An afternoon walk.

“What’s that

“It smells like the

“But we passed that sometime back and
it still smells awful.”

“Is it coming from the

“No, I think it’s coming from the
exhaust pipe.”

“They don’t use this hearse very
often, I hear.”

“Look, it’s a

“It smells like a dead

“Maybe there’s a dead rat in the exhaust

“Are we there

It is always hot, so hot the mind
hallucinates breezes, and it is always bright, too bright, and we walk very
slowly behind the hearse, the hearse’s wheels turning in time to its stereo in
the hoarse throes of Ave, Ave, Ave Maria, our umbrellas moving together and
breaking apart, an uneven patchwork quilt holding up traffic on the already
narrow street, young ones steadying old ones in grasps of steel and sweat. It is
always like this, when we take the last walk with our

I asked my mom, “How come we always
end up doing this in the afternoon? Is it the law or something? Do other
families get to do this early in the morning?” She said, “No, it just happens
that we always get the 2:15 mass.” I walked beside her, carrying her bag and
her umbrella most of the way. We were around thirty mourners in the procession,
not including those who took their cars straight to the church. Men in
official-looking vests helped cars get around us and past us, and whistled at
children who strayed.

Lola Ondyang
changed into a black dress, stole past her nurse and caught up with us halfway.
I still can’t imagine how she could have escaped, seeing as it took two of my
cousins to help her walk out of the church afterward.

Lola Puring’s caregiver wheeled her out
to the gate, but she barely looked up as we trudged by. Mom and I stepped out of
the procession and hugged her. This is the lola who used to recite poems during
our Christmas get-togethers. She was a certified midwife and one of the more
educated women of her generation, in my family.

Once in a while, someone in a car
passing by would throw coins our way, to avert bad luck.

An hour

“Why aren’t they ringing the church
bells yet? We’re about to cross the

“There’s another hearse coming out.
Maybe they don’t want us to get confused.”

can’t believe we’re not the first one

“Oh, they’re ringing.

The church was cool dark
relief. The coffin was right in front of the altar, properly framed by brass
lamps and white anthuriums. The mass was short. Lola Deling sat in the front pew
and sometimes she would remember it was her sister in the coffin, and she would
become unsettled, even on sedatives. At the end of the mass two girls from the
funeral home service handed out white roses. This is a new thing in Imus, and I
had only experienced it once before, at my Lolo Kanong’s funeral. Each mourner
is supposed to pay her last respects to the departed and deposit a rose atop the

I got to be the one to say thank
you to everyone who came. My mother coached me, as she knew my Tagalog wasn’t up
to Imus standards. (Truth be told, she rattled off the entire spiel before we
left the house, and when I stood at the lectern, the closest I’d been to an
altar in my entire life, I almost lost the entire thing.) I managed the word
“pagdadalamhati” without missing a syllable. When I sat down, Mom said, “You
spoke too softly.” I said, “It wasn’t a client presentation.” She said, “Don’t
forget the umbrella.” I grabbed it and we followed the pallbearers loading the
coffin into a new hearse. The last leg of the procession would take us twenty
more minutes, from the church to the family plot in the old cemetery. I said,
“You’re not going to collapse when we get there, are you?” She said, “No.” And
she didn’t. But all of us cried.

Deling leaned over the coffin and wailed. We made her sit down. She looked at me
when I held her hand and asked me who I was. She then asked me whom I was with.
I said I was with mom and she said, oh. Then she remembered what was happening
and cried a little.

It was my turn to
cry when the first slab of concrete went on top of Lola’s coffin. During the
week of the wake, workers had dug up everyone’s bones, put them in sacks, and
rearranged the family plot, ostensibly in a more organized fashion. Lola’s space
was in the middle of two already-occupied crypts. The workers had to level the
surface with a thin layer of cement. I finally found out how they got that raked
finish on cement floors: with a
(a broom with stiff bristles made from
the midribs of coconut leaves). Only a few of us were left when they were done.

The sun was setting, and we got into the
car, and we all had noodles, and I laughed over how many relatives had asked me
if I was married (“No.” “But…how old are you?” “Um, 34.” “Why?” “Um, don’t
know.”), and mom reminded me to call my sister, who had missed all of this
because she had a patient who was giving birth, and I fixed Lola’s portrait to
stand beside the crucifix for prayers, and we found out there really had been a
dead rat inside the first hearse.

I went
home, under a deepening sky, and I waved at the pale, full moon, and wished all
of us a good night.