Step by slow step, Ato walked the path towards the kitchen. He stood close to the wall, feeling the rough concrete on his fingertips. He has a pretty accurate mental layout of the house. If nobody moved anything that stray his path, he would get there with no delay.
He could hear someone coughing loudly in the room. They were long dry coughs that sounded painful to his ears.
He paced even slower as he closed his eyes tight. He did it out of habit, really, there was no real difference in opening or closing his eyes. He counted the steps as he walked, painstakingly. His joint pains has gotten worse for the past couple of days for some reason. He pressed his palm on the wall, leaning towards it for support.
Shuffling. He could hear shuffling from a short distance.
Tatay? Said a voice. He tilted his head to his good ear, trying to match the voice with a name. Tatay, what is it that you need? The voice said. It was Selya, his youngest daughter. He heard Selya’s footsteps getting nearer.
You should have called for me if you needed anything, she said almost scoldingly. You didn’t have to walk all this way!
He straightened up a little, head still tilted to his good ear. He blinked, again, out of habit. Your mother, he said, putting stress to those two words as if they were enough to explain his cause. Your mother, she’s been coughing a lot. She needs water.
Salome is attending to her. You need not worry yourself about it. Now, let’s get you back to bed.
Selya put her arms around his shoulders, urging him to walk with her.
At least have your mother drink some water, he insisted. Selya let out a sigh. There was a hint of exasperation in her voice.
Salome is right there. Nanay is being attended to, Tatay. You should go back to bed.
He didn’t say anything and kept walking. They reached his room, Selya walked him towards the bed, arms still around him. This is the bed, Tatay, she said as he sat down. It is almost midnight, get some sleep. He merely nodded and said nothing. It was draining always having to insist things, and Selya sounded a bit irritated.
I’m closing the lights now,ok? Selya said.
What, the lights were on? He said slyly.
Selya let out a tired chuckle. Good night, Tatay.
There was a soft click and there was silence. He laid back down and closed his eyes.
He must have been asleep for about an hour when the coughing started again. It could all be in his imagination, but the coughs sounded drier, graver than the last ones an hour ago. He whispered in the darkness, no one heard him of course. Everyone is asleep.
He debated to himself as to whether or not to call for Selya. He tilted his head, straining to hear any sounds from her bedroom, but there were only soft snores.
He felt sorry for his daughter. Each of his other children have their own concerns now, most of them married with a family of their own, and Selya, young Selya was left with all the burden. It must be exhausting, even with Salome around, tending to two old sickly people for every minute of every day, leaving no time for her to live her own life. Thinking about it overcomes him with so much guilt that it drives him to tears.
In the end he decided not to wake her. Instead, he got up and walked towards the door, holding on to the wall as he did so. There was more coughing. He let his good ear lead him.
Soledad, he whispered as he walks into the room. His voice was soft, as if he were afraid to wake someone sleeping. Soledad. The coughing stopped. He heard rustles of the sheets, accompanied by laboured wheezy breathing, as he groped his way towards the bed.
Ato! Soledad let out, startled. Are you ok? she said, and he had to smile. It was almost funny how she sounded like she was coughing out barbed wire, and she was concerned about him.
I came to see you, he said. His knee touched the side of the bed. He stretched his arms out to grab a chair but Soledad yanked his arm down. Here, sit. And he did.