My motherâs best friend
Illustration by Jaymee L. Amores

My mother’s best friend

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2020 - 12:00am

For the first time since the lockdown in March, my mother went out of the house to visit her best friend on June 17 in the neighborhood. It was at high noon when she asked her grandson Nikkelle to drive her to see Inang Patring. From our house to Inang Patring’s place is a short ride of less than five minutes. She tagged me along — and I witnessed a beautiful friendship.

It was her best friend’s birthday that day and there was no way she would miss it. She knew there would be no celebration because of the pandemic but it did not matter. Their company of two, like always, would already be a celebration. She was on her way to surprise her with a song or two.

The way to Inang Patring’s place was dotted with tall bamboo plants that almost bowed down to the ground. Since it was lunchtime and the sun scorched the earth, the narrow street was devoid of people. My mother wanted it that way — less chances to contract the virus. She did not mind the heat, not even the kernels of sweat rolling down her nape. She was armed with a face mask and a broad buri fan. She was okay.

On our way to her best friend’s place, her excitement grew. Dried bamboo leaves showered the ground at the slight whisper of the wind. The unusual crowing of roosters at high noon seemed to herald the arrival of my mother.

“T’ya Atring! T’ya Atring!” she shouted her term of endearment for her best friend when she alighted the vehicle, her green duster with black leaf pattern seemed to dance with her in her gaiety. “Happy birthday!”

Nikkelle shook his head in disbelief at his lola’s animated reverie.

I remained awed. Such friendship, I thought. In the time of the pandemic, this kind of friendship is a balm to the soul. A friendship that knows no threat from the virus. A friendship that needs to be celebrated no matter what.

Patricia Gimutao was the first ever friend my mother made in 1965 when she uprooted herself from San Isidro, also a barangay in Cabuyao, to live in Gulod — that was the time she married my father. An instant friendship was formed when they first met in the silong (basement) of the wooden house of my paternal grandparents. Patring sidelined as my lola’s laundrywoman. My mother came to help her and that was the start of their friendship. Like my mother, Patring was not a native of Gulod. They both married a native of the barrio.

They would see each other in the field, planting rice, harvesting palay. They were ordinary women in their prime doing extraordinary jobs of raising their respective families while tilling the soil.

During hard times, they borrowed money from each other. Pay when able. But they always managed to pay whatever was borrowed — big or small. They honored commitment. That was all they had. And it was everything.

The beauty of their friendship is that one need not say a word when one was in need. They felt it without saying a word. Their friendship knew whose heart was in need. No need to beg. Help was offered right away at the slightest hint — an aimless look was always a giveaway.

When Inang Patring wanted to have her naturally curly hair permed all the more, my mother would be seated right next to her in a tricycle as they zoomed to Ate Procy’s parlor in another town. That was their only concession to vanity when they were young — a permed hairdo.

Of course they had bad-hair days, too. When Inang Patring got sick many years ago on my mother’s birthday, my Nanay’s birthday wish was for her best friend to get well.  When my father passed away, Inang Patring was the first to hold my mother’s hand. They cried together. And they also knew how to wipe the tears in each other’s eyes.

They had crazy moments also. Like crying in the funeral of a woman they mistook for someone they knew. When they looked around, the people in the memorial park were not familiar to them. They went to the wrong cemetery. They left the scene still with their projected sad faces only to burst into laughter when they turned their backs.

They did not fight. They argued, yes. But they did not fight. One of the few arguments they had was whether or not to turn on the car aircon when they traveled far from home. Inang Patring easily felt cold at the slightest draft. My mother liked it snow-cold. But my mother would always give in as she lowered the car windows. They respected their friendship well.

Jolly days were spent in Jollibee. Two-piece Chicken Joy shared by two friends, both senior citizens. Oh, how they enjoyed using their Senior Citizen card — the 20-percent off on their purchases would always make them feel high.

When they wanted to eat out, they would sneak out of their houses like teenagers, flag down a jeepney, their faces covered in talc powder, lips slightly smudged with tint, and go to SM Sta. Rosa. No perfume. Inang Patring was allergic to it although she had an armada of Italian perfume bottles from her children who were OFWs in Rome.

Inang Patring’s children only allowed their mother to go to parties when they knew my mother would be with her. She only ate what my mother would eat. My mother always spoiled Inang Patring. She would peel prawns and put them on her best friend’s plate when they were at a party.

Last June 17 was another party. It was just my mother and Inang Patring — with Nikkelle and me as their witnesses — celebrating.

“Hindi pwedeng hindi kita pupuntahan. Miss na miss na kita, T’ya Atring. Limang taon na pala (It’s impossible for me not to visit you. I miss you. It’s been five years),” she blurted out to her best friend before bursting into a “Happy birthday” song.

There was no reply. There was only silence when my mother lit a white candle and made it stand against the wind. She made a sign of the cross and prayed fervently. Her eyes were closed. She was smiling.

We went home. The bamboo plants bowed down on the narrow road where we were passing. My mother was happy.

(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend!)

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