Ma and Dad were sitting on the chairs across the aisle. There were only the four of us in here and we had the business class cabin to ourselves the whole flight. We were in one of Tito Seth’s commercial airplane. His family owns an airline company. When we were a little younger and we’d go on family trips abroad, we’d usually use one of Tito Seth’s private jets. But since it was just Mama, Dad, Callum and I, we decided to take a commercial flight to the Philippines. I looked out of the window as the plane came to a halt. After four long years, I never thought I’d go back to this place again. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang dapat kong maramdaman. I was excited but at the same time I was a bit scared. I didn’t know what was waiting for me here.
“Audrey…” Callum, who was sitting next to me, took my hand. “Are you okay?”
I turned my head to face him and nodded. I’d finally get to see my family and friends. Iyon na lang ang iniisip ko. I didn’t want to think anything else.
“They’re so excited to see you, Drey.” Mama smiled.
“Hindi nga makapaniwala si Coco na uuwi ka. Kanina pa ako minemessage, maya’t-maya ang tanong kung malapit na ba tayo.” Dad said.
We got up from our seats when the flight attendant told us that we could get off the plane now. I hesitated at first but Callum held out his hand to me. I took it and stood up. Ma and Dad gave an encouraging nod.
“Callum, we’re a big family. Saka may mga bata kaya medyo magulo sa bahay. I’m just giving you a heads up.” Ma said as we walked through the air bridge, her arms around Dad’s arm.
“Hindi ka bisita dito. You’re my daughter’s husband. Ikaw ang makisama.” Dad coldly shrugged.
“Nick naman.” Ma scolded.
“I understand, Mr. Cordova.”
“Akala ko ba Dad na?” I teasingly whispered to him. Because when Dad’s not around, he calls him Dad too.
He just gave me a sideway glance and pressed his lips together, trying to stop himself for grinning like an idiot.
“What did you say, Drey?” Lumingon sa akin si Dad.
“Nothing.” I shook my head.
We had our passport stamped and then we walked to the arrival area. My heart pounded like a jackhammer. For the first time in years, I could believe I was home again. The first person I saw was Cookie. He was sitting on Coco’s shoulder holding up a sign that said
‘Welcome Home, Audrey’, obviously written by a kid and decorated with a bunch of stickers. Halos maluha ako nang makita ko sila. I ran to them and gave my twin brother a huge hug.
“Welcome home, sis.” He hugged me tightly. “We all missed you.”
“I missed you too.” My voice was already cracking.
We quickly pulled away so I could get a look at my handsome nephew.
“Hi, Tita Drey!” The cute little boy waved at me.
“Cookie, I missed you! Halika nga dito, give Tita Drey a huge bear hug!” I told him. He climbed down his Dada’s shoulder and hugged me. “You’re so big already!”
“Cause Mymy makes me drink lots of milk! He said.
“Napakakulit na niyang pamangkin mo. He’s like his Dada.” Anais said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
“ANAIS!” I ran up to her and hugged her. “Finally! Magiging sisters-in-law na din tayo! I’m so excited for your wedding.”
“Maid of Honor ka ah.” She said.
“Of course, kaya nga ako umuwi dito.” I said with a wide smile.
“Hey mister! Why are you staring at us? Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?” Cookie asked Callum with a frown.
“Cookie!” Sabi ni Anais at kinuha ang anak niya. She looked at Callum apologetically.
“Hindi ba sabi mo yun Mymy? Stranger danger!” He said.
I laughed. He was still the bright little boy I knew. I walked up to Callum and wrapped my arms around his upper arm. “This is my husband, Dr. Callum Francois.”
“Hey little guys, can I get a high five?” He sweetly smiled at him and held his palm out.
Cookie jumped and gave him a high five. “I thought you’re a stranger.”
“Husband?!” Coco exclaimed and blinked. “Your husband?”
“Yes, my husband.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you.” Callum nodded, acknowledging him.
“Ma, Dad!” Tawag ni Coco kina Mama at Dad na ngayon ay papalapit sa amin. They were walking with Kuya Miggy who had a tray of coffee in one hand and Ronnie, Dad was holding a little boy in one arm and Ma was dotting on him. Para akong binuhusan ng malamig na tubig sa nakita ko at agad akong tumalikod.
“What is it?” Dad asked.
“Audrey has a husband!” Sumbong niya.
“We know.” Dad flatly answered.
“Oh my God, Ate!!!” Ronnie hugged me from behind. “I so missed you.”
I slowly turned to face her. I was careful not to lift my gaze so I wouldn’t see what I didn’t what to se. I hugged Ronnie. “Hey, dalagang-dalaga ka na. Saan ba kayo galling?”
“We went to the coffee ship. Kanina pa kasi kami ditto at nagutom itong si Art-“ She paused and then pulled away from the hug. She knew how I didn’t like talking about him. Tumingin siya kay Callum “Is he your husband?”
“Yes, siya si Callum.” I introduced him
“I’m Miguel, their older brother.” Lumapit si Kuya Migs sa amin.
“Nice to meet you.” Sabi naman ni Callum
Kuya Miggy offered us a cup of coffee. I took one and Callum politely refused.
“I heard you’re a psychiatrist.” Kuya Miggy said.
“Yes, I am.” He answered.
“Maganda pala yun, may psychiatrist na tayo. Baka magamot mo itong kapatid namin. May sayad ‘to eh, nabagok kasi noong bata.” Coco patted Ronnie’s shoulder.
“Kuya!” Ronnie snapped her head to Coco and frowned at him “You are so mean to me! I don’t have sayad!”
“Tama na yan! Baka mamaya magkapikunan na naman kayo.” Saway ni Mama bago lumingon kay Callum. “I told you. Nasa airport pa lang tayo nito ah! Wait til we get home.”
“Oh Kuya Miggy!” I threw my arms around my older brother.
“Glad to see you here again.” He hugged me and affectionately rubbed my back. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, Kuya. Every one of you.” I said and then we pulled away from the hug.
“Hi, Ate Drey!” I heard a tiny voice of a child say. I was sure it wasn’t Cookie. I pretend I didn’t hear anything and turned to the opposite direction.
“Hey, little guy.” Callum waved at him.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Callum.”
“Nice to meet you, Arthur.”
“Are we going to get picked up?” I asked, trying to divert my attention elsewhere.
“There’s already a van waiting for us in the parking lot.” Kuya Miggy said.
“Then what are we doing here? Let’s go.” Aya ni Dad.
“Ikaw lang ba ang gumawa nitong banner?” I fondly asked Cookie as I held the welcome home sign.
“Arthur and I did that. Well, I did the writing because Arthur still doesn’t know how to write.” Sabi ni Cookie. Cookie was strapped in his booster seat in the front row with Anais and Coco. Callum, Kuya Miggy and I sat on the middle row and Dad and Mom with Ronnie and the kid sat on the last row.
“Yeah, I helped too! Nilagay ko yung stickers!” The kid proudly said. I feel a squeeze in my heart every time I hear him talk. Why did I think this was a good idea? We should’ve just taken a cab! I wanted nothing more than to get out of here.
“Ate Drey, I also made a welcome card for you. I drew you and me together in the card.” He said.
Yumakap ako sa braso ni Callum at humilig sa balikat niya. The tension around us was thick and heavy. Alam kong nakikiramdam lang si Mama at Dad. Buti na lang at nakatulog si Callum. I didn’t want him to notice anything.
“Ate Drey?” He called out again.
“Nakatulog na yata ang Ate Drey mo. Let’s not disturb her, okay?” She’s probably really tired.” Mama told the kid.
“Okay.” I heard him answer. “I’m sorry, Ate Drey.”
My heart clenched with a new ache as I tightly shut my eyes. He wasn’t supposed to be here. I didn’t want him here. He was nothing but a painful memory, a living proof of what had been done to me. It was really painful because the child reminded me of all the options that was taken from me without my consent. Once when I was raped and again when I conceived.
The van stopped and we all went into the house. They already had food ready for us when we got there. Callum carried our luggages out from the van and took it in.
“Cookie, I bought you something. Can you guess what it is?” I asked him as we sat in the living room. I was rummaging through my luggage, looking for the pair of shoe I bought for him.
“Mm…” He thought for a while. “A dog?”
“A dog?” I laughed. “Hindi pwedeng ilagay ang dog ditto sa loob ng luggage. Try again?”
“A dinosaur?” His eyes widened.
“A dinosaur won’t fit here!” I grabbed him and tickled him just like I used to do when he was little. He roared with laughter and dropped to the ground.
“Tita Drey, sto-oopp!” He said between his laughters and when he was out of breath from laughing. I finally stopped and let him go.
“Ikaw, niloloko mo si Tita Drey.” I told him “What did I promise to give you?”
“Um…” He thought for a while and then his eyes widened. “A pair of shoes with wheels!”
“Tadaaaa!” I said, taking a box out from the luggage.
“Yay! Thank you, Tita Drey!” He hugged me. “You’re the best! I want to go outside and try it out!
“We will later. For now, I just want to spend time with my Cookie monster.” I said, hugging him tither. “Do you remember when you were little? Ako nagpapalit ng diaper mo sometimes pag nandito ka sa amin.”
“I don’t wear diapers anymore. I’m a big boy!” He said.
“I know but you’ll always be our Cookie monster!” I kissed him on the cheek.
“Ate Drey…” There’s that tiny voice again. I lifted my eyes to see him standing in front of us. I felt repulsed as I stared at him and my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. He looked nothing like me… like us. “This is the card I made for you.”
He had a blue folded paper out to me. I looked down at the paper.
“The food’s ready!” Mama hurriedly came up to us and held him. “Arthur, may chicken nuggets na niluto si Yaya para sa’yo. Come on, let’s go eat.”
“I’m just going to give this to-”
“Later.” Mama tried to pull him.
“Mama, look at my new shoes. There’s a button you can press when you want the shoes to have wheels. Bigay ni Tita Drey sa akin ‘to.” He showed it off.
“Cool!” Said the kid.
Callum walked into the living room and went up to me. He gave me a gentle kiss on the forehead. “I already brought some of our things in your room.”
“Thanks.” I quietly said, keeping my eyes to the ground.
“Ate Drey, ako walang gift? Bakit si Cookie meron?” The kid asked, puzzled.
I looked up at Mama. I could see through her eyes that her heart was breaking for Arthur. She brushed her fingers through the boys’ hair. “Na forget ni Ate Drey mo pero may dala naman si Daddy Nick niyo para sa’yo at kay Cookie na toy.”
“Bakit si Cookie hindi niya na forget? It’s not fair…” The kid’s voice cracked with tears.
“We can take turns.” Cookie suggested.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked away. I wanted to just walk away but I felt glued to where I was at.
“It’s okay, little guys.” Lumapit si Callum sa bata at lumuhod sa harap nito. “We have something for you too.”
“Really?” His voice were once again filled with innocent amusement.
“Of course. You think we’d forget about you?” Callum cheerfully said and then playfully messed his hair. He then stood up and took the guitar case next to my luggage and then he went back to the boy. He patted the hard case. “This is my favorite guitar. I’ve had his since I was in highschool.”
“What’s a guitar?” He asked.
“It’s a musical instrument.” Callum answered.
“Oooh! I know that! Dada and I play Guitar Hero!” Sabi naman ni Cookie.
“But this is a different kind of guitar.” Callum chuckled a little and took out the guitar from the case.
I looked at Ma. She stood there with a smile on her face as she watched Callum patiently explain to the kids what a guitar was and how to use it. The two were in awe when Callum started strumming the strings and playing a tune.
“Come here, Arthur. I’ll teach you how to play the guitar.” He said.
Lumapit ang bata at umupo sa kandungan niya. He placed the guitar in front of them and took his tiny hand and positioned it on the strings.
“COOL!” They boy exclaimed when he strummed again.
“This guitar is yours now, okay? I’ll teach you how to play.” Callum said.
I couldn’t stand it any longer so I stood up and walked out of the living room. I suddenly burst into tears. It was a strange feeling seeing him. I remembered how much I hated my whole pregnancy. I was miserable. Every time I felt him move, I hated it. I hated it so much that I wanted to slice my tummy open so that that ‘dirty thing’ could come out. I couldn’t believe that ‘dirty thing’ was not a living, breathing human being. A little boy.
His very existence mocked me. He was the proof of what they did to me. He wasn’t supposed to exist. He wasn’t…
“Audrey.” I heard Mama call me.
I quickly wiped away my tears.
“Drey, honey…” She walked up to me.
“Ma, I want to be alone.” I sighed, trying to get rid of the tightness in my chest.
“Walang kasalanan si Arthur sa nangyari sa’yo. Hindi niya kasalanan ang kasalanan nila sa’yo. He’s a sweet boy. Malambing siya. Makulit minsan. Mabait na bata si Arthur. He has your personality.” She said.
“Ma, I said I want to be alone, please…” My chest felt heavier than it ever did.
“Naiintindihan ko nag galit ka pa din sa ginawa sa’yo, sa nangyari sa’yo. Pero huwag mo naman iparamdam sa bata ang galit na iyon. He has nothing to do with it.” Ma’s voice cracked with tears.