TITLE: A Father's Heart (Part 1), March 27, 2015
By David Brooks
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Fernando wished he could close his eyes, open them again, and find himself somewhere else like a dream that suddenly changes. He couldn't so he fingered the last cigarette in his shirt pocket while waiting for a jeepney. Tiling saw him and scowled. Her look tipped the balance of everything burdening Fernando and caused His chest to pound again.
The two stood so far apart one might not take them for husband and wife. A banner stretching above them announced the festival of St. Joseph. Fernando whispered a prayer to the guardian of families, figuring St. Joseph was a working man and understood a poor manâ€™s situation. It was his ritual before opening their fish stall, to stop at the church, place his hand on the Saintâ€™s foot, and say a prayer for protection and provision. But they weren't going to the market or the church today.
Another jeepney barreled past them, belching black smoke. Fernando pulled out his towel and wiped the gritty sweat from his face and neck. He was tempted to use it to cover his head from the sun but it might mess up his hair. Today his hair was greased back. Today it mattered how he appeared.
Tiling held a fan over her head. She chopped her hair years ago in surrender to the heatâ€”against Fernando's protest. It was her long straight hair that first captivated him back in the barrio. He had as much trouble with words as with his feet upon seeing her and cutting in for a dance. In the weeks that followed, Fernando would sit behind his older brother on a tricycle, hoping Tiling would ride home after school in the sidecar and give him a chance to talk to her.
Fernando was stuffing the towel in his back pocket when a neighbor stopped in front of Tiling. â€śYou look as ripe as a watermelon." Tiling stroked her swollen belly that caused the hem of her dress to rise higher in front. Fernando's chest puffed out like a strutting rooster's. The woman used to resemble Tilingâ€”sour as kamias and wielding a tongue that could split a nara tree. She was the wife of Mon, one of Fernando's former drinking partners. However, when Mon stopped drinking, smoking and womanizing, the couple became like young lovers again. Fernando didn't understand how two people could change so much, but it had something to do with Father God and the Bible Mon kept talking about. In Fernandoâ€™s opinion, God was someone not to disturb. Adding Father to his name didn't make him any more endearing either. Though Mon's new life seemed as boring as scaling fish for customers, Fernando noticed the couple didn't have creditors chasing them anymore.
The two women chatted about babies and deliveries, but the thought of a seventh child also worried Fernando. It meant another mouth to feed, another kid who could get sick, and another one to send to school.
Their youngest stood on the other side of Tiling, peeking at him. The boy followed Tiling and lived in the corners of the house when Fernando was around. Fernando ordered him that morning to bring the comic book a parish priest gave all the children. It had pictures of the holy family. There was Joseph knocking on a door, looking for a room while Mary with humble eyes waited on a donkey; there was Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the family to escape Herod; and there was Joseph teaching Jesus carpentry. The comic book was a minor detail but it completed the picture Fernando wanted to present.
The sound of the boy's coughing caused Fernando's heart to knock again like a dirty carburetor. The coughs had grown into spasmodic hacking spells, but Fernando and Tiling didnâ€™t have money to see a doctor. Today they would visit Tilingâ€™s older sister, Carmen. They could go to the clinic if Carmen was amenable and lent them money. The boyâ€™s condition wasnâ€™t the only need, just the most visible reason to back up their request for assistance. Otherwise, Fernando would have to take a loan from the Indian circulating among the market stallsâ€”charging ten times the amount borrowedâ€”to get the boy to the doctor, keep their stall open, buy food, and pay rent.
Fernando mentally wrung his hands buried in his pockets as worries dragged him down dark mental corridors that seemed to grow narrower and narrower until he felt trapped and unable to find the way out. Mon told him Jesus offered rest for the weary. Fernando said Tiling thought he rested too much already. Mon chuckled.
A jeepney finally swerved to the side of the road then lurched forward while they were still picking their way over feet and straw baskets to reach empty seats. â€śCanâ€™t anyone move for a pregnant woman?â€ť Tiling grumbled.
A young nurse boarded later for St. Joseph Hospital and handed her fare to Fernando to pass to the driver. Her voice caressed Fernandoâ€™s ears like Tilingâ€™s once did when he was courting her and they sang during fiestas:
â€śDonâ€™t you go! Oh donâ€™t you go
to far Zamboanga.
Where you may forget your darling far away!
Donâ€™t you go! Oh donâ€™t you go,
for if you leave me,
How can I without you stay?â€ť *
The two hadn't exchanged a word since their argument earlier that morning. It started about the boy and got around to money and cigarettes. Fernando was out of money again. He chafed under her questioning his spending habits but passively accepted her verbal assault. Today was too important to spoil. They needed money and they needed Carmenâ€™s help.
He rarely accompanied Tiling to her sister's house. Carmen usually looked through him as if he wasn't there, let alone reply if he spoke. Tiling would talk. He would wait outside.
Carmen had looked after Tiling when their mother was paralyzed by a stroke. They were just girls then. The mother died after a second attack, and Carmen assumed the role of Tilingâ€™s mother without complaint.
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