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He was holding up a blank sheet of paper, with one hand pinning a small pen next to it, towards his cousin’s bedroom ceiling. His stare went beyond the short distance that separated his face from the paper. Wondering vacantly on the possibility of miraculously stumbling upon an inspiration to stain the hopeless object in his clutches.
“Try to go outside the grounds of familiarity. Be inquisitive. Explore and discover.”--- Ms. Dregor’s words, his English teacher, becomes more and more esoteric as he tries to make sense of it. Twisting and turning he wrestles with the pressure of passing the dreaded subject, to which he cannot escape from since it will determine the destiny of his soccer career. Considered as the most promising player in the team he is willing to yield to the professor’s condition in exchange for a coveted passing mark.
But after an hour of vain “exploring” and “discovering” he decided to retire. Sluggishly rolling off his bed, flinging the pen and paper to the floor, he slips his way to the bathroom to get ready to sleep. “Awful. Just awful, I would have savored this reunion much better if it weren’t for this dreadful task.” Looking himself at the mirror while brushing, he suddenly became aware of his tired eyes and unkempt hair. The result of many failed attempts to finish, let alone start, his paper thus resulting to his banishment from joining everyone to the Roller Edge park tomorrow. “What’s the point of this reunion if I don’t even feel united?” he muses, though later admitting that it was himself to be blamed. Suddenly the thought of being studious sounded more appealing than it ever did. “You reap what you sow, Seth,” he exhales before going under the covers.
A journey to someone's heart
Morning came and Seth Sanders wakes up for the fifth time inside his cousin’s manly room. Hospitality was a celebrated trait of the people of Canawa, a trait which was promptly displayed in his cousin’s voluntary leave from his own bed making it available for Seth’s accommodation.
Seth usually gets up ahead of Fred but this time he was greeted with a spacious floor with Fred’s beddings already rolled up. “They must have gone now,” Seth told himself remembering the planned early departure to go to the most famous park in town. Roller Edge Park consisted of every possible attraction a 15 year-old would have dreamed of; having water slides and killer rides that the park rightly boasts of, not to mention its ginormous fountains that lights up at night, and the food chains that literally serves the tastiest food. The very reason why cousin Fred and the rest were careful enough not to disturb his sleep as they are whisked away into a whole day of fun and essay-free adventure.
Forlorn and forsaken, Seth walks in surrender towards a mahogany table across the room. Taking a new clean sheet of paper and placing it abroad the surface, he convinced himself to pretend to be so inspired by the tiny lizard that walked over his chest last night. Picking up his pen he starts to scribble. “The audacious little creature beckoned by the suffering of his family ran boldly into unfamiliar grounds…..and…and then…being the inquisitive reptile that he is, he explored a giant’s world in search of….of…of a... (What the heck do lizards eat?)….repertoire of flies? No. no. (Scratching off the last three words)…The lizard was so inquisitive that he explored….and explored…to the point of inner contemplation. Larry was raised believing that he was a butterfly with no wings. But he felt that there’s more to his identity than meets the eye…so….since Larry was very inquisitive and explored a lot…it lead him to the discovery of his true identity! He was actually the lost prince of the lizadry world! It was Haggard the giant that revealed to him his true identity….saying with great solemnity, “You’re a lizard Larry. Not a butterfly but a lizard.” Stopping his madness for a second, Seth looks up and hits his face with his palm. “What happened to his suffering family?” he questioned as if it was even worthy to consider. “Lizadry world? You’re an idiot Seth,” shaking his head though obviously humored by his preposterous attempt to write something inspirational.
Not too long after, Seth felt a turning in his stomach indicating that it was time for him to eat breakfast. Their room, which was one short hallway away from the kitchen, was on the first floor of their grandparent’s ancestral house. The walls, ceilings and floors of the house were all made of wood. Framed photos of the family were conscientiously hanged across the hallway. In one of the frames was a cheeky little boy with small curls at the end of his dusky hair. He was wearing suspenders and cute little sneakers that would light up every time he takes a step. It was none other than Seth himself when he was years younger. Today he stands almost 6 feet tall, still with a hint of curls; burly and tan from all the soccer practice.
The whole house was also adorned with antiques dating years back. And with vases, centerpieces, curtains, upholstery and even carpets that were all given by Seth’s grandparent’s children coming from different parts of the world. It also has always been the venue for every reunion, the one place that brings them all together again. As to which new members of the family are added every now and then.
“Good morning,” greets Lydia the housekeeper as she exited the kitchen wherein Seth was to enter. Everybody knew good old Lydia. She has served their family since she was at the young age of thirteen. She is now in her late 40’s yet her warm visage was as before. Seth’s grandparents even financed her schooling and she was able to graduate. But out of her own will she chose service to the family as her life’s purpose. Something his grandparents were not too enthusiastic about at first, considering Lydia’s earned degree, but nonetheless did not object to in the end.
Meeting Auntie Grace
Donning a tea-length dress with red polka dots print, she scurries passed Seth with a basket full of fresh fruits. But before he could conduct an inquiry he was surprised by the sighting of a tall middle sized figure rummaging the cupboards with her back against him. He quickly fired a further surveillance as to whom it was; curly brown hair cascading down her back, peach bouffant dress with a halter strap neckline, sun-kissed skin, and a freckled complexion. He could not be mistaken, it was his fiddle-footed almost always aloof Aunt. It was the best definition he could come up with since he barely socialize with such a peculiar aunt of his.
A startled woman in her early 30’s turned around and reciprocated the young man’s state of shock. “Seth! Uhm, good morning!” turning pale and revealing two bags of cookies, one of which almost fell off, cradled in her arms. Revealing her mien, Seth affirms that there was nothing striking about her. She was pretty but was not synonymous with the meaning of the word in their present time. The one thing that might draw the world in was her heart shaped lips with a rounded cupid’s bow. Neither definition seems to offend nor flatter his Auntie Grace.
Seth then gave a confused look because of the loot that she seemed to be smuggling out of the cupboards. Seeing his expression warranting an explanation, she vindicated herself by clearing out that it was not meant for her consumption, rather, it was for the penurious family standing outside their gate. Before Seth could somehow applaud such philanthropy, Lydia came through the kitchen door once more. This time her basket was empty. “Lydia, please take this to them too,” putting the sweets inside the basket, “And don’t forget to give them a Bible. There’s one on the table by the door. Thank you.” Auntie Grace gave her instructions with such haste, her voice slightly trembling and uneasy. Lydia simply nodded, smiled once more to Seth, and headed back to the gate.
“Your grandpa can get quite upset with this,” Auntie Grace explains, her eyes growing weary and restless. After that she no longer elaborated the incident and proceeded as if nothing happened. Seth himself, still standing on the same spot, grew even more confused at the activities of his quaint relative.
Licking his mouth wet, he scratched his head and ventured to start a conversation. “Why didn’t you come with them Auntie?” Realizing that a blithe probe was the only way to break the awkward cloud that shrouded them. Still hesitant she responded, “Maybe next time.” It was yet another cryptic statement, a native to her nature. Seth still half interested shot another query. “So what are you doing these days Auntie?” He only seems to think of basic questions for this was the first time he ever got to talk with her aunt in such a given setting. As she was answering the first one, she beckoned her nephew to take a seat opposite her on the dining table. Being both seated, she entertained the second. “Oh, I’m trying to be a lawyer,” a hint of resignation in her tone. “Wow, that’s pretty cool. Another lawyer in the family,” Seth commended happily though he wonders for he once heard that she already finished a different degree years ago. But his carefully picked words merited no response of flattery. As a matter of fact the more questions he asked, the more intrusive it appeared to her aunt. Struggling to satisfy each question, she moved constantly in her seat, rubbing her glass in between her palm like a genie’s lamp. He was therefore convinced that he was giving his aunt a hard time.
“Let’s eat breakfast first,” she finally advocated, trying to rest and recover from Seth’s uninvited interrogation. Gesturing a sign of agreement Seth voluntarily took two plates, whilst she grabbed the other utensils. They soon shared bacon and eggs with fried rice, and red velvet cupcakes for dessert. Silence wrapped around them making every bite rushed and insipid. It was such an unfortunate event for Lydia cooks the most delicious food.
After the two cakes disappeared, her Auntie Grace almost immediately rose and started to clean up. Seth was about to help his aunt when Lydia resurfaced in the kitchen. “No, no, no. I’ll take care of that. You two go on ahead,” forcefully taking the plates from Auntie Grace to hers. “Let me help you Lydia,” his Auntie pleads. “You don’t need to Miss. I can manage, thank you,” Lydia insists. And with that Auntie Grace took a step back in surrender.
Without looking at Seth she moseyed straight into the living room, and with curiosity now at his tail, Seth followed. They both arrived at the same time, Auntie Grace rested on the rocking chair while Seth positioned himself on the ottoman. His aunt may be reserved but she was not oblivious. So out of fervid hospitality Auntie Grace took courage to start another apprehensive dialogue.
“How’s school going?”
Surprised yet thrilled, Seth immediately responds, “An absolute strain. But it’s bearable, especially when I see Gwen,” his extroversion ringing loud as early as it is. Having a clear point which she can pursue, she adds, “Gwen? Is she your girlfriend?”
“In my dreams, yes. In reality, no,” Seth remarks cheekily. This solicited a rare giggle from Auntie Grace making her add the words, “You know, dreams and reality are really not that far from each other. More often than not the only distance separating it is time. Faith and hard work, on the other hand, secures that that time cooperates.” Seth did not know until then how easy she gets amused, nor did he know that she can speak elaborately.
“I haven’t really thought about that Auntie. Good point though.” The impact of her aunt’s words seemed to cling immediately onto him but he was too absent-minded at the time to cater to it. “How about you Auntie Grace?” Seth continued, taking advantage of her reversing reluctance. “How come you’re not married yet?”
Smiling even more widely, she breathes slowly placing her hands on her lap before openly responding, “No one has ever asked me.” Seth recoiled in his insides after hearing it, he did not grasped early enough how improper his question was; especially to a grown woman whose siblings are all married. They were 7 in total, and were only a year apart; except between the 6th and 7th child, which had a whopping 10-year gap. Auntie Grace was the youngest and Seth’s mother was the child before her.
Seth stood frozen by his own tactlessness, but to his relief and amazement, Auntie Grace’s only retaliation was a small laugh and a further account of her singleness.
“I would have loved to be married. But I’m not so I need to be content about it. It’s extremely difficult to walk the talk. Believe me, I’ve struggled and mourned. But the silly part of it is that I have never even fallen in love. I had crushes, tons of them, but none really grew into a serious liking. If there were, my memory just failing to retrieve it, none of it I’m sure were mutual. Besides, I could not stand all those starry-eyed episodes infatuated minds go through. Awkward conversations which has no depths nor purpose save to impress, terrible tummy aches that blurs your discretion and sanity; and the amount of ambivalence and habitual dithers over such nugatory issues taking over your faculties are beyond the gist of my interest. I abhor such things! Doesn’t tempt me one bit.”
Seth became engrossed by how she delivers her thoughts; fluid, ardent and bold. Not wanting to awakened the feverish taciturn, he dared not to interrupt.
“I mean, I love to fall in love. Love is good. Oh let me take back the word “abhor,” for it is too severe and misplaced. I give no ill-view to those who experience relish in those stages but I personally rather skip it and move ahead to the deep and profound part. A place where I dream of exchanges with great depths and obscurity, which only mutual hearts can peruse. Enlightened by scriptures and upheld by love’s poetry. I dream of paralyzing stares that beckons not only the flesh but also and more so the soul. I dream of strength and vigor to greet and master the pungent reality of man’s incapability. In exchange for greater surrender, prostrate at the feet of the very source and essence of our being. I also dream of warmth. I dream of pleasure in the safe keeping of a blessed union. Then I shall dream of angels crafted inside my womb. I dream of carrying them to the mountain tops of faith and integrity. And after all such blessedness, I dream of our youthful passion to remain adorned and ever more ablaze by triumphant fragile breaths. I dream many dreams about this side of love, Seth. Though I know that is a foolish thought to cheat my way to my sought after juncture. How I understand clearly that no precious thing can be obtained by willfulness and haste. I understand but I fear. Therefore I concede at the fact that I simply am not ready. As to when I’ll be or if I’ll ever be, I decline to speculate. Nonetheless I persuade myself every day to work faithfully with realities. God knows what He’s doing and in His love I rest.”
Auntie Grace then stood up after uttering the last words and faced Seth. “I think I’ve given you enough answers for the present. I think I may now excuse myself.” One more beam was given before she headed to her room upstairs. All that Seth could do was wallow in bafflement for what he has heard. It was something so unfamiliar to his usual state of mind. He was also pretty assured that he only understood an embarrassing portion of her aunt’s oratorical piece.
Seth, therefore, took upon himself the quest of discovering the gleaming treasures within the confines of her recondite bosom. If only he can once again plead its gates to pour forth more of what it already did.
No longer a stranger
It was almost two in the afternoon when Set wakes after dozing off on the ottoman. He scrambles to his feet and gave a long satisfying stretch. “Who knew thinking could be this laborious,” he breathes. Then like a ghost Lydia appeared in front of him. “Oh good, you’re awake. I’ll reheat your lunch.” And just like that she disappears once more. But before she was out of ear shot Seth called out asking of Auntie Grace. “She already ate,” Lydia answered. “She’s in her room right now.”
In the kitchen, Seth hurriedly scooped clean his bowl of soup, thanked Lydia, and started trudging to Auntie Grace’s room. The door was wide open and a draft of summer’s air seemed to have caused it. Slowly he peers inside and sees her aunt swinging gently on a makeshift hammock near her window. The ropes that held it was decorated with realistic vines and its bed looked like a recycled denim. She was scribbling furiously yet her expression was vacant. After a moment or two she starts to resume a certain discussion that herself alone participates in. From where Seth was standing, he simply could not decipher her mumblings, which was also accompanied by small laughter and short pauses from sudden bursts of consternation.
And being his first time to see his aunt’s room, he quickly noticed how eccentric looking it was. The walls were filled with notes and bible verses. His Auntie Grace and Auntie Jane’s religiosity once became the object of ire among the elders in the family, speaking of them as apostates. The younger ones also pronounced their judgements but opted for the term “brainwashed” instead. Having asked once about her new faith, she simply said, “I’ve exchanged tradition for truth, man’s word for God’s.” As to what it meant Seth remains ignorant and bored.
Continuing his room examination he notices that one side had drawings made of pastels, and the remaining space were crammed with random photographs. A myriad of literature were scattered on her desk, and was sprinkled with different colored pens. In conclusion it did not look like a room of a woman of her age. If he was to be completely honest he found it very strange.
Consequently, as his scrutiny forwards so did his steps. Auntie Grace finally sensed another presence inside her nook. By then Seth has now unwittingly reached the middle of the room. “Seth?” she asks sounding disturbed. Snapping back to consciousness, Seth replied, “I…I didn’t mean to trespass…” Suddenly turning to his right he caught sight of the clustered photographs he saw earlier. Coming up close to it he notices that a chosen few starred in the photos over and over again; one had a model like figure with pixie cut hair, the other with a similar frame but had plump cheeks. The rest were his grandparents, which was auntie Grace’s parents, and 2 of his uncle’s and a photo of her and his mom.
“It’s okay Seth, don’t be alarmed. Care to sit down?”
“Thank you auntie.” Finding a good spot on her canopy bed, Seth recommenced his mission. “Why do you want to be a lawyer auntie?” was his first attempt. It seemed to him that her whole personality, as far as he had explored, was quite distant to the profession she is pursuing.
“For many reasons, Seth. One of which is the fact that I am not decorated, “she returns, closing the notes in her hands. “What do you mean “decorated?” Seth pursued. Auntie Grace did not give a direct answer as usual. Looking over the window she began to speak, and thus the gates were opened, Auntie Grace’s eyes turned bright and he remained seated with much anticipation.
“Helen Burns once said that “it is our duty to bear it if we cannot avoid it.” To which I add, “With assiduity we shall.”
Seth felt a familiar rush and he was sure that he is meeting her once again.
She now stood up with her stare still fixed on the clouds, her hands starting to dance to the music of her revealed secrets. “I believe I’m too plain and ambitious to be decorated. I can do things but never with dexterity. I just fumble and tumble. The only thing keeping me a float is God’s saving grace. Saved me at Calvary, saves me every day.”
“I partly agree,” Seth interrupts.
“And to which part?” she said finally facing him.
“Um, what I mean is…aren’t you being too hard on yourself auntie? You have achievements, our whole family, I’m sure your friends too, can attest to that.”
Returning to the clouds she again poured herself out, “I guess you can call it that,” breathing heavily, “Pleasing others is a bitter task, pleasing yourself is just monstrous. I want to genuinely desire to please only one. I know you know who I’m referring to.” Looking over her shoulder she gave Seth a sweet little smile. Seth nods and smiles back.
“So you’re not happy with what you’re doing auntie?”
Now sitting down next to him she fell on her back lifted her arms towards the ceiling as if trying to catch something; and with great amount of sincerity she uttered, “Happiness comes out of misery, Seth. You die to live.”
Unsure of what to say next he blurted out what first came into his mind. “What about atheists, auntie? How do you carry out your faith in this world full of non-believers?”
“Well, they’re atheists and I’m not. There’s that. I pray for them, hear what they’ve got to say if needed and move forward. My world doesn’t revolve around them as much as theirs around mine. Though if you take solely myself up against them you’ll see that I’m not above any of them. I never forget my corruption; impetuous and petulant as two prominent manifestations. I likewise remember how stern I was to Lydia’s cousin when she came for a visit. I simply did not like the cast of her character. She was one rumbustious gal, sweet but loud. The point is I still act out during dry times but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not my identity anymore. ”
The topic made Seth uncomfortable, thus he immediately scanned the room for something that can swerve the discussion to another direction; not wanting the present moment to center on an exposition of spiritual things. So he end up resorting to inquire of the ancestry of an expensive looking lipstick laying still on top of one of her notes.
“What color is that lipstick? Looks fancy. Where’d you buy it?” he asks awkwardly. Sitting up straight she looked at what he was referring to. “Oh that. Its Moulin rouge and Kim gave it to me during her recent visit a month ago.”
“Who’s Kim?” Seth wondered.
“She’s your Cousin Dan’s girlfriend,” Auntie Grace informed.
“No she’s not. Heidi is.”
At the mention of a new name she became perplexed for she has rather grown fond of Kim.
“What happened to Kim?”
“Never met her.”
Going back to her hammock she swings herself once more and started to marvel. “How odd and quick,” she concludes. Seth failed to see the importance of the issue the way his aunt did. It was pretty normal of Dan but Auntie Grace apparently struggles with normal.
“So…I guess you like that lipstick.” Seth thought it as a perfect gift for her since it flaunted her distinct asset.
“Of course I do,” regaining her composure.
“Though I always am careful with it,” she adds.
“Why is that Auntie?” curiosity rising to its peak once more.
“Do you like pretty girls, Seth?” she questions back instead of answering, rocking herself gently on the hammock with her feet.
“Pretty girls like that too.”
“To be pretty, and make-up helps them become even prettier. It helps almost everyone, especially me.”
“Can’t see anything wrong with that. Besides, you have beauty, too, Auntie. With or without make-up.”
Seth’s words of commendation once again fell short to merit an enthusiastic response. Auntie Grace merely raised her shoulders, smiled and continued.
“Let it be of meaning then.”
“Yes, of meaning, not of pouty lips.”
After a solid minute of silence Seth somehow understood what it meant.
Resuming once more, Auntie Grace pronounced, “I’m honestly unsure of how I am received by the majority, honestly, also, too preoccupied for it to matter. Sometimes it does but never too long.” She paused for a while before speaking again. “Beauty is such an intricate fickle thing. Those who worships physical beauty just ends up losing to worms.”
“You think heavily about many stuff, don’t you Auntie Grace?”
“Nah, you’re just a talented listener.” Shrugging off his question she finally took a step to adjourn their almost Socratic chat. “I enjoyed quite well talking with you, Seth. Thank you.”
Seth also agreed to the closure. “It was nice to get to know you better, Auntie Grace.” But as he was turning to the door his attention was drawn towards a pile of notes one of which was opened. At the bottom of the page he reads the name, “Aurora Ray.”
“Auntie? Can I ask one last question?”
“Go ahead, Seth.”
“Who’s Aurora Ray?”
“You’re looking at her,” all this she answered while laying on her back on the hammock, stares glued at the late afternoon sky.
“These are all your works?”
She threw a thumbs up in the air.
“Why not use your own name?”
And for one last time she said, “Who I am is not as important as who I serve. People can forget my name, but, I pray, not my message.” With that she spoke no more.
an unexpected journey
Seth came down to the kitchen and found a scrumptious snack prepared by Lydia. He took a slice of pie and a bottle of soda to bring to Auntie Grace, but when he reached her room he saw the door was now closed. He was also certain that it was locked and therefore retreated so to give his auntie the privacy she obviously now yearned.
An hour passed quickly and he now finds himself staring at his pen and paper. Carefully recalling today’s events, he picks up the pen, arranged his posture in the chair, and then started to write. After an hour and a half of uninterrupted work, he finally finishes his essay by writing a title for it. Putting his calligraphy skills into use he crafts the name, “Auntie Grace.”
Sunset took over the warm blue skies and turned it into a deeply colored horizon. A convoy of cars started to pull up at their front lawn, opening the doors their relatives went down one by one. Lydia soon called out for Seth and Auntie Grace to inform them of the arrival.
The hushed house was immediately filled with endless chatters and noises from running feet to clattering dishes. Every person attending to their unique business. The house was undeniably full again. Seth, on the other hand, suddenly caught sight of his Auntie Grace while he was being teased by his cousins for missing out on the fun. She was maneuvering through the sea of relatives, giving kisses to their elders while smiles and waves for her grown nieces and nephews. But it was the little ones that stopped her in her tracts. Little Jayden tried to climb up her leg, Ginger was asking to be picked up, whilst Simone and Nadia, my baby twin sisters, jumped like jelly beans as they chant their Auntie’s name. Auntie Grace did her best to accommodate each one when the babies’ mothers started to take them away to put them to bed. Auntie Grace gave them final kisses and even hugged her sisters’ goodnight; thus leaving Auntie Grace standing in the midst of a buzzing crowd. Seth then observed, moments later, how she slipped away from it all and disappeared in the background; breezing through like the summer air. The gates were indeed closed and back was the all too familiar reticence.