By Rudy Arizala
There were many people waiting at the Office of the "Escribano" of our local "Cura Parroco" in Santiago, a few blocks away from our apartment to have the respective names of their beloved departed be registered for inclusion in a mass to be celebrated on "All Souls Day", the second of November.
After registering the names of my late parents, my-in-laws and a brother-in-law, I walked back home stopping at my favorite "Sidewalk Coffee Shop" called "Di Roma". The Coffee Shop is owned by a former Yugoslavian Consul General, married to a Chilena, who upon his retirement established said Coffee Shop.
The moment I sat down on one of the empty chairs before a small round table, the pretty young waitress of Yugoslav origin, ( I could note it from her physical features - light complexion, brown hair, fine cheekbones with a Roman nose and height taller than the average Chilena), asked with a smile: "Señor, Te con leche y media luna?" ("Mister, do you want a cup of tea with milk and a piece of croissant?").
I nodded my head and looked around while waiting for my cup of tea and "media luna" to be served. The place has the same crowd of people I usually see every day at the sidewalk Caf -- young middle-age businessmen in dark suits talking through their cellphones as they sip leisurely their cup of coffee or tea. The rest were senior citizens dressed in casual wear also enjoying their cup of coffee or tea and either exchanging jokes or news of the day. At this time of the year, we have crispy spring weather &endash;neither too cold nor warm, but just right to wear light Cashmere woolen sweater or jacket.
From a distance, I could see the snowcapped Andes mountain under a cloudless blue sky. It reminded me of our own Sierra Madre Mountain in the Philippines minus the snow on top. The mountain and the clear blue sky made me feel nostalgic.
If I were only in the Philippines, after my cup of tea, I would go immediately to the bus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila, and take a bus bound for Infanta. But I am very far away. It would take me at least 35 hours of flight to go home to Infanta from Santiago, Chile.
The Andes and Sierra Madre mountains reminded me of what my late Uncle "Tata Mando" narrated to me in the 1960´s about "Mang Iskong Magsisibak" ( Mr. Isko, the woodchopper of the the town). Mang Isko was the town´s woodchopper and water carrier -- our source of household fuel and water in those days when we were still children. Although we have no blood relation with him, we consider him as a member of the family. Hereunder is the story as narrated to me by my uncle "Tata Mando", who was Infanta´s town doctor and played the role of a "good Samaritan" on Mang Isko when the latter was already old and jobless.
Mang Isko developed cancer of the mouth due to his fondness of chewing "mama" (mixture of lime, betel nut and Ikmo leaf) and was brought by Tata Mando to the U.S.T. hospital in Manila; placed him in a charity ward for indigent patients and talked to his friend doctor at the hospital that an oral surgery be performed on Mang Isko.
The surgery was successful but Mang Isko had to stay in the hospital for post surgery treatment and observation. After one month, Tata Mando came to Manila and visited Mang Isko. The moment Mang Isko saw Tata Mando, he wept like a child and did not let him go until he agreed to take him back to Infanta.
Mang Isko told Tata Mando: "Amando (He never addressed my uncle "doctor" but simply "Amando", as he used to call him when my uncle was still a child), madadaling mamatay ako rito sa lungkot. Ibalik mo na ako sa Infanta. Mula nang iwanan mo ako rito sa ospital, palagi na lamang nakatitig ako sa bundok at nasasaisip ko na sa kabila ng bundok na yaon, ay naroroon lamang ang Infanta." ("Amando", begged Mang Isko. "Please take me back to Infanta. Otherwise, I will die sooner here. Since you left me here at the hospital, I have been always staring at the blue mountain consoling my homesickness by thinking that only behind the blue mountain is our hometown of Infanta.")
Tata Mando tried to convince Mang Isko to stay some more time at the hospital explaining to him to him that he would be better treated at the hospital and get well immediately. He has nothing to worry about expenses. But Mang Isko pleaded like a child that he be brought home to Infanta. So, right that very day, Tata Mando took Mang Isko back to Infanta.
Mang Isko was happy being back at home in his nipa shack in Brgy. Buboin. He need not wear the hospital supplied one-piece pale blue pajama and eat tasteless or bland hospital foods. He feels more comfortable in his customary "suking" (sleeveless and collarless shirt ) made of light cotton and with his pair of "kaputog" or short pants with a string around the waist (taling de hugot-hugot). And he, of course, savor his daily meal of boiled rice, fish and camote leaves or sometimes "ginat-ang pako."
I fully now understand the intense "nostalgic feeling" of Mang Isko -- the feeling of homesickness upon seeing the blue mountain from afar and his insistence like a child to be brought home to Infanta immediately. That was many years ago and now both Mang Isko and my uncle have joined their Creator.
I was waken from my deep reverie by the sweet voice of the pretty waitress calling my attention that my cup of tea is getting cold.
Like Mang Isko upon seeing the blue mountain, I feel homesick especially when religious feast such as "All Souls Day" draws nearer. For it is not only time for prayers, candle-lighting and visit to the cemetery, but also time for "bonding" among relatives, friends and townmates in Infanta. One would like at times to be amidst familiar surroundings, scent, color, sound and kins.
I do not know how "All Souls Day" is celebrated these days in Infanta, having been away for many years since I joined the foreign service and then retired abroad.
Nothing is left except memories, nostalgia and dreams. But on "All Souls Day," in addition to the honor and memory of my beloved parents, I will also utter a prayer in memory of my late Tata Mando and Mang Isko.