“MA? MA, alis na ko.”

Luisa awoke with a start. She raised her head from beneath the sheets and squinted as light filled the room. Her eldest daughter Anna was gently waking her to say goodbye before leaving for work.

“Sige, ingat ka,” Luisa said.

She stood up, her feet feeling for her slippers. She followed Anna to the front door, waving as Anna disappeared from her sight, then returned inside the house. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she glanced at the wall clock. It said 6 a.m.

Luisa walked back to her room and stood by her unmade bed. After a moment’s hesitation, she groaned and began to fold the sheets.

Having made the bed, Luisa headed for the bathroom. She heard her knees cracking as she went, feeling a nagging pain on her back.

She flicked the switch and yellow light flooded the bathroom. Squinting, she faced the sink and washed her face. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she saw tired eyes, graying hairs, and wrinkles starting to creep at the corners of her eyes and mouth.

Another week, she groaned. It’s the same thing over and over again.

By 10 a.m. Luisa had already finished most of the household chores, which included sweeping the front lawn, cooking breakfast, and filling the big drum in the bathroom with water since their water only ran through an outside faucet.

Now she was running the last load of laundry in the dryer while hanging the dry clothes.

Luisa has been doing these chores everyday for as long as she could remember. She was immediately thrown into a whirlwind of responsibilities for herself and her two children since her husband died. A succession of odd jobs provided meager support for their basic needs. Fortunately, Luisa’s father-in-law owned several hectares of rice fields back in their province, most of which he bequeathed to them. It was the least he could do for the family of his favorite son. From the land’s harvests, she got the money for her children’s education.

With Anna already working and contributing to the family income, Luisa stopped doing odd jobs and simply relied on loans and harvests. Besides, her younger daughter Ria had only two more years of school left. A few more years and expenses would finally go down.

Still, Luisa had the household chores that kept her busy. She could not sit still knowing that things often remained undone around the house. Almost fifty years old, she still had strength to do light labor. However, her health was waning. She often wished Ria would help because she only had a few days of classes each week, which were usually in the afternoons.

But Ria often slept late, only to wake up around lunchtime. By then all the chores would have been finished. And when she eventually came out of her room, Ria would only eat or read the newspaper. After eating, she would settle herself in front of the television. She had been watching a lot ever since they had cable TV installed. Otherwise, she would spend the entire afternoon reading in her room.

Like today, I suppose, Luisa thought, going to the kitchen to drink water. She sat down at the dining table, wincing at the persisting pain in her back and wiping beads of perspiration from her forehead with a towel. Ria stayed up late again last night watching movies, so she could not be expected to rise early.

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She always does this when she knows I’m doing the laundry the next day, Luisa thought resentfully. Although she didn’t want to believe that Ria did that on purpose, Luisa couldn’t help but think that way. She was willing to do all of the chores for her children as long as she could, but some help once in a while would be welcome. Something to make the load lighter.

She leaned back on her chair, relaxing to the steady hum of the spin dryer from the next room and closed her eyes for a moment, wanting to rest a few minutes longer.

The buzz of the dryer’s alarm broke the silence. Luisa sighed, and got up to take the clothes out of the dryer.

As she left the kitchen she heard the radio inside Ria’s room blast out music.

* * *

Ria lay back on her bed after switching on the radio. A popular rock band’s latest song blasted out of the speakers. Stretching out her arms above her, she peeked at her wall clock from under the sheets: 10 a.m.

She was deliciously tempted to return to sleep for another half-hour. She buried her head under the sheets again and was about to drift off to slumber when she remembered that she had a meeting at school for a class project after lunch. Groaning, she threw back the sheets.

Wonder if Mom’s home, she thought.

Lowering the volume of the radio, she heard the busy sound of the washing machine, then turned up the volume again. She’s home, Ria thought. Good, I have no more money left!

Ria sat up and started folding the sheets. She rubbed her eyes and glanced again at the clock. The trip to her school in the neighboring city would take about two hours. If I hurry, I may actually be early for a change, she thought. She grabbed her towel and ran to the bathroom.

* * *

Luisa hung the last shirt on the clothesline behind their house and headed inside. It’s almost lunchtime, she thought. She checked the food on the table. There was still plenty left over from breakfast, enough for Ria’s lunch.

She heard Ria shuttling between her room and her sister’s, probably borrowing a shirt or perfume. She’s going to school today, Luisa remembered with dismay. She’s been going out a lot these days, even on her free days.

Luisa looked at the food, then suddenly lost her appetite. She went about making a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Ria would be hurrying to eat lunch today or might even skip it. We barely talk anymore or even eat together anymore, she thought. Sometimes Ria would not be home for dinner either.

Ria walked into the room, carrying a small bag and brushing her still wet hair. She gave Luisa a small smile and went about the room getting utensils and a plate.

“Ma, I might be home late. Don’t wait for me for dinner,” Ria said, spooning some rice and corned beef onto her plate.

“Okay,” Luisa replied. She watched silently as Ria quickly ate. A few mouthfuls and she was done.

“How’s your class project doing?” Luisa asked.

“Huh? Oh, it’s okay. Far from over, I guess,” Ria replied absentmindedly as she set the plate on the sink and rushed to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

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Nice conversation, Luisa thought. Getting up, she went to her bedroom and took a few bills from her wallet. When she stepped out, Ria was back in the dining room, picking up her bag. She went to Luisa and kissed her cheek. “Ma, alis na ‘ko,” Ria said.

Luisa handed her the money. “Sige, mag-ingat ka, anak, ha?” she said.

“Opo,” Ria said and stepped out.

Luisa watched the door for another minute, then turned to the sink and started washing Ria’s plate.

* * *

Ria was glad she caught an FX taxi quickly. At this hour, there were fewer people boarding taxis.

Seated in the rear of the taxi with a couple and their little boy, Ria adjusted the air-conditioner and settled comfortably on her seat. She took out a half-read book. She always brought a book with her during rides. Mom would object if she knew I read in moving vehicles, she thought, but just shrugged it off. At least I’m not just staring into space.

The ride went smoothly, traffic was clear and the taxi sped through the long expressway before slowing down as it entered the main city road. There, large buses battled with each other to get the most passengers, moving quickly into any visible space. Trucks and cars had to weave quickly in and out of traffic to avoid the behemoths that dominated the road.

Inside the taxi, Ria and her fellow passengers noticed none of the heat and discomfort outside. She was blissfully engrossed with her book, disturbed momentarily whenever the little boy across her asked his parents a question.

The boy pointed out the window.

“Tall!” he exclaimed when they passed a hotel.

“Yes, it’s tall,” his mother said. “It’s a building.”

“Bee..ding?” the toddler asked, confused.

His mother laughed. “Yes, that’s right! Building.”

The father held his son closer to his side. “This little guy should be taking his nap.”

The boy pointed again. A passenger bus sped by, its side painted with an advertisement for a popular brand of shampoo. Its bright colors caught the boy’s eye and he squealed.

This time, his father laughed. “We’re really curious today, aren’t we?” He pulled a bottle of milk out of a baby bag and gave it to his wife.

“Now, you have to sleep,” the woman said, holding out the bottle in front of his son.

The boy, too excited to rest, shook his head.

“No,” he said.

“Hindi pwedeng ‘no’, naptime na,” the woman said. Reluctantly, the boy took the bottle and began to drink with a pout in his face. His father made him rest his head on his lap and close his eyes. The boy drank the milk, peeking at his father from time to time. He seemed unaware of anyone else in the taxi.

Turning to his wife, the man said “Susunod ka na lang sa`min?”

The woman nodded. “Oo. Dadaan muna ako sa office, mauuna akong bumaba. Pupuntahan ko kayo sa bahay ni Ate,” she said.

“Okay,” the man said.

Ria looked up, suddenly surprised when silence filled the taxi once more. She looked out the window; she was still about half an hour away from her stop. She went back to reading.

A few minutes later, Ria saw the boy sit up. “`Yaw na, mama,” the boy pleaded. He tried giving the bottle to her.

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“No! Finish it first,” she said. “Hold your bottle.”

The boy turned to his father. “Ayaw na, papa, `yaw na,” he protested.

The man shook his head but his wife relented. “Sige. Busog pa siguro.”

The man stowed the bottle away and the boy happily went back to looking out the window.

The taxi made a right turn into a more crowded street. Ria would be getting off at the second stop. She put her book back into her bag.

The woman was also preparing to get off. Ria guessed she was getting off at the next stop. The boy was still pointing to things outside.

“Malapit na akong bumaba. Mag-ingat kayo ha?” the woman told her husband. “Sige,” he said.

The woman kissed the boy’s forehead, but the boy paid no attention. She ran a hand through his hair, her gaze lingering over her son.

The woman then hailed the driver, and the taxi slowed to a stop at the curb. She opened the door and stepped out.

As the door slammed shut, the boy appeared to be surprised at the sound. He suddenly realized that his mother was no longer with him. “Mama?” he said.

His father pointed. “There’s mama, o! Wave goodbye!” He waved at his wife as the taxi began to move.

The boy still looked confused. He looked out and suddenly saw his mother outside. He pointed. “Mama?”

“Yes! That’s mama. Wave to her, baby!”

But the boy could not seem to understand. His face contorted as if he was going to cry. “Mama?” he said, pressing his tiny hands to the glass. His mother disappeared from view.

“We’ll see her again later, anak. She has to go somewhere first,” the father explained. He held his son close. “Mama just left for a little while…”

The boy still looked about to cry. He was no longer interested at the things outside.

His father began gathering their things. He called to the driver, and the taxi stopped again.

Ria stared at the two as they alighted, then realized that she was supposed to get off too. Shaking her head, she stepped out of the taxi.

She looked at the man and his son as they walked away. The man carried his son in his arms, who now clutched the bottle he vehemently refused moments ago.

Turning away, Ria hailed a passing jeepney that would take her to the school. She suddenly missed her mother.

I may be eighteen years old but I’m no different from that little boy.

Ria saw in her mind her mother, doing all she could to make life comfortable for her children, even at her own expense.

She remembered the little boy, too absorbed with looking out the window to notice anything else, but felt lost when he discovered his mother was no longer by his side. These days Ria only thought of her mother whenever she needed more money or when she woke up in the morning looking for breakfast. She did not realize that she had relegated her mother to the background these days. But like the boy, she too would be lost if not for her mother.

I’ll call Mom and tell her I’m coming home for dinner, Ria thought.

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