A deserted cemetery is one of the most forlorn places on earth. Especially an empty cemetery during a burial. Only Marla, Maya and I, dressed in shades of black and gray, were under the tent, while a handful of workers prepared the grave for the burial last week at the Himlayang Pilipino, at the northern tip of Quezon City, near Bulacan. The plot was in a new, undeveloped area of the memorial park. There was a storm warning for the Metro-Manila area and it was drizzling. The wind was up, whipping the newly planted saplings sparsely distributed in the grassless areas around our tent. The priest provided by the park kept looking worriedly at the dark storm clouds and at his watch, obviously wishing that the workers would hurry it up so that he could go back to the safety and comfort of his church.

Is but a fiction of Time
Neither real nor unreal

WE ARE HIDING in the gumamela bushes, my brother Amading and I, waiting for just the right time to strike. It is a windless, hot afternoon in May and the relentless sun curls the air above the asphalt street leading to the gravel driveway of Professor Cruz’s sawali cottage, creating the illusion of a wavy street and making us a little dizzy. The hens in the makeshift coop of rusty chicken wire and discarded wood are faring no better. Instead of cackling at our presence beside them, they are standing close to the wire, staring vacantly outside, panting heavily, with their mouths open and their tongues hanging out.

I signal to Amading that I will charge by cocking my head slightly toward the chicken coop. He nods and I swiftly jump over the unruly hedge and dash for the nests inside the coop. I hurriedly raise the wire of the coop, tearing it from the rotting strip of wood which holds it to the ground. Amading and I crawl beneath the wire and burrow in the rice straw in the nests to scoop up the eggs.

All hell breaks loose. The hens are panicked by our raid and fly around the tiny coop as they cackle indignantly at our sudden intrusion into their house. Amading and I crouch to keep from hitting our heads on the roof of old G.I. sheets. We fend off the hens with one hand as we pocket the eggs with the other. A thunderous shout explodes from the cottage. It is Professor Cruz threatening to kill us for sure this time. We crawl under the wire, jump over the hedge and run for our lives. The hens follow us under the wire and noisily fly for theirs too. I never look back, so I don’t know if Professor Cruz actually barges out of the house with his rifle, as he sometimes does.

We sit in the shade of an old sampaloc tree at the back of the decrepit Quonset hut that used to be the movie theater when there were still American families in Area XIV at the U.P. campus. Our backs are to the theater and we look out at the empty golf course across the barbed wire fence that the American Army had put up to seal off the residential areas. This is our place and we are safe here.

We have spent many afternoons here rummaging through the rubbish left by the departing Americans—empty reels and cans of movie film, a torn screen at one end of the hut, the plywood bar where they used to sell popcorn and soft drinks, stacks of old tickets, scattered flyers announcing the movie of the week, and, strangely enough, piles of clay pigeons for skeet shooting. We never figured out why there were clay pigeons in the abandoned theater, but they were our favorites in the treasure trove. We often alternated in tossing a clay pigeon in the air while the other tried to blast it with a slingshot. We got high the few times we actually hit a clay pigeon.

“How many eggs did you get?” I ask Amading as soon as I catch my breath.

“Four,” he says and empties his pockets.

“I only got three,” I tell him as I lay them on the ground beside his eggs.

Amading gets up to rinse the old paint can where we boil the eggs. I start to gather twigs for the fire. I arrange three stones as a base for the can and Amading partially fills the can with water from the faucet in the theater and puts in the eggs. After I start the fire, he places the can on top of the stones. I light up a Chesterfield that we share fifty-fifty while we wait for the water to boil.

“Did you see if Professor Cruz came out with his rifle?” I ask Amading.

“Yeah, he did. Didn't you see him? He was swearing, his face was red, and he was in his sando.”

I laugh. “No, I was too scared to look back. Weren’t you?”

Amading laughs. “He forgot his glasses. That old fart couldn’t hit this theater from twenty feet without his glasses.”

When the eggs are done, Amading takes the can by the wire handle, empties the boiling water, and cools off the eggs by filling the can with cold tap water. I put out the fire by stepping on it and scattering the smoldering twigs. Amading lays the eggs on the ground and takes out the salt that he had snitched from Ma’s kitchen. We feast quietly, swiftly wolfing down the hardboiled eggs with the kind of appetite that only young boys have. Amading offers me, his kuya, the last egg. I insist that he take it because he got four to my three eggs.

After eating, we relive our adventure by recounting it several times. We recall the many other times we have raided Professor Cruz's poultry. We exaggerate his angry appearances at each raid and his frustrated curses until the tears come to our eyes from laughing so hard.

Then we climb the sampaloc tree to release some of the excess energy and strength we got from the boiled eggs. I lean back on a large branch and Amading does the same on an adjoining one. I pull out a prayer book—one of those pornographic mini books with stories full of fucking and lots of black and white pictures of screwing couples and threesomes. I flip through the pictures and then hand the booklet to Amading. He gives it back to me after a few minutes and I read aloud the so-called story in English. We both unzip our pants and start playing with ourselves. A few moments later, Amading announces triumphantly that he has finished. I ejaculate a few seconds after Amading comes. I tell him that I won the race. He takes none of my bullshit and insists that he won.

Dusk descends on the forlorn golf course across the fence of barbed wire. We sit quietly on our perches in the tree as we contemplate the end of another day. Presently, I climb down and Amading follows. We go into the decrepit theater to take a last look, in the dark, at our very own place. We sadly leave by the front door and slowly walk home to our parents’ house five blocks away. Halfway there, Amading breaks into a sprint and I race him home. He wins this race, too, because of his head start.

Too far
Our sun is a star
Scattering light but no warmth

“BUT HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?” I angrily ask Mon. It is early evening and there are just the two of us standing on the lower steps of the Arts and Sciences building at the U.P. campus. The night wind has started to blow, so we stoop behind the concrete flower boxes on one end of the stairs to keep the wind from mussing our pomaded hair too much. The campus has shut down and the long street in front of the A.S. building is completely empty. The lights are on behind the massive wrought iron gate at the top of the stairs, which is always locked. They cast long shadows on the steps all the way to the street. Mon and I face each other in the flickering shadows.

“I couldn’t intervene. Manny’s argument was perfectly sound. You imposed the rule that no neophytes with fives could be accepted before I became head of the frat,” Mon answered.

“Manny had two fives when he joined. He’s been kicked out since.”

“He joined before your rule.”

“That was never a rule. I proposed it last year, but it hasn’t been applied yet. Why should it be applied only to my younger brother?”

“Because Manny hates you and so do a lot of the other brods. They think you look down on them because you were a university scholar.”

“And you sided with them, after I proposed you to head the frat when they rebelled against my leadership?”

“I couldn't intervene. Manny was right. Your proposed rule should apply to all—including Amading."

“But you're the Supreme Exalted Brother—your word is law!”

“I also have to keep the frat intact. Why didn’t you attend the presentation? You could have argued for Amading yourself.”

“I didn’t know that they were going to reject Amading. I’m very busy with my first semester of teaching.”

“It’s your fault, then.”

“No, it’s not. I didn’t know about the plot. They harmed Amading to get back at me. It means so much to him. And you, my closest brod, did not protect my brother!” I cannot hold back my anger and frustration any longer. Tears stream down my face after I say this.

Mon cries, too, out of compassion. He embraces me and apologizes profusely for letting me down. He invites me to drink at our hangout at the Capitol Spot in a Caltex gasoline station on Quezon Avenue. I take a rain check because I need to talk to Amading. I leave Mon and briskly walk home to Area XIV through the dark empty streets lined by tall acacia trees. I meet only one security guard doing his rounds along the whole stretch of more than a kilometer.

I catch Amading in our room before dinner. He is lying in bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling.

“I heard about your rejection from Mon just a few minutes ago. You shouldn’t take it personally. It’s really me they want to hurt,” I say to him softly as I sit on my bed.

“I know,” Amading answers without looking at me.

“I was angry at Mon for not defending you.”


“I didn’t know about the plot. That’s why I wasn’t at the meeting to defend you.”

“It’s alright.”

“Why did you apply now, when you have a five? You should have studied hard this sem and applied next sem.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry.”

I look at Amading, who is still lying in bed fully clothed, with his shoes on, still staring at the ceiling. And I realize that I cannot reach him tonight, for he is not really there.

Flesh to flesh
We survive
Entrapped and entwined

“YOU HAVE TO HELP ME. I don’t know what to do anymore!” Ma says desperately as she reaches across the glass top of the dining table to grasp my hand. “Amading has gone from bad to worse since your father died. He doesn’t want to study anymore. He sleeps all day and stays out all night. He steals money from me to buy drugs.”

I understand Ma’s agitation. Since Pa suddenly died of a burst aneurysm in his aorta about ten months ago, and since Ma was diagnosed to have terminal cancer of the cervix at about the same time, Marla, Maya and I have spent one night a week and all of our weekends with Ma in her mother’s house in San Lorenzo Village in Makati. Pa, Ma and Amading had moved there from the U.P. a few months after I had gotten married and had set up house in a rented apartment on Malakas Street in Quezon City. I have noticed during my frequent visits that Amading is hardly ever home. I have also heard about his going around with a fast crowd of young men in Makati who come from wealthy families.

I look at Ma in alarm and clasp her hands. She is ravaged by the chemotherapy. Half her hair is gone and nearly all her flesh has been eaten away by the cancer and its supposed cure. I blink briefly to try to recapture the chubby, pretty mother of my boyhood in my mind. It does not work. Ma is still skin and bones.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask helplessly.

“Talk to him. Convince him to marry his girl friend, who comes from a good family. That may make him more responsible.”

“What will they live on?”

“Sell this house and a couple of other properties I inherited from my mother. Use the money to pay for my medical bills and the rest, the two of you can share after I’m gone.”

I ponder a bit and absently look at Maya playing quietly with her plastic doughnuts in the sala, blissfully unaware of our serious discussion. “He may not listen to me. I’m a large part of his problem. He thinks he lost our competition for your, and Pa’s, love and admiration,” I finally say.

“Try. For my sake.”

I look outside the window beside the dining table. I notice that a strip of plywood has peeled off from the ceiling overhanging the window. I make a note to myself to have it repaired. There are many other things in the old house that need to be repaired—the screen door on the porch, the broken window pane in the maid’s room, the stereo set that doesn’t work. I reluctantly nod my agreement and get up to go to Amading’s room.

“Wake up, Amading. Ma wants me to talk to you,” I tell him as I shake his shoulder.

“Shit. Does it have to be now? I was up all night!”

“I’m afraid so. Ma’s very worried.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll wash up first.”

I sit and smoke a Marlboro while I wait. I smoke two sticks before Amading emerges from the bathroom.

“Okay. What is it this time, Kuya?” Amading asks sarcastically as he sits on his bed.

“Ma says your life is a mess and she wants you to straighten it out before she dies.”

“She won’t die. She’ll outlive both of us.”

“You’re crazy. Can’t you see that she’s as thin as a stick?”

“Yeah? And of course only you know when she will croak. What’s your brilliant plan this time?”

“Ma wants you to marry Grace. She thinks that will make you responsible.”

“Sure. I'll just move her into this room. Who will pay for the wedding? And our family expenses?”

“Ma has asked me to sell all her properties, including this house. There should be enough cash to pay for her bills and your wedding. Maybe even for a little nest egg to start you off with. But you'll have to find a job after you get married.”

The smirk slowly leaves Amading's face as he ponders the possibilities. He gets up and paces the room. Then he says: “How will I get a job without a degree?”

“I’ll help you with my brods. You can’t be picky, of course. Just take whatever you can get and work your way up.”

“Okay,” Amading says instantly, “I’m willing to prove myself.”

“There’s a catch.”

“I knew it. With you, there’s always one. What is it this time?”

“Ma says you’re on drugs. You’ll have to enter the rehab center at the Makati Med for a month, just to make sure that you’ll be ready to start afresh.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it! You want me to stay with the lunatics in that madhouse for a month? You know that that center is for both druggies and crazies!”

“It will only be for a month.”

“No way. Sure, I smoke a little Mary Jane now and then. But I’m no druggie. I’m not hooked on anything.”

“Oh yeah? Then how come you steal money from Ma? Show me your forearms and ankles.”

“Bullshit! What are you, a cop? I tell you, I don’t need any rehab!”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice. Neither one of us is walking out of here until you agree,” I say with finality as I stand up to my full height of six feet.

Amading stands up too. He is a little taller and bigger than me now. “Okay, make me, then,” he says as he glowers at me.

Marla barges into the room at just the right time. She has been listening outside the door.

“C’mon, both of you, cool it. Sit down and listen to me. Ma is dying. She has a few months at the most. It’s Ma who wants you to do these things, Amading, not Oscar,” she says as she gently presses her hand down on Amading's shoulder to make him sit on the bed. I sit down too.

“Even if you don’t think you need to rehab, can’t you do it for Ma’s sake? It’s like a dying wish. We’ll see to it that you have everything you need while in rehab. I’ll visit you everyday to make sure,” Marla says. She is the only one standing.

Amading looks up at her desolately. Then he buries his face in his hands and starts to sob. When he is done crying, he stands up and says: “Okay, you all win, as usual. But I can’t believe that you would send your own brother to the loony bin, Oscar. I’m hungry. I’m going to the kitchen to get something.”

The rush, oh the rush
The teetering before winning or losing
Like a delectable shivering orgasm

“I’M AT THE LOBBY. I’m coming up,” Amading’s voice booms over the house phone. In a minute, he is at the door of our hotel room and I let him in. We embrace briefly, then he kisses Marla and Maya, who shyly offers her cheek like a proper young lady should. We have just arrived from Singapore, where I work for the Bank of America, for a couple of weeks’ home leave, and our bags are strewn all over the floor. Amading skips over them to join me in the sofa in the small anteroom.

“You’re fat,” I say to him.

“And you’re bald,” he shoots back. We laugh as we pour out the beers that Marla brings us from the fridge. “Let’s have dinner at our house in Las Piñas tomorrow night, okay?” Amading asks Marla.

“Sure,” Marla says as she closes a bag and props it up against the wall.
“How’s Grace? And the kids?”

“She cooks too well. That’s why we’re all fat. She has a canteen at the DBP branch beside us. Carla is on the honors list in high school. Bong is like me, he can’t seem to finish high school.”

“Maya’s in college now, taking up economics. Come and talk to Tito Amading, Maya,” Marla answers.

We finish our beers and leave Marla and Maya for a night out.

“New car?” I ask Amading as I get into his green Toyota Crown at the basement parking lot.

“Naah, I got it second-hand for a good price from a customer of mine. Business is good. I’ve managed to save a little from my commissions even after buying this car and paying the mortgage on the house. Maybe we’ll visit you in Singapore one of these days.”

“That would be great. Do it soon, before I’m transferred again.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Amading takes me to the Makati Cinema Square, where we spend an hour at an air-gun target range. We play several matches of ten shots each at fifteen meters. He beats me most of the time. I figure he must practice here a lot.

After shooting, I want to go to Amorsolo, a bar around the corner with young, pretty waitresses in bathing suits. He insists on taking me to dinner first at the Golden Pearl, a Chinese restaurant a floor above the target range.

The restaurant is small and a bit tacky, but it is spotlessly clean. Right after we order food and beers, a young woman in a blue skirt and white blouse that look like a uniform comes to our table. Amading stands up to seat her.

“This is Lisa,” Amading says to me, “she has just finished her shift as a takilyera at one of the movie houses on this floor. She’ll be joining us tonight.”

I am quite solicitous of Lisa over dinner, piling her plate high with food and encouraging her to take some wine or beer. I’m not sure what she is doing there with us and figure that there is always the possibility that Amading has fixed her up for me tonight.

Lisa joins us at the Amrosolo bar and I hold her hand as we sing a duet at the karaoke room, while Amading looks on with great amusement. Then I take her out to the main bar for a couple of slow dances and start hitting on her. She laughs and calls me Kuya.

After I have made a complete fool of myself, Amading whispers sweetly into her ear at our table in a dark corner to show me that she is his. And when they talk about her child by a previous marriage in parental tones at the end of the evening, I finally understand that she has been Amading’s mistress for sometime now.

We succumb
Shutting our eyes

WE ARE LEANING on the gleaming metal railing of the third floor of the new Megamall, looking down at April Boy Regino as he sings on a makeshift stage at the lobby. He lets it all out and the enthusiastic crowd periodically responds with high-pitched screams. April Boy throws out dozens of baseball caps, handfuls of candies, and a few T-shirts at the crowd as he sings. There is a mad scramble for the goodies.
“Like him?” Amading asks me.

“Yeah, he’s good. But why does he have to bribe his fans? He doesn’t need to,” I answer.

"It’s a Filipino custom. You’ve been away too long.”

“What’s so Filipino about dependency?”

“Listen, I need to get something in your car,” Amading says as he walks to the parking lot at one end of the ridiculously long corridor. I follow him and we leave the screaming teens.

Amading opens the window of the front passenger seat and makes himself comfortable by adjusting the seat. I sit at the driver’s side, open my window and wonder what he is up to. He slowly pulls out various gadgets and many small plastic envelopes from his pockets. Then he cooks something with a lighter. He focuses intently on what he is doing, as if it were one of our experiments in high school biology class.

“What is that?” I ask.

“Shabu,” Amading says.

He finally rolls a cigarette after the elaborate preparations, lights up and inhales deeply. His facial expression relaxes almost instantly. He offers me a puff. I push away his hand in disgust.

“That stuff will kill you,” I tell him sternly.

“It relaxes me. Helps me cope with my problems. You can’t imagine. Grace paralyzed from the stroke. Losing Lisa. Losing my job. The expenses. Bringing up the kids practically by myself.”

“And that will help? You’re nuts!”

“C’mon. You need this, too. You’ve just been fired by your bank in Singapore.”

“Retrenched. With a golden handshake. And I intend to find another job here.”

“Sure. But why not relax first?”

“And get hooked on shabu? Your brains are addled!”

“You’re such a fuddy-duddy, always the kuya. Remember Woodstock from our youth? That’s the way to go. Life is too short to take seriously.”

“Drugs are a trap!”

“I’ve invented a new technology that will keep me from getting hooked. It’s really original. Maybe I’ll patent it someday,” Amading tells me seriously. He is high now. I give up and tell him I’m going home. He carefully puts out his cigarette and slips the butt into an envelope. He tells me he’ll just hang out at the mall for awhile.

Perfect reciprocals:
Success … Failure;
Alternative tempos:
Modes of being.

“HELP ME! These assholes want to take me to the Las Piñas police station!” Amading yells into my phone at three a.m. I hear curses, a loud thud and the phone goes dead.

“Where are you, Amading? What’s happening?” I yell into my phone. No answer. The phone is dead.

My brother is in trouble again, I reflect. Lucky for him that I have a job now as vice president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands. Kuya to the rescue once more. I wake Marla to tell her of the call.

“Are you sure it was Amading?” she asks.


“Then we must go and help him.”

I call Henry, my colleague at the BPI who lives in Las Piñas, and ask him to help out by joining us at the station. Henry is waiting for me at the brightly lit doorway of the station when Marla and I get there.

“I’ve talked to the senior officer. Amading is in a cell inside. His neighbor complained that he is a pusher who sells shabu to his daughter. They didn’t catch any shabu on him, but they got lots of shabu paraphernalia. I think we can spring him on your guarantee that he will go into rehab,” Henry tells me quickly, before I enter the station. He takes me to Amading’s cell.

Amading is squatting on his haunches in the far corner of the tiny cell, casting furtive glances at the cell bars, like a cornered animal. He springs up and strides to the bars when we approach.

“Look what they did to me! The motherfuckers beat me and locked me up on mere suspicion of being a pusher. They have no evidence. Charge them with police brutality. Teach them a lesson!” Amading yells out to me, though I am standing only a couple of feet away on the other side of the bars.

I look at him. He is a mess. He is very thin and his cheeks are sunken. He is dressed in a dirty white T-shirt which is wet from his tears and snot, denim shorts and the closed-toed tsinelas that old sabungeros like to use. The left side of his face is swollen and his left eye is half-closed from a nasty blackeye.

“What happened?” I ask, the tears of pity welling in my eyes.

“Hell, I don’t know. I was just hanging out with some friends a block from my house when this police car came with its sirens wailing. Naturally, we dashed away to avoid any trouble. They chased me, tackled me, and beat me in the face with my own tsinelas. They cursed me and called me a pusher, searched my pockets and then clapped me in jail. Help me get out of here. Please. They might kill me if you don’t.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

I approach the sergeant at the desk, give him my calling card and introduce myself as Henry’s friend and Amading’s older brother. I ask him to release Amading into my custody.

“Are you sure you want him released? He’s a walking time bomb, you know. It’s a question of time before he commits a violent crime. And he’s destroying lives by pushing,” the sergeant replies with some heat.

“You have no evidence of his pushing. This is his first arrest.”

“Can’t you see how high he is? He gave us a tough time and tried to fight back. I really should throw the book at him.”

“I’m sorry for his behavior. But you can’t hold him without finding any shabu, can you? Why force me to hire a lawyer who might even charge you with abusing my brother’s human rights?”

“But if you leave him here, I’ll send him straight to the rehab center in Bicutan, where he might be cured.”

“I’ll take care of a private rehab if you release him to me. And Mr. Henry Lacuesta and I will owe you a favor. We work for the BPI, you know. Who knows, maybe we can help you out with a bank loan or something in the future?”

“Make your brother sign a statement promising to go into rehab and releasing us from any liability for his arrest.”

I go back to Amading and explain the terms for his release. At first, he refuses to sign any statement on going into rehab, since that would practically admit that he is a shabu addict. But he relents when I explain that that is the only way that he will get out of jail. As he laboriously scrawls his statement on the police blotter, I notice how unfocused his eyes are and how bad his handwriting is. I conclude that he is high, as the sergeant said, and resolve to make him undergo rehab.

After thanking Henry profusely in the driveway of the station, Marla and I take Amading home. Once there, he jumps out of the car, runs to his bedroom and slams the door shut. He yells at me through the door that he would rather die first then go into rehab with the crazies again. I yell back that he has no choice in the matter. I’m coming back at seven a.m. to take him to the Makati Med rehab. Otherwise, he will have to deal with the police on his own.

Later that morning, I return and knock on the door of Amading’s house. Bong opens it. I go into the bedroom and only Grace is there in their bed. It is painful to look at her. She was fat all her life, now all her limbs are wasted and only her torso and face resemble the Grace of old. She is disheveled and no one has bothered to comb her hair. I wonder if anyone has bothered to bathe her lately.

She weeps uncontrollably for several minutes when I come in. I pull a chair to her bedside and try to soothe her by stroking her forehead.

“It has been hell this past year, Oscar. Amading is so weak—he’s falling apart again, just like when your parents died. Only this time, I’m too sick to help him cope. You cannot imagine how bad it is. The rages. Blaming me for my stroke. Yelling at Carla and Bong all the time, the few times he is home. It’s affecting their studies. Help us, please.”

“Of course. I came to take him to rehab. Do you know where he went?”

“He took some clothes and the car. He’s probably with his addict friends. I don’t know any of them.”

“Call me when he comes home and I’ll come over.”

“Please. Just ask the police to arrest him and force him into rehab.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. They beat him up last night.”

“But you have to. It’s our only chance. He has to get well again.”

“I’ve heard bad things about the government center in Bicutan. The guards beat up the inmates and sell them shabu. Use them for crimes, too. It’s better if we bring him to the Makati Med.”

“He won’t go with you, this time. He told me that when you brought him home.”

I hold her hand in silence for a while. Then I whisper to Grace: “I really can’t ask the police to arrest my brother. I’m sorry.”

“Then I’ll move to my sister’s place with the children. I’m so afraid of him now. His brain is crazy with shabu and he might harm us.”

In the prison of my vice
Soul crisscrossed with self-inflicted wounds
Despair is my only salve
And self-pity a daily indulgence

I AM HERE AT THE WAKE OF GRACE. She died three days ago from a final stroke. I have been here at the Magallanes chapel every night since Grace died to mourn her and to wait for Amading, whom I have not seen since the night of his arrest. My brother is an eerie presence at the wake because of his absence. Hardly anyone but Marla and I talk about him. Certainly not the relatives of Grace. The head of my clan, Tita Fely, who bought my mother’s house many years ago, asks me where Amading is. I shrug my shoulders and she lets it go at that.

I have found out that Amading's children are doing reasonably well with their aunt. Carla has graduated at the top of her class in physical therapy and is about to leave to work in the U.S. Bong is working at Jollibee’s while struggling to finish college at the U.S.T. I spend some time with them every night to encourage them in their struggle to carve out a normal life as orphans. They respond to me warmly, but quickly shut me out when I try to talk about their father. I finally ask Bong what he would do when his father shows up.

“Probably punch his face,” Bong says angrily.

“But Amading only breaks out of love,” I tell him.

“He cares only for himself. No father would abandon his family like that,” Bong instantly replies. He turns his back and walks toward his aunt.

The wake is finally over and Grace will be buried today. The mass has just finished and I suddenly see Amading standing at the end of the aisle, silently watching the mourners file past the open casket of Grace. He is wearing a pair of sunglasses and is dressed in a polo barong, dark pants, and shoes. As I approach him, I see that he has lost some more weight. He jabbers in a perturbing way when I greet him. He is high and very nervous about being here. I put my arm around him and walk him down the aisle to the casket. The file in front of the casket parts for us and the mourners quickly disappear into the seats. Only Amading and I are left in front of the casket. My brother just stares at his dead wife for a few minutes. Then he turns to leave and I follow him. Tita Fely nods at me as we walk past her. Everyone else averts his eyes. I ask Amading to join Marla and me in the car to go to the memorial park. He embraces me and sobs on my shoulder. He does not go to the burial.

Life is but a presence
While Death is an absence
In time's long arms
Only absences are present

I buried Amading last week. There was no wake. I took my brother straight from the emergency room of the PGH, where the doctor said he had died from malnutrition and heart failure from repeated use of shabu, to the funeral parlor. Only my wife and daughter joined me in the burial at the memorial park. I didn’t have time to call our friends from the U.P. days. I don’t know his addict friends. Carla is working in the States. Bong refused to come.

After the workers had finally finished preparing the grave and the priest had said his prayers and had left hurriedly, we had a few minutes to say our good byes to Amading while he lay in the open casket. Marla and Maya stood over the casket and looked at his face while they prayed silently. I wanted to pray too, but could not, since I don’t believe and have forgotten all the Catholic rituals. I just touched the glass over his face and softly hummed the lullaby I used to sing to him when I put him to sleep as a little boy, when our parents were not home.

As the attendants piled the squares of grass on the grave, I noticed that the grass was scruffy and that the sparse leaves were growing in wayward directions. I wondered if I should have the grass replanted all over again with a variety that is stronger and that would grow more evenly in an upright direction.

From A Song For My Brother and Other Stories, by Antonio A. Hidalgo (Milflores, 2002).

Posted on November 20, 2008