Note: This short story is one of the first I’ve written published in The Marian in 2007 if I’m not mistaken. This one has a title but I have completely forgotten it and I did not want to put another title. I did some editing to make it more readable. Enjoy.
(c) November 2006
Anton wanted to kick his father from where he was sitting. He wanted to do everything, anything, just to inflict pain to the source of all their suffering. He wanted to slowly kill him until he regrets the day he was born. But something in him held back. He hated himself for that.
Anton has just gotten home from school. He has been contemplating on the valedictory speech that he was preparing when he found himself staring at his drunken father, Mang Cito, who, as always, was sitting on the stool outside their old nipa house. The old man was holding a bottle of gin on his hand, and was staring blankly at a small frog hiding behind the bush in front of him. Anton often wondered how his father is able to survive with liquor running through his veins. He was always waiting for the day his father’s heart, or his brain, or any part of his insides decide to stop functioning in rebellion against the liquor that he had been imbibing each day of his wasted life. Much to Anton’s dismay, the day of his father’s doom seemed to have forgotten to come.
Anton realized that he had been staring at his father for a while. He had just looked back at the sheet of paper where he had been writing his valedictory speech when Mang Cito called him. Anton almost jumped up in surprise when he heard his name. He had never heard Mang Cito utter a sensible word for the past eight years. He stood up from where he was sitting and went to the kitchen to prepare coffee thinking that that was what his father wanted.
Mang Cito called him again. Anton finished preparing the coffee and went outside. Mang Cito instructed him to get another stool. Anton was puzzled but followed his command anyway. He didn’t want to argue with a drunken man.
He offered coffee but the old man refused. He instead instructed Anton to sit beside him. Anton grew all the more baffled but at the same time, curious, of what his father was up to. He already had forgotten the last time his father talked to him like that. He sat down and waited for his father to talk. A minute or two passed. His father was still staring at the frog which was too scared to leap out of the bush. Anton grew more and more impatient with the old man. Whatever he is up to, this ought to be worth my time, Anton thought. He was about to open his mouth in protest when the old man finally spoke.
“Look at the frog over there. Been there all afternoon,” he said sluggishly.
Anton shook his head in disbelief. He called me just to talk about frogs?
Mang Cito cleared his throat. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead. He opened his mouth to speak again but he held back his words. He took another swig of gin from the half empty bottle.
Anton had had enough of the game his father seemed to want him to play. He stood up and faced his father. “I don’t know what you’re up to but I’m tired of it. You can play your little game, just leave me alone. Unlike some people here, I got more important things to do.”
Those were the first real sentences that Anton had said to his father. He didn’t shout but he was firm. He wanted to pat himself at the back for finally having the guts to snap back at his old man. He turned to leave but his father spoke again.
“You want to hear me.”
“What did you say?”
Mang Cito kept staring at the frog. “I’m tryin’ to have conversation with you,” he said, almost choking his words.
Anton fought back his resentful words. After all these years, he chose to speak to me now? “Too late,” he told the old man, “I had given up the hope of talking to you years ago. There’s nothing more you can say to me.”
“Son, I –“
“Son? Hah! Funny. I can’t remember anyone calling me that except my mother. You’re not my mother. You have no right calling me that.”
Mang Cito stood up. He had a firm look on his face. He wanted to stand up straight but he was too drunk. “I am still your father,” he told Anton with a low voice.
“I never had a father,” Anton mockingly said.
Fuming, Mang Cito summoned his strength and tried to throw a punch at Anton but his son was fast. He stumbled and fell on the dusty ground. He tried to get up but he was too weak and too shocked to pick himself up. Anton watched his father struggle. His hands are rolled into a fist. His anger rose every minute but all he can do was stare.
The old man gave up trying. He sat on the ground, looked down, and chuckled. “This is what has become of me,” he said under his breath.
Anton watched his helpless father on the ground. He looked closely at the old man and was stunned to see that he was crying. Tears streamed down the old man’s face but he kept on chuckling. “Do you know why the frog never left that bush the whole afternoon?” Mang Cito asked, his voice cracking, “because he’s scared,” he continued before finally passing out.
Anton was tempted to leave his father out there but something inside him warmed up to the old man. He carried the old man on his shoulders and let him lie down on the wooden bed. He fetched a basin of warm water from the kitchen and wiped his father with a face towel.
As he was wiping the old man’s face, Anton felt all the anger and the bitterness come back. He wanted to wipe away the sullen look he gets from his father each time. Yet he never had the courage to fight back and hurt his father. Anton threw the towel to the basin. How can he hate his father and love him at the same time? How can he feel the cold air around them and yet feel warm inside? He hated himself for feeling that way.
When Anton walked out of the room, Aling Nina, who had just arrived from the market, looked at him sternly. “He passed out,” he explained.
Aling Nina walked away without saying a word.
“This does it,” Anton said, following his mother on the kitchen, “Nay, why do you keep on acting like there is nothing wrong? That man has been leaving all his responsibilities to you since I was in high school. Ever since he quit that job, he ceased becoming a husband to you and a father to me!”
Anton couldn’t keep his tears from streaming down his eyes. He had kept all these words and all his feelings for a long time and now, he felt like an erupting volcano. He did not care if the neighbors can hear everything, he was fed up. “Nay, he is a sick old man. Fight back, Nay, fight back! Let’s just leave him here to die, let’s – ”
Aling Nina’s face turned red. “Stop it! Stop talking to your father like that!”
“Like what, like I don’t care if he dies? Like I hate him? Like I wanted to kill him?”
“Son, please,” Aling Nina’s voice trailed off. She wiped away the tears from her son’s face, “please understand.”
Anton turned his face away. He walked away from her mother and stared at her grimly. “What is there to understand?” He said somberly in a low voice, “what is there to understand?”
His voice resonated on the walls of their nipa hut. The dogs outside began howling and barking.
“I completely understand that that man had never had a use in building this home, he was never man enough to fight for us. I understand that he cheated on you. I understand that he slept with his superior and got fired because of that. He is never good in anything except in drowning himself with alcohol. Each day, Nay, I pray for his death! I wish he could just die.”
“That is what I am wishing for each day of my wasted life!”
Anton was startled to see Mang Cito, who was standing limply behind him. The old man was awakened by the commotion outside. He heard everything his son said. He carried himself with what was left of his strength and went to the kitchen. It did not require much effort from him because it was a small house. The old man was already sober but his head was aching. He did not care. His mind raced.
“That day, when I lost my job, I admit that I ceased to be a man.” Anton wanted to talk but his throat swelled up. He cannot stop sobbing.
“I wanted to make it up to you but fear overtook me and gripped me by the neck. I’m afraid that you can never understand me. I’m afraid that you will reject me. I was branded by that mistake, and had to suffer all the consequences all my life,” Mang Cito choked his words, “I was too scared to tell your mother how much I love her, and how grateful I am that even though the world despised me for what I did, she never left. I know I do not deserve that. I was too scared to take another step because I’m afraid that I might inflict further pain to you and your mother so I chose not to do anything at all…”
Mang Cito’s pain was reverberating in his words, “I wanted to kill myself but never had the courage to do so. I figured that one of these days, the poison I am drinking would take effect so that I will not be able to do anything to add up to your misery. I am truly sorry, son. Every day, I try to build up the courage to say those words but I am scared…. I am scared to hurt you…”
The old man could not continue speaking. He then began to cry.
It was a dark night. A star or two peeped through the clouds. The frog which was hiding behind the bush all afternoon realized that no one was looking so it jumped out of the bush and headed to the small pond behind the small nipa hut. The neighbors’ dogs stopped barking. Nothing can be heard except the gleeful croak of a frog, and the poignant weeping of an old man.