Mantenga la calma por favor, Mama Rosalinda.
Her frail body quivered in my arms at the sudden burst of emotions when I broke the bad news. She started to remember how Alegria looked very happy on the night of her engagement party. Her laughters. Her voice. The joy she felt when they danced together. How her mind was suddenly flooded with good memories of her "feisty little worm of a daughter." She refused to believe any of these had happened to her baby.
She raised her head up and demanded some answers from Leo.
Que paso Hijo?!! she asked.
“It saddened me too, Mama. If only I was there with her, I could have saved her. I’m a good swimmer.”
Leo responded like it was an ordinary conversation.
A month into the investigation, her body had not been recovered. The police were baffled if she had ended up in the water or not. It was too early to conclude the result of the investigation. With or without Alegria’s body, at the end of the day, I wished for her safe return. My comadre. My partner-in-crime. My sister from a different mother. It pained me she would not be around when Daniela turns two years old.
“I missed Mama Alegria,” Daniela told me one night.
“Me too, baby. Me too.” I replied.
Even without losing hope, coming to terms with a sad reality is difficult for the family.
At Parroquia de San Vicente, the church bells tolled continuously. The sound seemed to resonate the same longing people felt. It was the last day of the five-day vigil held at the adjacent chapel and Juanito, who prepared the room for the vigil was shaken and heartbroken. He placed the wreaths and the baskets of flowers on the floor and arranged the lone photograph of a huge white angel on top of the table. He shed tears for Alegria’s disappearance. If she had only reached out to me, a moment of comfort and peaceful conversation might have helped her. Or maybe a fun night in town. Juanito thought.
He did his work quietly but a certain sadness was visible. People thought it was merely a young man’s passing fancy. A rite of passage. A kind of admiration that was fleeting and nonsensical. I noticed the dull, aching pain inside him, a regret for not telling her how much Alegria means to him. But he was not the only one. I also felt it in a way much harder than anybody had thought.
An atmosphere of silence filled the church. A sound of heavy movements were apparent as the group of parishioners walked inside to show sympathy to the family. They’ve known Alegria for many years and touched their lives in many different ways. Another batch, a few regular members at the library came in droves with flowers and candles. Most of the students who became friends with her offered cards and prayers.
I was seated beside Alegria’s library staff on the church’s second pew beside her parents. Leo, whose hands fidget as he sat silently in front together with Papa, Rogelio, Hermano Melanio, and Tia Gertrudes, was silent. There was a solemn look in his face when the mass started. Once in awhile Reverend Father Domino took a glance at Leo, but halfway through the mass, his facial expressions became perceptible – curled brows, flushed feelings, tense facial muscles. A sense of disappointment that he could not express. A blind confusion appeared on his face whether Alegria’s disappearance made him happy or sad. Gone are the proud stature and dominating feature he falsely possessed infront of others. A lot of things were on his mind – for others, it may be seen as sadness, but for me, it was more about fear. A picture of a man who hated himself for losing her. Each day will just pass through in emptiness like a dead man walking on the way to execution. And all that remained, was the shallowness of his existence.
After the mass, people stood up from their seats, walked towards Alegria's parents and Leo expressed compassion. Bereavement, like any other life's painful experiences is a wake up call to a harsh reality.
Lamento mucho esta gran perdida.
Mi sentidas condolencias.
Condolencia por la muerte de hija.
Amid these heartwarming sympathies and condolences, Leo’s mind was not at the present moment. Hermano Melanio noticed he was exhausted. He sat beside him and asked,
“Leo, maybe you need to rest.” Hermano Melanio asked him.
“I..I a-am f-fine, Hermano. Let’s just go home after the mass, then I’ll be okay.”
I turned the knob to my bedroom and closed the door behind me. Now alone by myself, in an instant, my life sank in despondency over Alegria. We used to hang out and watch our favorite DVDs here with Daniela. I sat by the bed, head bowed down, eyes tired from a few night’s vigils. Few droplets of tears streamed down my flushed cheeks, and made its way to the side of my mouth. I tasted the saltiness of the moment's grief. My heart agonized to the core of my being like it was struck by a thin glass that shattered into a thousand pieces. I lied down in cold bed, rest my head on the pillow, and closed my eyes. Many things had happened in the last few weeks - it was fast and chaotic. I did not even have the time to process things.
Like a psychedelic vision, I saw Alegria’s face appeared in front of me. She joked around. We exchanged friendly banters and annoying pranks. We argued about almost anything under the sun, yet, we both enjoyed it. I heard the sounds of her laughter reverberated in my head. How she let out a loud guffaw at the town plaza – a different side of her no one had the chance to see, except me. We considered ourselves wildflowers. I was more adventurous, but her ways were more childlike and innocent. I remembered when I called out her name across the street – A-AlegriaaaHH!! She had a great time pretending she did not hear.