Part I: The Boy Who Doesn’t Smile.
The first time I saw Garett was at a funeral.
He is the most emaciated and blank-faced boy I have ever seen. As he sits across me in our table a week later, he still is and apparently devoid of expressions.
“Maina! Stop your staring” Mama says, wiping the blood off Garett’s lips. Besides not being able to walk, talk, and express for himself, he doesn’t know how to eat.
Staring at them, at how mama is trying hard to teach him how to chew, my mind keeps reeling back on the night – on that frightful night.
So, I lied.
The first time I really saw this boy was when he was being carried by a hospital bed, dragged towards an ambulance.
“Ma, what’s wrong with him?” I ask not being able to stop myself. Of course, I just have to ask. I am fourteen and I do not yet understand a lot about life and mothers do, right? She throws me a look, one that indicates for me to shut up. The fact that she did that means she have no idea at all or that I am too young to understand.
“Grasya, he’s just been through a lot” Papa says beside me. Addressing me in my nickname does not help. That’s what adults always do when they can’t figure out how to explain either.
Nobody knew there was a kid in Miss Gavino’s home. Nobody knew she was suffering from a mental disorder or that she was taken advantaged by a man. Nobody noticed she was pregnant even though it takes nine months and would be easily recognized.
No one cared.
“The doctor say it is even a miracle that Garett is alive” Papa says softly as though his heart is breaking.
Is he though, living?
Garett’s eyes flick to mine. I shiver at the hollow blacks of his eyes, wriggling my shoulders. He’s like a machine! An emotionless robot! That’s what I thought. But what he reminds me most of all is a doll. A human doll with no soul. Nothing inside, just an empty world.
Past ten, I sneak towards my parents’ bedroom, trying to be soundless like a cat. If they’re not going to tell me anything then I’ll just eavesdrop. I thank the thin walls of their bedroom, I do not have to press my ear as a stethoscope to hear their conversation.
“I can’t believe he’s in a cabinet for six years. Six years! No wonder he doesn’t know anything” Mama’s voice is muffled but her frustration is clear. Then I hear papa sigh. “What did the doctor say?”
“He needs a psychologist Pang… of course, and an intensive medical care”
“We don’t –” Papa cuts his words short. “Okay, I’ll find a part time job, we’ll find a way” he continues.
“I know it’s hard but I couldn’t leave him alone in a hospital surrounded by doctors who looks at him like an opportunity for experiments. There’s nobody who will take him in and he’s just a boy. Oh, poor Garett” Mama whines.
Why would he need a psychologist when he’s been in a hospital for weeks? Is he also mentally screwed?
The next day, I came to school detached from my surroundings. All I could think about is the boy who needs a psychologist.
“Grasya… Hello? What’s wrong with you?” Geiah says, snapping her fingers on my face to get my attention. “Do we have a psychologist here?”
Blankly, she replies “Huh?”
“No, we don’t” May answers on her stead. They are both looking at me intensely it could melt my face.
“Hey Maina Grace! How’s your freak adopted brother?”
Geiah stands abruptly almost knocking her chair over. “Shut up Michael! The only freak around here is you.” Michael makes a face with his three other goons before going back to their chair. Gossips spread like wildfire indeed.
“They’re calling him a freak even though he’s an innocent victim” May says handing me her phone. Our local newspaper is on the screen, the article about a boy found in a cabinet, confined by her mother believed to be suffering from schizophrenia.
‘Children grown in isolation according to psychologists hardly build personality and that child would likely not be able to walk or even smile’ the journalist says.
In the comments section, a lot of people reach their sympathies but few others like Michael calls him a freak.
“How is he?” Geiah asks. From what I know now, there is only one word I can describe him with.
“Lonely” I say.
Part II: Cheese
After twelve days of continually seeing a doctor, a psychologist and a… he calls himself the social doctor, Garett improved. At least even a little. He can chew now but his digestion or metabolism isn’t that good yet considering for six years of his life all he tasted was milk and Cerelac. He doesn’t zone out anymore and he’s starting to pay attention at people’s faces. However, he still doesn’t react to anything and mama and papa is fighting again.
I don’t bother knowing why for apparently it is about money and Garett. I look at him on my side, wondering if he understands what he is hearing. They shouldn’t even be fighting when we can clearly hear them, especially not around him.
When it comes to situations like this, I do one thing.
“Do you want an ice drop?” I coax, grinning at him. I take it it was a dumb smile because he just blinks at me. Or maybe it’s a yes…
I piggyback carry him and take mama’s wallet without asking permission. We went out, idly pacing our barangay on a Saturday afternoon, with a lot of kids Garett’s age playing on the streets.
He should be playing there with them and my heart aches for him. He is missing a lot.
We settled on a sidewalk, figuring Manong ice drop will pass us by as he walks here everyday. Soon, I hear his bell and an ‘Ice drop!’ roared with a deep, big voice as though calling out for the whole world.
I bought us each a mango ice drop. Happily licking my dessert, I notice that Garett is staring at a distance and his ice drop is melting on his hand. He’s looking at the other kids now playing tag, laughing and running.
“Someday, you can play with them too” I say to him. “Make sure to be walking soon okay? Here, you eat this, like this…”
Sticking my tongue out, I lick my ice drop repeatedly so that he can follow. I thought he’s just going to let me do all the action but he followed, inanimately. I grin at the sight, surprised and delighted.
It occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, all he need is time and someone that would pay attention to him.
“Commence operation make Garett smile!”
I couldn’t paint their faces. Geiah’s chewing a gum while May looks back down reading a novel. I invited them for a visit and this is what they repay me? “Tsk. Can’t you at least pretend to support me on this?”
“And how would you do it – no wait, how will we be able to help exactly?” Geiah asks, slightly annoyed. “I thought that the more people he sees the better” I say.
May raises her eyebrows, skeptical. “Fine, the social doctor said that. Anyway, come in”
They met Garett at the sala and they couldn’t hide the expression on their faces. “Okay! Garett, this is ate Geiah and ate May…” I start, clearing my throat. “Ah – ah! Ye-yeah! Yeah… hehe”
You couldn’t be more obvious Geiah, I thought. And May is acting so rigid. What friends I have. “This is awkward!” Geiah whispers. “If it comes to being emotional, Gigi can handle that” May quips, hastily removing herself from us but I blocked her. “Please?”
Three hours later, our brains are drained and squished and scrambled. “We’ve tried everything” May says, thirsty. She was the one making all the faces: smiley face, angry face, sad face… she was quite an actress. Sighing heavily, I went back to where Garett is, sitting in front of a television.
“Garett please, please smile? It’s just like this ‘cheeeeessseeeeee’” I try again, grinning hard “Cheeessseeeee!!!”
I give up.
I almost did. But then, at the last moment his lips curled. He… he is...
“Geiah!!! May!!!” I freak out. “What?” they shout back, coming to the sala with us.
“Oh, my gosh!”
“Is he? Is that a –”
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