The last time I went home

It lingers on my mind. Weeks before Eidl Fitr in 2015, I was in Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat attempting to reach Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali — amid an angry Mt. Raung that suspended major airports across Indonesia, including one that would fly me back to Manila at midnight on the 13th of July.

At 2 p.m. of July 12 in Selong, on the eastern part of Lombok, Rizki was speeding up his automatic bike to reach the station where buses would shuttle people to Lombok International Airport in the central part of the island. When we reached there, we were told that the bus has left about 15 minutes before we came.

Sabar ya, Rizki said. Sabar means patience in Bahasa Indonesia. At that time, I lost count at how many times Rizki uttered sabar — from the time he and his family learned my 85-year-old nanay’s (my grandmother) life battle with diabetes is nearly pushing her to defeat, they knew my planned month-long excursion in Lombok and that Gili Trawangan trip, at that point, would not likely happen.

I have to come home, bu, I told Rizki’s mother Ibu Ani one afternoon at her store she named Toko Monalisa. Since I arrived in Lombok, it had been a routine for me to come that store around a time when the azhan ashr fills the air of Selong. At her 30-square-metre toko, Bu Ani sells prepaid credits, kretek cigarettes, Roti Sari, keripik, fabric conditioner, cold jasmine tea, diaper, scented balms, badminton it, they have it, just like Indomaret, except that Indomaret and its formidable competitor Alfamart have more customers since they started competing with each other through the number of branches they build across the island.

Hopefully, bu, these problems we face would not stay for long, I told her in Bahasa.

And my reason to come home is to meet my grandmother for what could be the last time, I added.

Bu Ani uttered an Islamic prayer with both of hands upturned to face the sky. I noticed there were tears starting to well from her eyes.

My mother has a very soft heart, Rizki explains. Tell a heartbreaking family story to my mother, and you’ll see her cry.

In Filipino, mababa ang luha is an idiomatic expression used to describe people who are easily moved to tears, I told Rizki, who was seemingly embarrassed to see her mother cry in front of his non-Indonesian male friend, who might find mababaw ang luha strange. Back home, I said, people are easily moved to tears.

Home is Davao. The place where I was born. It was in May 2014 when I left home to chase my dreams in Manila. Home is where on the afternoon of July 13, 2015, I felt the warmth of my grandmother’s sick body with my arms.

Is that you, Mick? I am so happy to see you. Finally you are home, cried Nanay, whose arms were so thin and already frail. Yes, it’s me ‘Nay. I’m home.

Today, I sit at a coffee shop in Malang, taking a look at that picture of Davao I took on board a Philippine Airlines aircraft en route to Ninoy Aquino International Airport on the last Tuesday of July 2015. I think about home because I wonder what is life going to be after I finish my masters in Indonesia.

Indonesia has become my home, too. I’ve been speaking a different language for more than a year. My kontrakan which I share with my Javanese friends has been my shelter. The sound of azhan was the first thing I was looking for when I visited the Philippines in 2015 (I now find it weird not to hear the azhan every day). Some of the people I used to despise here have become my family. Their way of life, which at first I couldn’t get, is now part of who I am.

After being so faraway (and out of reach since I moved out), I wonder how my friends are doing. I wonder if they can still remember those dusk-to-dawn conversations over a cup of cheap 3-in-one iced coffee. I wonder if many of them still remember when my birthday is. I wonder if they understood why I, all of a sudden, went back to the Philippines for a short visit to see my grandmother.

On the day I left the Philippines after that 2-week visit, I knocked my grandmother’s room. I saw her saying a prayer on a wheelchair.

Nay, said my mother who came with me inside the room, Mick is leaving.

I begged mother to come with me. It was the first time in my life to have experienced such event: to say goodbye to someone who I’d probably never see again..forever.

Come, Mick, come, Nanay asked me to sit next to her.

I grabbed her hand and held it tightly.

I am always praying for you, that you may finish your masters. I am so proud of you, Mick. I am so proud your achievements. You continued the things I used to do: teach at a university, play the piano, and write.

Nanay never shed a tear at that point. Instead, her face glowed. I knew what she meant with those words. She was prepared to leave, though no matter how painful it was, I had to ask her a question.

Will I ever see you again?

Only God knows.

August 24, 2015. On the day  I was climbing the peak of Mt. Ijjen in Banyuwangi, Nanay was rushed to the hospital. I knew these things would come, I wasn’t just prepared to face it.

On the next day, she died while my mother was begging her to wait before father, who on that day arrived from Manila, reaches the hospital.

The memories of the last time I went home still lingers on my mind. And I know things will never be the same again when I return home next year.





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