The outcome of his destiny was perceptible these days, subjecting my uncle to the dread of its compulsory aura. What started as a slight discomfort whenever he swallowed food or drink turned into the incessant reverberation of Deaths calling.
My uncles time had come: the oncologists had diagnosed him with terminal pancreatic cancer. No second opinions, no miracle drugs, no fervent fiddling with rosary beads could divert the last turn in the course of his life. Death was beckoning him to prepare for the final expedition, the expedition into the sapphire-colored realm where the firmaments navel appears as a nebulous portal to sights and sounds unbeknown to man.
The prognosis was ominous at best, abysmal at worst. The oncologists were beyond certain that his cancer was metastasizing uncontrollably throughout the lower half of his body, thus making him corporally half the man he used to be. This hard truth made the commencement of each proceeding morning less tangible, less comprehensible.
Dawn usually meant the birth of something, a renewal, perhaps a resurrection. But for my uncle, it was another crossing out of a day on the calendar, the calendar that was forcing him to take a look at Deaths gestures, at the length of its configuration which he could see neither the beginning nor the end of, and at the strands of burdened souls that it had ushered into its domain.
My uncles condition made him reappraise the remnants of his stay on this world and spend his last days brooding about Death in all its amorphous, levelling, and unknowable glory. Was there life after death or an unexplainable nothingness after life? He wished there was some way he could be sure before he would allow his sins to be repented prior to his impending journey to whatever awaited him on the other side.
I had just arrived in Manila from the United States to see my ailing uncle, the sixty-five year old brother of my mother. After checking in at my hotel, I proceeded in a taxi to his small house, a semi-dilapidated, rust-stained abode in a crowded Manila suburb. On the way from the hotel, I watched the starry remnants of the previous evening sky taking their leave in deference to the rising sun which hurried to swathe Manila rooftops with its heat and energy.
While riding in the back of the rickety taxi, I tried to visualize in my mind how my uncle would look after having not seen him for ten years. I feared that I might not be able to identify him, that he might appear to me as a total stranger, that what was once intimate and comfortable about him to me could now be tied behind an inpenetrable screen of time and disease. Time and disease were powerful catalysts that defamiliarized visages, bodies, characters, minds, and essences, anything we thought we knew without reservation. They made everything the opposite of what it used to be. This was too disconcerting for a normative person such as myself.
My fears of nonrecognition were realized when I arrived at his house and stepped into his colorless room, which held a peculiar air of solemnity and decay. There, I saw him lying in bed, ramrod straight on his back, glassy-eyed, resembling an unforgettable portrait of a man groping for the crushed center that once anchored his being.
I was taken aback at his emasculated appearance. His already lean physique had been methodically shredded by the chemotherapy treatments into a trifle of its former size. His hair had progressively thinned as well, forcing him to shave off the last vestiges of his formerly jet-black, now grayish hair, and revealing his olive-colored pate for the first time in sixty-five years. His once swarthy face with the suggestive ovals around his eyes was now a haggard, dusky shadow between his ears.
It took almost all of my willpower to put up a brave front and not betray my consternation. Steadying myself, I managed to approach my uncle without the slightest sign of hesitation.
Sitting at his bedside in the early morning, I observed my uncle as he lay in bed while the tropical sun began its ascent, its heavy rays ready to touch his face through the window. It was the same window that he would watch intently for a sign indicating the arrival of an angel that was unlikely to come.
I tried to absorb the sight of his body wasting away with every passing second for it was my obligation as an adult to face up to the reality of things. But my courage gave way to trepidation as the image of my dying uncle collapsed into a cannonade of scintillating voices, voices that sought a haven from the thought of watching a dying man die. The thought made me think of how my own deathbed would be like, when all the merriments, disappointments, successes, and failures of my life would drift one last time before me. I feared that during my final act, there would be no one there to comfort me with kind, compassionate words or sentiments; I would be alone, a choir of one, singing an ugly tune of lament to an empty church. There might not even be a priest available to give me last rights. As I listen hard for the sounds of the afterworld to filter in, I would discover that the only items I had to take with me were a bottle of aspirin, a glass of water, a good novel, and a cheap, wooden crucifix.