HOLO: He Only Lived Once

by joanabagano

He was the stereotypical angry, old man who lived next door. Whenever we went out of the house to play, we would see him seated by his gate, ready to pounce on any kid that came near and tried to disturb his peace. My brothers were a tease. They would go as close as a meter away from the gate, snicker to each other and then run away as fast as they could. He was always too late, always shouting because my brothers were already far away.

I know he wasn’t always this way. Somewhere along the lines, he might have lost whatever little optimism or hope he had left. I remember, although not vividly, that he coined my first nickname and let the whole neighborhood use it. Wanang-wanang. That was 18 years ago.

Over the last few years, he’d still call me that whenever I went home from Manila and passed by him. He would smile, ask me how I was and I would smile back, rather reservedly, answer him in a very short sentence: “Good.”, and walk on. Maybe my name reminded him of when he was younger and allowed him to be the better version of who he is. I wasn’t surprised that he still kept a few good memories with him, cynical and jaded though he may be. Every disillusioned person clings closer to a few good and unadulterated moments of the past to survive than an optimistic who looks to the future, hoping for something better than what yesterday offered.

My mother always told me to be extra thoughtful because the old man was going through a lot of hard things. Anyone in our neighborhood wouldn’t know any better. It was quite well-known that his married life was on the rocks and that his older son, the only one child left with him, was wasting his life away on alcohol. It was probably too much for an old man who, to top it off, was already ill. But he braved every single day. I could only imagine how he expected his day to be whenever he woke up, or if he expected anything, maybe a visit from his daughters or grandchildren. He loved his grandchildren as most grandpas would and maybe just seeing them kept him going.

The rumor mill in our neighborhood was and is very active, needing just a few bored women to keep it working. When it was learned that he was suffering from a disease, something I could no longer remember, it spread like wildfire. His wife came home to see him and God knows why they finally called it off.

He was a good person, I knew it, and he was only waiting for everybody to see him and acknowledge his existence not as a grumpy old man but as a human being.And as with every story recalling one life that just recently passed, the author regrets having not been able to do what she could have. I could have stayed and chatted with him, even just for a few minutes to keep him company, whenever he said hello. I could have offered him food whenever we had too much and didn’t know where to put it. I could have gone over to his house and prayed for him. The list would go on, and could only look back in frustration. And as with every story recalling one life, the author hopes that the readers would realize that every disenchanted, estranged, unloved friend or acquaintance or neighbor they have is worth giving another try. It couldn’t be any more obvious.