Before my father decided to leave mom and I, we would fly to the province every Christmas vacation and have a little family reunion. Aside from us, two other siblings of my father’s and their family live outside the province. One lives at Australia and the other lives at Hong Kong. I found this yearly reunion fun and exciting. There would always be a huge feast on Christmas Eve coupled with games designed to make all the adults look like complete fools. On Christmas day, the feast would continue with another rousing round of games and the seasonal Secret Santa. Tradition.
My mother always hated this tradition. She was never welcomed openly by my father’s family, and my father felt obliged to bring her along. She always felt like an outsider. I was too young and naïve to notice it. Fortunately, the separation meant that we needed not meet the Clan (yes, my father’s family is a legitimate clan formally registered in the government) every festive season.
The past Christmas Eves with my mother always involved trips to different restaurants or hours in the kitchen. I never once missed the Clan’s celebratory mood and the money in envelopes that came with it. This Christmas Eve was different.
I was revising the thesis my group mates and I needed to pass. With the amount of work that’s needed, it would seem illogical to waste a day. I had no plans to go out with my mother on Christmas Eve, and she hadn’t cooked for the occasion. I knew that I could work through the night since we ate last night’s leftovers. But my mother thought otherwise.
“Where do you want to go?” She asked after we finished church. I hadn’t thought about it since I knew that all the restaurants in the city would’ve closed early or have been closed for the holidays. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
“What about Eastwood?” I said. I knew that most if not everything was closed. It was 10:30PM and every restaurant was pitch black. The only businesses that stayed open were gas stations and 24 hour convenience stores.
“What do you want?”
Seeing that I always want something healthy, I said, “Pho Hoa. I like their noodles.”
“You’re gonna eat again?” She looked at me while driving through the dark bridge that connects Katipunan and C5. “If you’re gonna eat noodles, I’ll just have dessert from Jack’s Loft.” Luckily, the two restaurants agreed to serve each other’s food at their tables.
As we entered Eastwood, I was reminded of my friend who lived there with his mother in a condominium. He passed away leaving me to think how his mother would go through this Christmas without him. I was thankful that my mother was beside me in the car.
“Looks like they’re packing up and cleaning,” she pointed to the restaurants as we drove to one of the parking lots. “Maybe Pho Hoa’s closed too.”
“Let’s just check.” I knew it was closed but I didn’t want to be such a fucking asshole. True enough, it was closed. We turned the car around and headed out of Eastwood. We gassed up at a local station, and I stared at how expensive petroleum was.
“Where do you want to go now? Starbucks?” I had a sliver of hope when I said it since I knew the Starbucks in Libis was open. But my mother didn’t want any.
“Let’s just go home,” she said. My heart sank. My chest was so heavy that it was impossible to breathe. I knew that all of her effort to bring me out was to celebrate Christmas with me. We had no feast, no games, and no envelope filled with cash. It was just us in a gas station at 11:00PM.
As we drove back to Katipunan, my mother broke the silence, “He’s (my father) celebrating with his family and friends.”
“Mm.” Is all I could answer. I didn’t look at her nor the road. I just stared at the empty restaurants we passed.
“Even the employees in those restaurants are celebrating.”
“Look for restaurants that are open.”
“Ministop’s still open,” she said.
“We can go to FamilyMart and get ice cream,” I suggested. My mother always loved their green tea ice cream.
She parked the car upfront, and I got out with 100php in my wallet. I came back with two ice creams, and we ate them in the car.
This is how I spent my Christmas Eve. No extravagant food, no festive lights or karaoke, no movie reruns of Home Alone, no relatives, no friends. It was two ice creams, in a car parked along Katipunan at 11:45PM. Believe me when I say this. I would rather spend all my Christmas Eves in that car with an ice cream cone with my mom than spend one with the Clan.