FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto - The Freeman

I was waiting in line at a popular bookstore chain to have some documents photocopied. It was a Saturday morning and I was hoping that the place would be empty and that I would be the only customer. I was running late for a meeting and in a terrible rush. Instead, I found two other customers before me, each with a thick pile of papers. I texted the person that I was meeting that I was going to be late. I dislike being late and I felt really bad.

The pile of papers of the woman in front of me started to get more disorganized. I noticed a birth certificate, a baptismal certificate, school records, a resume, even a notice of admission from the University of the Philippines. I guessed that the person whose records she was having copied was going to study or work abroad.

“Have I asked you to copy this?” she asked the machine operator.

“Ma'am, if it is with you, I have copied it,” he answered politely. Her phone rang and she took the call. I stopped myself from hyperventilating. I was growing impatient and wondering if I should leave to find another place that could make the photocopies I needed.

The woman turned to me and said, “I'm so sorry for taking too long. I am copying documents that I need to file for my son's insurance claim. Insurance companies ask for so many copies. He died…” Her voice trailed off.

I noticed that her hair was disheveled, her clothes were rumpled, and she looked very tired, as if she had not had a good night's sleep in days. “I'm sorry to hear that,” I answered.

“He was twenty-eight. It was fast. He only stayed two days in the hospital. Maybe he was tired. He was really busy. I think he is at peace now,” she rambled. I did not know what to say.

“We buried him four days ago,” she continued. She introduced herself, asked for my name, and said that she lived in the subdivision adjacent to where I lived.

“Our condolences,” I could only mutter. She said thanks, gave me a quick hug, said “God bless you!” and left.  I just stood there. I told the person behind me to have his documents copied first. Hearing a mother talk about the loss of her son disoriented me. I needed a minute to remember why I was waiting in line.

When I was younger, I used to pray for signs. Sometimes, I'd be specific and say things like “Dear God, if it rains, it means I should see this person.” Or “If this rose blooms in full, it means I should pick the one who gave it to me.” In college, I'd consult the I Ching to figure out if I should go out with someone or not. I've stopped doing these things, believing that they are too crazy for someone in mid-life to continue doing. What I try to do now is to connect the dots to find some meaningful whole that make sense (which could probably be crazier).

Meeting the grieving mother when I did reminded me of how fleeting life can be, of how lucky I am that I can still hug the persons I love, and of how this is more important than wallowing because of the hurt that they inflicted on me. 

I forgot her name but I continue to think of her.  I hope that she finds peace. May God bless her, too.


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