"She's almost dead," whispered the six-year old to his shocked mom.
"Michael, keep quiet!" said Tina through clenched teeth, as she smiled at the other guests. Michael had asked how old Grandma Ining was, and Tina told the boy that it was the celebrant's ninetieth birthday.
"Hey, go greet your grandma," ordered the other relatives. "Happy Birthday, Lola Ining!" kissed Michael, to Tina's relief. Michael was about to say something again, when he was quickly whisked away to the snaking buffet line.
Lola Ining was resplendent in her golden terno, the jusi cloth brought all the way from the famed weavers of Bulacan. Her radiant, tranquil face hid the fact that she had survived the second World War that ravaged the Philippines, and that she raised seven children almost single-handedly. Her hair was not a tired shade of gray, but a spritely glow of pearl. Her hands quivered slightly as she held on to her walker.
"She's almost gone, Mom," said Michael. His eyes had never left his grandma.
"Will you please just sit down and eat?"
Before Michael could say anything else, everyone fell silent. Grandma had stood up and wanted to say a few things.
"Good evening dear friends and relatives," started Lola Ining in lilting Tagalog. "I would like to thank everyone for joining me this evening, as I celebrate my ninetieth year of life. I am humbly grateful to the Lord for blessing me with a purposeful life, one which I would also call long-lasting, for that is how everything has been."
"She's almost gone, Mom..." whimpered Michael.
Tina angrily yanked Michael and sat him on her lap. "You behave, ha? Please let Lola finish her talk, please?"
"Long-lasting," continued Lola Ining, "because I've been married for sixty-five years. Long-lasting, because my maid selflessly served me for sixty-three years. Long-lasting, because I worked at just one company my entire life."
"I have met countless other people, kindly folks who have unceasingly touched my life. I have done my best to care for others and I sometimes wish I knew what my mission in life is. Perhaps I haven't fully achieved that true purpose, which explains why God allows me to live this long."
A nervous laugh rippled through the crowd.
"To my grandchildren, my loving apos, look around and see that yours is a rich heritage and legacy that will spur you on to even greater heights. Remember, however, that your footprints at the summit will be washed away by the winds of change and destiny. Only your record of true service to others will remain to defy oblivion. To my apos who have recently graduated from high school and college, please accept my constant prayers as a modest token of appreciation for claiming a small strand of your lives. But my wish for your happiness and success is endless."
The kids absent-mindedly looked at the dessert table filled with halo-halo, yams, bibingka, puto bumbong, rice cakes and other Filipino delicacies.
"And so, before I bore you, I would like to thank you once again. You will all be in my prayers and I hope to see you in the years ahead. Please enjoy your dinner..."
Whatever Lola Ining next said was drowned in applause and the eager clanging of hungry spoons and forks.
"Any time now, Mom," squirmed Michael, fidgeting on his mother's lap.
Before Tina could pinch Michael, and before Lola Ining could sit down again, a loud driving wind roared above the roof of the clubhouse where everyone had gathered. Everyone looked up, bewildered, then stared at each other's frightened faces just as a long trumpeting sound echoed through the chilly evening air. Drivers smoking in the parking lot gaped as they wildly pointed at a bright door opening in the dark heavens.
"...almost gone, Mom!" shouted Michael.
Lola Ining started to glow like white heat, and the guests moved away as her clothes shimmered in hues of yellow and indigo. She raised her eyes skyward, smiled peacefully, stretched out her arms and mouthed the word: "Yes."
Her clothes floated for an instant, then gently collapsed to the ground. In the twinkling of an eye, Lola Ining had disappeared.
The silence that followed was soon pierced by anguished cries of loneliness by those left behind, as Tina's tears fell on her son's empty clothes, warm and folded neatly on her lap.
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Updated June 12, 2000
Copyright © 2000-2001 by Manuel Viloria of http://www.viloria.com
Email: manuel AT viloria DOT com