Monday, February 16, 2009

A Funeral

I shed tears before the coffin was lowered into the ground, but not because I could feel any sense of loss, or remorse. My cousin was trembling as he leaned on the coffin, a crisp thousand-peso bill trapped in his fingers. He works as a seaman; he had been away when my uncle lost his battle with emphysema just a few days ago in a public hospital. The second in a brood of five brothers, my cousin was the only one among them who had a job, and for years he had been working to make sure his father had money to spend. He kept repeating how sorry he was for not saying goodbye each time he left home to go back to his ship. His pregnant wife wept quietly beside him as he laid the bill onto the coffin. All around him, behind oversized, darkened lenses, tear ducts were triggered; hands reached into pockets for folded handkerchiefs. His sorrow had become ours, fleetingly, as his voice shook with the weight of his words.

* * *

The wake before and the lunch after the funeral were mini-reunions of sorts. Before I visited my uncle at the hospital two weeks ago, I hadn't seen his sons for a year or so, and I was surprised to see how much (and how little) they had changed. There was a lot of laughter and small talk as relatives from the provinces arrived one after the other. Other cousins I hadn't seen in years were there too, some with children, some heavy with child. Everyone was busy catching up with everyone else. My uncle's sons wove among the guests every so often to hand out cupcakes and crackers on plastic trays. In the small room next to the viewing room was a table laden with several kinds of ulam and pots of rice. It could have been a party, if we weren't in Funeraria Paz.

Funeral cosmetics had transformed my uncle's face. His round, full jowls had somehow become flat, and his mouth was a thin, dark line barely an inch above his chin. I hurried away from the coffin, as quickly as I had sneaked up to it as soon as we arrived. In my mind I couldn't connect the man behind the glass window of the coffin to the shrunken man on the hospital bed who communicated by writing messages on a pad of paper. The latter had smiled at me kindly when I fumbled for words during my visit to the hospital; it was the same smile he wore in the framed photograph that faced everyone in the room.

* * *

Throughout my life I seldom saw my uncle and his sons. During the rare times that we would be in the same room he would clasp my hand in his meaty palm and ask after my schooling. He always smelled of cigarettes and beer; the essence of both seemed to mix naturally with his sweat. Once, when I was in elementary, he gave me a folded hundred-peso bill to spend as I wished. I had never held a bill that was worth so much before then.

At the funeral I said goodbye to a man I barely knew beyond a name, a face and a set of mannerisms. I wished his family well, kissed cheeks, clasped hands. I watched my cousins' faces go pink as they cried. I listened to my mother chatting with a relative (or family friend) whose name and face I didn't remember, to my father laughing at some comment I failed to catch. I turned around and observed the raised grave markers several meters away; a number of them resembled old wooden desks. I paid attention to the ebb and flow of emotion that radiated from the tent sheltering the coffin from the late morning sun. I felt it, released it, felt it again. I sipped my mother's leftover juice from a foil tetrapak. Once the coffin had been covered in dirt, I walked away, following my relatives back to the viewing room. It was the last of a tiny handful of memories about a man who shared my genes, my heritage, and very little else.


Sting Lacson said...

how sad.

you are a very good writer.

attend ka ng folio launch ng Quill! haha nag-plug pa.

Emir Rio Abueva said...


zeisan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zeisan said...

whew, i couldn't catch a word for me to say. especially about this topic. many thanks ^_^ splendid writing cuz. lookin forward to "unforgiven". keep in touch