It was the day of her high school graduation.
As always, I was sweating profusely in the blistering heat. It helped a little bit that I was seating next to a tree, away from the most crowds. It also helped that the gym where the commencement being held was open, the air coming in and out as it pleases.
What helped most is my obviously thinning hair, which gladly lessens the heat to be absorbed, and to which she teased me with the first time we met again that indeed, I am getting old.
The event started an hour and a half late, a very stern reminder of how time in the Philippines had become very un-Filipino.
I stood up and tried to wrestle my way through hordes of armies edging their noses with their own cameras, inch by inch, to where she stood. This was my task for the day. However menial, I was very much happy to oblige.
To observe and watch her closely at just a few feet before me rather than a thousand miles away is already a welcoming relief and a monumental mathematical development.
But as the event goes, I noticed her shying away from me. I know she knows I am around, taking more pictures as possibly as I could, but I just can’t get a decent shot. Gone were the days that when she sees me with a camera, her face goes in full focus, her eyes only on mine.
I think I felt that she was ignoring me, or at least pretending that I wasn’t really there. I really can’t blame her. It is quite manageable to pretend that I am not around when most of the time, I really was not. It just pains me to realize that the time had finally come that she now can will herself to get away from me, as I had willed myself to be away from her daily life.
To calculate how I felt at that very minute is more like bending matter over space-time. Excruciating. I was a fool to rely on what I deemed our personal cosmological constant. Because however way the wind goes, so are our ability to expand and contract, depending on our knowledge of the universe, and all within it, and around it.
The event finally came into conclusion. I was resigned to the idea that I will come back empty handed. Nothing to remember her by on this very special event. I was a mere spectator.
And then I saw her gave a quick look… then a hint of a smile. With a backdrop of everything that was going on around her, her eyes were looking not at my stupid camera, but directly at me. Directly through me…
God, it was so precious… and it was so perfect. That smile, her Mona Lisa smile, was so enigmatic that it was so enduring. A smile so mysterious that it was incomprehensible to people who do not know her.
Was it for relief? Relief that finally, her awkward transition to adult life was finally over? Was it of hope? Hope of a brighter future? Was it then pride? Pride of her achievements? Or was it her pride telling me that “even though you’re gone, I am still here,”?
Flashes of lights and distant memories darted through my brain. My chest started to become heavier that I had to reach for my inhaler. Soon after the last burst of coughing, the first tear fell.
Ahhh.. the guilt. Why do we always have to deal with this incessantly ridiculous Catholic guilt. We deal with things in our own little way. With the best we could. We go to distant worlds looking for ways to provide security, food, and future for our children, in exchange of our very own. We do what we had to do, not for us, but ultimately.. for them.
And of all those innermost feelings she had stashed away hidden in that enigmatic smile, I understood quite clearly. I knew simply because she came from me, and because she was me. Her smile, that Mona Lisa smile.
It was for lost time.