Empty Seat by Stephanie Kate A. Agor

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The last thing I remembered was the motorcycle ride and my tears getting lost with the wind on the way to my grandfather’s house -wishing I heard it wrong, or not at all.

“Tay, you spoil her so much,” my mom remarks as I walk in grinning in chocolate-stained teeth while holding my huge chocolate frappe with my grubby hands. My grandfather winks at me and assures my mom that he rarely buys me sweets, even though he drives me almost every night to our favorite pastry shop, Mocha Blends, when everyone is busy at dinner. He then tells me to choose whatever I want, and each time I point to the heavenly, decadent slice of chocolate cake and a sweeter, diabetes-inducing, similarly-flavored milkshake which name I cannot pronounce up to now. 

Being the firstborn grandchild, I was the lucky recipient of my grandfather’s favoritism. Come 3:30 in the afternoon, a car would be waiting outside of my school gate even though I’ve always hated the smell of its air freshener. One day I complained too much and he probably didn’t have the best of days—he snapped at me and told me that he would never pick me up again. But the next afternoon, he was waiting at 3:30 sharp at the exact, same spot.

During the rides home we would pass a nearby pet shop and I would always squeal at the furry, snow-white rabbits on display. One time he pulls up and tells me to show him the one I wanted. Seconds later he had a cage on his hand with my rabbit in it which I later got to call Benny Bunny. He died of the cold and I was devastated. The next day, he gets me another one which died from eating Cheese Curls and without any word, he buys me one rabbit after the other until I decided to spare their lives and just let the pet shop take better care of them.

“Go and get dressed, you’re picking out your cake,” he tells me one day. My 7th birthday was approaching and as a rite of passage, every girl gets her last grand celebration. The next would be the day she turns 18. He takes me to a popular bakeshop and asks the cashier for the cake catalogue. Being a huge, Barbie-worshipping enthusiast, I immediately point to the largest, three-tiered Barbie cake on the page without regard for what it cost. Without hesitation, he pays for it and I get the doll after all the icing has been eaten off of her dress after the party. Each day he would work in his auto-repair shop and pick me up and take me to cake shops.

Each day he would tell people I was his grand-daughter and how he was proud of me. Each day he proved to be a man of strength and have the purest heart I have ever known. Until one night, a drunk, reckless driver took away all of the strength, happiness, and the freedom that he had on a highway accident.

On that night he was taking my aunt and cousin home, when a van driver sped off behind while exiting an overpass—causing a collision and leaving my grandfather awfully injured and helpless. Thankfully there were witnesses and nearby strangers who took him to the hospital. Overnight, he was confined and treated for his wounds—but his legs were sufficiently crippled.

The once hardworking, energy-driven man now sits in a rocking chair all day, spending time in front of the TV with his crutches by his side. The thousand-watt smile he never gets tired of flashing changed into a grim expression that was heartbreaking to look at.

“When my legs heal, I promise to go up with you on graduation,” he reminds me every day. He could no longer take me to pastry shops, pick me up from school, buy me rabbits and pick out a birthday cake with me. Instead, I spend time beside him and telling him stories about how school went and how I aced my math exam. When we don’t talk, I usually watch him try and walk with crutches and he smiles at me as he successfully paces up to the end of the room. I see every day that he struggles to try and get better, and deep down, I wished that his legs would heal overnight so he could hang my medal on graduation day.

Days, weeks, months and years passed and I thought he was making progress. There were occasional hospital visits when complications would act up but I thought his recovery would come very, very soon. However, things changed as his kidneys started to fail too and he needed to undergo weekly dialysis. From there began the downward spiral of his health and soon the visits to the ICU became more and more frequent. I decided I needed to pray harder.

Then came a school day – where I had to meet several deadlines and an unfamiliar anxiety and dread came over me. I didn’t pay much attention to it as it started diminishing as I completed the requirements one by one. I went home and decided to call out to the living room but it was awfully quiet. It’s almost scary, now that I think about it.

“He passed away a while ago,” my grandmother suddenly told me. Its abruptness shocked me and it took a while before I could process what she said. When it finally came to me I couldn’t speak at all—as if my voice had been taken away at once. All I did was lock the bathroom door and cry. Your tito would pick you up soon to see him,” she said. I cried even harder.

Minutes later a motorcycle pulled up outside the gate, and I climbed in quietly.There were no words for that instant burst of pain and anger—only tears. The wind took them as fast as they fell and I knew I wasn’t ready for an empty chair on my graduation day.

The author is the former editor in chief of The Central Scholar, the official student publication of Philippine Science High School Central Luzon Campus. She won fourth place in the 2015 National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) in Taguig City.

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