By Christian S Baldomero
The bus engine shudder through the window as I lean my head against the glass. I usually listen to some jazz music in my bus rides traversing Cagayan de Oro to Iligan City, but this ride was different. My earphones are on but no song is playing. The sound of faint conversations of a young couple behind my seat and Karate Kid the one with Jackie Chan, perhaps Rural Transit’s favorite film, filled the silence of the confined space.
Mother sent me a text message earlier telling me that she was admitted to the hospital five days ago. She didn’t tell me then because she thought it would affect my performance in the prelim exams. I packed my bags and decided to go home for the weekend.
Naka-inom na ka og vitamin C?
I look at my phone and that was the last message she sent me. That was a week ago and I wasn’t able to reply. I may have read it but didn’t even bother to reply. Without me knowing, a few hours after sending that message she would lose her consciousness and be rushed to the hospital. Three plastic tubes would then fill her insides, one for each kidney and another for the bleeding bladder. The bus halts to a stop.
“Naog tanan para sa checkpoint, dal-a inyohang mga ID,” a soldier announces in his low massive voice as he enters the bus with an armalite rifle in both hands.
The region is under Martial Law after the crisis in Marawi which started months ago. Checkpoints are mounted in different entry and exit points in Iligan City, just an hour away from Marawi. The soldiers are still looking for the militants.
In front of me, an elderly Meranao woman wearing a black veil holds her ID close to her chest and holds the arms of her young child on the other. There is a huge tarpaulin before us with faces and names of the militants. It was labeled ‘Maute group’ which was the radical group that took over Marawi and killed Meranao civilians.
There are a few women in the picture, perhaps mothers or grandmothers. Some have red exes on them. Like a witch hunt, I thought. A Moro friend once told me that she was extra smiley on checkpoints. She said it was because of the kombong, her veil, or because of her last name which was obviously a Moro name. The woman and her child climb the stairs of the bus and I got a glimpse of the woman’s gray sandals. My mother had those exact same sandals.
My mother is the kind of person who worry about the slightest of things, perhaps I got that from her. I remember one time when I messaged her that I felt hot and I may have a fever. She sent me money immediately through Palawan Pawnshop and told me that I should go to the doctor right away to have a check-up. She also told me to drink three tablets of vitamin C. She said three tablets of vitamin C would work wonders on any sickness.
“Walay monaog sa Initao?” the bus conductor asks the passengers.
“Naa!” shouts a woman at the far end of the bus.
I remember one of the fondest memories of my childhood are my car rides with my mother. She would fetch me from school everyday, from grade school to high school. For 8 years, she would wake up every single morning at 6:30 am. Oftentimes, she would not get any sleep because of her terrible insomnia, but she would always insist in driving me.
We would talk about anything, what movie she and father watched last night in Cinema One and when she picks me up in the afternoon, we’d talk about how my day went and how hers went, too. Then we’d sing any song in the car on full volume Carpool-Karaoke-style. We love singing to Maroon 5.
“Initao Terminal!” The conductor announces and the bus halts to a stop.
The elderly Moro woman gets off the bus with a huge plastic bag of groceries on one hand and the hand of her stout child on the other.
Pauli nako, Mang. Naka-inom na pod ko og Vitamin C.
I lean my head against the window as I close my eyes and listen to the consoling reverberations of the bus engine, mimicking the beats of my worried heart.
[Christian S Baldomero is a member of the Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (Nagmac). His works have been published or are forthcoming in Dagmay Literary Journal, Bulawan Literary Zine of Northern Mindanao, The Kill List Chronicles, Libulan Binisaya Anthology of Queer Literature, and The Youth Is On Fire, e-magazine of Philippine STAR’s Young Star. His chapbook of poems titled ‘When The World Offers You Loneliness and Other Poems” (2017, Nagmac Press) will be launched this December.]