisters. His surviving sister and youngest brother also lived nearby! Besides, in Lumbayao, the old man commands the respect of practically all of their neighbors! It was supposed to be the best place and the best set up for one who had been living with his in-laws for most of his married life.
He had no choice then, his wife Choleng was the caretaker of their ancestral home and the personal nurse of an ailing mother! They could not live in a separate abode because of Choleng's self-imposed duty to take care of her own mother. Instead, they chose to raise their own family while at the same time taking care of her ailing mother in the ancestral home of Choleng's family - which their own children learned to embrace as their own. Even after the death of Choleng's mother, both the old man and his wife discarded their plans to set out on their own altogether. Nobody realized even up to today, that it would be the old man who would suffer the consequences of that decision to live most of their married life under the shadows of his wife's relatives!
After Choleng's death, the old man had nowhere to go. He can only live with anyone of his daughters who are all, by then, married and have families of their own, and are all more than willing to take him in. During their mother's wake, the second eldest daughter announced to all and sundry that she would take the old man in and care for his needs, reserving a special room for him in her new house built on the old man's home lot in Lumbayao.
It was a beautiful arrangement ...at the start! The old man's younger sister who just live in an adjacent lot would pay him a visit almost everyday. Together with their nephews and nieces, they would ocassionaly gather around a bamboo table under the coconut trees and partake of whatever food they can bring together. Unfortunately, such gatherings became infrequent and scarce after a while.
The old man's sister and other relatives hardly drop by for some time now! For some reason, people who used to pay the old man a visit stopped visiting altogether! Things were turning out gloomy for the old man.
Meanwhile, the old man's eye sight, unknown to everyone around him started failing. His cataract was spreading fast. Everyone thought the old man has just grown extremely senile. Stories even fly around saying the old man could no longer recognize even her own daughters! Not surprisingly, everyone was passing off the news as a normal occurrence for a man in the '80's! They all were inclined to dismiss his senility as regular and ordinarily accompanies old age. Some of them are even amused to know that at times the old man would not be able to recognize his own two older daughters. Interestingly, however, he is always able to recognize their husbands.
Little did they know, that by this time, the old man's eyesight has turned for the worst. By now, he can only see blurred images of people around him. Little did they know that everything around him is a blur!...That he had to rely on a failing memory to discern the things in front of him...That he has grown totally dependent on the voices of people around him before he could recognize them...That he could only easily recognize people whose familiar voices he hears quite often!
The fact is, he had to stare and wait for that blur in front of him to speak before he'd be able to recognize the person! The fact is his vision is so impaired that he had to often ask what those flashes of light are in front of him or what that blurred object is that he is able to hardly visualize. Sadly, and with little understanding of what the old man is going through, people would immediately dismiss his actions as being senile! And because hardly anyone understands him, he had grown irritable and impatient!
The old man had lived a full life under the love and care of his wife Choleng! Everyone who knows Choleng will understand what I mean when I say the old man has been 'babied'!
Choleng was a very understanding, caring, and loving person. As a wife, she practically 'babied' the old man, taking care of all his everyday needs, never arguing with him, taking care of his medications sometimes forgetting her own. In short, throughout their married life, specially after his retirement, the old man has grown totally dependent on having Choleng around! He need not ask for anything because whatever it is he needs, when he needs it, it will be there because Choleng had prepared it ahead of time.Choleng would also regularly cut his nails..a chore he later had to passed on to her daughters because her own eyesight was failing. Choleng would often insist that the old man bring along their youngest daughter to his drinking spree with his friends and students as his personal 'mini guard 'so that there is always someone who'd remind him if he had already drunk more than what he should! Choleng had showered the old man with dedicated love and undivided attention. Her untimely demise had created a vacuum in the old man's life! He definitely looks for and misses the kind of attention and care that Choleng showered him throughout his lifetime!
It would not be enough that we leave a cup of coffee and ' pan-de-sal ' on the table for him every morning! He looks forward to sitting down with loved ones and engage them in conversations during meals - the way they used to do it when Choleng was alive. It would not be enough to just set aside food for him to eat. He is used to having Choleng break up the food into bite sizes for him to eat. He is used to having Choleng prepare his towel, clothes, and underwear prior to taking a bath. He is used to having Choleng at bedside before he goes to sleep! He is used to having Choleng bring him snacks during merienda time without asking for it! He is so used to all this love and respect and affection showered on him in the past and definitely longs for them.
During his stint as a music teacher in the two universities of Zamboanga City, he had been used to being accorded with respect befitting his profession. Today, at the twilight of his life, he still longs for that kind of respect...and surely, he doesn't deserve the ridicule he now get every time he accidentally dropped bits and pieces of food while eating! He doesn't deserve to be chastised for being melodramatic every time other people shower him with affection and attention...these are the very thing he misses and he deserves to bask a little longer during those rare instances! Surely, it would also not be proper for anyone to play silly jokes and make life miserable for a retired professor who was and still is well respected by prominent names in the city!
The old man longs for the old life.
When he declared he was on to 'a new and long journey' at the Zamboanga airport prior to his departure for Manila, it only meant he was looking forward to having a new life that would approximate his old life when Choleng was still around! Astonishingly, and contrary to the expectation of some, on his arrival at the Manila International Airport, he immediately recognized Pong and Winchell, two of his grand children, and Sue, his youngest daughter. The old man knew, deep in his heart that he was finally home! He was finally at a place where he can expect to get the love, respect, care, and attention that may not equal those bestowed on him by his beloved Choleng, but one which would definitely approximate them.
The old man is Arcadio Perez, retired music professor of Ateneo de Zamboanga University and Mindanao State University, musician extraordinaire, my father-in-law.
Welcome home, daddy!