04 Enero 2012

Not Stolen, But Saved

When the ceramic piggy bank in the shape of a box was full so Cynthia ran squealing to her father. He was out back, in their garden, replanting a springy young tree from its large pot. Daddy!

From underneath her bed, Cynthia bounded blindly into the mid-morning sunlight, barefoot. Her father didn't look up from carefully arranging the sapling's roots that, only soft tendrils and their delicate shadows on his light brown skin, into the dirt. He knew his daughter was barefoot on the sparse grass that covered the little lawn. Every time he saw her squatting among tough weeds or laughing as she crunched through dry leaves, he remembered the day she argued emphatically: we lived in the city, where else was there grass, her toes needed it!  She rocketed towards him now, all of twelve years old. In her hair, a clump of dust.

Tapos na, tapos na!

Her father shook his head. They were standing in the sunlight and from above, Cynthia's face was obscured by the flashing light that gilded her soft cheeks, round eyes, the toothy smile. She held up a heavy piggy bank, ceramic and painted, painted blue and be-speckled with yellow, orange, red stars and the swirling mass of galaxies huddled together at the end of the universe. Ang bigat, 'no.

Her father smiled the way he always smiled at her: eyebrows knit together in a tight, concentrated way that communicated the effort expended to produce his smile. That smile. It wasn't a lie as much as it was a disappointment. But she had a surprise for him. Cynthia had given him an invaluable gift, so rare it was sure to make him smile the way he used to or, even better, smile the way he smiled at her mother. She missed her mother as much as a child could miss something she knew she was entitled to but her father was here, now, under the sun every weekend and at night after work everyday of the week and she missed him most because he was there but curiously detached.

Cynthia, all blazing sky and darting shadow, the way she circled her father, watching him turn the ceramic box in his hands. Tightly packed within, its contents nonetheless jangled, making deep sonorous clang.

Anong pinag-iipunan mo, anak? Her father asked, amused. She didn't answer immediately instead, she took up and offered him a flat, smooth stone from the corner of his father's carefully cultivated hedge.

Buksan nyo, daddy! 

Curious enough to comply, her father pushed her gently away and told her to watch where she stepped, he didn't want her to cut her foot. Her father took up the stone once, twice, thrice, until the large, thick metal medallions, spilled out onto the grass, the pile strangely misshapen. Carefully, her father picked through the shards, wiped dust from the surface of the medallion in hand, and watched, upon its gleaming convex surface, his landlady asleep on a couch, foot twitching. On another: the boy next door through the grimy window, watching something on television, scratching his head. On the third: the boy's mother cooking lunch. Rough with the ridges that recorded hours, days, and weeks, no medallion was exactly the same size. As her father ran a hand to smooth the roughness of the disk that reflected the neighborhood boy's lazy afternoon, her father watched the hours disappear. The medallion grew less heavy and the shifting images changed to a rainy day a few weeks back with the little boy staring out the window. Hours upon hours of collected time. Cynthia had collected at least half a year's worth.

Happy Birthday! said Cynthia, happily, although it wasn't.

Anak, malayo pa ang birthday ko, her father said, completely engrossed.

At the bottom of the pile, her father glimpsed the surprise. Smaller than the rest because Cynthia had collected only an hour of her mother's life, the picture was nonetheless crisp, the disk sunny like today. Seen through a gap in the door, her mother in this yard, smoking a cigarette, dainty legs stretched out.

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