November 1, I took the JAM bus to Batangas and caught the 12:30 Supercat. Neither bus nor boat was as crowded as I had expected. Many of those who traveled home for All Saints Day and All Souls Day must have done it the day before. Most others, I was told, decided against going home since the Undas holidays are limited to the weekend.
Inay was awake when I got home, and her right hand grip was still firm as I kissed her face. My sister Yen said that Inay’s condition is relatively stable, though her blood sugar count still spikes up and down, and her speech is slurred.
Just before sundown, we asked leave of Inay to visit the cemetery where my father is buried. Vivencio “Viving” dela Torre died when I was only 4 years old, and I had only two memories of him alive. One was of him combing my hair. The other was of him lying in his sick bed, while I played with rubber bands beside him. The third memory of my father was after his death. At his funeral, I was passed from one side of his coffin over to the other side, a common practice then, but not anymore.
It rained while we were at the cemetery and we were grateful for the covered tomb of Tiya Nena, the departed wife of Tiyo Delfin, my mother’s younger brother. My father’s tomb is a simple one, with a fresh coat of white paint for Undas, but exposed to the rain. Later, we were told that some people were asking if my sister Yen was still working abroad. Yen smiled, “They must be wondering why our father’s tomb is so simple.”
When the rain stopped, we lit new candles on my father’s tomb. Yen asked me to check his tombstone: “What date was his birthdate?”
I traced the incised number with my finger and brought the candle closer. “It’s September 19,” I told her.
Her face lit up: “That’s the same birthdate of your twin grandchildren!” My daughter-in-law, Minette gave birth to twin boys last September 19; Yeyi, my son, named them Edric and Johann.
On our way home, I thought back to one particular November 1 evening in prison. We political detainees in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan decided to remember and honor our dead friends and comrades. We put up pieces of paper on the walls of a common room, and asked every detaineee to write the names of dead comrades or friends whom they knew personally. I don’t recall the exact number, but the thirty-plus detainees wrote over 200 names.
We spent a few hours in that candle lit room, repeatedly reading the names on the walls, and sharing in quiet conversations our recollection of their lives which they sacrificed in our shared struggle for democracy and justice.
By the way, can anyone tell me the origin of the word Undas?