I don’t see him anymore.
It has been quite sometime since I last saw him or talked to him. I can still remember how I watched him limply walk away, towards the densely covered path of unwanted grass which busy passersby if not at all, seldom use. I even called onto him, worried, and asked several times if his mind was already made up — you know — to leave. From a distance, though scarcely audible, I knew he said yes. The reason why I kept badgering him about his leaving was the wound on his foot which was causing him to walk funny. His clothes were torn which was typical and also meant that he hadn’t cared to clean himself up again for days.
Even before this last visit, there had been talks in the neighborhood that he was already bed-ridden, at his cousin’s, one of the few people who cared for him. And because we knew that his time on earth could be over soon, we contented ourselves with the anticipation of waiting for the news of his passing while we lived on.
That’s why we didn’t expected to see him up and about, although not with the same agility and cheerfulness he once had. I thought his wandering days were over. But low and behold, he was there, walking towards us that early morning. His hair were all white and his mustache, too. It almost covered his mouth that I could only see that veil of hair moving while he talked. Even when I was a child, that was how he always looked. His fashion statement was always predictable. Interchangeably, he would wear a long-sleeved top given by my mother, which was mostly Papa’s hand-me-downs or sometimes he’d put on a giveaway shirt with names of fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides. He would match it with a pair of denim pants. But one remarkable thing about him was his utter disregard for hygiene. And it never failed to get pass my mother’s obsessive-compulsive eyes. She would have to reprimand him and repeatedly remind him to take a bath and wash his clothes. Of course, he would just smirk, murmur a bit like he was talking to someone, then completely ignore what he’d heard.
In the many times over the many years that I’ve known him, he had quite a few peculiar habits that really amused me. Every time he visited, he would first stop by at a large plantation of calamansi along the way. He would then pull up the edge of his shirt to make a basket and fill it with them until it almost overflowed. On some occasions, he would fill his pockets with all his stash and head towards our house. He would greet us while laying his gifts on the table.
My mom knew him well. She would always offer to make him a cup of coffee — that is one cup of instant coffee with a teaspoon of sugar, no milk, no creamer. Even to this day, I don’t know if my mother was just trying to give him less or that he just liked it that way and my mother just obliged. A normal person loves a hot steaming coffee and immediately sips while it is so. But Chip was different. He’d pick up a piece of calamansi, slice it and squeeze it on his cup. He would slurp his way to his sour coffee while we were left amazed at his oddness. After sipping, he would point his right thumb and swirl it upwards in the air while saying, “Pwerte!” which loosely translates ‘really good’ or ‘really nice.’
Our humble home was built on the side of the road. The other half of it was transformed into a sari-sari store. Even before I was born, the store was already run by my father and I can guess that Chip had been a constant visitor of my parents. Soft drinks were always a staple product and the cases with the empty bottles were stacked outside the house. One day, he took an almost empty bottle, poured the few remaining drops of cola on his palm and applied on both his arms like lotion. And he didn’t just do it with the soft drinks, he also liked the dregs in the 2T oil containers as alternative and then immediately utters, “Ayos, Chip!” meaning “Nice, Chip.” For a more colloquial comfortability, how we called him eventually became Chip as ‘chief’ is considered foreign-sounding.
We all got used to him. You might be wondering why he was called Chip or Chief. Maybe it was a sort of tease as he was so superior over his own normalcy, I don’t know. One of those days, I asked my parents, however, his real name, which I found out soon.
SULPICIO PASCUA, JR. That was his real name. He belonged to a very rich family back in the days. They had vast holdings and they were well-known. But maybe sometimes life plays tricks on the unaware. Chip had a mental disorder. The folk tale was that he was mugged by random men in Daet when he was just a lad. He was a handsome one who almost looked like the famous Fernando Poe, Jr. They said his brain was badly shaken that he never recovered his sanity. For the longest time that I’ve known him, strangely enough, even without maintenance drugs, he never had a violent episode or ran around the neighborhood naked or distraught. Yes, he wasn’t taking a bath on a regular basis but he was a decent man. He lived alone, no one knew exactly where. Sometimes, when he had nowhere else to go, he’d stay at some of his relatives but he never stayed for long. Always, he was just passing by.
I also got used to the fact that he was a constant figure in our lives. I never feared him. Every encounter with him always felt like a long time has passed. He would always say that I’ve grown so much or ask if I was Fredo’s eldest even if he asked that question to me several times in the past. He also had remarks that really just made me smile. He once said to me before that I was my father’s lucky charm.
I remember we used to tease him with an old spinster Tiya Celing, when she was alive. They were about the same age. Sadly, Tiya Celing passed away and Chip’s visit became less and less frequent. It wasn’t so much because of his supposed lover’s death but simply because he had just gotten ill.
Years went by like a flash for me and in all honesty, I have forgotten about him including some of the important people I once knew. I became busy with college, finding work, and keeping my own sanity.
Until that day that he appeared out of nowhere, frail and droopy but still had the same heartiness in him.
I was born and raised without knowing both my grandparents and whenever I recollect his significance in my life, I can’t help but think that it was actually him who played that role in their places. He showed me how simple life is and how to not care about what people think of you. He was content with the clothes he was given, with the bread, and the sour coffee. That was how simple he was.
It is true that we are lucky not ending up like him but Chip’s journey was a living testament that he was more sane than any of us can ever be.
Heartbreaking that it was our last encounter. My parents said to me, few months after that maybe, he was already dead. We never received any news.
I wish I could see him again so I can say, “Thank you.”
I wish I could see him again sip his sour coffee.