Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lesbian Driver

How she came to our home is already lost to memory. A relative of a maid perhaps; someone, who offered to serve our house in exchange for help to finish her studies. I no longer remember her first post, where she learned to drive, and the reason for receiving such promotion. All I know is that we offered education assistance - the same arrangement we had with her cousin, before she decided to drive my sister and my mother to school.

Our engagement is often limited to small talks, and seldom do I notice her presence. It is for this reason I don't know a lot about her - how she bravely stepped on the gas and cross waist-deep waters to rescue stranded loved ones; how she pursued learning the inner workings of our Toyota, so she knows what to do every time the car breaks down; and how she defied stereotypes and prove that a woman can drive cars.

Better than most men.

She served the house without demanding for a raise. There was even a time when her wage was months delayed because my father can't afford her pay, and she didn't complain. After years of dedication - she would become my mother's trusted feet. It was her mastery of the steering wheel that enabled the matriarch to travel the city with little to worry.

The months would turn to years and years to more than a decade. We have seen her ups and downs, the ladies who broke her heart, her defiance to my father's verbal assaults, the couple of times she had to spend a night in the hospital because of her habit of not eating on time, the violent fights with another maid, the dogs she raised, and perhaps, even the times of contemplation - asking where her life is heading. She had ambition, a dream we cannot carry on with her and it is this vision that prodded her to send an application for work abroad last year.

To drive for someone else.

Her decision came at a time when we were beginning to make plans for her future. Her Philhealth membership was set up, her social security contribution can be done in a year. But we arrived at the juncture too late. She had made up her mind. 

Six months later, her work visa was approved.

News of her imminent departure was met with ambivalence and muted resignation. My sister and I have long embraced impermanence and that she would sooner or later leave, given her professional credentials. My mom hoped she would change her mind, or her work would not push through. But I reminded her in one of our heart-to-heart talks that we cannot stand in the way of a person's aspiration. We must support her no matter how difficult her absence will be.

A crash course was done so that one person at home knows how to maintain the car.

"Ganito binubuksan ang hood." She pulled a lever across the driver's seat to release the lock. She then lifted the sheet of metal covering the car engine.

"Dito nilalagay ang engine oil." She said while pointing at a valve. "Pinapalitan siya bago ang annual registration."

With reluctance, I started embracing the inevitable: that there's no choice but to become her successor. Had I recognized this sooner, the transition would have been less abrupt. But like my mother, my heart was hoping a driver replacement would soon be found. That I wouldn't have to go through a purging - to face a mistaken hubris that caused my decision to never hold a steering wheel again.

In a week, she would bid farewell without the dramatics often associated with departures. There was no send-off party or tears shed for a leaving family member. My sister simply roused me from sleep to say goodbye. That's all. What I failed to say upfront however, I conveyed in a text message. 

"Ate Mary, thank you sa lahat lahat ng kabutihan mo sa amin. Magtagumpay ka sana sa iyong bagong paglalakbay. Ingat ka lagi. Nandito lang kami. Mamimiss kita."

Message sent.

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