Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bentong and the Encanto by Irene Riot

Carmela laid her first born son gently into his crib. He has a little bit of a fever. She thought to herself. The baby intercom was turned on so she would be able to hear if Baby Ben started to cry. He had been fussy all day.

Benjamin Thomas. The name passed throughout the generations. Baby Ben’s father was Benjamin Thomas. Benjamin Thomas, the father, was named after his maternal grandfather. Baby Ben’s father was called Bentong as a child. They now call him Thomas.

Carmela didn’t hear her husband’s car pull up the drive way nor did she hear him enter their home. She was busy preparing baby bottles for sterilization. Carmela put her career on hold after she gave birth, a decision agreed upon by both husband and wife.

“Oh, Jesus!Carmela cried as she saw her husband standing at the entrance of their kitchen. He was smiling shyly, holding…cartons of take out from her favorite Chinese restaurant.  Carmela was career oriented. He knew that from day one. Domestication didn’t suit her at all yet she struggled to tackle the role.

“Let's eatThomas said as he arranged the food on the table. Carmela reluctantly sat down at the table with her husband, head bowed in shame. She hadn’t started dinner. Oh, but everything smelled so good! He picked up all her favorites. As hungry as she was, she felt too embarrassed to eat. This domestication thing really sucks. She thought to herself.

 Tension at the table. She’s being hardheaded again. Thomas thought as he offered his wife a piece of sweet and sour pork. Slippery from the sauce, the mischievous morsel escaped from Thomas’ chopsticks and landed in Carmela’s lap.

Laughter. The couple ate, joyously, each one telling the other of their day. More laughter. Everything just tasted better when served with love. Carmela fed herself.

Thomas cleared up after their meal as Carmela tended to their son. After each completed their chores, husband and wife settled in the living room in front of the television. 

“Baby Ben had a little bit of a fever but he’s good now” Carmela informed her husband as she snuggled under his chin. Oh thank God! She’s not in one of her moods again! Thomas thought as he lovingly squeezed his wife.

“I remember, as a child, my parents got into this huge argument. I think they almost separated. My father couldn’t find work at the time while my mother worked all the time for my grandfather. He was a big time attorney” Carmela listened, ignoring the television.

Thomas went on, “Tatay was an accountant at this one big international company in the Philippines. They decided to transfer their factory to China then Tatay lost his job. He was paid really well and couldn’t find anything that could match as much as he earned. Nanay had to go back to work for Lolo”

“Nanay got extremely busy and I guess Tatay got jealous. Lolo offered him a job at his law firm but Tatay was being hard headed at the time” Carmela smiled at that remark. Thomas kissed her head.

“I remember being sick the whole time they were fighting; they quarreled for months. When things got better, I got better” Thomas started to become uneasy.

Silence. “Well?” Carmela eagerly asked, “What happened?” she said, playfully slapping her husband’s chest. Laughter. It felt so good for them to both laugh. “Tell me!” Carmela demanded. More laughter.

“When I was a child…” Thomas started out.

“How old were you?” Carmela childishly inquired.

“5, maybe 8. Definitely less than 10 years old. You know how I was always close to…”

“Who was Tatay working for at the time?”

“It may have been a Japanese firm. If not, Korean. I really can’t remember. Well any way, remember all the stories about my Lolo and the encanto?”

“Oh my God! You were cursed!" Laughter strengthening the bond of love.

“When I was about 5 or 8, definitely less than 10 years old, my parents fought terribly after my father lost his job. Nanay worked for Lolo so basically he supported us. This was a big insult to Tatay. Lolo offered Tatay a job. Being an accountant, Lolo assured him he was desperately needed but Tatay refused. He was too proud.

Tatay couldn’t find anything acceptable. As Tatay lost hope, Nany worked harder. The fighting got worse when Tatay agreed to be a stay at home dad. My older brother, Joseph and my sister, Lourdes were pretty much self sufficient and didn’t really need Tatay’s help much. Me being the youngest, he spent most of the time taking care of me.

Tatay would take me to and from school in our pedicab. Tatay would pedal fast, making the wind blow through my hair as we traveled along the side of the road. People we knew waved and honked at us. Lolo knew a lot of people where we lived so practically everyone knew us. Tatay attended my school meetings but would spend as little time with the other parents. I know he was embarrassed.

I can’t remember the first time I got sick but I remember one night I felt so bad, I walked into my parents’ room without knocking. I could hear their voices from behind the door but I couldn’t really make out what they were saying. I was that sick. I could tell from the tone of their voices they were both mad.

One time when I was less than 5 years old, I accidentally walked in on my parents during an “intimate” moment. From then on, I was instructed to never enter their room without permission. That night, I was so dizzy and nauseated. My fever was running high and I felt really bad. I walked into their room and threw up on their floor. That stopped their fighting.

I slept with them that night. The next day, Nanay and Tatay were lovey-dovey with each other and I felt better. They still fought after that. Each time, I’d get sick, they’d stop fighting and I’d get better. For a while, they thought I was faking everything. Then I got so sick and almost died. I did get better, obviously, but Nanay and Tatay never fought after that.

Tatay was taking me to school. He knew I wasn’t feeling good but he made me go to school anyway. I usually enjoyed our rides to school but this ride was unbearable. There were bumpy parts of the way where I would say “ahhhhh” just to hear my voice vibrate. The bumpy parts made my insides sting and cramp.

The breeze blew stronger the faster Tatay pedaled. I used to enjoy the breeze as it ran through my hair but that time, the breeze made my body chill more and the hair on my skin stood. The honks from friends were like sirens screaming directly in my ear. I got to school and I threw up as soon as I stepped out of the pedicab. Tatay took me home. At least I didn’t get the pedicab dirty.

I may have been sick for a week, maybe? I think longer. I had to go to the hospital. That’s when my encanto friend started to visit me. At the time, I liked it when he came to visit. We would play together, run up and down the halls of the hospital, visit other patients. Strange thing, people could see my body in my hospital bed but couldn’t see me and my friend as we played.

Well, some people could see us. Little babies could see us and those who were extremely ill and confused. My friend never went too close to the babies and the older ones who could see only him died. Not everyone saw me.

Then, my friend took me to his village. I had been there before. Lolo knew where my friend lived so I didn’t mind going. I was bored with the hospital anyway. I played all day in the village of the encanto. They were always nice to me and there was so much to do. Creeks for swimming, fields to explore and trees to climb.

By the end of the day, I wanted to go home. We were about to leave when my Lolo appeared. He called for my friend and signaled for me to wait. I was close but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I don’t recall any verbal form of communication with the encanto. I never even knew my friends name. We somehow had a way understanding each other.

Lolo and my friend finished their conversation. Lolo smiled then kissed my head before leaving me with the encanto. I wanted to go with Lolo but the encanto wouldn’t let me. Even my friend was encouraging me to stay. He looked sad. The others surrounded me and tried to comfort me.

I was sad. My friend didn’t like seeing me sad. He went away that day and left me with the others. They were nice, not as much fun as my friend but they treated me well. It wasn’t the same without my friend. I was missing my family. I wished they were ok.

I was about to cry when my friend appeared. He was smiling. He took me back to the hospital. Our Lady of Peace Hospital. My parents were in the chapel. My friend and I stood in front of them. They were crying and holding each other. They couldn’t see us. They were telling each other how much they loved each other and apologized to each other over and over. They vowed to never fight like this again.

“Nanay, Tatay, Bentong’s awake!” Joseph burst in to the chapel shouting excitedly. Then I woke up in my hospital room. My friend was gone. I was surrounded by my family, Nanay, Tatay, Joseph and Lourdes. They were all hugging me. Lolo stood in the corner smiling. His arms were crossed in front of him and he looked proud, like he had accomplished something. Lolo was always an authoritative looking figure.

After that, Tatay went to work for Lolo and Nanay went back to school to become a lawyer. She eventually took over Lolo’s practice. The years she went to school were a little hard but they were good times. We were all happy then and Nanay and Tatay never fought again.”

The baby intercom spoke. Thomas and Carmela could hear Baby Ben laughing. Husband and wife went to their son. “There is my big little boy” Thomas said as he lifted his son. Carmela embraced them both. Baby Ben laughed but seemed distracted, as if to be preoccupied with something else.

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