Saturday, October 15, 2005
Walter could only grunt his consent when out of the blue, Ate Osang hastily flew home to the Philippines after receiving a letter from a cousin. She was rather vague about her reasons but Walter knew better than to press her for details. The more definite he wanted her to be, the more convoluted she would get. She assured him it would only be for two or three weeks the most. That was almost two months ago.
Married for almost 25 years, this was the only time they were away from one another. Had it not been for the Yankee playoff tickets he received as birthday gift, he would have gone with her. But then again it was Ate Osang who gave him the tickets. "Were these tickets part of some shady scheme," he asked himself paranoid.
Walter didn’t know whether to get upset or what, but Ate Osang’s rare and brief phone calls would usually come in the middle of the night. It would rouse him from sleep and he had to groggily make sense of what she was saying. Before he knew it, she was reminding him to stay away from junk food and then the call would abruptly end.
Walter finally called the U.S. Embassy in Manila to find out if his wife had registered as he had suggested. If she did, they could provide him with a telephone number where Ate Osang could be reached in case of an emergency. Unfortunately, she didn’t. Walter was getting frantic. The only relatives of hers that he personally knew are all dead now. What exactly was his wife up to, he wondered. He forced himself not to wallow in negative thoughts.
Walter was upset at himself for having neglected the mail piling up on the desk. He was so absorbed by Ate Osang’s abrupt departure and long absence that he overlooked other important matters in their life. As he made out checks to pay the bills, Walter almost had a heart attack upon seeing the latest bill from the American Express credit card he shared with Ate Osang. It indicated a cash advance of fifty thousand dollars. The transaction was made in Manila a week after Ate Osang arrived there. He was now feeling both belligerent and fearful.
Friends soon got wind of his dilemma and tried to help, but they immediately felt guilty about their collective ignorance of Ate Osang’s background and relations back in the Philippines. After all these years, they had considered her such a significant aspect of their American life that they had ignored everything Filipino about her.
Over dinner at one of these friends’ house one night, Walter recalled the time he met Ate Osang at the U.S. naval base in Olongapo City. He was a lanky 19-year old sailor back then, stationed in Subic for two years, while Ate Osang was a recent high school graduate whose aunt worked as a housemaid for a top ranking naval officer inside the base.
One time, the officer and his wife threw a big party for some visiting admiral and needed extra hands. Osang helped in the kitchen. Walter volunteered in exchange for an extra weekend pass and was tasked to handle the barbecue pit. The two met and two years later, Osang and Walter were off to America to build a life together. They have two girls who are both married now, with children of their own; one lives in Oregon, the other in Maine.
After giving notice to the girls he was going to the Philippines to find their mother, Walter flew to Manila with his best friend Hank, who was more than happy to finally go to back to the Philippines. Last he was there was on an R&R when he was a marine stationed in Vietnam. Hank’s wife died of cervical cancer five years ago. He was hoping to find a nice Filipina for himself while on this search and rescue mission.
It wasn’t so hard to find Ate Osang after all. Upon landing in Manila, they rented a car and immediately headed to Ate Osang’s hometown in Subic. Once there, they asked the first man they saw if he knew anything about Ate Osang or any of her relatives after giving him her family’s last name. This was a small town. Any news about anyone vacationing here from the States would be common knowledge before the end of the day. The man gladly directed them to where Osang was staying.
Sure enough, there was Ate Osang seated under a mango tree busily chatting with some women while they snacked on dried and salted watermelon seeds. Ate Osang screamed with delight upon seeing her husband and Hank. Walter was just as thrilled to see her that all feelings of exhaustion from the trip vanished. After the usual hugs and kisses, he suddenly felt famished.
Both Walter and Hank could hardly get up from their seats after enjoying such a hearty meal of fresh vegetables, chicken and pork adobo, and ripe mangoes. Walter jokingly remarked that he missed the tropical weather and the fresh food so much they ought to just stay in the Philippines. With that said, both men and a couple of other people were whisked off by Ate Osang to another place. With Walter and Hank and the others squeezed into the compact sedan, Ate Osang drove heading towards the beach.
As they reached their destination, Ate Osang proudly pointed to a small house being built. It was her gift to her husband for their upcoming 25th year anniversary. For many years, she saved some of the money she made from her job at the supermarket. She had always dreamed of one day buying a small parcel of land right on this beach where she grew up, and building a small quaint house to where they could spend their golden years together. And her dream came true when her cousin wrote her a letter to say that the owner was selling the property to pay off some gambling debts.
Walter was speechless. For years he also thought of spending their retirement in the Philippines. He was just afraid to bring it up because most of Ate Osang’s Filipino friends in New York only had negative things to say about the Philippines. He thought she would never dare go back to her native country, but was he glad he was wrong.
Ate Osang suddenly shouted that these two Amerikanos ought to start getting some color on their blinding pale skin. Both men were embarrassed at first but soon joined in the laughter. As Ate Osang led them to another hut where they could change into their swimming shorts, she mentioned that she was in such a frenzied state she forgot to make a withdrawal on her savings account before she left for Manila so, she used their credit card to get immediate cash. Walter told her not to make any withdrawals from her account to pay off the bill; he already paid it with his personal checking account. That would be his gift to her.
As the two men enjoyed the warm water of Subic Bay, Walter remarked about his wife's booming voice as she gave instructions to the men building their house. It would get progressively louder the less the men understood her. Walter realized that even in tagalog, circumlocution seemed like a mastered art for his wife. Hank could only smile in response. But then Walter realized, however Ate Osang choose to express herself, he couldn't live life without his Filipina wife.
Nowadays, Walter can be found tirelessly cleaning his small powered boat or playing chess with Hank in front of their house on the beach. Hank had married Ate Osang’s cousin, Ate Linda, whom everyone thought would die an old maid. They had bought the vacant lot nearby and built a nice bungalow on it. The two Filipina housewives had started a business of creating trinkets made of local shells, beads, and washed stones.
The four of them plan on going to New York next year for the Christmas holidays. Ate Osang suggested to bring along some samples to show to Bergdorf's fashion jewelry buyer. Walter quickly quipped that Ate Linda should make the presentation; much to his regret as Ate Osang slowly turned to face his cowered husband.
Bergdorf Goodman, New York
Subic Bay Travel Destination
posted by Señor Enrique at 12:57 PM