*this story was published in the Philippines Free Press in 2009 . *Finalist, Philippines Free Press Awards (short story category)
By Jean Claire A. Dy
“You must be wondering where I got this beauty, ha, Faith?” Daddy bellowed, running his hands over the steering wheel. He wore a proud look on his face as if he had just won the lottery. I blinked back at him. “Well, go ahead, ask the question then,” he prodded. He was looking intently at the road but from time to time stole glances at me to catch my reaction. “Uhm…” I began. The reason why my father got this hulk of a vehicle didn’t interest me. I was more curious about the truck itself, its low hum and crunch of tires making it alive. Riding in it, I felt like a dwarf swallowed by a whale. The seat I was on was too spacious and soft for me, I was afraid I would slowly sink into the leather cushions.
Daddy had arrived earlier than expected that afternoon and brought with him the yellow pick-up truck. The first time I saw it, the truck was idling awkwardly, silently fuming like an impatient mother outside the gate of the elementary school. It looked almost foreboding, looming large like an out-of-place giant, its protruding yellow face revealed big round front lights that looked down on me. I walked timidly towards it. When I reached the truck I saw Daddy in the driver’s seat beaming with pride. He was not the least bit aware of my fear of the thing he had brought. “Hop in,” he said. “I’ll tell you the whole story on our way home.”
The truck quietly hummed as it wove through the winding streets to our house. Daddy kept on prodding me so I asked him the question. “Why?” He gave out a big laugh and rubbed his stomach with one of his hands. He began, “Your father got promoted today.” He still wore a wide grin on his face. “Your father is now the manager of the bank. And this thing, this baby you’re riding in, is his gift from the company. What do you think? Not bad?” He was now looking expectantly at me as if waiting for the most important reply I could give. I stared back at him and blinked again. I might have appeared dazed or out of sorts because he turned his gaze back on the road. He probably took my silence as confusion and gave up explaining.
Up ahead the road had started twisting more tortuously. The potholes looked more like craters as I peered through the truck’s windshield. We were almost home. For the last time, Daddy gave me a poke on my arm as though to reassure me that everything would be all right. Then he stared back at the road ahead.
We were never allowed to have pets in the house. My mother threw away the only pet cat I had when my elder sister Mia’s asthma attacks worsened. That pet cat’s name was Eerie and it was coal black and had long graceful feline legs, and every time it would climb up the window grills, Mia would run after it with a broomstick in hand, eyes red and puffy and wheezing endlessly. Eerie was a friendly cat and so it wasn’t surprising that everyone would love her, even Mia who had to promise me “pinky swear” that Eerie would live for another week before telling Mommy that her asthma was getting worst. Because I owed Mia, I let her bring Eerie to school for “show and tell.” When I told her this, she shrieked with eyes wide with excitement. “Everybody’s going to be asking me lots of questions! A black cat under our roof? Coolness!” And went on to write a storybook with matching illustrations based on her imagined tale of how Eerie came to our lives.
The day Mommy left Eerie somewhere in the banana fields near the subdivision where we lived, I had to hug Mia who was to my surprise, bawling like a baby. She kept tugging the helm of my skirt and I had to hold her down so she won’t run after Mommy. “Don’t you see? She’s taking everything from us?” Mia had cried. I wanted to remind her right then and there that she was the reason why Eerie had to leave, she was after all the reason for my loss. But then because she was crying and going a bit mad, I had to keep silent. Mommy had to slap her in the face just to silence her for the rest of the day.
At first I had hated Mia for the loss of my cat Eerie and had made sure she knew how I felt by talking about my beautiful memories of Eerie every night before we go to sleep. Every time I would tell my Eerie stories, she would look at me for brief moment, and then she would carefully change the topic to books and boys—two subjects she never ran out of interest at that time. Eventually, I stopped telling Eerie stories because Mia had drawn my interest to other things like Samurai movies, Rabbit stories, and an obsession with Dorothy’s red shoes.
Mia and I had watched the movie “Big Blue” several times. We both loved the movie so much that we even vowed to visit an ocean park just to be able to touch “Big Blue” someday. At first sight of the yellow pick-up truck, Mia immediately took to calling it our Big Yellow.
That night when we arrived from school, Daddy informed everybody in the family of his promotion. He then told the rest of us that he received the truck as a gift. “It isn’t brand new,” he apologized. “Secondhand lang. Pero okay na” and continued on to telling us the truck’s previous owner had only used it for a year. They had decided to sell it because they somehow never got used to driving or riding the truck. “Cars or trucks are like shoes,” he explained. “A vehicle is like a shoe that has to fit snugly around its owner’s foot. They choose their owners.” We nodded.
Later that night, I snuck out to watch Big Yellow sleep. We didn’t have a garage so Daddy had to park the truck in our backyard under the towering nangka tree. He said, “In the meantime, the leaves and branches of the tree would give it shade,” and assured us that he would buy a plastic cover for the truck by the end of the month. As I slowly inched my way towards Big Yellow, I could almost hear the slow cadence of its breathing. Gently, I touched its body as though I was stroking a baby to sleep. Its bright yellow paint glistened under the moonlight. Its warm metal body felt comforting as though it was meant to be strong for me. And when I pressed my ear to its yellow metal skin, I heard a faint drone like a purring of a cat. I then knew that we were meant for each other.
Daddy would wake Big Yellow every morning by pouring a bottle of water into its mouth. “It’s supposed to clean its system, its insides,” Daddy would explain. Once, he taught me how to pour water into Big Yellow’s mouth, teaching me the importance of gauging how much water was needed. “You have to handle it with care. Make sure that you don’t drown it,” he stressed.
After making Big Yellow drink, Daddy would turn on its ignition and press the accelerator with his foot without shifting the gear from neutral. Big Yellow would start the day by moaning like someone who had just woken up. It would moan for a few seconds. Then suddenly it would unleash an earsplitting growl that would occasionally come out as a shriek. “A Banshee,” Mia would mutter under her breath. She had lost interest in Big Yellow and had decided to completely ignore it, except when Big Yellow would be “shrieking” early in the morning.
Perhaps during those times Mia would be reminded of Mommy’s whining. They have been constantly fighting because my mother didn’t approve of Mia having a boyfriend five years her junior. She figured it was the only reason why Mia’s grades started plunging. They would usually quarrel about those things early in the morning with Mommy screaming at her most of the time. There were even times when both of them would be wailing along with Big Yellow—a Banshee trio.
Mia on the other hand felt Mommy was trying to cage her in because Mommy was jealous of her. “I’m more beautiful than her, can’t you see Faith? She’s old and getting fatter everyday, her lips are sagging and her hair, her hair is as dry as the kiamoy seed you’re sucking right now!” Mia said one day when I begged her to quit fighting with Mommy.
I didn’t exactly understand what Mia meant by jealousy but I knew that Mommy didn’t want Mia to end up like her. My mother married at very young age because she was pregnant with Mia. “And then all my dreams just faded away just like that,” she used to tell us. She loved telling us bedtime stories of her Miss Dumaguete days when she was slim and willowy, and all the handsome rich men in town sought her company. “But I only chose your father because he was intelligent!” she smiled wistfully as she held out her wedding gown with sequined bustier for us to admire.
Big Yellow had grown older since the time it first appeared in our lives. It no longer looked like a lovable pet to me but more like an old dog shedding most of its fur. It had lost its youthful throaty growl. From a baritone its voice became a cross between a tenor and a mezzo-soprano; or more like the laborious rasping of a hag. Adding to its long list of complaints, Big Yellow started to develop a cough. “It’s suffering from a perpetual cold,” Mommy complained, shaking her head. She detested Big Yellow and didn’t even try to hide her feelings. “If I were your Dad, I’d trade it for a more durable car. But he never listens. Your Dad—the big boss. A truck like that really suits his big ego.”
Despite it becoming a drag, Big Yellow was quite useful. Somehow it complemented Daddy’s accommodating nature. Every morning, we would find our neighbors’ children crowding in the back seat of our pick-up truck. Big Yellow became like the neighborhood’s school bus as Daddy would fetch passengers on our way to school.
A constant passenger would be Four-Eyed Danny, the son of Selya, a single mother who lived across our house. He would be the first one to arrive, silently lugging his backpack with him. We were not allowed to speak with him. Mommy disliked Selya because she suspected that Daddy somehow had a big crush on her. I secretly thought Selya was beautiful in a dainty way like those fair-skinned skinny Chinese actresses in Samurai movies who looked like swaying bamboos walking in the grass fields. Daddy would always pass by their house whenever Danny failed to ride with us. So upon Mommy’s advice, Mia and I usually left Four-Eyed Danny alone. Although sometimes Mia liked muttering “four-eyed” under her breath every time Danny would pass by her to sit beside me. I always had to keep myself from giggling too loudly until Danny would turn to me to offer his bag of kiamoy then I would break out in fits of laughter.
Then there would be the plump triplets—May, Maria, Magda who had long curly hair that reached their waistlines, and who all had faded blue backpacks with the Dumaguete City Development Bank logos. Every morning we would stop by the waiting shed to find them sitting there waiting for us. They were strangers to us until Daddy decided to let them ride with us after he noticed them walking to the terminal everyday. Mia loved talking with the triplets because she thought they were “freaky cool! Like three Miss Piggies” and also because they loved listening to her made-up stories of girls stuck in towers and old women living inside music boxes. Although that bit about a girl who was locked inside the cabinet full of spiders was inspired by my own experience when I was seven.
The people who rode with us to school became our friends. Their faces crowded our lives—memories Big Yellow had helped carry with us.
Its paint had peeled in several places making it look like a spotted deer. Daddy then deemed it an endangered species. “They don’t make trucks like this anymore,” Daddy declared one Sunday afternoon. He and I were sitting by the back porch gazing at Big Yellow. It had failed us again. That morning on our way to church, it suddenly rolled to a stop in the middle of the street. I had to get out in my white Sunday dress to help Daddy push it to the roadside. When Daddy checked Big Yellow’s machine, he later found out that it had ran out of water. This often happened to Big Yellow. Its throat would always dry up fast and it would be too thirsty to move. Fortunately that morning, Daddy and I found enough water for Big Yellow to drink. After that, we just decided to forego attending mass.
Big Yellow, eyes drooping, was hunched lazily under the big nangka tree. Its wheels were covered with mud. It looked ugly with its coat of light yellow paint peeling all over. Whatever remaining coat of paint it had had lost its sheen.
Daddy was the only person who unwaveringly cared for Big Yellow. He would still wake up early in the morning to make it drink and warm it up. He would check its tires so these would not go limp and wobbly like old people’s legs. Its appearance disappointed him. He would often apologize to it for failing to get the cover he had planned to buy. He came up with so many excuses. “Oh, I just got lost in the money-making part that I forgot to provide it good shelter. There was always something to do, a worry here and there,” Daddy reasoned once when I asked him about it. I nodded back at him thinking that he had spent most of his working days trying to put food on the table.
Indeed, Daddy must have gotten lost in the “money-making part” for he wasn’t able to anticipate my family eventually becoming too old and cranky like Big Yellow. In the end, Mia left the house at eighteen to live with her boyfriend. Mommy stayed for a while but eventually left saying she needed change in her life. I was the only one who remained behind.
The day Mia left felt like going downhill in our old truck.
One of the best memories I have with our yellow pick-up truck was going uphill in it. Our family used to drive up to the mountains of Palinpinon during weekends. We would take some packed lunch and some umbrellas for the heat, then set to go up the mountains in the truck with its radio blaring James Taylor and Beatles songs that my parents loved. They would sing along with James or John, Mommy’s vibrato blending with Daddy’s flats and sharps, wide grins pasted on their faces. At times they would indulge Mia to sing her favorite number from the Sound of Music. “I am sixteen going on seventeen,” Mia would start with that affected lilt in her voice, and I would stick my head out the truck’s window singing aloud as the wind gave my voice a false vibrato—“better beware, be canny and careful…!”
Going downhill wasn’t a lot of fun compared to going up. Daddy would turn the radio off and everybody would be silent all throughout the journey. It was as if we became more aware that the road had huge potholes. The truck would grind its teeth as it landed in another crater and would yelp like a hurt dog as it bounced on the rough road. My family would look like sardines cramped inside a truck that seemed more like a tin can rattling down a rocky hillside. And it seemed like the truck would fall apart any moment. I never felt safe during those times; not even inside the truck that had become over the years like a part of home.
It was a Sunday. Daddy was cleaning Big Yellow with a water hose while Mommy was cooking dinner the day Mia left. I was in the backyard trying to act as if I was doing a chore moving my broomstick on the ground absentmindedly thinking about how to break the news of Mia’s pregnancy to my parents. It was a rather difficult task—one that entailed having to speak in a calm, low voice and choosing one’s words wisely to avoid any violent reaction. Suddenly, I noticed Mia standing in the verandah carrying a small traveling bag. She wore a stubborn look on her face, her eyes almost manic and her lips were pursed. Then in a voice loud enough to make my parents stop what they were doing, Mia said: “I’m pregnant and I’m leaving.”
Her cryptic words sent Mommy running from the kitchen to the porch in a flash. Daddy took it like a blow to the head. He leaned against Big Yellow. Mommy was shouting hysterically at Mia, asking questions like: “Who’s the father?! What have you done?! What do you think you’re doing, leaving us?! No missy, you’re not leaving until you’ve straightened things out!” I was too stunned to even speak and just stood there watching everything happen.
While my mother continued screaming at Mia, Daddy waited inside Big Yellow, hands on the steering wheel, eyes staring out the windshield. He had started the truck and it was moaning above the din of Mother’s wailing. Mia refused to listen, she kept on going around the house, picking up things and stuffing them inside her bag. It contained all the memories she thought she could live on for the rest of her life. When she was done, head bowed, shoulders trembling, and her hands clutching the bag with a firm grip, she silently got on Big Yellow.
Mia drove away with Daddy without a good-bye. Looking out my window, I followed Big Yellow’s shadow zooming towards the dark highway with my eyes. In the front seat, I could see the outline of Mia’s face. I never saw it again after that night.
Daddy finally decided to give up nursing Big Yellow like he used to the day Mia left. He still warmed it up on mornings but he had ceased taking it to the service station to have the wheels aligned and the machine oiled. He gave up the idea of having it body-painted. Somehow he knew that someday it would just die.
The nangka tree unexpectedly stopped bearing fruit. It stood there unobtrusively in our backyard as though resigned to the obligation of giving Big Yellow shade. Then Mommy grew into the habit of waiting in our verandah at dusk, rocking herself in our old rickety rocking chair, gazing at the road. We didn’t notice her slowly fading away. It was as though she gradually became a fixture of the verandah and melded with the bamboo chairs and low tables often filled with dried leaves. One day, she packed her bags and took off. The verandah was desolate for days. It smelled of loss and grief.
On nights when I would find myself sitting with Mommy in the verandah, I would catch her whispering to the wind. She would call out Mia’s name, perhaps hoping that the wind would carry her voice over mountains and seas to reach Mia. “It’s your father’s fault, you know,” she would whisper, then turn to stare me in the eye. “You must understand this Faith, no mother would ever wish bad things to happen to their daughters. Not their daughters.” She would curse my father for failing to prevent Mia from leaving, for not caring enough. When finally she would wake from her dream state, she would cry for days.
My father never learned how to treat women like they wanted to be treated. My mother was not a physically abused wife nor was Mia and I battered children. On the contrary, my father was gentle and caring in his own way. But there was always a gaping hole between my father and us. The closest thing he would do to reveal his affection for us was to bring us lots of food or to give us money to watch Bruce Lee’s movies. But there was never a hug or a kiss that I could remember.
Once when our principal suspended me for a week because I played hooky to watch Enter the Dragon at Park Theater, Daddy was the only person who knew about it. I didn’t want my mother to find out because she might freak out and might rush to school to give our principal a scolding. So Daddy decided to pretend with me every single day for one week. I would wake up early as usual to dress for school, and would ride with everyone else. But Daddy would wait for me at the school gates so I could climb back inside the front of Big Yellow after waiting for a few minutes for Mia to disappear into the crowd of giggling high school girls. “Ninja! Great job ninja. Nobody saw you. Really,” Daddy would say. Then he would bring me to Dainty Ice Cream Parlor beside Ever Theater for a half-pint of Rocky Road. While Daddy worked, I would spend the entire day sleeping in the bank’s dining room. Then at the end of the day, he would wake me up to fetch Mia from school. “Ninja!” Daddy would wink at me as I enter the truck. Then he would give me a soft quick pat on the shoulder. Those were the only times I knew he loved me.
But how my father loved taking care of Big Yellow. When Mommy would tell him: “I just wish you’d give us the same attention you give that damned truck,” Daddy would just give her a shrug. Or sometimes he would give her a confused look as though he had no clue what she was talking about. Whenever he did this, Mommy would stamp her feet like a child and whine on and on about Daddy’s lack of concern, about the things he failed to provide her. “You don’t even hug me anymore! Or take me out to dinner and movies liked you used to,” Mommy would scream at him.
Months after my mother left us, Big Yellow finally decided to die. There was no warning sign foretelling its demise, nor was there any good-bye. One perfectly normal morning, it didn’t start. It refused to, despite Daddy’s loud curses and persistent banging on its sides. There was no grunt or growl, much less a shriek. It lay there silently under the nangka tree. Its eyes finally closed.
After Big Yellow’s death, Daddy mourned for days. He would lock himself in his room, only going out to eat with me during meal times. Our house became very large for me as I began to spend hours roaming around it in a daze. Most of the time I felt like it would suddenly swallow me whole any minute. I would sit in the middle of our sala staring at the empty spaces gaping at me and wonder how I would begin to fill them.
Despite my father’s condition and the loneliness I felt, I still continued doing my chores. On mornings, I would still let Big Yellow drink. Then I would often spend an hour in the driver’s seat dreaming. I never got to drive Big Yellow, but if I had, I would take it to places where there are no blank spaces to fill.
One day Daddy woke up unusually early. I caught him sitting in the verandah, dressed and staring intently at Big Yellow. He wore a solemn face as though he had finally made a big decision that required careful thinking. But he looked determined just by the way his hands would curl into a ball. When he saw me, he told me to get dressed. “Faith, we’re going on our last trip.” He then asked me to call the tow truck service. I did what I had to do without questions.
Daddy and I pushed Big Yellow to the front of our house and waited for the tow truck to come. We sat on our front porch and spent time just staring at Big Yellow. We didn’t talk. When the tow truck finally arrived, we silently helped attach the cables to Big Yellow, careful not to scratch more of its paint. Despite it being dead, I somehow felt it should be handled with care. After everything was ready, Daddy told the driver of the tow truck that we wanted to come along. But there wasn’t enough space for both of us inside the tow truck so Daddy decided that we sit in Big Yellow’s front seat while the tow truck hauled us to the junkyard.
Inside Big Yellow, I had to sit on the edge of the seat to avoid the springs jutting out of its cushions. The spaces inside didn’t look as wide as the first time I rode in it. Big Yellow’s insides felt cramp and smelled of grease. Its old metal body kept making clanking sounds on the way as it would lurch on occasional potholes. Out the window I could see the tow truck laboriously hauling Big Yellow, like it was dragging a heavy carcass.
We left Big Yellow in the junkyard surrounded by all types of cars and trucks. I wondered whether one of them might have been a school bus or a pet at one point. I would never know. In the yard, Big Yellow appeared ordinary like the other vehicles with no hint of it having been special to someone before.
As we were walking away from the junkyard, I happened to look back to catch a glimpse of Big Yellow. I didn’t have to strain my eyes to search for it. The noonday sun shone on a tiny patch of yellow amidst the faintly colored heads of trucks and cars. It was almost blinding like the rays of the sun. But I stared at it for as long as I could, and did not mind the glare bringing tears to my eyes. This, I thought, was the best way to remember a loved one.#