Day 6 — The Key

6. You wake up with a key gripped tightly in your hand. How did you get this key? What do you do with it?

“This is for you. Keep it, and guard it with your whole life. This is our little secret, do you understand, my love?”

Her face was reduced to a silhouette by the roaring light surrounding her. I recognized her not just by the smooth but fading outline of her features — round face, hair neatly pulled into a bun, plump but erect body, hem of her Sunday dress flapping — but the fullness of her voice. No one else spoke with such tenderness and command. No one else could wake me up like she did.

I opened my eyes, but Lola (Filipino for grandmother) was not there. But she’s always there, that’s her room, that’s where she died, my cousin reminded me the night before. Amidst the childish protests of my cousins, I finally volunteered to take Lola’s bedroom and sleep on her deathbed since everybody else was too frightened (or ungrateful). I was not as courageous as my Aunt paraded me to be, I merely did it out of exhaustion. To avoid the reunion festivities, tiresome gossips, and reunite with my book.

What I did not expect was to rid Lola’s bed of of bags of souvenirs, piles of clothes and extra luggages. The sight stirred exasperation in me. This was where the Matron of the family spent her last days! We grew up spending our summer afternoons in this bedroom, lying lazily on the beige carpet, soaking all the sun, nibbling on coral-shaped milk chocolates, absorbed in Lola’s countless stories. Now it’s an accidental storage area, keeping everything but the significance of its previous tenant.

It was after putting on fresh sheets and moving the bed closer against the wall that I stepped on something cold and corrugated. I mindlessly grabbed the key from the floor, lied down, and reached for The Namesake. Absorbed by Lahiri’s words, I forgot all about the key even as I fell asleep. It was not until I dreamt of Lola, and waking up to its sharp edges pressing against my palm that I finally took notice of it. I was more surprised to see that I had lost it in the middle of my sometimes choreographed slumber.

What it was for, I didn’t know. What I knew, what I was sure of, was that my dream was not a figment of my unconscious. Lola did make me promise about something over 18 years ago. I felt ashamed remembering all of this only now, after so many summers and holidays we spent in our ancestral home even after she passed.

Remembering my cousin’s warning, I asked for forgiveness out loud, looking blankly at the dust that floated through the pouring morning light. She really was here. It was her that pushed me to volunteer, to clean up my family’s mess, to ultimately remind me of the promise I made to her before she died.

Of course, I cannot tell you what it is all about, that is our little secret.