I just put the phone down while I’m writing this draft. My insides are shaking.
“How old are you?” Auntie Awing first asked when she realized it was me answering the phone. There was no one else to answer, by the way, so I guess today was one of those Extra Tita Days. I answered. She followed it up, “Do you have a boyfriend?” I answered.
If I could see her face, she must have scrunched her nose and looked displeased.
“Food for thought,” Aunt Awing repeatedly told me. “Your parents are not going to stay forever. When you’re alone, you need someone to talk to. Someone to comfort you. It’s fun to be a career woman, but when you get older, that’s when you’ll realize many things. Yes, you get to do things alone, no one to tell you what to do. But there are drawbacks. There’s no one to help you. No one to talk to. What do you have? The four walls of your room?”
That, non verbatim.
She did tell me a few more things other than that. That she’s now eternally hunched. That she’s stuck in her wheelchair and cannot move. That she’s been re-reading pocketbooks to keep her mind off depression. But she’s, I could feel it, depressed.
“My co-teachers have a motto: we want to live long, but we don’t want to live old,” she quipped. Makes sense. It means, “long enough to enjoy life, but not too old.” Auntie Awing tells the story of her ninety-seven co-worker. I wonder what kind of physical pain she must be going through.
“I’m old and weak now,” she confessed. She couldn’t move around like she used to. When her crucifix was tilted, she had to ask a visiting priest to set it straight for her. “Whenever I’m in pain, I’d put the hurting part on Jesus’ body and pray,” she tearfully told me.
“That’s why this cross is tilted,” the priest said to her.
I wonder if that crucifix was tilted now.
Auntie Awing told me that she couldn’t go to the CR whenever she’d want. She’d wait for Maymay’s call center shift to be over before she gets a proper bath. Her pension wasn’t enough for the six medicines she has to consume each day. She just spent her money on a checkup because she’s been suffering from a three-week cough.
Deep inside, I already have a bad hunch. Pneumonia. She did tell me that, afterwards.
“And you know what’s hard? I’ve got no one to tell my problems to when I’m feeling down. I’d spend my days on my wheelchair, with a book and biscuits in my bag, waiting by the opening of the street so I could find some amusement. I couldn’t stay in the house. I’d be more depressed. So, food for thought, dear,” she told me. “Find a partner.”
I’d switch the receiver on either ears and let her know I’m still there. Today, I was the one there for her.
I asked her if she can switch to fruits. To natural vitamin Cs to ward off the phlegm. I remembered Inang. I remembered when they had to put an equipment down her throat to suck the water trapped in her lungs.
“I’m hyperacidic, iha,” Auntie Awing answered. “I’ve never told anyone before, but it’s because during my teaching days, I hardly ate. We were poor. We don’t always have the luxury of time, or even food, to eat. I’d hold my hunger in during my classes, and when it’s done, I’d run straight to the nearest clinic. The doctor will give me IVs.”
And she kept on. “I was the breadwinner, but it wasn’t easy. I’d stay up as far as 2 a.m., writing, making visual aids, checking papers. My father would shut the electric breaker so that I’d sleep. It wasn’t easy back then.”
“I have no regrets,” she tells me. “But when you’re old, every thing you’ve achieved in your career [non verbatim] would be pointless. You’re aging, and you need someone to hold your hand, listen to your groanings, and just be there. You need company. You might not need it now, but I’m speaking from experience. You’ll need it. So, please,” she insists. “Word of thought. Find a partner.”
It echoed in my ears as if it was an urgent call.
“Take it from me. When you get to this age, you want someone to enjoy your life with. So that you don’t have to stare at the walls of your room. Look at me, I didn’t do that, and here’s where I am now. Find a partner. Please.”
“Yes, Auntie,” I answered softly.
Auntie Awing said goodbye with a flurry, remembering the phone bill Maymay might have to pay for.