Assumed stories

Over the weekend my dad and I returned to the cemetery, to light a few candles for my late grandmother, and to give our new pet dog - a month-old Lab, whose entry I didn't know until it actually happened - a chance to walk in some actual grass. The trip was a bit hastily-assembled, because when we got there we realized we forgot to bring seats and refreshments for the three of us. We ended up winging it for two hours: no water, lots of wind.

And since there's no use for sitting around - oh, and there's the dog, who my mom named after Rafael Nadal - I had to walk around the cemetery. Well, memorial park, to be more specific, and to make your mental imagery less creepy. You don't get monuments squeezed in as little space as humanly possible; you get grass interrupted by tombstones. Or tomb tablets, whatever. And when you get tired of walking around just to get your pet dog to follow you, you read all that's written in those tablets.

The clan had this little conversation a week after my grandmother died, about what we would put on the tombstone. We ended up with a Bible verse (that refers to a "him", but I'm sure it can be interpreted, if not rewritten, otherwise - I'm no fundamentalist) but the running joke was this plan to have one of my grandmother's more memorable statements written down there. It was said, apparently, during a visit to my grandfather's hometown in Ilocos, when she was looking at the flowers there, and noticed that they look more vibrant than the ones here.

"Tanginang bougainvillea 'to, ang ganda!" she exclaimed.

Of course, that will not look good in a tombstone, so we ended up with something much more muted.

There's a thrill, for lack of a better word, in reading all those tombstones, figuring out when they were born and when they died. My grandmother's eternal neighbors are mostly old people - some were born in the 19th century, even - but their death dates are wildly disparate. The earliest deaths I've seen were in the 1960s. The nearest occupied plot was, well, occupied for two decades now. Further afield, we have people who died in the past few years - a fact you can easily tell by how their tombstones were embossed rather than made by hand.

Some of the plots were occupied by married couples, and one of them almost always leaves this earth a good two decades before the other. Well, except for this one couple where the husband died in February, and the wife followed four months later. A classic case of heartbreak, perhaps.

Nearby, there's one plot that's occupied by brothers, or so I assume. The older one was born around the time I was born, and died when he was two years old. Nine months later, the younger brother came. He died when he was six.

Closer to the exit there's a row of five tombstones, all belonging to the same (Chinese, presumably rich) family. They're one of the older ones - they were all buried in the 1960s. They all died on the same day. 2 August 1962, if I remember correctly. Five siblings, I assume, the eldest being born in 1947, the youngest being born in 1953. At least their bodies were still recovered. Perhaps a tragic car accident.

Rafa went to sleep, and I decided to sit on the pavement. My dad was trying to keep the candles by my grandmother's grave lit when a man, probably in his 50s, walked by and looked at her grave. Dad engaged in small talk, and I tried to eavesdrop. The guy was visiting his wife, who worked in a factory, although not as a factory worker. She was in a management role, but she was exposed nonetheless to the bad side of the factory, and died a few months back of a lung tumor.

And then the conversation shifted to how close we live to Metro Manila, despite the fact that we technically live in Cavite.

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