I STARED at it for about five minutes at one in the morning two Sundays ago. An untitled painting displayed on a private hospital’s wall on the third floor with a maelstrom of kaleidoscopic koi of divergent sizes swimming around an imaginary cylinder clockwise, it captured my attention while waiting for the doctor to come out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to check for an update on one of my brothers’ condition. He supposedly had a mild stroke while sharing a meal with his own family in their house in Cavite City, south of Manila.
Roughly 4 feet by 3, the artwork was strangely cut into half vertically and was hanging slightly slanted 15 degrees to the right. The others which boasted abstract flashes of the colours of the rainbow stationed at different sections of the corridor were not presented the same way. And yes, its peculiarity intrigued me.
Should I fix it? I asked myself. I was all alone, wide awake, sitting on a brown, foamy bench outside the capacious visitors’ room, where my mom was sleeping along with my nephew, her aunt, and kuya ’s mother-in-law, just ten feet away from the ICU. Closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) were all over. The breeze was frigid. I hesitated at first but with a medical face mask on, I finally convinced myself to stand in front of the canvas just like what one does in museums, art fairs, and galleries. It was a riveting moment, an immense gift to finally calm down. Because few hours earlier, it wasn’t the case.
“Kuya Jun Jun is in the hospital” my youngest brother Ronnel said. “We have to check on him.”
“Why?” I uttered. “What happened?”
“High blood” he said. “He had seizure.”
In a heartbeat, my mother and I swiftly prepared our clothes and bags like soldiers about to infiltrate the enemy’s bulwark. Nobody’s available to commute from Makati City to go to the hospital in our family but us because of their work. Coincidentally, I was on a three-day vacation leave for my birthday.
It must be very serious, I said to myself.
“To a hospital in General Trias, Cavite” I told the first cab driver who halted outside our small, white gate when he inquired where we’re headed at around ten in the evening. “Please, it’s an emergency, sir.”
“I’m not going south” he answered. And just like that with one of the side windows still half-open, he hastily left.
Questions lurked inside. How can a human being turn their back to another who’s evidently in a dire spot? Why do some cab drivers intently violate a rule in their guidebook in selecting passengers? Don’t they know what an emergency is?
With God’s help and mercy, a huge weight of our exasperation and distress vanished when the second cab driver accepted our pleas. He had brought us to a terminal in Pasay City where we instantly found a bus that could take us to our destination.
While travelling, thoughts came rushing on my mind like bolts of lightning in a stormy sky: it’s kuya Jun Jun and our memories together. Yes, our late-night conversations about religion, spirituality, wisdom, mysteries, science and technology, work. His brilliance and depth on a range of topics is impeccable. Tears abruptly rolled down my face while an old man sitting next to me at the far end of the bus was wreaking in alcohol; he was sleeping.
When we arrived at the hospital, my mother and I were met with stories on what had transpired earlier that day. But Emergency Rooms, ICUs, Dialysis Centers, and others put everything in perspective. In those moments that you’re encapsulated by impenetrable brick structures painted white all over with nurses and doctors walking and running and talking to someone along the hall, everything boils down to that quiet conversation between you and God. The rest of the universe becomes irrelevant: traffic and scandals on EDSA, inflation, MRT woes, #MeToo, possibilities with the person you admire most, child abuse, fake news, typhoons, President Duterte, war on drugs, Facebook and Instagram, poverty, corruption, politics, education, South West Monsoon, career aspirations, a taxicab’s plate number.
We’ve all been there. We ask why and wonder why it all happened. Yes, why it had to be us or our family.
You know all the answers to these inquiries by heart, but still, there’s a strange, ineluctable sensation when you’re in the midst of it all – existing, breathing, and convincing yourself to be brave in the challenge given to you. You’re reminded that this life is just a fleeting illusion; that you’re a humble traveler; and that this may come to an end in a snap. Today, you’re a towering figure of physique and fitness; tomorrow could be a different story. It’s not promised.
But you hope. You say your prayer without anybody noticing. You reach out to a higher being in spite of all your flaws, shortcomings, and vulnerabilities. Because the situation is beyond the grasp of your hands, of your humanity, of everyone who knows you.
Then, you pause. You can see the minute, fine details. Paths become clearer. Because you believe that everything happens for a reason. You try to make sense of the test you’re faced with. And when the doctor tells you that your brother or a loved one is no longer in the critical state, you fleetly send the heavens a sincere smiley, a million thanks.
With the waves of life arriving from every direction, it’s facile to forget the essence of one’s existence. Sometimes, in order for us to be reawakened, inexplicable events have to transpire; for us to reevaluate our decisions, our steps, our mindset. And right there, in the mist of confusion, grief, and tears, is where we can only genuinely validate and ruminate what we’re made of.
In the end, as I examined the untitled painting and equably fixed it in its place, I discovered that there was a total of twenty-eight kaleidoscopic koi swimming around the imaginary cylinder which is the same number of years I just turned to carry across my name that morning.
A coincidence? Without a shadow of doubt, I refute to think so.