From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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Things to Think about Before Having Surgery in Korea

A couple of months ago, I underwent surgery in Korea. Although I’m used to being a patient here, that was the first time I stayed in the hospital for what seemed like an eternity (a week, actually). Let me share my experience on being a foreign inpatient for those of you who may be contemplating on going under the knife in the Land of the Morning Calm.

INFORM WORK  ABOUT THE SURGERY EARLY (IF POSSIBLE).

If the surgery can wait, schedule it during vacation. In Korea, calling in sick for a day is like being guilty of a crime. What more if you’re going to miss work for days? If you’re going to undergo a medical procedure that may require you longer time to recover, you MUST ask for a leave a month ahead to give your company time to get someone to stand in for you. It’s not odd at all if your boss asks you to look for a substitute, especially if you work as a teacher. I’ve done this a few times during my hospital visits. If you say you’re going to resume work after a week, you have to keep your word. It’s better to extend the time of recovery your doctor gave you and get enough rest than have to call your boss again and say that you’re not ready to go back to work. I remember that time when I suffered from severe backpain and had to call in sick, my wonjangnim was furious! She called me up to say I had to go to work no matter what. I was in the hospital, and my boss kept berating me on the phone. She hung up on me as I was explaining. The next day, my condition got worse that I couldn’t even stand up. I had to call her again to say that I couldn’t go to work, but she wouldn’t listen even when I challenged her to call the hospital. I quit that hagwon before deciding to have surgery. My oncologist said that I could return to work a week after the operation, but I wasn’t sure if I would be physically and mentally ready after just a few days, so I took a month-long leave from the hagwon. In the school, however, I resumed work after two weeks, because I didn’t inform them about the surgery and I had English Camp to facilitate.

HAVING SOMEONE ASSIST YOU IS A MUST.

The initial plan was to have my mom fly to Korea, so she could care for me, but my husband was able to ask for a leave, so he took the responsibility of being my caregiver. Lately, I’ve seen a number of Korean inpatients who have no family member or a friend attending to them. Korea is a busy country with busy working people who barely have time to breathe, so sometimes family members will just visit and leave the patient under the care of nurses. When my father-in-law had an operation, no one stayed with him in the hospital. (Everyone in the family works fulltime.) We only visited him and brought him everything he needed. Sometimes my mother-in-law would cook him dinner or bring his favorite banchan (side dishes) and stay with him for hours, but she never slept at the hospital room with him. When my husband underwent surgery, I insisted that I stay with him overnight, but he declined. He said sleeping in the hospital would be too uncomfortable for me, because he won’t be the only patient in the room. Most inpatients here stay in the wards, because Korea’s National Health Insurance does not cover upgrades like private rooms. I was willing to pay for my own room. (I have a private insurance and I really value my comfort.) Unfortunately, there was neither a private nor a semiprivate room available, so I had to stay in the ward with six other patients. I was more anxious of being in the ward than the surgery itself, because I thought I wouldn’t have much privacy, but it wasn’t so bad. The curtain around my bed was huge enough to cover my place and the room wasn’t packed to the gills. We were four patients in the room. Other patients arrived later. My bed was near the bathroom, so I didn’t have to walk far every time I had to use the toilet. The only issue I had was the noise. Sometimes I would be awakened by one of the patients whining. One of the attending family members coughed and spit incessantly in the middle of the night. (He seemed more ill than any of the patients in the room.) The girl next to me went through the same surgery that I had, and she was miserable when she woke up. She cried a lot during her first day post-op. I knew how painful the first couple of hours can be when the medicine wears off, and you have to fight off your sleepiness, because you’re instructed to stay awake. I asked my husband to get her a stuffed toy, and I gave it to her. I told her the pain would soon go away. Before I left the hospital, she gave me a thank-you letter and a box of macarons.

There was also the janitress, an ajumma (middle-aged woman), who cursed every time she was cleaning the bathroom. One day, she threw a fit because she had to unclog the toilet and clean the flooded bathroom. (All the patients in that room had to take laxatives before surgery, so you can just imagine the toilet being a fecal matter war zone!) To everyone’s astonishment, the ajumma kicked one of the unused IV stands left near the bathroom, and it landed right in my bed. I swear I would’ve lost it if that IV stand hit me! No one reasoned with her. I wish I did. (Anywhere you go, beware of angry ajummas… even in places like the hospital where people should have more compassion.)

If you can speak fluent Korean, you will be all right without a caregiver as there are many friendly and kind nurses who will attend to you, but if you can scarcely speak the language, I suggest you have a friend who can speak Korean help you out. Maybe your friend can stay with you until you wake up from the surgery. Before you have the procedure, you’re going to be asked a series of questions (about your medical background) and sign an agreement and/or consent. My level of Korean is intermediate, but there were still some things that were not clear to me when the nurses were explaining preoperative procedures. I asked if they could give me an English-translated copy of the paper they asked me to read, but they said they have it only in Korean. It came as a surprise to me, because the hospital where I was admitted is one of the biggest and most prominent hospitals in Seoul, and it even has an International Healthcare Center, but even the foreigners’ desk could not provide me with an English-translated copy. All of the papers they handed me and the waivers I signed were in Korean. I had to rely on my little knowledge of the language and my Korean husband’s help. Most doctors and nurses will try to speak to you in English if you tell them that you don’t understand Korean. My Korean is good enough to talk to the nurses, but my husband urged me to speak in English to avoid misunderstanding.

If you don’t have a Korean friend or someone who can speak Korean well to assist you, don’t fret. Most big hospitals in Korea have International Healthcare Centers. In Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH), for instance, you can ask for an English-speaking volunteer to guide you.

 ASK QUESTIONS.

Normally, doctors in Korea don’t spend a lot of time explaining to their patients everything they need to know about their surgery. Doctors here are not used to being bombarded with questions. Some may even find it offensive. You are, however, their patient, and it’s your right to feel confident about the surgery they’re going to perform on you, so even when you notice your doctor fidgeting or scowling, ask, ask, ask. I suggest you make a list of things you’d like to ask your doctor prior to your procedure and make the talking concise.

Also, I made it a habit to ask the nurses what medicine they were giving me or injecting into my IV. Some of them would just hand you medicine without informing you what it’s for.

DEAL WITH LACK OF PRIVACY.

You may find it awkward to have another patient in the room waiting for his turn as your doctor is discussing your diagnosis or treatment plan with you, but believe me, that patient doesn’t give a damn. Korean hospitals don’t have the same privacy that we enjoy in our home country, something we have to get used to. I recall one time when the nurse had to empty my bladder after surgery. There was another patient in the room who was going to be next, and only a thin cubicle curtain separated us from each other. The patient was a woman, so I didn’t mind it that much. Besides, I had similar experiences in other hospitals. I’ve gotten used to this culture somehow.

When I was wheeled into the waiting room, I was stunned to see other patients, both men and women, who were lined up in stretchers, prepped for surgery. My husband was allowed to stay with me while I was in the waiting room. He was the only family member there.

Being alone in a foreign country when you are sick can be daunting, especially when you have to undergo a serious medical procedure. I’m fortunate enough to have a caring husband who never left my side, but if you have to face the surgery alone, you don’t have to worry. Korea offers excellent medical care despite some peculiarities in its hospital culture. You’ll be in good hands. You’re going to be all right. I will never forget the kindness shown to me by the nurses and how well they took care of me even when I had my caregiver. After the surgery, I woke up in the recovery room and I felt a gentle hand wiping the tears from my face. I thought it was my husband, but I realized later on that it was a nurse. I was crying not because of pain, but because I lost something important to me, a part of who I am as a woman. That nurse stayed by my side to try to comfort me until I was brought back to my room.

Ang Traje de Boda sa Ukay-ukay PART 5

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VAMP

(Photo from Canyouactually.com)

PART 5: Ang Bangkay

Hindi ako makapaniwala sa aking nabasa. “Paano nangyari iyon?” Muli kong tinignan ang newspaper clipping na naglalaman ng mga pangalan at larawan ng apat na kasamang nasawi ni Celeste sa malagim na aksidente dalawang taon na ang nakakaraan. Hindi maipagkakailang sila nga iyon, ang apat kong matalik na kaibigan… sina Leon, Leina, Gene at Celine! Tandang-tanda ko kung kailan kinuha ang mga larawan nila na nasa newspaper clipping. Tinutukso pa namin si Leon ng araw na iyon dahil nagpakulot siya ng buhok bago ang pictorial para sa yearbook at sabog na sabog ang buhok niya.

“Oh my, what did you do to your hair, Leon?” Tanong ko sa kanya habang pinagtatawanan siya ng tatlo.

“Pina-style ko buhok ko,” hiyang-hiya niyang tugon, “Sabi ko sa parlor gusto ko tulad nung kay Lee Min Ho. Tapos ito ginawa nila!”

“Lee Min Ho naman ah,” halos hindi makapagsalita sa kakapigil sa kanyang tawa si Celine, “Lee Min Oh-no!”

“Naku nagsalita ang babaeng naligo sa makeup!”

“Excuse me, Leon, you don’t know anything about makeup!”

“Huwag kayong maingay. Baka marinig kayo ng mga students.” Sinuway sila ni Gene.

“Halika nga dito ayusin ko buhok mo.” Sinubukan kong ayusin ang buhok ni Leon, pero mukhang hopeless case ito. Habang pilit kong inaayos ang pagkabuhaghag ng kulot niya, si Leina naman ang pinagdiskitahan nina Celine at Gene.

“Leina, natural smile lang kasi. Yung ngiti mo pilit na pilit.” Tukso ni Celine.

“Kuya, isa pang take, please.” Pakiusap ni Leina sa photographer.

“Ma’am, pang-walong take na po iyan.”

“Wala bang unlimited, kuya?”

“Ginawa mo namang samgyupsal ang pictorial,” wika ni Gene, “Okay na yan. Pare-pareho lang naman ang mga kuha mo.”

“Ay, gusto ko natural look.”

“Wag mo kasing ipilit ang ngiti mo!”

“Last take na ‘to, promise.”

“O sige po, ma’am. One, two, three… smile!”

“Patingin, kuya… ayan, okay na okay! Natural na natural! Ganda ng kuha! Your turn, guys.”

“Finally!”

Pagkatapos naming isa-isang magpakuha ng picture, nagpa-group shot pa kami. Lahat kami may kopya ng larawang iyon. Nilabas ko ang aking pitaka. Alam ko nandoon ang kopya ko ng group shot namin. Nang pagmasdan ko ito, hindi ko napigilan ang pagpatak ng aking luha. Paano humantong sa ganito? Talaga bang patay na ang mga kaibigan ko? Ang saya-saya namin noong mga nakaraang araw. Ang saya-saya namin sa picture na ito. Dahan-dahan akong naglakad palabas ng kumbento, sinasariwa ang ala-ala ng larawang iyon.

“Napaka-formal naman natin,” sabi ni Leina, “Dapat may wacky picture din!”

“Oo nga!” Sumang-ayon kami sa suggestion ni Leina, maliban kay Gene.

“May mga students, nakakahiya.”

“Paalisin muna natin. Hindi pa naman nila turn.”

“Baka magalit ang adviser nila. Masungit yun eh.”

“Ako bahala.” It was Leon to the rescue.

Hindi ko namalayan na nasa labas na pala ako ng gate ng kumbento. Doon naghihintay sa akin si Leon. Agad niya akong sinalubong ng makita niya ako.

“Napano ka? Umiyak ka ba?”

Hindi ako makasagot.

“Anong nangyari sa loob? Bakit namumugto ang mga mata mo?”

Paano ba makipag-usap sa patay na nasa iyong harapan kung ito’y isang kaibigan o mahal sa buhay? Si Leon ay may pagkasumpungin at numero unong reklamador, but he has never complained every time I asked him for help. Nasaan ako noong siya naman ang nangailangan ng tulong? Niyakap ko siya ng mahigpit.

“Pangalawa na yan ha, Crystal! Sabi ko na nga ba may pagnanasa ka sa akin.” Biro ni Leon.

Bahagya akong ngumiti at nagwika ng malumanay, “You don’t have to pretend anymore. You don’t have to hide the truth from me, Leon.”

“Anong drama yan ha?”

Pinakita ko sa kanya ang newspaper clipping na naglalaman ng mga pangalan at litrato nilang apat.

Matagal bago siya nakapagsalita. “So now you know… do you remember everything?”

“Wala akong maalala. Ano ba ang dapat kong maalala? Tell me now, Leon. Naguguluhan ako!”

Biglang dumating sina Leina, Gene at Celine.

“Grabe ang traffic!” Reklamo ni Gene.

“What did we miss?” Tanong ni Celine.

“Crystal, what’s wrong?” Usisa ni Leina.

“Alam na niya.” Inabot ni Leon and newspaper clipping kay Leina. Tinignan nilang tatlo ito.

“Crystal, saan mo nakuha ito?”

“Binigay sa akin ni Mang Kaloy.” Napansin kong nagtakip ng mukha si Leina. “Leina, bakit mo tinatakpan ang mukha mo?”

“Ayokong makita mo ako.”

“Bakit?”

“Baka matakot ka sa akin.”

“It’s all right, Leina. She doesn’t remember that face. Sa kanyang paningin, hindi pa tayo patay.”

“Anong ibig mong sabihin, Leon?”

“Ang sabi nila, kapag nagpakita sa iyo ang mahal mo sa buhay na pumanaw na, ang anyong makikita mo ay kung paano mo siya huling nasilayan. Nakita mo si Leina bago siya bawian ng buhay, bago ka mawalan ng malay.”

“Hindi ko maintindihan! Please tell me everything I need to know. Bakit kayong apat ang… sandali, ang sabi ng madreng nakausap ko, may isang nakaligtas sa aksidente. Ako ba iyon?”

“Ikaw nga, Crystal. You survived the accident.”

“Bakit ako lang? Bakit ako nabuhay at kayong apat, kasama si Celeste, namatay?”

“Please don’t be too hard on yourself. Nakaligtas ka nga, pero hindi naging madali ang lahat para sa iyo.”

“You were in a coma for a year. Akala ng lahat hindi ka na gigising pa… but you did.”

“We’re glad you did.”

“Nang magising ka, wala kang maalala from the time of the accident. Sabi ng doctor temporary amnesia.”

“Nandoon kami araw-araw binabantayan ka hanggang sa magkamalay ka. When you opened your eyes, nagulat na lang kami. Bigla mo kaming kinausap. We realized you could see us and you didn’t know that you were talking to ghosts.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Sa palagay mo ba, ganoon kadaling sabihin sa isang tao na patay ang kausap niya?”

“Sasabihin na sana namin sayo, but the situation got more complicated. Kapag may napapanaginipan ka tungkol sa mga nangyari, you were hysterical. Sinasaktan mo ang sarili mo.” Tinuro ni Gene sa akin ang mga hiwa sa aking pulso.

“Your mom thought it would be better for you not to have any memory of the accident. Nilipat ka niya sa isang malayong lugar kung saan walang makakapagpa-alala sa iyo sa aksidenteng nangyari. We knew your memory would come back, so we decided to wait for that day and stay with you.”

“Don’t you have somewhere else to go?”

“Hindi pa kami sinusundo eh. Sabi nila, may unfinished business pa daw kami na dapat ayusin. It didn’t take us long to realize na ikaw ang unfinished business namin, Crystal… kaya hindi ka namin maiwan.”

“I’ll be fine. If you must leave, kahit masakit sa akin…”

“Like I said, hindi pa kami sinusundo. Darating din ang araw na iyon, Crystal. For now, we should protect you.”

“Protect me? From Celeste? Did you know about her?”

“Naramdaman namin ang kanyang pwersa, ang pagnanais niyang makapaghiganti… pero hindi namin inakala na ganito siya kalakas.”

“Ang totoo, hindi namin alam ang tungkol sa wedding gown. We just knew she was out to get you. Sa ospital pa lang, naramdaman na namin siya, kaya hindi ka namin iniwan. Sabi ng doctor post-traumatic stress ang dahilan ng paglaslas mo, pero alam namin na siya ang umuudyok sa iyo na gawin iyon.”

“Akala namin noong nangibang-bayan kayo, tinantanan ka na niya dahil mas naging tahimik ang buhay mo. Naisip namin na baka sinundo na siya at nanahimik na. Nagkamali kami. Noong bumalik kayo dito sa San Carmela, may naramdaman kaming panganib, pero hindi namin inakalang manggagaling iyon sa wedding gown na nakuha mo sa ukay-ukay. Nakaya niyang ikubli ang kanyang pwersa. Hindi namin siya naramdaman kaagad.”

“Kung alam ko lang na ang wedding gown ay pag-aari ni Celeste, hindi kita hinayaang bilhin mo iyon. Bakit kasi nagyaya pa ako sa ukay-ukay?”

“Leina, huwag mong sisihin ang sarili mo. Ako ang may kasalanan. May naramdaman akong kakaiba sa wedding gown na iyon, pero hindi ko binigyan ng pansin.”

“Leon, Leina, walang may kasalanan sa inyo. Ako, ako lang ang dapat sisihin dahil ako ang nagmamaneho ng sinasakyan natin noong maaksidente tayo, hindi ba? Ako ang kumitil sa buhay ninyong lahat. Ako ang dapat na namatay, hindi kayo! Ako lang dapat!” Napahagulgol ako. Ang pagpatak ng aking luha at ang labis na pagsisisi parang walang katapusan. Niyakap ako ng aking mga kaibigan. Salamat at hindi nila ako iniwan… kahit kaming lima ay magkaibang mundo na ngayon.

Tumunog ang aking cell phone. Hindi ko sana ito papansinin pero walang hinto sa pag-ring ito.

“Hello, mommy? No, she’s not with me. Hindi po ba nag-sleep over siya sa kaibigan niya kagabi? Baka na-traffic lang or baka dumiretso na sa cemetery. Don’t worry about lola. I can take care of her. I’ll visit daddy first, then I’ll come home so you can visit him, too. Yes, mommy, I’m okay. Sinisipon lang po ako. I’ll be there soon. Bye.”

“Bibisitahin mo ba ang daddy mo?”

“Oo, pagkatapos uuwi na ako. Teka, nasaan si Leon?”

“He had to go. May nagtirik ng kandila para sa kanya.”

“Ha?”

“Ang undas ang tanging araw na nakakasama ng mga pumanaw ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay. Kapag nagsindi ka ng kandila para sa isang patay, bibisitahin ka ng kanyang espirito. Parang magnet ang kandila sa mga espirito kapag undas. Kahit nasaan ang espirito ng patay, kapag nagsindi ka ng kandila para sa kanya, darating at darating siya.”

“Kaya ba kanina wala kayong tatlo?”

“Oo, halos sabay-sabay na may nagsindi ng kandila para sa amin.”

“You mean, nagpakita kayo sa family ninyo? Hindi ba sila natakot?”

“Hindi ganon! Nasa tabi-tabi lang kami pero hindi nila kami nakikita.”

“Bakit ako nakikita ko kayo kahit hindi ako nagsisindi ng kandila?”

“You have gone though a traumatic experience. Minsan ang mga taong may mabigat na pinagdaanan nakakaramdam o nakakakita ng mga espirito.”

“Bakit hindi ako nakakakita ng ibang espirito?”

“Akala mo lang hindi, pero minsan nakikita mo sila.”

“Does that mean I can see my dad?”

“Yes, but only if he wants to be seen. Just like the living, God has given the dead free will, too. We can choose to be seen, be heard or be felt… or be in peace.”

“Ang dami kong gustong malaman at itanong sa inyo…”

“Hinay-hinay lang, Crystal. We’ll tell you everything you need to know when the time is right.”

Sa sementeryo, ilang kandila na ang sinindihan ko sa puntod ni daddy, pero hindi ko pa rin siya nakita or naramdaman man lang. Miss na miss ko na siya. Kung sina Leina, Leon, Gene at Celine ay nakikita ko, bakit si daddy hindi?

“Baka masunog ang puntod ng daddy mo sa dami ng kandilang tinirik mo diyan, Crystal. Tama na yan.” Sambit ni Gene.

“Kami nga hindi namin siya maramdaman o makita…” Dagdag naman ni Celine.

Sabay-sabay na namatay ang mga kadilang sinindihan ko maliban sa isa.

“Crystal,” wika ni Celine, “Nandito ang daddy mo.”

“Ha? Nasaan? Nasaan siya?”

“Sa harap mo, pinagmamasdan ka.”

“Daddy? Daddy, bakit hindi kita makita? I want to see you.”

“Huwag ka daw umiyak,” sabi ni Leina.

“Bakit hindi siya nagpapakita sa akin?”

“Hindi namin alam.”

“Daddy, miss na miss na kita. Mika and mom miss you, too.”

Muling sumindi ang mga kandila.

“He’s not here anymore, Crystal.”

“Bakit umalis siya agad?”

“Napaka-elusive naman ng daddy mo. Ganun ba siya noong buhay pa siya?”

“He, tumigil ka nga, Leina! Nakita mo na ngang umiiyak na yang si Crystal.”

“Ay, sorry! Crystal, sabi ng daddy mo huwag ka daw umiyak. Tigas talaga ng ulo mo! Kaya siguro ayaw niyang magpakita sa ‘yo.”

“Leina!”

“Pinapatawa ko lang si Crystal noh!”

“At least he came. I can’t wait to tell Mika and mom.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell them.”

“Tama si Gene. Baka ibalik ka ng mommy mo sa ospital.”

Habang nag-uusap kami, may isang lalaking naka-sumbrero and dumaan sa aming harapan.

“Naku, hindi man lang nag-‘excuse me’!” Nagsalita ako ng malakas para marinig ng lalaki. Gulat na gulat siya at pagkatapos ay nawala siyang parang bula.

“What on earth?” Buong pagtataka kong sambit.

Natawa ang tatlo. Si Gene ang nagpaliwanag, “Hindi ba sabi ko sa iyo kanina, nakakakita ka din ng ibang espirito?”

“You mean, multo din iyon?”

“Oo, pero akala niya hindi mo siya nakikita.”

“Meron pa bang iba dito ngayon?”

“Siyempre! Sementeryo kaya ito!”

“Please, huwag niyo akong ipakilala sa kanila!”

“Don’t worry, Crystal, kaming mga multo walang pakialaman. Parang magkakapit-bahay lang sa subdivision.”

“Pero may tsismisan din parang sa baryo.”

Nagtawanan kaming apat na para bang walang iniindang problema.

Pagdating sa bahay, sinalubong ako ni mommy kasama si lola na hila-hila niya sa kanyang wheelchair.

“Kanina ka pa tinatanong ng lola mo.”

“Sorry, mommy. Sobrang traffic. Alam niyo naman kapag undas. Lola, mano po.”

“Crystal?” Kinulong ni lola sa kanyang mga palad ang aking mukha. Malabo na ang kanyang paningin at dahil sa Alzheimer’s, maraming bagay siyang hindi maalala, pero kahit kailan ay hindi niya ako nakalimutan.

“Si Crystal nga po ito, lola.” Niyakap ko si lola. Ramdam ko ang pagkasabik niya na mahagkan ako.

“Hinilamusan at pinakain ko na ang lola mo. Ayaw niyang mag-isa sa kwarto, kaya samahan mo muna siya doon. Kapag humingi siya ng pagkain, initin mo na lang ang sabaw na niluto ko para sa kanya. If something comes up, call me right away.”

“Yes, mom.”

“Hindi ba kayo nagkita ng kapatid mo sa sementeryo?”

“Wala po siya doon. Have you tried calling her?”

“Napudpod na ang daliri ko sa kaka-redial, hindi siya sumasagot. Nasaan na kaya ang batang iyon? I’m starting to worry.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s with her friends. Alam niyo naman iyon kapag kasama niya ang barkada niya. Tsaka maaga pa naman po.”

“O siya, I’m leaving. Take good care of your lola.”

“I will, mom.”

Pag-alis ni mommy, dinala ko si lola sa kwarto at binuksan ang TV. Paborito ni lola ang mga noontime shows. Kahit hindi niya gaanong nakikita ang mga palabas sa TV ay masaya siyang nakikinig sa mga ito.

“Lola, gusto mo ba ng juice? Titimpla kita ng paborito mong calamansi juice.”

“Calamansi juice? Gusto ko iyon.”

“Sandali lang po, ha?”

“Crystal, alukin mo din ang mga bisita mo. Huwag kang bastos!”

“Ho?”

“Ang sabi ko, ipagtimpla mo din ng juice ang mga bisita mo.”

“Nakikita po ba ninyo sila?”

“Aba’y oo! Anong tingin mo sa akin, bulag?”

“Pagpasensyahan niyo na itong apo ko. Ini-spoil kasi ito ng mommy niya.”

“Crystal, lahi ata kayo ng mga psychic.” Bulong ni Leina.

“Ano kamo?” Tila narinig ni lola si Leina.

“Ano, sasagot ba ako?” Bumulong ulit si Leina.

“Try mo.” Udyok ni Gene sa kanya.

“Ang sabi ko po ayos lang kahit tubig.”

“Iha, bakit kaba sumisigaw? Hindi ako bingi.”

Nagulat kaming lahat. Mahina na din ang pandinig ni lola pero dinig na dinig niya ang mga sinasabi ng mga kaibigan kong multo.

“Pasensya na po. Malaki lang po talaga ang boses ko.”

“Ganun ba? Sige, maupo kayo.”

Iniwan ko si lola sa kwarto kasama sina Leina, Gene at Celine. Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala na nakikita at naririnig ni lola ang mga kaibigan ko. Habang nagtitimpla ako ng juice, biglang dumating si Leon. Halos atakihin ako sa puso ng lumitaw siya sa aking harapan.

“Pwede ba huwag mo akong gulatin ng ganon?”

“May multo bang nag-do-doorbell bago magpakita?”

“Nag-sho-shopping nga kayo at gumigimik kasama ko, hindi ba? Mag-doorbell lang hindi mo pa magawa?”

“Okay, next time, mag-do-door bell na ako.”

“Nasaan ang tatlo?”

“Nasa kwarto ni mommy, kakwentuhan si lola.”

“Ano?”

“It turns out, lola can see ghosts.”

“Talaga?”

“Sino pa bang nakakakita sa inyo?”

“Alam namin ikaw lang… at ngayon, pati ang lola mo.”

“Kaya pala sa meeting, sa akin niyo sinasabi ang mga suggestions ninyo, at kapag lumalabas tayo, ako ang laging nag-oorder at kumukuha ng bill. Kaya pala ang weird ng tingin sa akin ng mga tao kapag nag-oorder ako ng maraming pagkain at kapag kausap ko kayo. Akala siguro nila baliw ako.”

“Hindi naman parati. Kaya nga madalas pinupuntahan natin yung mga lugar na walang masyadong customers, diba?”

“How were you able to keep it a secret from me for so long?”

“Believe me, it wasn’t that easy. Ilang beses na kaming muntik mabuking.”

“Leon, how did the accident happen? Was it my fault?”

“Not entirely. Kami ang nagyaya sa iyo na mag-road trip noong araw na iyon. You’ve passed your driving test after two attempts, and your mom bought you a new car. Naisip namin, why not celebrate? Kasalanan natin lahat. Naging iresponsable tayo. Noong mangyari ang aksidente, medyo nakainom tayo.”

“Medyo?”

“We were not wasted, if that’s what you’re thinking. Walang may gusto sa nangyari. Aksidente iyon.”

“But it could’ve been prevented… As the driver, I should’ve been more responsible.”

Bumaba si Leina sa kusina. “Crystal, ang tagal mo naman. Nakatulog na ang lola mo sa kakahintay sa juice niya.”

“Oo nga pala, ang juice ni lola. Bigla kasing dumating itong si Leon.”

“Nilipat na namin sa kama ang lola mo. She’s sound asleep. Akin na lang yang juice.”

“Pwede bang uminom ang multo?”

“Of course! Pwede din kaming kumain, kaya kung may meryenda diyan, maghanda ka naman.”

“Biscuit at kape, gusto mo?”

“Tapos na lamay namin noh?”

Akala ko magbabago ang lahat sa aming apat na magkakaibigan mula ng malaman ko ang totoo, pero nandoon parin ang tuksuhan at tawanan. Kung mayroon mang nagbago, iyon ay ang kirot sa aking puso na hindi mawala sa tuwing naiisip ko na balang araw, lilisanin nina Leon, Leina, Gene at Celine ang mundong ito kapag sila ay sinundo na, habang ako ay patuloy na makikipagsapalaran sa buhay na hindi ko sila kasama.

Pagkatapos ng ilang oras ay tumawag ulit si mommy para kumustahin si lola at alamin kung umuwi na si Mika. Mag-tatakipsilim na ay wala pa din siya. Hindi siya sumasagot sa mga tawag namin. Labis na kaming nag-aalala kaya minabuti ni mommy na pumunta sa pulis station upang humingi ng tulong. Naiwan ako sa bahay para bantayan si lola. Hindi ako mapakali. Kailangang may gawin ako para makatulong sa paghahanap kay Mika. Tinawagan ko ang ilan sa mga kaibigan niya na kakilala ko, pero wala ni isa sa kanila ang makapagsabi kung nasaan ang aking kapatid. Sina Leon at Gene ay tumulong sa paghahanap habang sina Leina at Celine naman ay naiwan sa bahay upang samahan ako. Matapos ang ilang oras ay nakatanggap ako ng text mula kay Mika.

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Paulit-ulit kong tinawagan si Mika, pero puro ring lang ang naririnig ko. Noong sumagot siya, wala akong marinig sa mga sinasabi niya. Parang may ibang boses sa linya. Hindi boses ng aking kapatid.

“Mika, hello? Hello! Hindi kita marinig! Mika!”

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“Gene, please call the police.”

“Crystal, hindi ko sila makakausap.”

“Oo nga pala.” Nakalimutan ko na ako lang (at ang aking lola) ang nakakakita at nakakarinig sa mga kaibigan ko.

I contacted the police and called my mom; then messaged my sister. Sa pagkataranta ay hindi ko napansin na wala si Leina. Pagkatapos ay naglahong parang bula si Celine. Marahil ay may nagtirik ng kandila para sa kanila. Naiwan akong mag-isa.

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Matagal akong naghintay na muling i-text ni Mika. Sinubukan kong tawagan siya muli, pero tinigilan ko matapos kong maisip na baka mawalan ng battery ang cell phone niya sa kakatawag ko at hindi ko na siya tuluyang makausap. Dasal ako ng dasal na sana ay walang masamang mangyari sa aking kapatid, na sana ay nakahanap siya ng paraan para makalabas sa basement na iyon. After what seemed like forever, sumagot din siya.

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(Photo from flickrhivemind.net)