TITLE: A Father's Heart (Part 3), March 28,1915
By David Brooks
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Her silent spells had grown over the years. They lost their place when Fernando failed to pay rent for several months. Tiling slipped into the comfort room, ladled water over herself, put on perfume, a fresh dress, then left. When she returned, she announced where they would transfer. Fernando watched her start dinner and tried to lighten the air with a joke, but Tiling spun around waving a spatula. “You’ve got to start doing more around here than make babies!” The joke stuck in his throat like a fish bone, and he realized she was no longer the soft, timid girl he first made love to.
Fernando’s brooding was interrupted again by the boy’s coughing. He reached over to take the boy as he thought he probably should, but Tiling pulled the boy away. Fernando's face reddened. The man with the cock watched them, while the nurse looked away. Tiling rubbed the boy's back, but the boy continued coughing.
The jeepney halted again and didn't move. Passengers squirmed in their seats and fanned themselves. The man with the cock hopped off.
The boy was leaning over now. His wide eyes watered as he stared at the floor littered with shells of roasted watermelon seeds. Fernando reached over again to help, but this time Tiling shoved his hand away. He smacked the patched seat with his fist. He glared at Tiling, but she didn’t seem to notice—or care. He didn’t know which. He felt he was dead and his spirit hovering above, seeing everything but possessing no relevance to what was happening below.
When the nurse suggested the emergency room, Tiling's eyes dulled like old fish in the market. Fernando looked over at the boy. Then he saw it. Something reddish was in the boy’s saliva. Tiling saw it too. She shrieked. She looked straight at Fernando, her stone exterior crumbling. “Do something!"
Fernando looked at the stalled traffic, the coughing boy, and Tiling’s stomach. Unknown sweat glands sprung a leek. He doubted Mon’s Father God would listen to him but he shot a quick prayer anyway. He grabbed the boy, scrambled over startled passengers' feet and jumped out the back of the jeepney. "Get off at St. Joseph!"
The hospital was still blocks away. He cradled the boy's head in the crook of one arm and let the legs dangle over the other. A peddy cab delivering Pop Cola was using the sidewalk as a shortcut and nearly hit them. Down the street, he picked his way around vegetables set out on canvas sheets on the sidewalk.
“Excuse me.” Fernando pushed through clusters of people. “Excuse me." Blood pounded inside his head. He wanted to shove them aside to relieve the pressure. "Excuse me!"
The boy’s cough worsened as Fernando inched his way through the crowds. Up ahead, two men shouted at each other next to their cars crumpled into one. Fernando pressed himself sideways between the fenders and bumpers of cars vying for the slightest opening. He shielded one of the boy’s ears with his shoulder to protect it from the angry honks.
Fernando passed a cock in a pyramid-shaped cage outside a feed store without a glance. At the main avenue so many cars zipped by he didn't know how he could cross. A foot-bridge was down the street, but the boy was getting heavy and it was crowded with pedestrians and more vendors. The boy's face was nearly as white as Fernando’s shirt. Fernando had no choice. He walked as quickly as possible on the buckling sidewalk, sidestepping an uncovered manhole. He shifted the weight of the boy in his arms when he reached the steps. But half way up, grainy images began flickering in his head: Father scolding…Fernando mocking…chased down a gravel road…rod striking…legs buckling...
Fernando halted, but a man bumped him from behind. Fernando hurried up the rest of the steps. ...crashing…wrestling…dust flying…t-shirt ripping…rocks digging into his skin...
The boy’s eyes locked on Fernando's. Fernando saw the impression of his own features in the boy’s face. They were more delicate—the high forehead, the flared nostrils with a knob in between, like his that his aunties would pinch when he misbehaved. He saw the line of his jaw—and his eyes. But his eyes in miniature frightened him. What would the boy think of him some day? A crazy old man making slurred curses on the street outside the window at night or the one who carried him when he was sick. They were also the eyes of his own father: ...eyes raging…steel arms crushing…breath smelling of whiskey…Fernando pleading…father cursing… dragging…descending into a grazing field...
Fernando shook his head to clear his mind: ...heaping mounds of carabao dung near a stagnant pond…dried bamboo leaves scratching...arms pulled back…hands tied...rope digging… Fernando begging...
Fernando reached a squatter area and a makeshift basketball court. Teenaged boys in ragged shorts with perspiration flying off their bodies, jostled for the ball under the hoop. Would his boy know the thrill of tossing a ball, watching it circle the rim, before tumbling through?
He squeezed his eyes shut. Still, the images wouldn't disappear: ...rope wrapping around a tree limb…father tugging…Fernando rising…sockets jolting…crying…hanging…dangling… screaming…Father shouting, “This will teach you a lesson!”
At the hospital, Fernando whisked the boy past the image of St. Joseph with a hand touching the shoulder of the boy, Jesus. Fernando remembered Mon carrying a son on his shoulders. The child squealing in delight. Mon looked up and waved; Fernando stomped away.
Tiling grabbed Fernando’s arm. "Why did you snub Mon?
Fernando shook her off.
“I thought he was your friend. Fernando!"
Images fired in rapid succession: ...rising...dropping…body jolting...rising…dropping…limb cracking…plunging…splashing…lungs tightening…
There was no bed for the boy in the emergency room so Fernando sat on a bench along the wall with other patients and cradled the boy.
...surfacing…sputtering…father laughing…pulled to dry ground…arms aching…clothes dripping...
Fernando slumped against the wall and felt like an empty shell of a man.
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