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May Rain

When I got home our answering machine was beeping, announcing that there were some messages waiting to be retrieved. I pressed the play button as I kicked my shoes. The first message was from Duane asking if I could pick up his dry cleaning he forgot to get two weeks ago and that he left fifty bucks on top of the fridge. The second was quite unfamiliar and the recording was not very clear.

It sounded like the caller was using a dying cellular phone
in a very remote place where there was barely a reception.

"Lawrence … as you get this," was all I understood from the message. It sounded like the caller was using a dying cellular phone in a very remote place where there was barely a reception. The message gave a number that I can call but even the numbers were not clear that made returning the call impossible. Thinking that my friend Liza was playing games on me—as she always does—I called her in Toronto. Neither she nor her husband Frank was home. I got their machine and left a message. To get back at her, as I was talking I scratched the receiver that created noise rendering my message unclear like the one that she left on our machine.

After a long day of work, I thought I'd go home directly, have a bath, watch some TV and maybe work on the painting I've been postponing to finish for the last six months. My roommate Duane was in Whistler to iron out some troubles with one of their resorts. His boss sent him. Duane and I shared a loft in one of the buildings in Gastown, Vancouver. The place was conducive for painting, that's why I agreed to share the place with him when he invited me. I met Duane in UBC when I updated my journalism degree. He was a part time student.

There was not much in our fridge, a stale cartoon of milk, some decaying vegetables, a half consumed bottle of mineral water, and an unopened bottle of white wine. Ordering some Chinese food was the next best thing.

After I placed my order for delivery, I picked up our answering machine. Taking out the small cassette tape, I shook it a bit, hoping that it was just tight and needed loosening up so that the message would be clearer when I replay it. I put it back, fast-forwarded and rewound it before playing.

Again, "Lawrence … as you get this," was all I understood. Why would Liza leave a message like this? Or was it really Liza? Star 69 came handily to retrieve the last number that called. "The last number that called your phone is 416 _________." That was Liza's number. I called her up again. Frank answered. "Liza flew to Manila yesterday because her father died," Frank said. Liza's dad and my dad were best friends. I asked Frank if he called me and left me a message. He said yes he called me, but was not able to leave a message because Frizzie, their cat, knocked down the phone and got the cable disconnected from the jack. Instead of calling me again right away, he decided to call me later this evening as he was running late for his appointment. "Are you sure you did not leave me a message," I asked Frank. "I'm positive. Why?" he asked. "Well, I got this message on the machine but I couldn't understand the whole thing. All I was able to understand was 'Lawrence … as you get this,'" I said.

The apartment was getting really warm. I had to turn down the thermostat and opened slightly some windows.

While talking to Frank the buzzer rang. I had to excuse myself and told him that I will call back. When the delivery guy was gone, I picked up the phone again. Their phone was busy.

The apartment was getting really warm. I had to turn down the thermostat and opened slightly some windows. My body started to get soaked in sweat, rendering me more tired than usual. Vancouver is pretty much like Manila, where I was born. The climate is muggy and humid especially during summer. I turned on the TV. There was nothing interesting to watch so I turned it off again. Looking at the lemon chicken I ordered, I decided a glass of white wine would be really perfect with it.

It's been six months since I had the apartment all to myself. Whenever I'm by myself in our place, that's the only time I paint. When someone is around while I am painting, I find it difficult to concentrate. I have always been like that.

My mom told me that as a young boy I used to go to the attic, where I played by myself or worked on my coloring book. At five she knew, I would be an artist or at least would be interested in art evidenced by the choices of color combinations I used in my coloring book. But she remembered I would not even touch my coloring book when she and dad were around or when I was aware that there were other people.

Lemon chicken is always a treat for me. But after eating Chinese food I always feel sleepy. It's the MSG. Although almost all of the Chinese restaurants advertise "No MSG" I know they use it, because one effect of MSG to me is to guzzle a lot of water and feel sleepy after eating.

After emptying the dishwasher, I went to my studio. Looking at the veiled canvas, the thoughts of lying down on bed became stronger. Instead, I sprawled on the floor, gazing at the canvas sitting on my easel for more than six months now. It seemed to scream: "The last hero of a moronic clan, finish me or kiss me goodbye before you vanish into the bliss of the condemnation you deserved."

I'd go to the attic to play with my imaginary friend, Presindo. I didn't remember how he looked like, but I know that he existed—in my mind—and only my mom believed me about him.

I prepared my palette. Picked up the brush. After some moments of indecisive strokes the blurred image in the canvas started to breathe. With precise strokes the piece came to life.

Mom's memory of me going to the attic to do my coloring book was not the same as mine. Mine was slightly different. I'd go to the attic to play with my imaginary friend, Presindo. I didn't remember how he looked like, but I know that he existed—in my mind—and only my mom believed me about him.

I was not a loner as a child. I used to go to our neighbor and play with Ronald. They lived next door. We shared toys and even ate at each other's house.

One afternoon, Ronald's mom caught us kissing. We were five. I did not initiate the kiss, Ronald did. He told me that he saw his mom and dad kissing one time. He was curious what was it like. My curiosity was also stirred, so I agreed that we kiss. We didn't even know that it was forbidden for two boys to kiss, that it was a male and female thing. Ronald's mom told my parents about it. Since then I was forbidden to go to our neighbor's house. As Ronald's parents and mine became unfriendly towards each other, they later moved to the other end of the city because of the incident. My dad blamed my mom for letting me out of the house playing with the neighbor's little queer boy. Ronald's dad blamed his mom for letting their little queer boy neighbor into their house.

Without realizing that what Ronald and I did was really bad, I was punished. My dad shaved my hair, so I wouldn't leave the house. I was only allowed to go out of the house when we're going to church or when mom needed me to accompany her at the market. That's when I started frequenting the attic playing by myself and working on my coloring book.

At four in the morning there was a heavy downpour, the first May rain. Vancouver climate has always been like this.

I recalled the way my father read May rain: "If on the first day of May there was no rain, many peasants would go hungry. And if one wanted to be freed from any illness the first May downpour is medicinal." I also did not understand then, how rain was related to starvation and that it was a blessing for the farmers.

The very first day of May, when I was ten years old, I waited for the rain to fall. It didn't. I waited every day and every night until the first May rain came towards the end of the month. It was night, when the rain came. Still, I went out in the rain and enjoyed. The very next day, I was down in bed with fever as my father blamed me for spoiling the May rain ritual by waiting for its coming. "No one should wait for its coming," he preached. "Wait-er would be punished."

I allowed that curse
to wash away all my anxieties, all my cares.
I communed with the rain till my whole being erupted into an unexplainable bliss.

I was in Vancouver and not in Manila. The air smelled fresher when it's raining. Unlike in Manila, we didn't have to worry about getting flooded. Rain was and still is one of Manila's curses. At the patio outside our loft, I allowed that curse to wash away all my anxieties, all my cares. I communed with the rain till my whole being erupted into an unexplainable bliss.

It's been awhile since I went back to Manila to visit my family and plans of going back there and be verbally abused by my dad were simply remote from my calendar. Although I must admit, at times I missed my family, I missed being home and I missed playing basketball in the rain.

That first May rain in Vancouver, I owned and shared with no one. I owned the rain and the ominous warnings of its every drop.
When I started to get the chills I went inside to dry myself. The phone rang. Wondering who would call me at 6:30 in the morning, I picked up the receiver.

"Lawrence," the voice was clearer. Six years ago when I last heard that voice telling me, "Your dad loves you. He just wanted what's best for you." She was crying, after my dad and I had a fight and literally told me that he wanted me out of his life, out of their lives. That was six years ago, when I brought home Duane with me one summer. After that fight, Duane and I flew back to Vancouver the very next day, cutting short our holiday.

"Lawrence, your dad," my mom said. It was my mom who called and left that blurry message. Frank was right, he was the last who called me but he never left a message. Just a mention of the word dad, triggered something in me: the attic, my shaved hair, the first May rain, Duane. My hand trembled caused by the cold rain water. My clothes dripped on the floor as I imagined my mom's eyes were swollen from crying incessantly.

Investigators presumed that Liza's dad and my dad were dead somewhere, as they retrieved a huge chunk of styrofoam with my dad's name on it, floating after the storm.

Liza's dad and my dad went on a fishing trip to Alabat Island four days ago, my mom told me. The day they left, there was no sign yet that a tropical storm was approaching, let alone a forecast. Forecast of a coming storm was announced on their third day at the sea, on the same day the storm hit the island. Investigators presumed that Liza's dad and my dad were dead somewhere, as they retrieved a huge chunk of styrofoam with my dad's name on it, floating after the storm.

In Vancouver, rain had stopped. It was seven o'clock.

With a new attack of sadness, I went to our room. I could see from our bedroom window the sun was beginning to shine after the rain. In my private world a storm began to rage.

© Renato Gandia

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