“Get out of the doorway,” Mama said. “Don’t stand there blocking the way!” She was furious, as always.
It wasn’t the first time I heard Mama’s angry voice. She was always angry. She always sounded angry at me and everyone and everything around her. Most people were terrified with her emotionless commanding voice. After hearing it everyday, I hardly got affected by it.
“Just move to the side,” Mommy Minda said to me. “Here!” She dragged a plastic chair next to the door and gently ushered me to sit on it so I won’t block the doorway. Mommy Minda was Mama’s mother. She didn’t want to be called Lola, Grandma or anything that would remind her that she was old. Unlike Mama, Mommy Minda was gentler and had a softer tone in her voice. She must have noticed that Mama was about to explode and that I would be in big trouble.
As I stood by the door, next to the chair Mommy Minda provided, I noticed how busy everyone was. They were rushing in and out of the house like they were preparing for something. I’ve seen them before rushing around when our relatives were coming over. I heard someone mentioned the name Ruping. Perhaps he was our visitor. Unlike before when everyone would get excited, it was different this time. The rush didn’t have excitement to it. There was panic.
At the back of the house, where a roof extension was built a few weeks ago, Mommy Minda unrolled the metal wire and handed its loose end to uncle Louie who was standing on a three-legged wooden stool. Uncle Louie inserted the wire into a bent nail, twisted it around to make a lock knot and hammered the nail until it was buried into the lumber plank of the roof. He pulled it a couple of times, testing its tightness and jumped off the chair. Mommy dragged the chair to the opposite side of the roof, then handed a nail to Uncle, who repeated the same process to make a clothesline.
Just in time when the two wires were fixed, Mama came in holding a huge basin on top of her head. It was full of semi-wet laundry she took from the line outside. It was heavy it almost slipped through her hand when she was about to put it on the floor. As soon as she found the idle chair beside me, she grabbed it to put the basin on top of it where she could easily reach. With hands on her waist, she gave out a loud breath as if to catch some air while her eyes inspected the clotheslines from end to end. Her face was stiff, like she was not pleased.
Mama took something from her pocket and went out through the screened exit door of the extension room. It led to a small garden over-looking the river where I used to spend time with Mama doing the laundry. The garden looked abandoned except for some flowerless orchids hanging on dead branches, which were erected on a spotty Bermuda grass. Empty eggshells adorned the unexciting plants. I once caught Mama watering there as if there was hope coming out of the lifeless twigs sticking out of the orchids.
After a few minutes, Mama approached towards the screen door, while sniffing her hands and wiping them all over the apron she was wearing. From the strong ash-smell that flew in the air when she opening the door, I knew she went to smoke cigarette.
As soon as she was inside the extension room, Mama took a piece of shirt, inserted both her hands on the lower hem and tiptoed to hang it on the first line. As the first piece of garment dangled on the wire, she took another from the basin but when she was about to hang the next, she noticed the dripping of water from the first hanged shirt. She dropped the second shirt back into the basin, removed the first shirt and squeezed any excess water out. She failed on her first attempt but she twisted it around her elbows to make it look like a rope. This time, a few drops of water came out. The shirt looked like a tortured lifeless rag when she put it back on the line.
The first line was about to be filled by laundry; Mommy Minda and Uncle Louie were about to finish the third line, Daddy Tom came in through the shell curtains of the kitchen. He was carrying two roosters in his arms. Unlike Mommy Minda, he was fine being called Grandpa or Lolo but everyone just got used to calling him Daddy.
“Dad, are you sure to bring them in?” Mama said in her usual sharp tone. “They’re going to poop on the floor. You know that I don’t like their smell!”
Daddy Tom did not respond.
The roosters looked uneasy and wanted to let go of Daddy’s grip. Daddy dropped one of them on the floor and tied its rope in a corner. Their aggressive feet left some brown marks on Daddy’s white shirt. Mommy Minda saw the brown marks, glanced at Mama and then met Daddy’s stare. Her eyebrows were almost touching each other in the forehead but she refused to mention anything that might get Mama furious. She focused back to uncle who seemed to have a hard time hammering another nail. Two nails had already escaped from his grip and flown somewhere out in the bushes.
After tying the other rooster on another corner, Daddy Tom stood up and rushed back to fetch the remaining roosters. Under the star-fruit outside the house, Daddy had carpentered a long time ago some inverted V-shaped sheds for his roosters.
From the extension room, there was no other way but to pass to the kitchen, down to the living room then to the front door. Daddy knew Mama, her eldest would not like to see any dirt on the floor. That’s why he left his boots at the front door and walked barefooted in the house.
Listening to the dull crisp tapping sound of shells as Daddy passed through it, I noticed that Daddy turned back eyeing at the curtain rod. He ran his fingers through the dangling thread of shells and tied it to one side using a straw he found on the floor, then went outside to fetch his remaining roosters.
The sun was about to set. The air was calm and peaceful. It was an ordinary afternoon, except that people were running around for some reason. Beside the door next to the curtain tieback, I stood still watching people passing me by, listening to the hammering, the floor-scratching and simultaneously crowing of the roosters and the slapping sound of wet garments on the line. I just wondered if someone would stop by, tell me what to do and explain to me what was going on.