Anna

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Life is filled with challenges you have to overcome. And life is full of dreams you want to make come true. Life is a struggle, at least for many. You have to undergo many trials, Before you can
attain a beautiful life.

Submitted: July 02, 2018

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Submitted: July 02, 2018

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This is Anna's story. Ana grew up in the Compostela Valley, a little backwater community in the Davao Region on the southern end of the Philippine Archipelago. A simple but hardworking girl, pretty and slender, she inherited a cute, moon-shaped face and a pointed nose from her late father. She was then fourteen years old and had two brothers. Kris, the eldest, was given to their grandmother who raised him from when he was just a baby. Ahron, the youngest who was only two years old, had a congenital heart disorder. Anna would rise early in the morning to peddle rice and banana treats to pay for her tuition and school expenses. "Banana kyu, banana kyu " shouted Anna pushing an old rickety cart. She was hawking along the street not far from where she lived. "Buy my banana kyu. It's delicious. Please buy it my dear customers!" "Anna, Anna," called an old man behind her. "Oh, Mr. Freddie! Are you going to buy some of my banana kyu?" she asked smiling at the old man who was one of her neighbours. "Are you sure your banana kyu is tasty?" he asked her.

* A "banana kyu" or Banana Q / Cue (Tagalog: Banana kyu) is a popular snack or street food in the Philippines. The banana is coated with caramelized brown sugar and skewered on a bamboo stick (Wikipedia).

"Of course, Mr. Freddie. If these delicacies weren't tasty, do you think I'd offer them to my dear customers?" she answered with a smile. "Hmmm...," he looked at Anna trying to make up his mind. "Okay, how much are they?" he asked. "Five pesos each," said Anna politely. "Alright, how many do you have left? I'll buy them all," said Mr. Freddie. "Really, Mr. Freddie? You're so kind," said a very pleased Anna. She counted how many banana kyus she had left. "Thirty seven, Kuya Freddie , and at five pesos each ? that'll be one hundred and eighty five pesos," she said to Mr. Freddie after doing some quick mental arithmetic. "It looks like you've sold everything Anna," said Mrs. Belin who was standing nearby. "Oh yes, Mrs. Belin. Mr. Freddie is so kind - he bought everything," Anna replied smiling at Mrs. Belin, and casting an appreciative glance at Mr. Freddie. "Well, Anna, I'd better be getting back to my shop so I can give these snacks to my workers for their afternoon break," said Mr. Freddie taking his leave. "Okay, Mr. Freddie. Thanks a lot," said Anna. "You're such a good girl Anna, and hard-working too," said Mrs. Felly, another neighbour, who was standing nearby listening to them. "I don't know what's wrong with Mareng Fe though! She's so lucky to have a daughter like you, yet she's always treats you so harshly! You're so unlike my own children who are very lazy!" she said looking accusingly at her son who was standing next to her. "Hmm... I'd better go now, Mrs. Belin, Mrs. Felly. I still have many chores to do," said Anna bidding them goodbye. While Anna was on her way home, she heard someone calling her. She turned and saw it was her childhood friend Jason who was running towards her. He was gasping for breath.

*A Tagalog term used as a sign of respect to an older male relative such as a brother, cousin, or family friend (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=kuya: accessed 2 April 2015).

Mareng (Tagalog) meaning roughly "close friend".

"What is it Jason?" she asked him. "It's good that I saw you," he said still panting. Your mother's in a fury again. She's really angry this time." "Huh? Why?" she asked him. "I don't know. You'd better go home and find out," he said. "Alright, thanks Jason." Anna rushed home as quickly as she could pushing the old cart in front of her. Arriving home, she opted not to go in right away. Standing in their front yard her eyes carefully scanned the two-floor house made of wood that was her home. Heaving a worried sigh, she reluctantly went in. Immediately greeting her was the sight of her stepfather Oscar who was sporting a basketball jersey and faded jeans. This comfortable outfit put his muscular arms in full display, making him look much younger than his forty-two years. "Good evening, Uncle Oscar," she greeted her stepfather, who was the first person she saw. He just stared at her blankly and said calling to Anna's mother, "Fe, Anna is here," and then went outside. As Anna turned, she saw her mother standing at the kitchen door glaring angrily at her. Fond of wearing skimpy mini-skirts even at her thirty-nine years of age, Fe was testy and annoyingly self-important. She liked to badmouth Anna and was known to be vain about her looks. Fe was holding a dress. Anna started to greet her, "Good ev...," Anna wasn't able to finish. Her mother threw the dress at her. "What did you do to that?" she said pointing at the dress that Anna was now holding. "Look at it? Why is there a stain there?" she asked angrily as she closed it on Anna.

Anna wasn’t able to answer. She was afraid of her mother. She wasn’t sure what to say. “Well then?!” Fe spat at Anna their faces nearly touching. “Er, I didn’t know it’d get stained by the colours of the other clothes,” she said trembling. “You didn’t know! Are you stupid?” She shouted while pinching Anna hard. Anna squirmed. “Ouch mom. That hurts. I’m really sorry. That’s enough, mom,” pleaded Anna to her mother. “Hurts, huh? I’ll show you what hurt is!” She started slapping Anna with the flat of her hand, while Anna crouched down and tried to protect herself by holding her thin, little arms around her head. “It’s because you don’t mind what you’re doing! Do you know how much I paid for that dress!? And what do you do? Ruin it! Oh my God, Anna, ever since you were born you’ve never done anything right by me!” She continued her rant, punctuating each accusation with a painful blow.  “Please forgive me, mom,” Anna begged her mother. “Why should I forgive you?” She was about to escalate the beating with the help of a belt that lay near at hand, when someone from outside the house called to her. ”Fe? Fe?” It was Anna’s aunt shouting her mother’s name. “What is it Até Daisy ?” Fe asked her elder sister who came into the kitchen. Daisy was Anna’s kind-hearted aunt, Fe’s older sister who lived some way from Anna’s house. ”What’s happening Fe? I could hear your voice all the way outside. What’s Anna done now?” Daisy asked Fe. “That Anna! Look what she’s done to my dress! It’s ruined ? there such a stain on it now. I’m attending a christening tomorrow. What am I going to wear now that she’s ruined my dress!” snapped Fe furiously, now too busy squawking at her sister to keep hitting Anna.

*  Até: A title of address for an elder sister. The female equivalent of “Kuya”.

Daisy approached Anna, who was now crouched in a corner, and bending down to her asked her in a serious but subdued voice, “Is it true, Anna?” “I didn’t mean to stain mom’s clothes, Auntie,” Anna whimpered to her aunt. “Huh! Now you want your aunt to pity you,” taunted Fe. She raised her hand to slap Anna again, but Daisy stopped her. “Enough, Fe. She didn’t do it on purpose,” said Daisy in Anna’s defence. “Até Daisy, don’t side with Anna. That’s the reason she’s so spoiled in the first place, because everyone feels sorry for her!” “I’m not siding with Anna, Fe. I’m just saying that she didn’t do it on purpose,” Daisy explained to her younger sister. “Anyway, let’s go to my house. You can borrow one of my dresses. After all, we’re the same size. Come on.” said Daisy trying to calm down her younger sister. ”You’re lucky your aunt is going to lend me a dress. Otherwise, I just don’t know what I might be capable of doing to you…” Fe threatened.  The two stepped out of the house. No longer able to hold her tears back, Anna, who was then slumped beside the door, wept profusely. Her stepfather walked in on her sobbing. “Oh, are we going to cry the whole day now?” he said sarcastically. “Aren’t you supposed to be cooking now? Don’t you know what time it is? It’s almost seven. Get to the kitchen now!” he said in a stern voice. “Okay, Uncle, I’m going to go cook now,” Anna sheepishly replied. She then walked to the kitchen to do her usual cooking chore.

While slicing the tomatoes, she could not stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. Ahron, who noticed her sobbing, came near to her and softly said “Até?” She hurriedly wiped the tears off her cheek. “Ah, Ahron, why are you here? You are not supposed to leave your room, are you? Are you hungry?” Anna said to Ahron caringly.

Her tactic of trying to draw the attention away from herself failed as he came closer to her and looked at her worriedly. “Are you okay, Até?” Ahron queried while squeezing her right hand. The tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to keep them from rolling down her cheek. “Don’t worry about me. I am used to how mother treats me,” Anna told Ahron, putting on a brave face. Ahron wiped the tears from her cheeks. Then, he hugged her tightly. Ahron’s concern brought her relief. “Ok, I am fine now. Uncle Oscar might see us,” she told her brother as she refocused on her cooking. “Better go tell Uncle Oscar the food will be on the table in a minute,” she told her brother as she gently pushed him away. He nodded perfunctorily and headed off to look for their stepfather.

A day later, Anna ran into Jason, while on errands in the flea market. He came up to her and was shocked to see the large bruise on her arm. "Anna, how did you get that?" Jason asked in shock. "This? This is nothing," she evasively replied. "Anna, Anna," a voice yelled out from nowhere. Anna traced the source of the voice, and when she recognized it, she stopped. "Oh, Joel, what's up? Why are you calling me?" Anna said to her classmate. "Ah... I am just wondering if you can give me a hand on my science project. It's pretty tough," Joel said. "Hmm, I can't help. I have many things to do. It's Mama's birthday. Sorry, Joel," she said reluctantly to him. Anna caught sight of his dejection and she felt bad about turning him down. "If it's fine with you, I could drop by your house later to help you finish the project. Anyway, you don't have to turn it in until Thursday," Anna said. "Really, Anna, you'll help me?" he asked. Anna sweetly answered, "Yes, Joel, you can count on me." He grabbed Anna's hand and pressed it appreciatively, "Thanks, Anna. Tell your mother 'happy birthday' from me please," he smiled at her, then left.

It happened that her stepfather was also on an errand in the flea market, as the market wasn't far from their house. He had spied his stepdaughter and used the opportunity to sneak up and eavesdrop on her and the boy she was talking to. He then scurried off back to the house eager to tell Anna's mother about what he had "seen and heard". Anna had also met her best friend Betty at the market. Betty was a diminutive girl of Anna's age and always in a good mood and willing to help. Anna and Betty had gone back home from the market holding hands and swinging their arms as they walked along.

When Anna was close to their house, she saw her mother at the poso seemingly waiting for someone. Anna rushed to greet her. She was stunned when her mother slapped her. Betty was also startled. Anna was clueless as to why she was so upset.

"What was that for, Mama?" Anna, who was still dazed, asked. "You don't know why? Come here you little flirt!" she yelled while grabbing Anna's hair. She then dragged her into the house. "Mrs. Fe, that's enough. You are hurting Anna. Have pity on her," Betty begged Anna's mother to stop as she went after the two into the house. "You, Betty. This is none of your business. You better be off to your house now," Fe irately yelled at Betty. "But Mrs. Fe, Anna did nothing wrong to deserve a beating. We bought a cake for your birthday. Look it's right here." Betty reassuringly said as she showed her what was in her hands. The mother glanced at it. "Oh, so this cake is your excuse to meet up with your boyfriend in the market," Fe dismissively said. She then grabbed the cake and threw it outside the house.

* A communal well common in the countryside where water is drawn up using a pump.

"But, Mama, I don't have a boyfriend," she sobbingly said. "That's true, Mrs. Fe," Betty cut in. "Once more, Betty, and you will get some of this," Fe snarled at Betty while showing her fist. Anna did not want her best friend to get caught up in her problems so she begged her to leave, saying "Betty, please go home." "But Anna how about y-----," she was cut short as Fe pushed her to the door. "You're such a bad mother, Mrs. Fe. Anna really didn't do anything wrong. Why are you punishing her!? Anna is good to you," Betty tearfully exclaimed. "What did you sss...," Fe was about to pounce on Betty when Anna grabbed her mother from behind to hold her back. "Mama, that's enough. Please, Betty, leave," she begged her friend. Fe shook off Anna's hold, then turned around and pushed her down. "I am not done with you yet! You deserve to be tied up again and kept here in the house to keep you out of trouble. That'll teach you a lesson!" she said angrily. She took a rope from the kitchen which she had used for similar purposes before and called on Oscar. "Oscar, Oscar!" Oscar came immediately. Fe would often enlist the help of her man friend, Oscar, when administering beatings and punishments on her daughter. And the stepfather was hardly an unwilling accomplice to these regular forays chastising the flesh of the young Anna. "What is it, Fe? I'm busy watching basketball," said Oscar visibly annoyed for being disturbed. "You can watch TV later, Oscar. Give me a hand here. I am going to tie up Anna to keep her in the house and stop her flirting with boys. That'll teach her a lesson," Fe growled at Oscar. Oscar grudgingly obeyed. She was about to start tying Anna up when Anna thrashed wildly throwing off her mother. Fe became more furious and was about to jump at Anna. Anna let loose her bitterness. "Enough, Mama! Why are you so angry at me? What have I done wrong to you to make you treat me like this?" she snapped at her mother with uncontrollable resentment. "How I wish you could make me feel that I am your daughter sometimes," she sobbed. She just snickered and replied, "So, you want to know the truth? Ok, because you asked for it, I'll tell you!" Fe said arms akimbo. "You're the reason I'm poor! If your father hadn't knocked me up, I could've been rich by now. Maybe living in another country. In other words, you bring me bad luck! Since you were born, my life has been a total misery," Fe confessed to Anna.

Anna's heart sunk, she had no idea how to react. She was crushed and seething with resentment at the same time. The pain was too unspeakable. She slowly bent, then slumped down on her knees. Tears gushing from her eyes. Indeed, sometimes the truth hurts. The pain was more unbearable than all the bruises. It was not the secret that her birth had caused her mother's misfortune; it was actually the fact that such a hollow reason was why her mother didn't show her the love she longed for and deserved. But the pain was gradually overtaken by a searing anger. "But it was your choice that led you to get pregnant. I'm not to be blamed. My only mistake is to expect you to love me and take care of me like a daughter, which I've never felt from you even once," she accusingly said to her mother. "That's it!" said Fe as she was about to pounce on her again when Cora, Anna's aunt, appeared. Cora, Fe's youngest sister, was still single and worked as a cashier at a department store in town. She lived in Daisy's house.

"Enough, Fe," she tried to hold her back. "You've gone too far, Fe. Show some pity," she told her sister. "Don't stick your nose in our business, Cora. I'm just disciplining her," Fe retorted. She stared at Fe then started talking. "Why shouldn't it be my business? Anna is my niece. So, it's my concern. I have seen too much and the way you've been treating Anna is uncalled for." "Ok, while it's true Anna is your niece, everybody knows that I'm still her mother and I have the right to decide how to raise her," Fe irately answered. "Isn't it true, Fe, that you always take your anger out on Anna?" Cora asked her sister. "That's right. She's never done anything good for me," Fe said heatedly. "Why is that, Fe? Have you been a good mother to Anna?" Cora asked Fe as she examined and probed her sister's eyes. "We're all aware that you've failed to be a good mother to your daughter," she added. Fe's eyes skirted away, and a second later, she slinked away into the house. Anna and Cora looked at each other. Anna could sense in her aunt's eyes that she pitied her. Before she could say anything, Cora walked up to her and hugged her affectionately. "Are you alright, Anna?" Cora asked her. They were both crying. "Is it my sin to be born, Auntie?" she bitterly asked her aunt. "There, there," she freed herself from Anna's embrace and cupped Anna's face in her palms, then stared into Anna's eyes. "Don't blame yourself. You haven't done anything wrong," Cora said to her niece then embraced her again. Anna made up her mind that night not to leave her mother, to move on through the anguish. Though the words of her mother tormented her, she'd try her best to put them behind her. She'd do it, not just for herself, but for her poorly younger brother, Ahron. She would rather look to his future and hers. They had to finish school to have a better tomorrow. When Anna graduated from high school, she couldn't go on to university because she didn't have enough money. She decided to work first to save money to support her studies later. She applied for a job as a store attendant at a grocery store in her town. She was immediately hired. Though what she was earning was not much, she would be able to save up enough to start university next school year.

At least, she thought she'd be able to save enough. Her mother and stepfather, though, started taking a big chunk of her earnings. Then came the day when she refused to give them what she had earned. Her mother and stepfather forcibly took it from her. That's when it dawned on her that she had to put an end to their abuse. She had to fight back.

Her mother raised her hand to slap her, as she had done a thousand times before. She grabbed her mother by the wrist. Her mother and stepfather froze momentarily in shock.

"Enough is enough, Mother. I'm not going to allow myself to be ill-treated by you anymore!" she daringly said. "Amazing, so you're fighting back now, huh?" Fe said to Anna arms akimbo. She applauded. "Bravo, Anna, bravo. I'm trembling in fear. You can put up a fight now, huh?" she sarcastically laughed. "What are you so uppity about? Because you have a job? Your little pay check?" Fe said in a booming voice that the neighbours could hear. "Hey, Anna! Your paycheck isn't enough for you to repay my sacrifice. You owe me your life," she added. "Not enough? I've paid more than I ever owed you, Mother," Anna said. She had now learned how to stand up for herself. "I've paid with all the torture I have gone through since I was little until now. But there's an end to everything. I thought before that you might have some change of heart if I tried harder being a good daughter to you. But I don't think you can change! If you think I'm good for nothing, well, you as a mother are worse than good for nothing," she reproachfully told her mother.

A thunderous slap whacked Anna's face. But Anna, who remained steady, boldly spoke once more. "What's that for? Isn't what I said true, Mother? If you've not learned how to love me as your daughter, do you think I could learn to love you as my mother? I wish I'd never been born into this world so I could spare myself from all these troubles," Anna blurted out seething with bitterness. Fe was shaking in rage. "You ingrate," Fe said grabbing Anna's hair pulling her face down to the floor. "You rebellious daughter! You're just like your father!" she told Anna slapping her indiscriminately and violently. Oscar tried to hold back Fe, because he feared she might end up seriously injuring her daughter. "Anna, where is your courage now, huh?" she added. Anna fell quiet. "See, Anna, you can't handle it when I get angry. Get that through your thick head!" Fe said in a rage. "That's what a child should get for fighting her parents," said her stepfather Oscar, blowing cigarette smoke in her face. "Let's get out of here Oscar before I lose control and do her an injury," Fe said, then turned around.

Anna was overwhelmed with self-pity. It didn't make much sense to her why she had to suffer this way. She vowed not to be like her mother. She would love and take care of her children. And if ever she had a family of her own, she wouldn't let them go through such anguish.

That night she packed up all her things to leave home. She scrawled out a letter to her brother to bid him farewell. She didn't want to wake him up. If she said good-bye in person, she thought he might be able to convince her to change her mind. It was painful to her, but it was the only way she could escape from the hellish life with her mother and stepfather. Clutching her bag, she headed off not knowing where she was going. She left home with a grudge against her parents, but with a hope to bring a better life to herself and her brother. She boarded a bus at the terminal, clueless as to where she was heading. The bus rumbled along passing quickly by the blinking lights of the town. But Anna was oblivious of her surroundings, and huddled up on the back seat of the bus for hours was absorbed in thought. Before long, she found herself standing at a shipping dock. She boarded a ferry bound for Manila. Right there she told herself that this would be her new beginning. Smoggy, noisy, chaotic, overcrowded. That was the old city of Manila. Quite different from the place where she came from. Nonetheless, she was enthralled by the towering buildings, and the sheer number of vehicles that prowled the streets. Though intimidated, she had to be resolute. She had to get along well with the people that she'd meet. She surveyed the seemingly endless criss-cross roads of Manila, booming with noisy jeepneys, impatient taxis sounding their horns, tricycles, buses and trucks. When she got tired, she looked for some shade to give her protection from the merciless rays of the hot Manila sun. Eventually, she came across a carinderia , a typical roadside eatery. So, she went in to have a rest. It was then she felt the pang of hunger. The eatery was not that large but it was well-kept and the food they served looked pretty tasty. When she saw some leftovers from a previous diner, she begged the owner to let her have them. The owner stared down at her first, then handed it to her. She grabbed the food eagerly. Soon, the owner of the diner started speaking to her. "You look like you're not from here," she asked Anna. Anna washed down the food she was eating with a quick gulp of water before she answered. "Yes, I just arrived from my province." "Poor girl. Did you run away from home?" she asked. Anna stopped short from putting the food into her mouth. The woman was looking her over. Anna thought about what she should tell people who inquire about why she left home. The woman noticed she was lost in her thoughts. So, the woman asked more questions. "Where are you going to live here? Do you have relatives here in Manila?" Anna gloomily stared down and shook her head. "What?!" the owner said in astonishment. "Don't you know it's dangerous here in Manila? There's crazy people and swindlers and scammers all over the place," she persisted. At first, Anna did not say anything. Shortly, she began to speak. "I ran away from home," she confessed. She gazed at the woman and showed her the bruise on her arm. "My mother and stepfather beat me," she explained, tears rolling down her cheek. The owner of the eatery was touched by Anna's story. She started speaking. "If you like, you can work here in the carinderia so that you have a place to stay here in Manila," she offered. "I need someone to help make the food, serve it and wash up. It's hard work though and doesn't pay much." "Really?!" Anna asked excitedly. The woman nodded. Anna hugged the woman gratefully. "By the way, what's your name?" as she stepped back to look Anna in the face. "We've been talking for a while and yet we don't know each other's names," the woman said. "Oh, my name is Anna," she said. "I'm Ester. Just call me Auntie Esther," she delightfully replied. She is the owner of the eatery, a spinster who looked mean at first glance but who actually had a heart of gold. "Thank you very much, Auntie Esther," Anna tearfully said. "Ok, gather your things and bring them inside. They might get stolen out there," Esther told Anna. She carried her bag into a room of the carinderia. Quite a contrast with Anna's mother. Esther was still single and about 30 years old. She had gone to culinary school and had decided to put up a small restaurant. It took Anna some time to adjust to working with the other employees at the carinderia, but, before long, she was getting along well with them. Anna felt close to Esther. They treated each other like mother and daughter. Time flew by. Before long, Anna found herself at university studying to be a nurse, which she had always dreamt of. Now the dream she had talked about to those who believed in her as a child, including her brother, was coming true as she began her studies. Anna continued working hard in the carinderia as well and took on a lot of the responsibility there. Esther seemed to not be as strong as before, and was glad that Anna could help her out. Anna didn’t disappoint Esther regarding her studies either. Her grades were outstanding. “Wow, you’re really smart, Anna,” Esther told her. “Your grades are very good, and you’re among the best of the students,” she added. “I told you I wouldn’t disappoint you,” Anna said, flashing a smile with her arm wrapped around Esther. “For all your work here in the carinderia and your successful studies you deserve a reward. I’ll cook something special for you,” Esther joyfully said winking an eye. “That’s what I like about you. You really know what I like,” Anna teasingly said. And they laughed. ~ One day while Anna was doing homework in her room in the carinderia, she saw Kristine playing on the computer. Esther had put Kristine in charge of running the restaurant when she was away, and Anna was occupied with studying. Anna went to her to see what she was doing on the computer. “Do you have Facebook too, Anna?” she asked Anna whom she sensed sneaking up from behind. Anna was surprised by the question.  “Facebook? No, I was just watching you,” Anna told Kristine. When she started walking away, Kristine continued. “Would you like me to search for a friend of yours? Who knows? They might have Facebook too.” “Really, Kristine? You can do that?” Anna asked. “Sure. Who do you want to look up?” Kristine asked Anna. Kristine helped Anna find her friend Betty. Anna got her own Facebook account and sent a personal message to Betty.

Several days later, Betty responded to Anna’s message. They missed each other very much and were very eager to catch up on things. Anna found out from Betty that her brother had dropped out of school because his mother stopped paying his tuition. Her heart went out to her brother, shedding tears for how miserable his life must be. Anna asked for her mobile phone number so she could call Betty and, perhaps, talk to Ahron as well. Anna hadn’t had the money to buy a mobile phone so asked Esther if she could borrow her mobile phone to call a friend. While dialling Betty’s number, she couldn’t help getting nervous. She didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t know what Ahron would say. When someone answered her call, she stammered, recognizing a familiar voice. The voice on the phone spoke again. “Hello?” he repeated. “Ahron…” Anna mumbled. “Is this my Até?” Ahron said on the opposite line. “Yes, Ahron, it’s me. How are you?” Anna said with tears trickling down her cheek. Ahron did not answer. “Ahron, are you angry with me?” Anna persisted. “Why did you leave me, Até! It hurt me so bad when you left me,” Ahron, who was also starting to cry, said to Anna. “I’m sorry Ahron, but I hope you understand why I had to do it. It was painful for me to leave you too…” Anna explained to her brother. “I’m here studying at a university. I’m taking nursing,” Anna told her brother. “Até, I understand why you left. I’m happy for you. I can see you’re happy now too,” Ahron said, still crying. “Thanks, Ahron. Don’t worry, I’m fine here in Manila. Auntie Esther has helped me a lot. She’s made me feel what it’s like to have a real mother.” The conversation between Anna and Ahron went on for quite a while. The guilt that had long tormented her vanished because she felt that her brother understood her now. She told him not to tell their mother that they were able to reconnect. She also promised she would send him some money. Their talk ended with a smile beaming on their lips.

Time passed. Anna was in her third year of university. One day, while attending to her duties in the carinderia, Esther fainted and was rushed to the hospital. It was only then she learned that her surrogate mother was suffering from cancer and her days to live were numbered. While Esther was in hospital, Anna cared for her as best she could. She slept in her room and after school, she would immediately go to the hospital to be with her. “Anna,” Esther called in a weak voice. Anna quickly went to her. “Yes, Auntie?” Anna replied. “I don’t want to stare at anything except your beautiful face from now on,” Esther said with a faint smile on her face. Anna held her hand and spoke. “You tricked me, Auntie. You never told me that you were sick,” Anna said with tears in her eyes. “I didn’t want to be a distraction to your studies. I didn’t want to add to your stress. I didn’t want you to worry. So, I made up my mind not to tell you,” Esther said. However, Anna only knew half the truth. The truth of the matter was that Esther had suffered from cancer for quite some time. She’d put on a brave face and although she helped others, she wasn’t able to help herself. The treatment had been incomplete, because she couldn’t afford the cost of the drugs. Meeting little resistance, the disease had taken over her body. At least thought Esther, I have managed to help Anna, and perhaps she can help my niece, Angelica, after I’m gone. “Auntie, you are not a burden to me. You know that,” Anna said. “Anna, I’m thankful to God that you came into my life. Even though we’re not related by blood, I still love you like a daughter,” Esther said with tears welling up in her eyes. Anna was overwhelmed with emotion. She broke down weeping. Shortly, Esther resumed speaking. “Can you do me a favour, Anna?” Esther said in a weak voice. “Of course, whatever you want, Auntie Esther,” Anna answered. Esther touched Anna’s forehead, then wiped off the tears that were streaking Anna’s face. “If I die, I want you to continue your studies. I have put some money in the bank in your name. I hope you can also take care of my little carinderia,” Esther struggled to get each word out. “It’s left in trust to my niece Angelica who I hope like you will also be able to complete her studies one day.” Anna hugged Esther tightly. She realized how much Ester loved her that even while on her deathbed she was still worried about her. Anna sobbed out loud. “Yes, Auntie. I will fulfil your wishes. Words are not enough to express my gratitude for all the goodness you’ve shown me. For the care that I have only felt from you. For the love that a mother should show” she said with tears trickling down her face. “Don’t harbour a grudge against your mother. Life is too short to be spent in nursing wrongs. Whatever she did to you, she is still your mother,” Esther reminded Anna. “Remember life is bright in this world when you don’t leave space in your heart for anger and hate,” she added trying hard to smile. Anna didn’t speak a word and just hugged Esther once more. Some days later Esther passed away. Anna’s world seemed to have crumbled now that Esther was gone. Esther, her auntie and “mother”, the woman who restored her hope and faith in the beauty of life, had left her for good. It was like a stab to the heart every time it hit her that Esther was gone. Her brother Ahron and friend Betty kept checking up on her. They called regularly to see how she was doing. She felt that though she was far away from them, she was never really alone. After Esther’s funeral, Anna was determined to fulfil Esther’s dying requests. She would finish her studies with the money she was given. She would pursue her dream, while running the business Esther left behind.

Some time had passed since Esther had died. It was hard for Anna to keep up with her studies and run the carinderia with the help of Kristine. But the thought of Esther’s kindness and her brother Ahron’s love and expectations drove her onwards. Five years had passed since she met Esther, Anna now was standing at the bottom of the stairs on the right side of the stage, waiting for her name to be announced as the recipient of the highest graduation recognition. She was ecstatic to see her brother and friend there on the stage to put the medal around her neck. She could not hold back the tears. In her award acceptance speech, she told the story of what she had gone through to make her dream a reality. She expressed her gratitude to Esther for giving her the chance to succeed and to those people who never wavered in their faith in her.

After the ceremony, they went to the carinderia where Kristine had prepared a little banquet to celebrate Anna’s graduation. When she was alone by herself, Ahron walked up to her. “Até, congratulations on achieving your dream of graduating!” Ahron said. “Thanks, Ahron,” Anna said to her brother. “Até, now that you have your degree, what’s next?” Ahron asked. “I will take the board exam next month to become a licensed nurse,” Anna responded. “And then?” he asked. “What do you mean ‘and then’?” Anna asked somewhat perplexed. “Don’t you want to come home, Até?” Ahron asked her. She did not know how to respond. She had no idea how to deal with her mother yet. Ahron spoke once more. “Mother’s health is deteriorating, Até. Her consumption is worsening, she can barely get up out of bed now. She has known for a long time that we’re in constant communication, but she has been too ashamed to make contact,” Ahron said sobbing. Anna was unaware of the fact that since her absence, her whole family had been afflicted with the disease. Had she known she would have wanted to help them in some way. Ahron had responded to medication, but the fate of her mother and stepfather was more uncertain. The news was shocking for Anna, but she felt there was not much she could do at present. 

Anna could not help but cry too. She opted to keep her thoughts to herself though. She put her arm around her brother who was crying. After passing the board exam, she made a trip back to her home province.

While on her way to get a tricycle , the memories of the bitter past flooded back. Looking around, she observed buildings that had been built while she was away. She caught sight of several new grocery stores lining the road. A number of people must have also recently settled there as was evident from new rows of houses. She spotted the hazy outline of a house from afar. As she approached, it looked more and more familiar. She felt her heart pounding louder and louder. When the tricycle dropped her off, she caught sight of somebody chopping wood right outside their house. She strode forward slowly as if she was taking her time until she found herself right behind the man chopping wood. Noticing somebody was behind him, he stopped what he was doing and lifted his eyes toward her. He was stunned to see her. “Is that you, Anna?” said the man whom she recognized now to be her stepfather. He had lost a lot of weight, and was quite different from his former self. He looked around not knowing what to do. Anna tried to smile. Her gaunt stepfather helped her with the bags she was carrying. She reluctantly let him bring them into the house. The house had changed a lot. Its roof was caving in a little in places. As she looked around, she heard her stepfather’s voice over her shoulder. “Anna, your mother is waiting for you in the bedroom.” She immediately headed to her mother’s room. When she saw her, she was crushed. She was lying helplessly on the bed staring at her. The tears welling up in her mother’s eyes did not escape her. “Anna, is that you?”

na groped for words. Tears just rolled down her cheeks though she was trying hard to hold them back. Pity gripped her. “Anna, forgive me for all I’ve done to you,” her mother said. “I know, I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can’t turn back the hands of time and be a good mother to you. But how I wish you would give me a chance to be forgiven. I truly regret all the bad things I did to you,” Fe tearfully implored. This was the first time she saw her mother cry. Anna drew closer. She gathered her thoughts first, then started to speak. “I’m trying to figure out how I should feel now.” She looked at her mother, then continued. “I forgave you a long time ago,” Anna said and started to cry too. “Thank you, Anna. Thank you, my daughter,” her mother said in a weak voice. Anna wept. She was touched to hear her mother call her “daughter” for the very first time. She hugged her tightly. Returning from picking up his mother’s medicine, Ahron was greeted by this heart-warming sight when he entered the room. He fell on his knees and embraced the family that he did not expect to see reunited again.

~ A year afterward, Anna’s mother died. Since that day, though, Anna has moved onwards and upwards. Anna is now working as a nurse in Manila at a hospital for contagious diseases, and through her earnings is able to contribute to putting Ahron through university. Her stepfather recovered from his sickness, and she gave him some money to set up a small business in her hometown. Auntie Esther’s carinderia is doing well and is run by Kristine now; the trust made by Esther means that a percentage of the business’ profits will help pay for her niece, Angelica’s, higher education when she comes of age.  Indeed, Anna learned many lessons from what she went through. One of these is how to be strong. Life had brought her to her knees many times, but she never failed to rise up and continue her journey. In the end, she succeeded.

End.


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