Previously on: A McDonald's Date
"Tumawag pala si Tita Heart mo noong isang araw." My mother said in passing while me and Kuya O, her trusted assistant were carrying her monoblock armchair down the stairs.
We were going to the hospital for her checkup.
"Contestant daw sa art contest sa school nila si Vito." Vito is my aunt's grandson. He is the effeminate kid they'd expect to turn into a unicorn when he finally comes of age.
The news was met with the usual shrug. Why should I bother paying attention to their trivial affairs when the brief anecdote leads elsewhere? Not since February this year when I last saw the grandchildren after me and Tita Heart sent them to school. It wasn't a rosy encounter. I recall telling my mom how bratty they were, especially the elder.
"Pabili ng pabili ng kung ano-ano yung panganay eh nasa ospital na nga yung tatay nila." I was fuming when I arrived home.
"Tapos ang ingay pa at ayaw makinig sa lola."
The news of my cousin's bunso joining an art contest is nothing but a subtle attempt to remind my mother of the duties she took upon herself after my dad passed away over a decade ago. Every month, a portion of our earnings go to my aunt's family as my disabled cousin cannot find a job. His preening wife, meanwhile, would rather hang out with friends than do some back-breaking work. I do not know if things have changed after he had a stroke early this year. Last she hinted she'd leave my cousin if things don't get any better. While I was generous with my financial support then, domestic duties at home can no longer afford me to offer cash assistance.
They have to make it on their own.
I don't know if my mother was hinting if I could shoulder a portion of the money she's planning to send to my dad's younger sister. But sensing the apparent message, I flatly rejected her suggestion by saying that I don't work 7 days a week only to part my money with people who refuses to improve their lot.
I don't like leeches.
I don't like leeches.
Besides, I still recall having to pay the courier after Tita Heart cornered me the last time, and asked if I could send my uncle's international driver's license to France. I learned a few weeks later that the document was already expired and I wasted a fortune for an enterprise that I thought would finally lessen our burden.
I was terribly disappointed. She and her husband never told me what happened.
"Noong isang taon ko pa sinasabi na maghanap sila ng pagkakakitaan dahil kaya ko pa silang pondohan." I was terribly annoyed.
"Huwag nila akong asahan ngayon."
My mom could only lament how Tita Heart lost me because of a single mistake. Truth is, the list of errors were adding up. I was already seeing the veneer of deception conveniently wedged into a recycled narrative. We used to be very close - so close that I overlooked the details that would make me question how they run things at home. Besides, the last time we spoke, she tearfully told me that I was the son she never had. I now doubt if everything she said was authentic or merely a lip service so she could win my sympathy. It doesn't matter now. I am numb. Meanwhile, my mom appears to be wallowing in guilt. When asked as to when she can send the grocery bag to Tita Heart, she would only say she'd have to raise some funds first.
"Hindi nun kailangan ang grocery." I shook my head in frustration. Mom tried to explain to me the real situation.
"Pera ang inaasahan noon."
While we are no longer on speaking terms, I've never really cut my ties with my relatives on my father's side of the family. The matriarch makes it a point to tell me of their never-ending destitution (they seem to lap at their misfortune) given my financial capacity to render aid if the situation demands for it. While the obvious screams right in my face, the feeble attempts to ignore them puts me in the quandary. This isn't how I was raised by my parents. I am pretty sure the Favorite Aunt (who belongs to the mother's side of the family) would show a little more compassion than I ever will if I were to follow my nature.
Hence, in spite of the condescending private comments, and the dismissive attitude whenever Tita Heart suddenly makes her presence felt through once-in-a-month phone calls and SMS messages, I'd still find myself getting a bag of Bear Brand milk powder or cans of sardines whenever my mom would ask me to do the rounds at Puregold. A few days before the start of classes last month, I was at the Merriam-Webster bookstore in Avenida to buy some educational supplies I sent to my niece and nephew. And shortly after telling everyone within earshot (while looking at my father's portrait leaning precariously above the altar) that the only thing that can reverse my refusal to own the responsibility is for my dad to visit me in my sleep, it appears the visit is no longer necessary.
The conscience has already prevailed.
I once vowed to set aside some money for charity should I get retained at the Raketship when talk of lay-off was the order of the day. Keeping my word, I tucked a 500-peso bill inside the "Love Offering" envelope used by my Favorite Aunt when she sends over my uncle's (her brother) monthly stipend.
It has found a renewed purpose and Tita Heart, after receiving relief, can resume her life living a tragedy she can always end.