It was a chilly morning in late July last year. I just landed in my hometown after leaving Singapore at midnight. I could tell from my Mom's face that she wasn't alright. I had always told my Mom I'd visit my sick aunt on the day that I arrived. I arrived a few hours too late.
She was cold when I touched her face. I hugged my other aunt so tightly that not a word would come out from my mouth. I went into her garden to get some air and saw a splash of pink.
A few hours later would be a cousin's wedding. That was the reason I visited home. The bride had no clue and she wouldn't. The spotlight had been stolen so early that day that my mood hardly changed from gloomy, the weather too.
We came late for the wedding. That morning was not an excuse because the bride and groom had no idea that our other relatives were praying and crying over a coffin an hour away from where they both stood. I wore that long orange dress with a smile quite well that it was not obvious how disturbed I was deep down. Nobody spoke about that morning.
The orange and purple balloons gave life to that rainy afternoon. The ground was wet but that didn't stop the newlyweds' cart ride up the hill. There were cocktails and my head was pretty clear after drinking from that pitcher of orange vodka that my favorite guy cousin was passing around. In a prayer at the end of the party, someone broke the sad news. The bride's heart skipped a beat. I know she was sad but she couldn't be for the rest of the night.
Later that night, I saw my dead aunt's daughter smoking hard as if there was no more life at the end of her cigarette butt. She arrived from Manila for the wedding a few hours after me, only to skip it and find out that her Sunday barbeque plans with her mother was never going to happen. She laughed, puffed and cried and laughed, puffed and cried. I just watched her and tried to talk some sense but there was nothing that would pull her out of her grief that night. I felt sad because Tita Rosie was gone but even sadder because I was set out to leave two days later for a planned vacation.
All of Tita Rosie's siblings' names started with Rose but she was the only one with that cute nickname. She wasn't my Mom's favorite but they became very close shortly before she passed away. Most of my cousins were terrified of her because she was so strict but I wasn't. When I was much younger, I always liked staying at her place because she always cooked breakfast for her naughty teenage daughter, nieces and nephews whose weekends started after lunch because of watching too much movies on cable. She also didn't care that we cooked too much popcorn.
So my family and I arrived at the island of Boracay on a very windy day. A storm just hit us and the ticket booths for the ferries to the island were closed. It was a long story how I managed to bring my entire family from across the mainland with broken pieces of the locals' dialect and a convincing but actually pitiful accent. I was just grateful that my 2-year old niece wasn't crying when the small boat rocked as if it was going to flip over.
For three days, the storm kept us in our resort rooms, in the restaurants or anywhere near a vicinity of a windbreaker. Every morning I would wake up to listen to the sea and everyday it was an angry roar. It was the worst beach vacation, I thought. I also thought of Tita Rosie. She would have been a bit mad because we were missing her funeral.
On the last day on the island, the sun was up but the waves were still strong. I didn't mind. I wore my swimsuit and headed for the beach. I lay down on the sand with my brother beside me and stared at the blue sky and thought, she is now in peace.