(Bautista, personal photograph of Siquijor Island, Philippines, 2008)
Here is a second chapter from the novel – they are being presented in no particular order – I’m skipping a few here and there – I’m still working on the language being used but nonetheless, I am letting it breathe.
The Morning After
There are members of my family that have real strong Filipino accents like my Auntie Clara.
“Gawd morning, John!”
My aunt’s voice blasts through her kitchen and penetrates my brain like a skewer piercing cubes of flesh. I think she does it on purpose. She surely knows the power she wields with her morning shrieking. Plus I think she can tell I am desperately and completely hungover.
“Morning Auntie”, I murmur. I am staying at her home during my current transitional phase. I gave up my place downtown and moved here to suburbia before leaving for another teaching gig abroad.
I walk over to her and give her a kiss on the cheek. She is making pancakes, sorry, island pancakes which is, of course, lots of flour, lots of sugar, lots of love.
“Smells great, Auntie. Smells like the islands”, I say.
“Yes, berry much like da islands – lots ob plower, shoogar and lub!”
She kills me. I laugh because her accent is so familiar. It’s also my lineage.
“What time did you come oberr last night?”
“Um I don’t know Auntie, uh, maybe after midnight”, I say knowing full well what is coming next.
“No, I think maybe tree a.m. Did you hab pun drinking alcohall?”
“Leab him alone, Clara. He is hang ober.”
My Uncle Rudy always knows what to say and his sense of timing is more than impeccable. He’s also good at making me laugh. Like me, he, too, is a troublemaker.
“Thanks Uncle”, I say, “I’m a little hungover but I’m good”. (The first rule of teaching English: don’t explicitly error correct speakers as long as they communicate effectively. “Hang ober” is quite acceptable)
I make my way over to the kitchen table with a heaping helping of island pancakes and a glass of mango juice. I look for my eyeglasses which I’ve folded into my shirt pocket, put them on and grab the front page of the paper. I start to dig into my island lub cakes when —
“Are you ready por your trip?”
“I think so Uncle. I have some small things to pick-up but I should be good. I am familiar with teaching over there so I’m not too concerned.” I return my gaze to the front page news and my lub cakes.
“Why you keep going back? Why can’t you teach here? What are you running prum?” Auntie Clara’s guilt barrage happens with her back to me. She is still cooking. It’s very Filipino to feel the prongs of guilt jab you while the orator doesn’t physically acknowledge you as part of the conversation. No eye contact. No lub.
“Clara, leab him alone.”
He is not running prum, he is running to”, chimes my Uncle, “like my own uncle. He was the same”.
I put the paper and my fork down. I am now curious. My uncle smiles at me.
“Ok, which uncle now?” I say, “And please make this a good story. I’m a little hang oberr, remember?”
“It is a gawd story. It’s the uncle you hab been named por.”
“Uncle John Davidson?”, I retort. (Apparently, famed ’70s singer, actor, persona John Davidson caught my mom’s attention on Love American Style or Love Boat or one of those shows. Immigrant folks will latch onto anything mainstream thinking that it will make their children assimilate better into the “New World” whether it’s polyester fashionable clothing, stupid ’70s man perms or naming children after what is believed to be hip cool trendy Hollywood stars. I know, “That’s Incredible!”)
“No, my Uncle Juanito.”
I haven’t heard that name in a long time like we’re talking grade three morning role call. I remember the class roaring with laughter when the teacher actually pronounced the “j” in my full given name.
“I don’t know much about your Uncle Juanito. My mom never really said much about him.”
My uncle looks at me then to my aunt and then back at me. He smiles.
“Oh ok, ask your mom.”
“That’s it?”, I reply in a serious tone, “You’re not going to tell me.”
“What’s to tell?” He smiles.