“Anna? Is this Anna?”
I instantly recognized the voice on the phone. And I fell silent, wishing it to go away.
“Anna, Anna. Si Anna ba ito?” it persisted.
I hang up without answering.
The voice, that of a former co-worker who retired 12 years ago, would call every month or so. At the end of each call, I would part with a few hundred pesos. I wasn’t the only one on his call list; he had some of my other colleagues too. Just after Christmas last year, a few of us decided we had done enough of doles and pooled cash to help him set up a micro business. You know, “the-teach-a-man-how-to-fish-so- he-could-eat-forever” la-di-dah. Later, from the grapevine, we learned the makeshift store closed in no time.
I tried to tell myself it made perfect sense to feel aid-fatigued and imposed upon. That to deny him now might be his deliverance later. Still, knots began to form at the pit of my stomach. I imagined the last time I saw him -- a shrunken copy of his old cheerful and slightly cocky self. He could talk very little as he coughed so much.
Suddenly, I remembered a dream I had of him years ago when he was still fit and gainfully employed.
I was inside a nipa hut looking out of the window at him sleeping on a hammock. Just then, I saw the strings of the hammock uncoiling from the fat tree trunks to which they were tied. I rushed out, but – too late – he had landed on the ground.
I wondered then what the dream meant. And I wondered again now, as my insides squirmed.
Desperately, I willed the phone to ring again. And it did. This time, I answered.
I mean I asked questions.
“Ano po ba ang nangyari dun sa binigay naming pang-kapital sa inyo kailan lang?”
‘Hindi po ba kayo nakapagpatayo ng maliit na tindahan?”
“Hindi po ba ginawan pa kayo ni Celia ng business plan?”
“Bakit naman po pinabayaan nyo ang mga anak nyong kurakutin ang tindahan nyo?”
(Didn’t we give you capital for a small business for you and your wife? Were you able to put it up? Didn’t we make you a business plan? Why did you let your grown-up children wipe out your stocks?)
I ended the conversation asking him to pick up an envelope from the guard.
And so the cycle continues ...