Oysters on a pillow
By Virginia J. Pasalo
LAST night my niece Mira who works at the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) held a pillow just taken out of the plastic wrap. She said it was an unused pillow beside Nanay’s body. My sister Lydia and Emma wanted to leave it for reasons they did not want to articulate but Mira’s hands held on the pillow and asked several times, “Ayaw ninyo? This is unused, it is clean!” It is as if the pillow wanted to be taken home, and it is using Mira’s hands as a bridge to get there. I felt like somehow, the pillow carried my mother’s essence, and so without hesitation, I took the pillow from her hands.
In the van, I embraced the pillow, and started to cry quietly. I was in this state while we engaged the heavy traffic, jolted every now and then by the abrupt twists and turns of my brother in law, who competed to get ahead with the buses. We were going to buy Nanay a Filipiniana formal wear, and the department store may close before we are able to get in, so you can imagine how many jolts that was, on my physical existence. I wanted to leave the pillow to Marie, my sister who took care of Nanay more than anyone else, but my sisters decided against it, saying Marie is in deep mourning, and the pillow will certainly suffocate her with grief. So we left the pillow in the van. Emma and I proceeded to buy Nanay her dress.
“This one is just what you need. The gown has long sleeves and a closer neckline.”
We wanted to hide Nanay’s bruises from the needles that punctured her two arms, and the two incisions on her neck where they attempted to find a vein to insert all the tubes to sustain her life. We asked the saleslady to display our options, and we chose, guided by Nanay’s taste. Emma went around to find pearls for her accessories. Nanay has always been fond of earrings. She would pick up earrings in bazaars, in various sizes and colors, even if she does not wear them. She liked to eat in restaurants with the name of the restaurant inscribed on the napkin, and collected them, but forgot where she kept them afterwards. She liked oysters, bibingka and puto bumbong at Cafe Via Mare, but she did not remember eating them.
“This is okay, please iron out the creases and the pleats, and we’re done.”
Nanay’s body looked ironed from the wrinkles that were still there when she was admitted to the hospital. The antibiotics made her retain moisture and eventually failed her kidneys. She ballooned, like she was pumped with helium except that her body remained in bed. When I saw her before her death, I felt her spirit fly, leaving the liquid to occupy her physical body.
“We have to eat properly, we have not eaten properly.”
We headed to Max Restaurant, where we used to bring Nanay for the kare-kare that she loved. I wanted to eat kare-kare, but we ended up eating healthy: tofu with eggplant, tofu with asparagus, lumpiang sariwa. And then we remembered the oysters. The last time Nanay ate oysters was a week before she was admitted to the hospital. Nanay was weak and could not manage to travel far, so we ordered of oysters in a half-shell, bibingka and puto bumbong at Cafe Via Mare whose chef laid down the oysters neatly on top of crushed ice and wrapped them in aluminum foil. She took small bites in between rests, but finished less than what she normally ate. Two days after, Marie called. Nanay was sick and she wanted oysters. Not the oysters in a half-shell, but the still unopened, fresh ones.
“Marie, isudakannak man ti tirem!” (Marie, please open some oysters!)
Nanay seemed to think that the oysters can be summoned at will, and they would come, at her bidding. I remember a time when she got sick and wanted the native gelatinous corn, and dad had to go to Binalonan, the next town, because it was not available in Pozorrubio. And she would get well.
“Let’s buy her oysters, she will get well.”
Emma seemed to be so sure Nanay will get well. She always did. So we drove to Cafe Via Mare, our next best option because we do not know where to get unopened, fresh and safe oysters.
“Those were Nanay’s last oysters. She ate them half-asleep, and chewed away while sleeping,” Emma told me.
I remembered the pillow Mira handed to me, the softness of it, the warmth, the comfort. Nanay was telling me, she had eaten her oysters, on this pillow.