His name is Jose. It is a simple name for a simple man, but he is proud of his name. Looking back now, I know he has every right to be. He is my mother’s brother, and he filled our home and our lives with laughter.
When I was a little girl, he went about our house shirtless while wearing his tattered loose shorts. On one particular humid summer day, while the Talisay tree outside dozed lazily under the lulling heat of the summer sun, and while my mother and I were preparing some ice-cold halo-halo, I asked him why he didn’t put his shirt on. He replied that it was quite hot and he wanted to give the ladies gossiping outside the chance to see his “sexy” abs. I rolled my eyes as he let out a bellow of earth-shaking laughter, which prompted my mother to chuckle and shake her head in amusement. Personally, I thought he did it because it reflected who he was. You see, my Uncle Jose is a man who walked around with his sensitive naked tattered soul for everyone to see. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
He loved a lot without expecting anything in return. He is too generous, always giving a portion of his heart to anyone who needed it. I remember that he always had laughter and money to spare for our friends and relatives who needed a bit of help. I remember how he used to patiently watch my cartoon and anime shows without complaining, even if he was itching to watch a boxing match instead. I remember how he would brave the flood during monsoon season, courageously not backing down at the brutal strength of the raging sky when there was a storm, just to pick me up at school and safely bring me back home. I remember how Christmas would come every August, because he would send me boxes and boxes of toys and chocolates with a note reminding my mom to go easy on me, because my mom had the patience of a two-year old and the temper of a volcano, and my Uncle knew that quite well. I remember how he would go about with faded blue jeans and really really sad old shoes, and when my mom would tell him to go and buy new ones, he would say that they are still okay and he liked them better that way, and besides, he would add, buying new stuff would just be a waste of good money. Then he would take his equally sad sad backpack out and leave the house to report for work, and by late afternoon he’d be back with orders of my favorite fried chicken, burger, ice cream sundae and a huge bottle of Coca-Cola. I also remember how he’d abstain from going out and having fun with his friends, because again for him it was a waste of money to do so, but the next day he’d be at the bank sending money to some of his friends and relatives in the province. He’d go home feeling quite happy that he was able to help them out, then he’d spend the rest of the day singing off-key to the old songs playing on the radio. Yet perhaps, I don’t know, I am not sure … yet perhaps, there came a time when he gave his entire heart away until nothing was left for him and he suddenly felt lonely and cold. And perhaps … maybe … that was the time he started drinking. Perhaps, it was because alcohol gave him the warmth he needed … but alcohol is a treacherous lover, and in the end, it would destroy his beautiful soul.
A few months ago my Uncle Jose had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. The doctors said the cancer had spread and there was nothing they could do anymore. In between tears, I asked them how come the cancer was not detected earlier, because my Uncle had been faithful with his annual check-ups. The doctors told me that annual check-ups usually do not spot these illnesses, and so now, nothing can be done anymore except to give him everything he wants … and to cry. My Uncle saw me crying, and for a moment, I saw a worried look flash in his eyes. He told me that it was okay, because things will happen according to what God has planned. He told me it will be fine and that I shouldn’t worry. He said all of these things slowly, because he was having a difficult time speaking. Suddenly, I felt ashamed, because this man was giving me his strength at a time when I should be doing that for him. But that had always been his nature, and in his eyes, I know, I would always be that chubby faced little girl he used to take care of.
Yesterday, I received a call from the province saying that my Uncle Jose is in bad shape already. He was dreaming of our dead relatives, probably talking to them and saying things that do not make sense. Yesterday my heart bled and I fell into darkness…. But I know my Uncle Jose would scold me if he knew I was falling deep in depression. He is a lonely man, but he hated it when I got lonely. He always did everything to make me smile. He is one of the few persons who taught me what it meant to love other people selflessly. So today, I’ll get up and pull the curtains back from my window. I’ll let the sunshine in, and I’ll try — I’ll really really really try to be strong for him. I will try to laugh and love for this wonderful man who has given me a part of his heart. Today, I will give him a part of my heart … mahal na mahal kita Uncle.