The living room, dining room, kitchen, sun room, bathroom, were all her preserve. She explored, probed, touched, pushed, even tasted everything. Given half a chance, she would have dust on her feet, flour on her hands and the hand towels from the privy on her neck. None could stop her. If I said, “Lina, you shouldn’t do this,” she just smiled and did it all the same.
One time I was changing her clothes, and went to look in a drawer for something, and Lina ran pell-mell through the living room, through a front door left carelessly ajar, out on the front yard. A lawyer friend, passing by on the street, frowned disapprovingly, seeing a naked child on the yard, and then laughed, seeing me pursuing the child frantically, realizing what might have happened.
Four years later, a shorter replay in Manila, when we rushed to the hospital just in time, for Monica to emerge, quickly, impatiently, into our arms. A different city and a different house, but I felt again I was playing with a doll. A smaller but naughtier girl, just as spirited, just as fun, running around, laughing, singing, dancing. Jane and I had started as a quiet couple, working long hours, coming home to a plain but placid dinner table. Now, suddenly, there were two pretty girls, creating drama and excitement out of nothing, making sure that the pedestrian concerns of their dad were blown away, replaced by the thrill of planning the next weekend with them.
They grow up, go to college, take a job and even get married.
I am happy for them, but the void in my home is never going to be filled. I love the quiet of my home, the still night and gentle daybreak, the chance to read in peace, think in silence and write without interruption. But I still miss the tinkling of unprovoked girlish laughter and the unexpected momentary touch of a casual kiss. I just miss my daughters.
I make a cup of coffee in the morning just the way I like it, robust and fragrant. But as I sip it and watch the glistening east, I say to myself, “Why the devil don’t they phone me?” Then I reassure myself, “They can’t, because they are rushing to their office now.” If the call doesn’t come in the evening either, I tell myself, “They must be braving the evening traffic now, trying to get back home.” I know I expect too much. If they call me once a week, I will want them to call twice; if they call twice, I will want them to call every day. If they did that too, perhaps I will long to hear from them both morning and evening. No, there is no limit to my longing, my unceasing, unreasonable yearning for a lost connection.
I look at their pictures and wonder when did they grow so big, so important, so responsible for so many things. How did they ever learn to do all those things they do in their office and in their home? What, in Heaven’s name, do they cook for their husbands and their friends, and how did they learn to cook all that? Just the other day they were the little girls who ran from one room to another, talked about things in whispers and, when I asked, said, “Dad, these are girl things. You won’t understand.”
I miss them. Unreasonably and unremittingly, I miss them. They did not let me play with dolls because I was a boy. When I grew up I loved playing with living dolls. I still long to play with dolls.