(Bautista, personal photogaph on Siquijor Island, 2008)
Another chapter from the novel… I am still playing with the ideas of voice and how to delineate between the many time shifts taking place but I think as it stands it seems to be comprehensible. The novel is divided into three sections as well which may help map out the times, locales and dimensions of the story. Still letting things breathe.
My younger cousin Kyle looks up to me and I am not sure why. I haven’t ever been a model family member. It could be he admires my independent streak or maybe it’s the way I shoot my mouth off to anyone whether family, friend or foe. Maybe it’s my lack of cushioning the blow when I am proving someone wrong.
In my mind, I really don’t think those are admirable things.
Or maybe it’s my detachment from emotion. There’s a lot of that in our family.
Regardless, Kyle and I are pretty close. We have a lot in common. We smoke the same brand of cigarettes, enjoy tequila shots and Corona chasers. We keep up on the latest car news. I like Mustangs, he likes trucks. We are both workaholics. We are both loners though I see it as seeking solitude and he would say that’s something a loner would say.
Anyway, I am leaving in a few weeks and consciously, I am making time to be with him when he’s not working crazy hours. It helps that I’m staying with his folks before I go. We have family dinners together.
We are outside on his patio drinking beer and his dad wanders up behind me. He frowns at my cousin.
“Kyle, you smoke too much!”
“Uncle” I say, “You used to smoke. One day, we will quit like you. What was your strategy, again? Ah, yes, get a wife who nags you.” I look to my cousin and wink.
My Uncle Rudy has such a distinct laugh like all of my mom’s siblings.
But he is still laughing. He puts his hand on my shoulder and taps on it as if to say “that was funny”. Mixed messages are another part of my lineage.
“So I asked my mom about why I’m named Juanito by you band of Island lubbers!”
My cousin laughs and belches at the same time. Now, we are all laughing although I think my uncle is laughing more at the belch than at my statement.
“So, she told you about my Uncle Juanito. She told you about what your Grandpa said about him.”
“Yes”, I begin, “It’s a cute story and a little odd.”
I see him make a strange face when I say “cute”.
“What? You don’t think it’s a cute story?” I say.
He looks puzzled. I look at my cousin and hope I didn’t just insult the family. I have a tendency to unintentionally offend people all the time and in a Filipino family, every unintentional remark can be twisted into an offensive comment.
“John, I don’t tink its a cute story. My pawder libbed with dat secret por many years.”
I look at my cousin again. Now, I am lost.
My uncle sits down beside Kyle and gives me a familiar look. It’s a look my grandfather used to give me when I would sit with him in his room as a child. I would sit and await a grand narrative that would unlock my imagination. He would regale a family story that would totally captivate my boyhood senses.
My family has troublemakers and storytellers and sometimes both personas prevail in one member.
“My Uncle Juanito lept dee islands when he was nineteen years old. He lept wit his two broders, my pawder and my Uncle Cardio.”
I remember my grandfather telling me about his siblings but nothing too detailed and especially nothing particularly revealing about his brother, Juanito.
My Uncle wasn’t finished.
” Dey lept por a job in Hawai`i. Dey trabelled by boat por terty days to get to there.”
My cousin and I were engrossed. We knew our grandfather travelled abroad to work but we didn’t know any of his brothers had accompanied him. Grandpa used to tell us of his travels to California but I never heard of his time in Hawai`i.
I guess you really don’t travel alone in this family.
“John, Kyle listen to me — Uncle Juanito neber returned.”