The black traveling bag was marked ‘T-shirts ni Tatay’. It’s one of those canvas overnight bags with wheels business people would use whenever they’d scoot from one airport to another, the same one my brother used when he went to Singapore for a month. I could still see the airline’s baggage sticker stuck on the lower side of it. I turned it upside down and saw his name written next to the right wheel. Oddly enough, my father and brother share the same name – David. And now it contains the senior David’s shirts.
And now, it is sitting here, on the floor, in my apartment.
My mother asked me to store it together with some other boxes from our old house. Left here by the movers, this black bag containing some of my father’s old shirts seems to carry within it more than just ‘things’. It carries with a few stories that I remember of him. Vividly I remember three shirts.
I remember the brown sport shirt with white stripes and gartered sleeves he always wear back when he still played golf. I know it’s his favorite, so that time one of the sleeves got caught on a piece of wire poking from the wall of his office, he asked my mom to sew it instead of buying a new one. I would, on occasion, borrow that same shirt when I’d be meeting my high school friends to watch a movie. My mother would scold me if she catches me wearing dad’s brown shirt, “Baka naman maghalo na kayo ng amoy ng kilikili ng tatay mo nyan!” (You and your father might begin to share the same armpit smell!)
There was also this set of white V-necked undershirts he’d be wearing when he’d have his short-sleeved button polos on. I was a small kid when I would remember how I would cuddle up to him in front of the living room’s black and white TV with the dial that my older brother would poke a match stick on to prevent it from slipping and losing the channel we were watching. I could smell the mixture of cigarette smoke, Old Spice cologne, day-long sweat and the Three Flowers pomade on those white undershirts, and it always… always makes me feel just right.
The complimentary t-shirts emblazoned with the logo of Wack Wack Golf and Country Club where my father spent more than thirty years of his professional life would always bring back memories of long, heated conversations he’d have with Tito Canuto – his younger brother who also spent most of his years in the same company. My father is a very patient man, kind and soft-spoken. Us - his sons - never heard him raise an angry voice, even at my older brother’s worst discretions. But it is a different story every time Tito Canuto comes over for a visit. It would begin as a mild conversation of “how are you’s” and would, in an instant, turn into fist-banging on the tabletop and a raised voice, usually from my father. From a mild-mannered, quiet Bicolano, talking with Tito Canuto turns my father into a loud, irritated Italian trying to make a point to the former. Usually, their conversation would only quiet down when my mother comes over and lays a hand on my father’s shoulder to offer the two of them some hot coffee.
The black bag is here and I still am too reluctant to open and check what’s inside, fearful that when I do, I might not rise up without me either shedding a tear or grinning a fond smile… for my father.