I had asked my brother to make reservations for 9 nights at Amil’s Pension House which was directly across the street from our mother’s apartment. I stayed there my first night in Zamboanga but since Mama’s landlady offered a vacant apartment for us to stay in, I moved in the next day. That saved us a few thousand pesos. A few days later, I asked Madie, the landlady if we could settle the accounts for the duration of our stay and she declined payment. Thanks Caloy and Madie, for your generosity and hospitality.
The night I stayed at Amil’s, I was awake by 3 a.m. and watched the U.S. Open and when that was over, I tried reading an ebook. Still, I was unable to go back to sleep and couldn’t wait until dawn came so I could go out for a walk or a run. Exiting the hotel in the morning, I turned right. In my disorientation the night before, I thought that led to Veterans Avenue, the street my mom’s hospital was in. After a short block I saw Plaza Pershing. Hmm, I should not be in that area if I wanted to go to the hospital. So I turned around and on the other end of the street, I hit Veterans Avenue. Well, I only made it halfway to the hospital because I was rapidly approaching the time I allotted myself for exercise that morning. So I walked back to the hotel, took a shower and stepped outside looking for Jimmy’s Satti House to satisfy what I was craving for in decades. Well, immediately to my left from the hotel entrance was Morning Sun Satti House so I went there instead. The man there showed me some liver cubes skewered on a stick but I opted for cubed chicken meat instead. I consumed 10 sticks of chicken and 3 tamus (rice cubes) in my first taste of satti since 1989. When I went to pay, it only the equivalent of less than 2 dollars for the meal.
I went back to the
hotel to get myself ready to go to the hospital and as I passed Morning Sun,
the man I ordered the satti from earlier asked me in the Tausug dialect if I
was Noel. Detecting my surprise, he introduced himself as Solomon, a former
elementary school classmate in 5th grade. Of course I remembered who
he was because there was only one Solomon who was ever my classmate. We
exchanged pleasantries and stories. He also happened to know Mama lived across
the street so he asked how she was doing. I told him I was just on my way to visit
her at the hospital.
|Fifth grade classmate Solomon - owner of Morning Sun Satti|
Just then, I received a text message from Famy, a high school batchmate that her husband (an esteemed Jolo judge, no less) was on his way to my location to deliver some durian. So I waited for him before going to the hospital and a few minutes later, he showed up in his SUV with a box on the roof. I was expecting durian in a plastic container that was ready to eat and not 7 whole unopened durian fruits in a huge box on top of a judge’s car! The durian was sent from Jolo by another batchmate, Delia, the previous day. Oh my, my classmates sure know how to welcome me back after having disappeared from them since 1973. The judge was on his way to play tennis so I took the durian and brought it to my mother’s apartment. The hotel did not want the fruit in their premises due to the smell. I took up Mama’s landlady’s offer and moved in to the vacant apartment after checking out from Amil’s Pension House. Then I took a tricycle ride to the hospital to see Mama.
Aside from the nurses, Mama was being cared for by a recently hired caregiver – Neneng, and a helper – Andrea. So they were there attending to her needs when I arrived at the hospital. Mama was not very talkative and was grabbing some shuteye here and there. I told her about meeting Solomon and the durian delivery and how her apartment now smelled of durian, so she won’t be surprised when she went back home. Neneng left shortly (she worked the night shift) and I was left with Andrea who was busy as usual texting with her boyfriend (Mama already informed me of this in our telephone conversations). Well, that’s better than having no helper at all so it was a compromise she was willing to make. Around noontime, I begged my leave from Mama to go to lunch and also told her I was meeting my classmates at Amil’s at 3 p.m. for a small reunion. I walked down Veterans Avenue heading towards where the apartment was, looking for a place to eat. When I reached Pilar Street, I was resigned to having another round of satti. That’s when I saw Fat Belly restaurants’ offering in pictures on their front window. It showed pyanggang, tiula itum, and kulma among the items, and I felt as if I was in Tausug heaven. I immediately ordered one of my favorite Tausug foods – pyanggang with rice. I polished off the first cup of rice and ordered an extra one. Oh my, was that meal a gustatory delight! And get this, it was a low fat meal to boot. The cost? Less than two and half bucks. I vowed to go back to that restaurant to sample more of their offerings.
I went back to the apartment and tried to take a nap before meeting my classmates. I heard the doorbell ring and looked out the window. In comes Leonard whom I wasn’t expecting. Remember classmate Leonard who visited the U.S. two years ago and whom I toured around Shoreline Village? He just happened to check Facebook and saw that a bunch of classmates were meeting that afternoon and having known Mama’s apartment, took a chance and came to see if I was in. So we talked a little bit but he had to leave. He said he would be back for the reunion at Amil’s.
Just before 3 p.m., I headed to Amil’s and immediately saw a lone female sitting in the hotel’s eatery. It was no other than Mimi. We hugged each other then tried to catch up about goings on in life. The others slowly trickled in – Cecile, Lorna, Nayda, Salma, Dolly, Famy, and Leonard (did I miss anyone?). We left Amil’s and walked a short way downtown to look for a place to eat. Pretty soon we entered Love Life Snack House which specialized in pastil, empanada, and halo halo and that was exactly what we ordered. Incidentally, at least 3 of us in the group were unmarried, thus did not have a love life. I offered to pay for the snacks but my classmates kindly declined. The lot was already funny when communicating on Facebook and were even funnier in real life with their facial expressions. Since I couldn’t carry too much weight in my luggage, I passed around dollar coins to everyone as a souvenir. After the snack, they vowed to see me again before I left Zamboanga.
I went back to Mama’s hospital and saw that the Nono family was back keeping her company. Together we awaited my brother’s arrival from Manila. Well, the airline changed its schedule so Larry didn’t arrive till 8 p.m., about the time I texted him and he responded that he just landed.
Larry came inside Mama’s hospital room shortly and the three of us were finally reunited after thirteen long years. Mama mustered a weak smile when a photo of the three of us was being taken. What was left of Iking’s family was together again.
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