BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, July 2, 2006

job description: guardian

Barely awake, I struggle to get out of bed. It is Saturday, just about the only day when there's no work, affording me the luxury to sleep as much as I want to. But not this time.

Mom and Dad are in Uncle Sam's territory, probably having their usual lovers' quarrel up there in the Empire State Building, having their snapshots taken in front of the White House, strolling along Ellis Island to have a full view of the Statue of Liberty or simply enjoying their grand vacation.

I am the appointed temporary caretaker of the house, which has two younger beings (so grown up I don't know why our parents call them, ang mga bata).

I am thrust into this obligation because I am the only older sibling still staying at home.

And so I steel myself to get up. It is only 10:30 a.m. and on a Saturday morning, 10:30 a.m. is to me, just about 6 a.m. My brain is still in deep slumber. A cold shower washes away my sluggish state but not my sense of duty. And so I oblige.

I have to bring my 13-year old sister to the doctor because she has these small, red, ugly dots all over her back. It's something like Chicken Pox but not quite. It looks more like pimples, the embarassing kind which makes you want to stay home when you have them and you're going to be meeting your highschool crush or when you know you'd be face to face with Rico Blanco.

We reach the hospital and as we make our way to the doctor's clinic, the shrieks, cries, shouts, laughter and wailing of children reverberate in the hallway. They're so noisy they make me want to turn back, dash to the car and go back to bed.

But I can't. In fact, I have to endure the annoying environment for one hour. We are obviously late so we have no choice but to fall way behind the line.

Children, mostly below five years old, are all over the place. I entertain myself by watching a fat little girl in white shorts, flowery red shirt, pig-tails and all. She has a huge sandwich on one hand, an apple in another and a Tetrapack orange juice snuggled in between her thighs.

She devours on her food, gulps on the juice and then runs back and fourth down the hallway, impatiently waiting for her turn with the doctor. Five minutes more of doing this, she suddenly turns red and her eyes turn bigger than usual. She holds her tummy and runs to her mother who knows better.

The mother takes out a plastic bag, puts this in front of her daughter's mouth and waits for the dam to open.

Gross. I look away, take out my MP3 player and try to disappear into the world of U2, Bob Marley, Nina Simone and Rico Blanco.

Thirty minutes more of waiting and we finally have our turn. I am sitting in front of the doctor trying to act motherly, or at the very least like a guardian. (That is my official title in my little sister's school functions).

Little sister has this and that, I say to the doctor, also my pediatrician soon after I was born.

No, she's not allergic to medicines and to any specific food and no, she has not been doing something out of the ordinary, I try to say with authority.

Little sister has hand-foot-mouth disease, the doctor says after examining her back.

"What!!????" I panic. "Foot and mouth disease?!!!"

No, the doctor says and laughs. Not that kind, he says.

It's some sort of a virus which will be gone in five days if she drinks all the medicines. While explaining this to me, my mobile phone suddenly rings. A businessman wants to be interviewed. I excuse myself and talk to the source for a while. The doctor calls me again. I have to stop my interview.

After one hour, we are buying medicines worth P1,000. The money for groceries has been diverted to curing hand-foot-mouth disease.

We have nothing more for the week except sardines and Lucky Me and the occasional adobo that our grandmother would cook for us once in a while. Instead, we have P1,000 worth of medicines for curing hand-foot-mouth disease.

Three days since that day, little sister's back is slowly returning to normal. My temporary role as mother will hopefully, temporarily stop, too.

Or so I thought.

This morning, little brother wakes me up from a deep slumber. He has colds, cough and flu. What does he do? He asks me.

I throw the question to myself. What do you do, Iris?

My dutiful side tells me: Wake up, wake up and act like mother again.

Hay, ang mga bata...