Ate Beng has been with us since Maia turned 1 year old. She left her nanay and tatay in Iligan to join us here in Manila when we moved back in April of 2005 and has stayed with us (through thick and thin) ever since. She and Ate Lalay (who went back home to Iligan for good last March 2007) managed our house, took care of all of us and took note of what we needed to get every time Sam and I went to do the groceries. Ate Beng was Maia’s companion for more hours that I, her own mother, have been with her in total.
I know how that is like, since I had my yayas through the years of my early childhood for companions for most of the day during weekdays since my aunt, who I grew up with, had a regular job. This year Ate Beng went on her annual holiday break for the first time with no Ate Lalay to pick up the slack (Ate Lalay used to go home during summer break, which was the better time to arrange matters for her four kids). And so Ate Beng left us to our own devices on the 27th of December and won’t be due back until the 7th of January 2008.
On the 28th of December Maia and I both developed stomach flu. We haven’t figured out whether this was because of any external condition (like the water we drank or the weather or the angle of the shadow the coconut tree out front cast on our house when the moon rose on the horizon), or whether it was because we missed Ate Beng severely. Maia cried all afternoon on the day that Ate Beng left, and wouldn’t go to sleep at her usual bedtime.
I tried to do Ate Beng chores that morning, from sweeping the ground floor and giving it a quick mop afterwards, sweeping up the leaves from the neighbors’ caimito tree that always fall into our back yard, sweeping up the various bits of trash that accumulate over the day in the sidewalk by the front gate, making Maia’s breakfast, our lunchtime meal, making sure the kitchen, the bathroom, all the bedrooms are spotless, and two days worth of laundry and ironing—and I immediately developed stomach flu. I don’t know if I gave it to Maia or if she developed one herself and passed it on to me.
I realize now how much time and freedom Ate Beng’s presence in our house has afforded me, and just how much we have come to depend on her to live life as we have come to know it. Because of Ate Beng Sam and I know Maia and Kuya Maui will always have a proper supper when we have to come home late from work, and that Kuya Maui will always look his best for school even if I wake up late, and that there will always be something to pull out of the fridge because she reminds us of what we need to get at the supermarket on our weekly trips.
And so in between innumerable trips to the bathroom both for Maia and myself I thought of all the things that Ate Beng means to us, and even now that Maia and I are on the way to recovery (thanks to Sis Dr. Gaylil Cuezon, charming wife of Sam’s Brother Mason Denver Cuezon), I still miss Ate Beng and eagerly await her arrival from “the office” (as Maia says, “Ate Beng is at the office?” since everyone who goes out goes to the office but comes back in the evening). On several occassions I have answered Maia this: “Ate Beng is with her Ama and Mommy for the New Year”, and Maia understands, I suppose, how nice it is to be with one’s Ama and Mommy.