Yesterday's Magazette

14 – Sing A Last Carol For Me

Sing A Last Carol For Me

Story and Art by Richard Ong

It was a dark December morning when I woke to the sound of bells from the Church of the Fatima in Manila, signaling the beginning of the Christmas season. Though only eleven years old at the time, I opened my eyes with an indescribable sense of foreboding that a change was about to happen that would deeply affect my life that day. I rolled across my bed and reached for the drawer at my night table. I found the small flashlight and illuminated the wind-up alarm clock beside me. It was only a few minutes after four but sleep had already left me.

YM:Carol:Ong2

I spent the next hour watching the sun rise through the window. I never tired of watching the dark blue sky slowly brighten over the horizon. I squinted against the first rays of the rising sun and turned my head toward the direction of her house. It was Sunday and I did my homework the night before. She would be waiting for me to call on her to play.

Hours later, I stood on our enclosed narrow driveway and looked up across the tall dividing wall between our homes. I stood on tiptoes, cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted her name.

“Daisy! Daisy, come on down and play!”

A few seconds passed before I saw a pair of hands open the latch of a second-storey window from our neighbor’s house. Daisy looked down toward our driveway and gave me a grin. She was just finishing up doing the braids on her long hair. She held up one hand and pointed the other toward our gate. I nodded and waited for five minutes before letting her in.

“How are you today?” she asked, carrying a large box on her skinny arms.

“Fine. What’s that you’re carrying? Are we going to play with that today?”

“Not this time, Richard. Do you want to do something different? It’s for the Christmas carol tonight. You’re going to join us outside, are you? You didn’t forget?”

“Heck no! Of course I didn’t forget. We’ve also been practicing with some Christmas songs almost every day in school. So I’m good as ready for tonight. But I still don’t know what you’ve got there in that box.”

Daisy dropped the large box on the tiled floor of our terrace and opened it. She reached inside and pulled out large rolls of colored tissue paper and a bamboo skeleton in the shape of a star. I scratched my head when she threw a bottle of white glue in my direction.

“We’re going to make a parol for Christmas!” She grinned.

“A what?”

“We’re going to finish this Christmas star lantern, silly,” she said.

“I know what you meant! But can’t your parents do this or get someone else to do it for you?” This sounded a lot like work to me and it was definitely not my idea of fun on a Sunday morning.

“My parents are busy organizing and cooking for tonight’s festivities. It’s going to be a very special one tonight. I thought that we might spend some time together alone talking and building our parol.” She sounded downcast and avoided my eyes.

My heart skipped a beat with that same feeling I had earlier in the morning. It was not so much as what she said, but what she didn’t say that triggered it.

“Your parents accepted the job outside the city?”

She nodded.

“And you’re leaving soon?” I swallowed the lump in my throat.

She looked up and I barely heard her say the word, “Yes.”

“When?”

She closed her eyes and a teardrop fell on her cheek.

It was then that I knew why I suddenly woke up with an uneasy sense of foreboding earlier that morning. The church bells were not responsible for chasing away my sleep. It was the feeling of an impending loss when a part of you was about to be cut out of your life forever. The worst part of being a child was that there’s not a whole lot you could do to change the way things revolve around you.

We spent the rest of the day working on our star lantern. I squeezed glue out of the plastic bottle and spread it across the bamboo ribbing. Daisy measured, drew and cut out pieces of colored tissue and both of us struggled to cover the exposed areas of the star lantern. We had occasional laughs rehashing some old jokes about her brother and my cousin. We took a short break by mid-afternoon and enjoyed tall glasses of coconut juice prepared by our devoted housekeeper, Tita. Although we talked about a lot of things, none of us mentioned again the subject of her leaving the day after. It was all I could do to keep from crying.

Later that evening, I could no longer contain my grief. I sat on the floor of the bedroom and buried my face on my knees curled up to my chest. The sound of Christmas carols mingled with the cool breeze of the night and poured through the open window. I tried to isolate the one single voice among the crowd of children and adults singing just outside of our house. The caroling began at Daisy’s place and would continue from one block to another until the entire neighborhood had participated in its share of the festivities. I heard the drums of “The Little Drummer Boy” and the makeshift percussions of “Jingle Bells.”

Gray-haired Tita came into the room and saw me sitting in the corner. She understood what I was going through for she was the only person I had told of Daisy’s leaving the city.

“There, there, now. There is no need for that. Your friend is singing a carol for you tonight. Aren’t you going to join her?”

I wiped tears from my eyes and said, “What does it matter? She’ll be gone by tomorrow morning. I shall never see her again, ever.”

“You don’t know that for sure, Richard. Besides, both of you are still young and you have all the time in the world to find each other again. Who knows, maybe next year, their family might decide to move back. I hear they’re renting the house instead of selling it.”

“You really think so?” I didn’t dare place any hope on something that might deeply disappoint me again. “You really think she might come back?”

“Well I can’t be sure of that,” she said scratching her gray hair. “But if you have lived as long as I have in this world, you’ll come to realize that anything is possible as long as you’re willing to believe.”

She pulled me up to my feet and grabbed a comb to groom my hair.

“Now then, young man. Tuck your shirt and chin up. Don’t you think you’ve kept her waiting long enough?”

I tried to put on a brave smile and hugged her. She had always been my favorite nanny when I was younger.

I ran downstairs and out of the house to catch up with the carolers. I wiped the sweat off my brow and mingled my way through the crowd of brightly dressed singers. I was beginning to think that I had missed her when I suddenly remembered what she said that afternoon at the terrace.

“If you can’t find me, look for our star and I will be there waiting.”

I looked up at all the various multi-colored star lanterns held high on a stick and found our own. I made my way toward it and greeted her father holding up the star.

“Oh, you made it, iho.” He smiled. “See, Daisy, I told you he will come.”

I slowly walked beside her while I joined the singing of “Silent Night.” Daisy leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder while we sang our last carol together with all our hearts.

Vol. 38 No.4 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2011-12

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