FOR SOME reason, the heat felt particularly punishing today. Walking through the front door, I was hit by the scent of eucalyptus and camphor, which only made things worse. Flinging my bag to one side, I walked into the kitchen to find Lolo elbow-deep in sudsy water, scrubbing away as vigorously as his arthritic joints would let him.

“Is it already four o’clock?” Lolo asked me, flashing a toothless grin, it seemed as if he had forgotten to put his dentures in after lunch.  “Are you hungry, hija?”

I shook my head and turned to our clock sitting atop our refrigerator. It was a heavy masterpiece; Lolo said it was a relic from his days in the war. It’s battered old hands were ripe with age spots, where the gold had become dull and the creaking of its gears had become just as familiar as the creaking of Lolo’s joints. It was now ticking at me tiredly as her hands inched their way to the four o’clock station.

“Not quite four yet, Lolo,” I said to him. “But maybe if I leave now, the monay will be hot and fresh by the time I get there.”

Nodding his head in agreement, I walked to the little jar on the kitchen counter where we kept our snack money, wearing its dust like a coat, save for the few spots where my fingerprints were visible from opening and closing it each day. Pulling out a soft and faded twenty-peso bill from his apron, I shoved it in my pocket and put on my slippers to start my short walk to the corner bakery.

I used to love the walk to the bakery. It always was a grand charade. Lolo would walk into the room announcing that it was time to recharge our brains, and the five of us would race to his side as he began pulling money from his apron pockets, looking at each of us in turn. He would crinkle his head as if in deep thought, and turning to each one of us, he’d ask “What did you learn in school today?” The rest of those left behind would be entrusted with setting the table and making our favorite drinks, powdered hot chocolate for us and instant coffee for Lolo.

When my parents left Manila for better prospects in Abu Dhabi, he decided to take us in instead of separating us amongst our aunts and uncles in the area. I did not realize it at the time, but Lolo was already old and gray when he told us that our bedrooms in Balic-Balic were ready. Now, It was just him and me, my four older brothers and sisters having moved to follow their jobs or families elsewhere and with my parents still working, it left only me to take care of him and only me to buy our daily monay.

I do not understand how Lolo could be so content with just monay.

Its toasted outside, when baked well, were differing hues of a golden brown that were soft and crumbly to the touch, the bread dust settling on top. It was always warm, especially coming out of its brown paper bag as it was just beginning to moisten with the kind of dew that only heat can bring to bread. Hot against the fingertips, I always ended up bouncing it from one hand to the next in an odd game of catch so as to avoid getting burnt by its crust.

It was pointless. The monay was as bland as my daily existence. Just like I went to class and took exams, I could count on sitting down to eat monay with Lolo. Every day, the monay is as tasteless as the last. Today, I was tired of it. I eyed Tito Meng and the brown paper bag he was filling with monay with disgust as I stood at the window, waiting. The sounds of the street were just beginning to get busy again and the dirt flew as a motorcycle flew by, circling my ankles and leaving faint stains of dust swirls on my white pencil skirt.

Yesterday, I told Lolo what was on my mind.

“When I get rich, we won’t have to eat monay anymore,” I said, pointedly. I was convinced that being wealthy was the answer to everything.

Anak, I love monay. We always have monay,” Lolo responded, his eyes twinkling. “Besides, it’s a good way for us to get our exercise.”

“Yes, because it’s so bland and difficult to swallow,” I retorted, almost disrespectfully. Lolo looked at me wide-eyed and in a split-second, as if forgetting himself, put his cupful of coffee down and took the monay in his hand. Turning it over a few times, he pinched a piece off and popping it into his mouth, began to chew. Lolo sighed and shook his head at me, the monay giving him the time to form an appropriate response to my insolence.

“You are rushing to grow up and leave me. Soon, you will be rich and you will never come back to Balic-Balic,” he said.

Instantly feeling guilty, I looked at Lolo hunched forward over his coffee, hands wrapped around the mug as if willing the warmth to enter his body and couldn’t help but notice his tired eyes. Lately, I had been busy and so our time together had been cut short, sometimes classes ended late and I skipped our snack time altogether.

Lolo sipped his coffee slowly. His hands shook slightly as he brought the rim of the cup to his cracked, dry lips.

His skin was wrinkled and pruny, his white hair was thinning quickly, so much so that his head looked like it had been patched by tiny tufts of fine white thread.

I buy monay because Lolo is here, but I shudder to think of a time when I mix my hot chocolate on my own and instead of doing our usual kitchen dance, as we move around each other boiling water, passing the milk around and trying to find the sugar, I am dancing alone.

Paying Tito Meng, I waved and took my brown bag of monay and tried to imagine a world without Lolo, without his toothless grin and his slow, turtle-like walk, and I couldn’t.

I heard the bells ringing for four o’clock and all at once, the children were pouring out into the street from the local public school. The hustle and bustle of the parents calling names and the children yelling out to classmates was invigorating. It gave the late afternoon its own life.

Their uniforms were dusty and worn with the thrill of the day’s adventures and yet, they were all still bouncing up and down with excitement, as if the sun had just risen to call all of us to a new day. Just to my right, I saw an old man gently take the hand of an elementary-school student who was just as jittery as the rest, calling to him and flinging her arms about him, she began babbling about her day.

I clutched the monay a little tighter, walking faster to make my way home. The sky was beginning to dim a little bit, as if the sun was beginning to nestle itself into a blanket.

Rounding the bend of the road, I unlocked the gate, calling out to my Lolo.

“I have the monay, Lolo!” and walked in to find him already beginning our simple kitchen dance. I took up my place next to him and began reaching for our mugs and plates, and the cacophony of the kitchen soon turned into a symphony of sound as the plates clattered against one another and the mugs clanged as they hung from my fingers. The crinkling of brown paper and the smell of the freshly-baked monay floated up from the table as Lolo opened the bag to make sure the bread wouldn’t get moist. I jumped at the loud shrilling of our kettle, announcing to us that it was finished. Lolo went to bring it to the table and I, rushing to beat him back, grabbed a spoon and his favorite instant coffee, scooping some into his mug and dumping some powdered hot chocolate into mine.

Lolo laughed his deep, throaty laughter. He ducked under my arm as I spun around and grabbed the milk from the refrigerator and the sugar from the counter.

Sitting down, I looked at Lolo, hands clasped around the mug, eyes dancing and mouth curled into a genuine smile of contentment. I giggled as he ripped open the brown paper bag and took two monay right away.

Taking my monay between my fingers, I raised it to my mouth and felt the steam hit my face as I bit onto it. Naturally, Lolo asked:

“Did you learn anything good at school today?” It was his favorite question. And he ask it every day.

I looked at him thoughtfully, picking at my monay. Pinching off a piece and placing it in my mouth, I chewed and looked at him, the old man who had given up what should have been a time that was meant for adventure all to ensure that someday, I would be able to have my own.

He grew old and I watched, waited and thought, “perhaps one day.”


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