Perhaps it was just his imagination. Maybe it was him. “No,” Julius thought, “he’s been gone for a decade, stop it.” The wet gray sand, nothing like the ad said, made a funny feeling between his toes. Julius and his family were on vacation, summer to be exact. They’ve been hitting every beach they could come across online. Julius didn’t mind. After all, it reminded him of the last few days he spent with Papa.
It was a decade and a year ago. Julius, the 15-year old high schooler, was outside. Bags packed, and a red Cheetos bag in hand. Who knew a human could experience so many emotions at once. Was he anxious? Excited? Scared? Maybe a weird amalgamation of all three? It didn’t matter. But what did was the fact that they were going to Boracay. The beach everyone of his dark-skinned compatriots wanted to go to. The white sands, the boating, and the swimming. All this, to be experienced in just a one-day drive. There we go, “ecstatic” was the word Julius was looking for.
The car was already purring along with the smell of diesel. The trunk was a game of Tetris with the dozen of bags and things all stacked. The family of 7 was ready to go. “head count!,” the breadwinner of the family called out. There was his lovely wife, Rosa along with the twins Jamia and Jamie. Julius, the eldest, raised his cheese crusted finger which grandma Ilang vigorously wiped with tissue mumbling about hygiene. They were all here, except for grandpa Ricardo. He was probably still dressing up. He may be slow, but Anthony had to admit that the old man has a sense of fashion. “Julius, go get tatay Ricardo”, Anthony ordered his son. Reluctant to let the bag of chips go, Julius ran back into the house and to Papa’s room.
Knock knock. The antique door made a hollow sound and creaked upon. Anthony forgot the door’s knob didn’t work. There he was. Tatay Ricardo, or Papa as his grandchildren called him, smoking a cigar, face enveloped in a cloud of white and cough-inducing smoke. “Wak-wak, I told you to always wait for me to open the door. That useless knob is, well, useless”, the old man said. Wak-wak was the nickname he bestowed upon the young boy. Julius and his talkative nature reminded him of an uwak. Filipino for crow. “Papa, why don’t you just get it changed. That door is older than me”, Julius set himself on the bed near the chair his grandpa was sitting on. “That door holds sentiment, Wak-wak, I bought it from my friend, a famous woodworker in my town. It’s made of mahogany. Thick dark wood that -.” Julius cut him off before his Papa could set off in a spiral of words and stories. After all, they had a beach to go to. “Dad is waiting for you.” At first, the time tested man look confused. Oh yeh! They were going to Boracay! He stood up, leaning on his grandson for support, and opened the closet beside the bed to reveal a bag. No, not a traveling bag, but a backpack smaller than the one Julius used for school. “That’s all, Papa?”, Julius was confused. “It’s all I need Wak-wak.” And so, the car backed out the garage and to the road, neighbors, although jealous, waved happily.
The inside of a trash can was the first thing Julius saw. All those rides from different vehicles left him car-sick like never before. Tatay Ricardo held the back of his shirt as the child leaned deeper into the trash-can. “Sige Wak-wak, let it all out”. After his episodic vomits, the family was finally able to to appreciate the beauty of the oh-so renowned Boracay. After a few minutes of oohs and aahs, they occupied a small hut they rented out. Rosa and Anthony left to settle things with the hotel. The children were left with their grandparents. The twins ran off with grandma and left the two boys alone. For a while, nobody spoke. “Pa, why are we here?” As much as Julius loved that they were going to Boracay, he was confused by the very hasteful planning of the trip. He only knew they were going a week ago. A trip like this would usually be planned out a month ahead especially in a time like summer vacation, “why don’t you like it?” said tatay Ricardo. “Not that…I mean, why such a hurry?” His beloved Papa looked into the sea and sand that lay before him. I want to see it one last time was what tatay Ricardo wanted to say. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. Jamie and Jamia called him to join them in making a sandcastle.
Julius was left with himself. He watched as the twins played with Papa. How could a man with cancer have that much youthful energy? A lot of people asked that too. The tall, bulky, dark-skinned, 78 year old man that Julius called his Papa had stage-4 cancer. It was diagnosed about a year and a half ago. They didn’t even know what kind of cancer. The doctors said that it was so spread out, they couldn’t figure out where it originated. And that he would live just another two months. They went home devastated. His father crying as his mother cried even more on his shoulder. The twin, only 4 and unsure of the situation, hugged. And Julius, oh the poor boy. He was, after all, closest with the cancer-stricken man, stood in his Papa’s room. The man he confided all his problems to, the man that loved and cared for him back then when his parents worked overseas, was to die in 2 months. Julius didn’t cry. At least not in front of him.
But here he was, playing in sand with his grand children. The two parents came back, satisfied with their check-in. The rest of the day was wonderful. Swimming, slides, dish, and sun. Life couldn’t be better. Unfortunately, he was right.
Sunset at the hotel. They were on the balcony. Eventually, after the others got hungry, only Julius and tatay Ricardo were left. “I love you, Wak-wak” The sudden statement surprised him but answered back. “Promise me you would be good.” Julius was confused but did it. A few more minutes and they went back inside.
Crying. The first thing Julius heard. Tatay Ricardo, his beloved Papa was gone. “We went here…because we knew it was his time. Doctor said so”, said the sobbing Anthony. Papa was there, his beloved storyteller that loved him since birth, smiling with eyes closed. Inside the backpack, he looked and there was nothing but a note. “You can change the door now, Wak-wak.”
This short story was written during the Young Authors Competition on April 13, 2019 held at UEC Batangas City.