FAMILY SECRET

We were at the lobby of a hotel, waiting for our driver when my friend Babes suddenly said;

“I cannot attend next month’s meeting. We will have a family reunion.”

“A family reunion at this time of the year? Why not on Christmas?” I asked.

“My mother is very sick, we are afraid she may not last long, we want everyone of the family, down to the great grandchildren to see her and give their final respect. Christmas might be too late,” she answered.

“How is your father taking it? They have been together for so many years”, I asked.

“He is prepared. I am glad I made the move for them couple to patch up their hurts.”

“What do you mean you made the move?”

“Well, when we were growing up, I never find anything unusual on the relationship of my Mom and Dad. I thought it was just their character. But when I got married and we had these reunions, I noticed that every time we group together, my mother would not be around. She would alwahys be somewhere in the house. Later on, it became apparent to me that my mother would not want to group with us if my father is around. Then it came into my mind that I knew very little about my parents.”

“And so one day, when we were alone in the house, I asked my mother to tell me about her childhood, about her parents and how she met my Dad. I also asked her the reason why she would not want to join us if my father is in the group.”

I got curious.

“Did she tell you?” I asked.

“Yes, for a while I thought she would not, but she did.”

                          ------------The Mother’s story--------------------

I was born in a very remote place, on a rocky Island that is 2 days travel from the mainland. Except for occasional explorer’s, we were alone on that island; Just my father, my mother and me.

We always have food. My father knew the island. He can catch fish and he knew where edible plants grew.

When visitors, like the missionaries came, they would leave a sack of rice and we would have rice for months. But Clothes we have none. I never had a dress until I was about 6 yrs old, not until the missionaries came and gave me a dress.

The missionaries’ visits were seldom and far between. I remember that I always jumped with joy whenever I see their motorized boats coming.

In my young age,  " they are the people .

When I was 15, your father came into my life. He was a soldier and his group was assigned to check the island.

Before they leave the Island, he asked my mother and father if he can bring me back to the mainland and marry me. My mother and father thought about it the whole night and in the morning they gave their blessings.

Your father was a salaried man, for them, that was enough. Their beloved daughter will not grow hungry.

The day I left with your father was the last time I saw my parents. I never saw them again. I never knew it at that time.

I had a hard time adjusting to my new life; many days and many nights I cried. I was  very very lonely; how I longed to go back to the Island and see my parents again. 

On the 2nd year, your eldest brother was born and this occupied me and made me content. Then the next year another baby came and then another the following year.

Little by little I stopped longing for the Island and for my parents.

Then, just as I was beginning to be happy, your father met a woman on one of his assignments and he left us; he did not come home, not even to say goodbye. I felt abandoned and forgotten, so unloved. Once again I longed to see my parents, to be in the Island again. 

I have 3 kids to feed. I do not know how and where to get food to feed my children. Many days we went hungry. I would often go to the river and cry to God for help, to once again send the missionaries.

And then one day, quite suddenly, I remember my father and his ways; I re-learned how to source for edible plants and to trapped seafoods with stones.

After a year your father came back, he asked for forgiveness and lived with us again. I thought I had forgiven him; but then, as the days went by, I realized, only my heart had forgiven him; my mind would always go back to that time when he left us.

                                -----------------Babes and me------------------

“So that's it, your mother felt betrayed.”

“Yes. I sympathized with my mom but past is past and it is so long ago. Besides, who among us has not committed a mistake?” Babes said.

“You are right. So what did you do after that?”

“I talked to my father.”

                                  ----------------The Father’s story----------------

Yes, I admit. I went astray. That was very bad of me. It never came into my mind that they will go hungry. I don’t know, I must be out of my mind at that time.

I asked forgiveness from God and from your mom. God must have forgiven me because He gave me back my family, but your mother has not completely forgiven me. My love for her has come back but her love for me is gone.

It’s been years now and I tried to make amends for my mistakes, but she has not forgotten.

It’s ok, I made a very big mistake, she suffered so much, I must suffer a little.

                                  -----------Going back to Babes and me----------

“Wow ... What a love story. I don't know if your mother's love for your father is greater because she took him back or your father's because he endured her treatment for such a long time, so what happened next?”

“I talked to my mother again, and asked forgiveness for my father. When I told her what my father told me, I could see a little smile on her face. From then on, I could sense some changed on my mother, not only towards my father, but towards us children too.”

"That's good," I said, "but what made your grandparents stay in the Island, how did they end up in that so far away and barren place in the first place? did you ask?," I said.

Silence, then Babes stood up and fixed her makeup.

“Yes but it is a very long story, we do not have time; the driver could be on his way now,” she said.

"Let's meet and finish the story tonight, dinner's on me, Ok?"

"Ok," she said. "I'll be at the lobby at 7."

From the author;

Babes never made it to the lobby that night; she has to go home immediately, her mother died.

No matter how unbelievable it is, the story is true. The Island, the missionaries, the secret, they are all true.

It's been years now since my friend shared to me her parent's story. But I didn't forget; the story stayed in my mind.

Could it be that Babes grandparents were the first inhabitants of one of the Islands in the Kalayaan group of Islands? Why were Babes grandparents in that Island? why didn't they ever leaved the Island? Were the rocks and boulders described actually the coral reefs of Panatag?

I continued this story with Babes father going back to the Island (Going Back to the Island),  but it is not a true story anymore, it is just a pigment of my imagination.

I could see tatay waving from a mile. Rather than making me glad, it pained me. It pained me to see him so excited to see me come back to the Island, like he waited for me every day.

He did not wait for the motorboat to land; we met in knee deep water. He embraced me tight and he cried. 

“Oh Delio, I am so happy to see you, I was not wrong, you are here, you did come back,” he said.

“I Am glad to see you too tatay, I am sorry it took me so long,” I couldn’t help it, I was teary eyed too.

“Hush, hush, that’s ok, everything is going to be ok now, you’ve come back, that’s enough, come come to the house, it’s been a long arduous journey, let’s have coffee, I have it boiling already."

"When I saw a dot from the horizon, I put on the coffee and boiled some bananas and sweet potatoes. I know, whoever is coming, he will need warm food. Come let us go to the house. We can talk while we have our breakfast. You can change your clothes too, they have wave sprays.”

Wave sprays …. Wave sprays ….. yes I got wave sprays. A tide of memories came back. 


Three months, three months of stay here in this Island. Three months of wave sprays.

Flora and I used to meet in this beach after my shift. We don’t walk on the shore as other lovers would; we frolicked, we played with the waves. Whoever got hit with the wave sprays, will be the loser.

It was the day before our mission ended when I asked Flora if she would come with me. Flora was just 15 then.

“What about Tatay and Nanay, can they come with us too?, you know I won’t leave without them. If you bring me with you, you have to bring them too,” Flora said.

“I will talk with Lieutenant tonight, I’ll see what I can do."
 I know it will be hard to convince our lieutenant to let me  bring Flora with the contingent back to the mainland but to bring the whole family - I’m almost sure, he will not.

That night I beg our boss to let me bring Flora with me to the mainland. At first he refused but he was also in love once and so he let Flora come with us, but only Flora.

Early morning the next day I talked to Flora’s parents. I told them flora and I will come back as soon as we get settled. 

The next day they gave me their blessing. Oh, I was the happiest man on earth then, I so love Flora. 

I don’t know what happened. After the eldest was born, things changed. Flora was not the same anymore. She does not mind if I come back from the mission or not. Our child was enough to make her happy, I became bitter.
I woke up from my reverie when Tatay called.

“Hey Delio, remember that ….?"

“Of course tatay,  I still remember.”

While we were securing the motorboat to a tree, I asked for Nanay; “where is Nanay, tatay?"

“Come with me, I will take you to her.”

And so we walk to the house, it was the same house, nothing has changed I thought.

“Let us have a warm cup of coffee first and better change your clothes, they are wet,” Tatay said.

And so we walked up to the house which isn’t really very far. It’s built in a high place. I stopped and looked at it; it is the same house, nothing has changed.

It is the same table too, a makeshift one which Tatay fashioned from the palms of coconut trees. And Between coffee and sweet potatoes, Tatay asked.

“Where is Flora, Delio, why isn’t she with you?”

“You are coming back with me to the mainland Tatay. I cannot bring Flora with me,  no one will look after the three kids, you have three grandchildren already and I could not risk taking them with me,  I knew the sea is not friendly this time of the year.”

“Oh, I have three grandchildren already? How nice; what are their names and how old are they?”

“The eldest Tatay is NIko, he is 5 and has started kindergarten. He has your brains Tatay, he will be the first honor on their kinder graduation next month; I want you and Nanay to be there when he received his medal. He looks like you Tatay.”

“What about the other two kids, are they boys too?”

“No Tatay, a girl comes after Niko, we called her Babes, she is now a precocious 3yrs old Tatay. Nanay will surely love her curly hair, she looks just like Flora, the first time I saw her here. Your third grandchild is Ray, he just turned 1 last month.”

“By the way Tatay, where is Nanay?”

“Come, let’s go to her now. We have finished our coffee anyway.”

And we went down the stairs to the back of the house

“Hey Senyang, look out here, Delio has come back.” Tatay called but still I couldn’t see Nanay anywhere. I do not know why but I suddenly felt cold and I know it isn’t because of the cold wind that is now slowly battering the Island. 

We stopped beside the 2 big boulders that were forever there but this time I saw a cross planted between them. I knew then that Nanay died; there is no one else on the IslandI felt the goosebumps again.

“I told you Senyang, they will come back. We were right to let Flora go with Delio. Oh Senyang if you just waited.”

“Why Tatay? She was young and healthy when we left.”

Tatay did not answer me; he sat down on one of the stones and looked at the sea again. It took a long time before he answered me, “Delio, your mother died of extreme loneliness.”

I could not speak. I saw that his eyes were moist, holding back his tears. I wish then he can hold them back; I don’t want to see Tatay crying or any man for that matter. I am a soldier, trained to be tough but somehow seeing Flora’s father cry, cut a tug in my chest .  

Then he took a stick and make figures in the sand. I look at it but found nothing, just circles and lines and x's. 

“When you left the island, she would go to the beach every day and just sat there staring at the sea. She told me; ‘perhaps Flora would change her mind and would come back and not leave the Island anymore’. I told her no, 'Love is a very strong feeling, it can withstand loneliness, it can withstand separation'.

“Days after days, she would go to the beach and waited for Flora to come back. She would only go back to the house to prepare lunch.

“I scolded her and it became the source of our everyday quarrel. I always told her to wait, that you will be coming back, she would not listen. I don’t know any more what to do and so I started to stay out longer.  Perhaps this added to the problem; I felt some guilt thinking that I failed her.

“Delio, your mother-in-law was committing suicide right under my eyes”.

Tatay wiped away his tears with the back of his hands, he could not hold back his tears anymore, neither can I. I knew in my heart and in my head that I had a hand in my mother-in-law’s death. I took away her most prized possession, perhaps the only reason why she has endured so much loneliness in the Island. 

I don’t know any more what to think then. I came here so that I can erase some of my guilt for leaving my family for another girl but instead, guilt has been added. 

“Tatay, I am so sorry.”

“No, don’t say that, it is not your fault.” Then Tatay continued.

“The first time we came here, she was so happy; for her my love is enough. When Flora came, I thought it was a bonus, that Flora will make her happier. I was wrong; her love for me was transferred to Flora. So when Flora left, her world crumpled.”

“I didn’t know it then, had I known ...” Father stopped, then said;

“It is not your fault, Delio. We talked about it the whole night and we gave you our blessings.  I did not forced Senyang to let go, perhaps she so loved Flora that she has to let go, that she would not want Flora to suffer the extreme loneliness she suffered in this Island. I didn’t know it then that she was unhappy here. I didn’t know it then ... I thought she was happy here in this beautiful and generous Island. “

“Come with me Tatay, we have a small farm, you can help us till it, Flora would be so happy, I could almost see her smile now. ” 

He just looked at me and smiled. 

“Tell me more about each child Delio.”

And so I would tell him each child’s daily antics and after each child’s story he would always turn to Nanay's place and says;

“You heard that Senyang? Delio said our oldest grandchild is doing well in school, must have taken my brains ha ? ha ha ha, am so proud of them already.” Then quite suddenly said, 
“Oh Senyang, if only you have waited.” 

Again, there is that tug in my stomach.

"It is getting dark Tatay, maybe we should go back to the house now, and we still have to pack your things. I have with me 2 cans of sardines and 2 cans of corned beef, for our dinner and breakfast.  We will leave at around 5 a.m., that’s when the sea is calm.”

“Oh you remember.”

“Yes Tatay, I did not forget.”

The he talked with Nanay again. “Senyang, I will go with Delio tomorrow, I will see Flora and our 3 grandchildren, but don’t worry, I will come back, I promise you, I will never leave you alone here. Oh Senyang, if you just waited.”

After dinner, I helped him pack some of the things and we chatted again, mostly about the children. 

“Let’s go to bed now Tatay, you must be tired, I will wake you up at 4."

Tatay looked at me again and said, “Thank you again Delio for coming back and thank you for taking good care of my daughter, you were true to your promise.”

I almost cried when I heard this, but I hold back my tears. The guilt inside me was overwhelming. 

“You are welcome Tatay, I just wish it was sooner.”

“Don’t be sad and don’t be sorry Delio, it is enough that you are here. What did they say about the Milk? no use crying over spilt milk, was that it? I have been away from people for so long; I forgot a lot of things already. I am glad that the missions still bring me books whenever they come here, by the way, they still come here, even after Flora is gone.”

“Thank you Tatay.”

Early the next morning, I tried waking up Tatay, but I could not anymore, he was dead. He died in his sleep. 

I sat beside him and let go of myself; I cried.

By the afternoon, I have recovered and started to dig.

I left the Island, day after that, bringing with me some pictures that Tatay kept bundled in an old tattered t-xhirt and also a diary that I found on his belongings.

                          to be continued