But one of my vivid memories of that place was of my visiting Aunt as she sat at the corner of the bottom bed, and while she leaned on the ladder leading to the top bunker, she expertly folded a square piece of paper into a bird which can flap its wings. I sat beside her and watched, mesmerized. It was my first lesson in origami - and my love of paper folding flourished.
She had been a constant presence in our family until my university days, and so we grew to love and know her well. The last time I saw her was in 2013 when we visited the Philippines and we stayed in my sister's home. We were surprised to see her there because we thought she would be in the province but it were delighted to see her nonetheless. We got to be with her for about a week before she left. Little did I know, that was the last time I would see her alive.
She became terribly sick and in September 2015, she passed away. My Nanay told me about the news, and how they talked over the phone, with my Nanay (who is older) telling her to be strong because they will both be going home to their province together. But my Aunt told my Nanay (who just recently was also admitted to the hospital) that she was going ahead of her to the afterlife...
I saw the photos of the wake on Facebook and I had sleepless nights since then. I think that I feel some regrets about not having been able to see her before she left, and as my mind kept going back to my childhood days when she would take care of us and bring us treats when she got back to work made me feel even more sorrowful. I admit I shed a few tears when I would wake up from a dream in the wee hours of the morning and sleep would elude me.
And then, one evening in November, I had a dream so vivid I can still remember what transpired. I was a kid again, running after my younger brother in our house which we rented after that small room. We were laughing and chatting incessantly as we played tag. My brother suddenly darted into the bedroom and I followed right after him. He climbed on the bed and started tinkering with stuff on a nearby dresser. I was about to follow when a person sitting at the corner of the bed caught my eye. It was my Aunt. She looked the same as I remember he when she was still young and she was a constant presence in our home. She just sat there, as if expecting me to come through the door. Our eyes met. I saw kindness and love in those eyes. And then she smiled and gave me a small nod. For some reason I realised she had passed away and I started crying and I ran toward her outstretched arms.
I woke up at that precise moment. And in that instance I felt peace. I knew in my heart that my Aunt visited me one last time to comfort me, and that it was going to be okay. And that she was okay.
Thanks Auntie for everything.
A photo in the early 70s. My Aunt at the left, holding our eldest, with my parents (with my mum cradling my older brother)