It is night, and my mother and I return to an empty home.
On my childhood bed I lay my clothes out: T-shirts, underwear, shorts for the hot weather. A black tie and a black suit I had hoped not to wear.
I am unpacking after a restless thirteen-hour flight from San Francisco. After fifteen hours by my father’s side in the hospital and then in billing and then the morgue. After three hours in traffic, behind the metal rattle of jeepneys, going home to the provinces from Manila. I need to change my clothes. I need to lie down.
I look at my bed and see myself as a boy, my skinny limbs clutching a pillow, feet not yet dangling over the foot of the bed.
I don’t really want to be here. My brother is at the funeral home, making important decisions about the coffin and flowers. I want to be somewhere where I can be of use, get things done.
I hear my mother calling me from their bedroom, asking me to do something. A favor. It’s late and I’m exhausted and I want to protest, but I go anyway.
She’s getting her clothes ready for tomorrow’s wake, laid out on her bed, one by one: a white blouse, a checkered scarf, dark slacks.
She says, I own nothing in black.
She never wears black. Malungkot na kulay, she always called it. A sad color. No clothes the color of her hair, dyed in a black too dark to match her eight decades.
You need to get some rest, I tell her.
You need to help me first, she tells me, pointing to my father’s clothes in the closet.
I shake my head. I tell her we don’t need to do this now, that there are more important things to do tomorrow. Visitors to feed. Papers to sign. All that.
But she insists. Just come look now, she says, walking to the closet.
I look at her bed and imagine her in her faded nightgown, lying sleepless, a thin arm outstretched to my father’s bed alongside her.
I look at his bed and see his pillows smoothed and propped up, his sheets tucked tight, his blanket folded at the foot.
So I follow my mother to the closet. My father had been bedridden for a year, and wore only pajamas and hospital gowns. I look closer at the shirts, a row of starched empty sleeves, and see dust sprinkled on the shoulders.
She says, Take them all with you. What will I do with them, she asks.
They won’t fit, I say, and I don’t wear those colors.
My father was partly color-blind. Sometimes he wanted a second opinion. What color is this flower, he’d ask. The second opinions never quite matched his.
So my father owned clothes of, well, unusual hues. Colors absent from both my vocabulary and my wardrobe.
My mother shows me a rain jacket. Waterproof, she points out. He loved this jacket, she says. He would have wanted you to have it.
It looks too big. It’s also a combination of two shades of gray and yellow. The latter is an awful cross between a highlighter and a canary.
I say no.
She shows me his shirts, their patterns and loud colors an affront.
She has a story for each: Your brother gave him this for his 80th birthday. We bought this at an outlet store. He wore this at the church anniversary. He couldn’t decide between these two so I got them both and he was really happy.
She shows them to me, wanting an answer for each, one by one.
I say no, again and again.
Just try them on, she says.
I am tired. I am so, so tired, and so must be my mother. But I sigh and give in.
To my surprise, my Dad’s shirts fit me perfectly. His arms are my arms. I look in the mirror and I see my father, and I see myself.
I didn’t need a second opinion. I brought home half a dozen shirts, and the rain jacket. It still looks like nothing I would ever wear, but I will.
And I want the sky to crack open above me, I want the clouds to let go, I want the rain to fall and fall and fall.
Benito Vergara is the author of two academic monographs, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines and Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City. His work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Entropy, and the anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 7, and he has received a fellowship at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley summer writing workshop. Follow him at @thewilyfilipino.