besides a-ko, the one other constant in my life, growing up, was her store, or tiam lay in fukien. my child’s mind substituted tiam with our surname cham though, turning the phrase into a more familiar and personal one. 🙂
i can’t remember a time in my childhood when a-ko’s cham lay didn’t exist, and rare was the day when i didn’t step foot inside it.
i remember afternoons spent helping a-ko count her chiz curls and chippy deliveries, lining up bottle after bottle of johnson’s baby cologne and baby oil and baby powder inside the glass display cabinet, weekends spent inside the store doing homework and studying for tests.
i have memories of rows and rows of nescafe instant coffee bottles filled with treats like serge football, bazooka bubble gum and stork candy, of stealthily stealing a colorful coat or two from the caronia and caress nail polish bottles and hastily wiping the evidence off before it dries, and later, of freezers filled with magnolia ice drop, pinipig crunch and the much coveted drumstick.
i also remember resenting having to sit inside the store day after day after day, waiting for customers who come just when i was at the exciting part of a book or a tv show.
i grew up inside that tiam lay, had my first neighborhood crush behind its counter, received my first love letter across jars of hi-ro biscuits and rebisco cream sandwiches.
over the years, while life went on, the store slowly and silently fell into disarray. old inventory got buried under knick knacks, random pieces of paper and bits and pieces of everything. then everything got further buried under newer inventory and even more knick knacks, random pieces of paper and bits and pieces of everything else.
it got so bad that i literally felt weak every time i got a glimpse of the store’s state during visits to a-ko. the thought of her navigating through all that clutter everyday made me feel so helpless i would cry out my frustration at alvin during the drive home.
i’ve been wanting to clean up the mess for years but could neither find the strength nor figure out how to. i toyed with the idea of hiring a professional team of cleaners just to be done with it but had no idea where one finds such teams.
finally, the recent super long weekend arrived and i thought, this is it, this has to be done *now*! so i enlisted alvin and joyce’s help and we somehow got the humongous job done in three days! we freed up so much space a-ko can even lie down for an afternoon nap if she wanted!
next project, her various closets and cabinets. maybe during the christmas break, when we get our collective strength back, haha. 😀
my a-ko has cancer. i’ve never struggled to process four words strung together as painfully and helplessly as i have struggled to make sense of this sentence.
my a-ko is seventy-one. she’s never been seriously sick, was diagnosed with hypertension only in her late sixties, and can out-walk me in divisoria any day; how can she have cancer?
it started innocently enough, with a routine breast exam and a routine screening mammogram. she’s passed both before without incident and this was expected to be just that, routine. something one dutifully endures once a year; a bothersome chore, really.
only this time there was something. a tiny, tiny little thing big enough to cause the doctor’s brow to crease in concern, and his fingers to slow, to pause, and to probe a second time. a tiny, tiny little thing.
i got the message from the doctor’s office three days after her mammogram. her slides reflected something suspicious. he had to see her a second time, to be sure.
bi-rads 4. moderate suspicion. microcalcifications.
lumpectomy. mastectomy. frozen section biopsy.
estrogen-receptor positive. radiation therapy. chemotherapy.
two weeks later, there was a long, dark line of stitching where her right breast used to be, and a rubber tube running out her side, to drain fluid from the wound.
those two weeks went by so fast. each minute of those two weeks felt like a decade.
and still, somewhere at the back of my mind, a voice continues to ask, how can she have cancer?
4 days. 3 people. 1 city.
the last two days were spent exploring chinatown, orchard road and part of the national university of singapore.
we gulped delicious kopi down, munched on street ice cream sandwiches, and, in true pinoy fashion, hogged the massage machines at the nus alumni center.
4 days. 3 people. 1 city.
the first two days were spent exploring bukit merah, little india, marina bay sands and the then-recently opened gardens by the bay.
all three of us decided that the ikea store would make a really good home, we walked around amidst supertrees and a-ko sipped her first mango lassi.