Terya sits beside me on my left and reveals a roll of tobacco leaf. She lights up her cigarette much to the protest of her companions. “Stop smoking. We have a visitor,” they tell her. A familiar scent filled the air as Terya blows out smoke between her pursed lips. She doesn’t talk except for the occasional answer to a question. Her gaze is fixed on some imaginary point on the ground.
My thoughts drifted for a while to my grandfather’s house where I spent some of my school vacation when I was much younger. My grandmother’s sister lived there. I never asked what her real name was, believe it or not, but all of us called her “Apo”. She was old, thin and had a hunched back. She had always smiled when she saw me, asking me how life was back in Baguio and if I was studying well, or if I had a crush. She too had smoked tobaccos. Plenty, to be honest. Her room had smelt of it despite having two large windows. My mother told me not to stay in the room so much because of that. Apo used to listen to dramas on a battery operated radio; those that only function with those D batteries. She laid on bed seemingly in another world, with a gaze much like Terya’s – fixed on an imaginary object. As a sign of respect when greeting her, I would take her hand and let her fingers touch my forehead- a Filipino gesture called “pagmamano”. Funny how scents stamp an indelible mark on you. My thoughts were interrupted when Terya tapped on my knee.
I see her head moving involuntarily. Have you seen a doctor, I asked. No. It is expensive and I am scared. Terya, 85 years old, gets something in her pocket and smokes a cigar… I see a thin, rolled up tobacco leaf. As I gaze towards the side of her face, I see her earrings dangling from a large slit in her earlobe. The earrings moved with her head in unison making more evident an underlying ailment she doesn’t know. Would you please go to the doctor and tell me how it goes next time I visit? It is the veins on my neck that is causing this. It is too expensive to see a doctor. This is not something the doctor can cure.