Unasked and unanswerable
I WAS all set to teach, but only with a brush. I didn’t expect that I had to do more.
“My tito says my dad is a very good man. He said dad was very funny,” the girl, maybe just seven, whispered as I bent to listen to her. I didn’t expect this and could only grope for a vague, generalized answer.
“You must be very proud of your dad then.” “I didn’t know him, he died after I was born.”
If the first statement left me groping, this time I felt like I was whacked in the head. But the girl sounded like she needed to talk. I sat on haunches and said, “Then be proud that he is remembered as a good man.”
“My brother and my sister knew my dad, I never did. He died before I knew him.”
Her father died of cancer, she said.
“I have a younger sister,” pointing to the girl across her. “She also did not know our dad.”
I flashed a smile at the smaller girl and said “hi!” but was quickly dragged back by the elder sister’s question.
“Why did my sister and brother get to know my dad and I did not?”
My brain cells were panicking by then, I wasn’t prepared for this!
“It’s because your dad wasn’t sick yet when they were born,” I said.
“Why did he die after I was born?”
Did she ever ask this question at anyone else before me? I did not have the courage to ask. I was so shaken and taken unprepared, all I could muster were answers that did not belittle her questions.
“It’s not you. It was about your father’s cancer. Maybe he was already very sick when you were very young, that is why he died,” I replied.
She fell silent. That was right before the workshop began. Soon after, we became very busy with our paints. Two hours later, we were done and she asked me to accompany her outside the workshop area where she sat down with a young man waiting outside — the elder brother.
They left along with the little sister and I became busy cleaning up and gathering art materials on the table.
It was only after I prepared to leave when I realized, I did not even ask their names. But maybe it was better that way. Two souls met and conversed, and that was all.
I pray that in that moment of opening up to a stranger, the girl found some answers. With it was the niggling question: Who do very young children reach out to when they have such burdens? Who among the elders even know they have these questions?