Waiting room

I'm sitting on the bench from where I took this picture, waiting for my daughter to be discharged from the ICU. In the room where the light is coming from are women whose voices I can't help but half-listen to as I catch up on reading articles from email lists and newsletters I'd subscribed to that I haven't opened in weeks. Just now, the women have introduced themselves for the very first time after being immersed in many hours of conversation and more hours of sitting in the same claustrophobic space in mixed airs of companionable and uncomfortable silence. Some of them have been here since yesterday; I recognize their faces.

One of the women has finally given her name and asked the others for theirs. The name-giving lacks the usual awkwardness accompanied by introductions, a side effect of having been breathing in (and shivering in) the same air conditioner air for more hours than desirable, and a side effect of being privy to the most intimate details of the past few days of each other's lives. “Maria,” one says. “Fe,” provides the other. “Ikaw, anong pangalan mo?” “Ah, may kilala akong Fe, kaklase ko noong college sa FEU.” “Ah, FEU!” More details pour out, this time not limited to their hospital experiences. More is shared. But before this moment, there was no need for names. Not when everyone still had the hope of staying a mere few hours in the waiting room.

Yesterday, the interactions commenced with someone being bored enough to casually announce how long they'd been in the waiting room, and then

what about you,

and then how long have you been waiting,

and then oh my son or husband or daughter or sister or brother is in there,

and then anong sakit niya ilang taon na siya sino yung doktor niya,

and then sabi ng asawa ko sa akin kanina, mahal iiwanan na muna kita ah, sabi ko, baliw ka talaga.

Yesterday, one of the women cried. Her son is 16. They’re replacing three of his valves, and he has issues with his other organs as well, so much so that the hospital had included in the woman’s wad of contracts a consent form to ask if they could use her son as a case study. As she was narrating all this, she stood up and moseyed over to her belongings with a disgruntled “tignan niyo ‘to”. I was expecting her to whip out the contracts, or even documents delineating the teen’s history of ailments. Instead, she bent down to retrieve a pair of black slippers, which, when she dropped on the floor at our feet for us to gape at, we saw were far too wide and too long to belong to an average Filipino adult, let alone a 16-year-old kid. “Ito ‘yung tsinelas niya!” she exclaimed before deflating back onto the coldness of the metal bench across me as the other women gasped and let out shocked hala’s. She acknowledged the reactions and went on.

She’d been in the waiting room since 8:00 AM. She started crying a few minutes before 6:20 PM. I remember the time because I’d sent my boyfriend a frantic ‘“bb huhu ang hirap umalis dito” on Messenger. Moments earlier, a nurse had just pulled me aside to tell me that my daughter had been successfully transferred to the ICU after her operation and I could now leave the waiting room, but before I could grab my bags and make my way out, everyone had gathered around the woman (and necessarily, around me, a cramped two feet away from her) to listen. Buti pa kayo, she told us between tears, kayo kanina pa inuupdate, ako wala pang update hanggang ngayon.

I mustered up the guts to stand and start grabbing my things a few subsided sniffles later, but I hugged the woman before I left, with a soft ingat po kayo ate. Because all eyes were now on me and my belongings, I offered a bit about myself (naoperahan din po yung anak ko, seven years old siya, babae). In the five hours I’d been with the group before leaving, they hadn’t approached me, hadn’t pressed me to divulge any information about myself. I didn’t need to. Even as I stumbled out of the waiting room, I knew that I did not belong. And not just because I was decades younger than everyone. I was updated three times during the operation. I left on the same afternoon that I entered. I didn't stay long enough to belong.

The woman who cried yesterday wasn't in the waiting room today. As I finish typing this out now hours after I started, all of them have left. The bags in the photo are gone and the cold steel bench has lost its pop of color. I'm the only one here. I didn’t really notice when the talking stopped and the goodbyes started, or if there were even any proper goodbyes at all. People just started hauling their things away in the same giddy oh-wow-I-can-really-leave-now mood that I was in yesterday. In two days, they’ll be back to rejoin their loved ones once they’re discharged from the ICU. If they’re as lucky as I was, they’ll be back tomorrow.

I only had to be away for a day and now I'm waiting excitedly to reunite with my brave little girl who’s been progressing faster than expected. I'm smiling at and greeting everyone who passes by because knowing my kid is going to be okay has recharged half of my batteries. I enjoy all the small ah kayo po yung mother questions and comments of ang bait niya ang daldal niya grabe dirediretso yung English niya ang friendly niya nag he hello siya palagi sa akin ang likot niya. That’s my daughter, alright.

I wonder if any of the women hugged before parting ways; if the sudden onset of intimate revelations for each of them kindled real friendships or if that was all just catharsis. I wonder if they exchanged contact details and if they're actually going to keep in touch.

I hope all of them are safe and with their families and feeling the same unending ocean of gratitude and love that I'm feeling, even if, for a while, they did belong in the waiting room.

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