I was then so young, about seven or eight and I still can remember how the rivalry works or perhaps if not the rivalry, a certain conflict that every neighbor goes through. Back then, I was not really paying attention and I did not know where and how it all started.
I have never heard his voice, or maybe just once, when he was trying to shoo me away from their backyard. I never had a conversation with him, never. One day, I saw people outside of their home, doors and windows were all open and there were lights everywhere. I saw that it was a wake, someone died. The coffin was inside their home with flowers and sash, Mang Ben, as we all call him already bid his goodbye.
I just have few encounters with Mang Ben - when I was a kid, a college student, and the last would be when I was already working. I just heard he was hit by a stroke, maybe two or three years ago but he recovered. Sometimes, I saw him walking around the neighborhood wearing his blue or green slippers; his one arm dead and half of his body was not functioning normal after the attack. His tummy was not huge anymore, he was already slim; way too different compare to before, compare to his normal state.
There are times, I take pedicabs all the way to the tricycle terminal. Two to three moments he had driven the pedicab I was in. I never heard him talk still and never we had a conversation, reason behind was he already know where he will drop me. I then thought that it was good for him. Rather than being isolated and reclusive at home, it was a good idea to engage himself into biking and at least he was earning money.
We were never close, never did I feel the need of having a conversation with him. Mang Ben on the other hand, feels the same way, I think. He was not sociable and I don't think he ever liked kids or he liked some but he just didn't like us - my cousins and I.
Back on the day when I went home and saw that there was a wake, I knew from the start, he was the one who died. Given the idea that he was sick. He got hit by a stroke again and his body gave up. Somehow I know, my late aunt suffered a long run of twelve years being a stroke victim; she got hit by a stroke many times, three or four I think and the last attack was indeed the last and it was over.
I kind of felt the loneliness of Mang Ben's family. No matter what, it is indeed hard to accept that someone so close to you is already gone.Well, even someone really didn't die - just like relationship that has put to an end, so what more of losing someone dear to you literally and figuratively.
I always believe Mang Ben was mean to us but I felt sad when he got hit by a stroke the first time and I felt sadder when I knew he was already gone. Maybe Mang Ben was a good man and it is just surprising that life will end without you even noticing. Maybe he was lonely, maybe he felt alone once in his life, maybe he wanted to give up but thought of fighting still for his wife, for his family. Maybe we all felt something like that in our lives and maybe we thought of not knowing where we are going next and how everything is going to be.
I wonder if he lived a life with a purpose. I wonder if he was already fulfilled before he died. Maybe yes or maybe no. He now returned his borrow life and all of us too will do the same, in time. Time, we are not sure of when. I don't think someone is really prepared for his death. There's still something that holding us back and never wishing it to happen. At the end of the story, all of our lives are borrowed and when our time is over, it is subject to be returned.
Mang Ben was on his pedicab still, I guess... recovering and giving half of his body a life again.