HELLO, Death, old friend.
Will I recognize You when You come again? Fourteen years ago, as the family sat down in Papang’s hospital room for a silent supper, the flatline on the monitor announced itself like a hive of bees drawn to a riot of flowers.
In the electric distraction of extreme medical measures reviving his body, Papang slipped away with You and went home.
How else can I explain that in the same minute the Code Blue team was ramming a tube down the trachea to open an airway, neighbors spotted his figure pacing outside the house and his longtime companion saw a dark shadow going around the magnetic blue 1964 Volkswagen Beetle, older than I, his first child, by a year and arguably his first baby?
Death, You trickster.
Or were You hiding behind Papang’s feet, which splayed like the open wings of a resting moth, framing the imperturbable green of the flatline punctuating his 82 years?
A few nights ago, while washing dinner dishes in Silang, Cavite, I opened the door after hearing a strange meowing. Instead of one of the feral cats lounging around our place, an empty porch awaited. The brown moth was already resting against the ceiling when I went back to finish clearing the table.
In folklore, moths are harbingers of death, war and disaster. The last two are anomalies but death, I disagree, is far from being a stranger. As a child waking up from afternoon siesta in the cavernous room of my great-grandparents’ house, I cried shrilly to find myself alone and she would come running.
While dusty motes drifted in the shifting shafts of afternoon light, I dreamt of You, sniffed at the sweetly odorous mustiness of my great-grandparents’ room across ours, where I imagined my great-grandfather drowned in his sleep, where the pickled ham of my great-grandmother’s amputated leg brooded, not far from the dirty kitchen where the turtles wept as they boiled.
Yet, whenever Mama entered the room, You stepped back. When she slipped me on her lap in the dentist’s chair, when I followed her voice and smile to emerge from motherhood’s anaesthetized dreams, You always deferred. Death is the terminus except where love is concerned.
The brown moth slipping in that night may have been You, up to Your usual confounding tricks. Except it wasn’t a moth, resting with open wings. Like hands folded in prayer, those wings marked the brown creature as a butterfly.
In my late grandmother’s garden, butterflies preened like orchids. The visitor that night was dun and modest but I listened and heard my mother’s labored breathing on the phone, the voices of my dead across the void: death is the terminus except where love is concerned.