Windel Anne Lacson
Notes from a Number One Fan
It was always a treat to read her messages, although, back then, I knew better than to sit in front of my laptop and wait for her to finish. I have learned. Chatting with her then meant I had to do two things at the same time: chat while maybe sweeping the floor or folding fresh laundry or doing any other chore that did not need intense focus. She was just then starting to read and write, and was newer still to the use of the computer and the qwerty keyboard, so forming thoughts then typing them out were new skills that had to be learned. But I know she looks forward to our chats, she is a curious kid after all. And we love each other.
Fast-forward to now, early in her teens, she has her own Facebook page where we are friends, I sent her the invite. She has her Instagram account, where I followed her too because that's what number one fans do. I try to catch up when she’s online to ask about school work, where she is, who she’s with, if the shirts that I gave to her a few years back still fit, and her general happiness in life. She responds whenever there is long enough Wi-Fi connection. She seems happy and satisfied as I can tell from her responses written in abbreviated format. She, of course, has learned Internet language for teens: “yes” is a thumbs-up emoji.
I sometimes miss her child-like enthusiasm from the many years past when we started chatting, but to expect her to do the same now may be too much of an ask. She is after all a teenager now, and perhaps I am lucky that I get responses. That she often replies to my messages is my sign that I remain her beloved aunt and that our bond remains strong.
I wonder if I will chat with her brother in the same way. I haven't had the chance. He is still young now, in the early stages of grade school. We do not chat as much. I do not know why and I do not inquire. Anyway, his sister is there from whom I can ask questions about him. She will update me with stuff. I know he’s an obedient child and conscientious in his studies, as my sister and mother tell me over video chats. Now and then, his parents will post news of his achievements on Facebook. A shy kid with remarkable tenacity, he received an academic excellence award from school last year. The whole family was delighted about the news as no one ever pressured him for medals. He was merely keen to learn. He went to a kids’ camp last summer where he received the Best Camper award. Again, we were all pleasantly surprised. God blessed our family indeed. For the past few years, he has always joined the kids Christmas musicals in the church, starting from the chorus to performing with speaking lines. He has come a long way. I know because I watch the livestream of his performances every time because that's what number one fans do. This December we sent him a message of congratulations for a job well done in a Christmas musical, sent through his parents’ chat accounts. A few minutes later, we received a response in proper sentences. The message said that he is the one typing the message, and that he is happy we have seen his performance and he is happy about our accolade. I guess that is how you know the age of the person you are chatting with, grade school kid --> proper sentences, teenage kid --> short(est) form.
I've been away from home before these kids were born. While some people consider being a migrant painful, I have always seen it as an adventure, thus, if ever there were pains, my adrenaline might have taken them over.
I have luckily landed in Singapore. I couldn't ask more for the way this nation strives to remain competitive in an uncertain global landscape. Had I not landed here, though, I would have found myself in another place outside the Philippines. There were a few aggravating factors that solidified my decision to leave, like that one night I was having affordable Japanese food for dinner and, from the store’s TV, watched a Senator give a speech that my heart and mind could not bear. That was the sign it was time to move on.
That is not to say that without that speech, I wouldn't have left. I have visualized myself doing so years prior to my departure out of curiosity and a thirst for adventure. Some people just maybe have the heart of a learner, and as such, I have not envisioned settling in one place. But God laughs when we make plans. Eventually, marriage grounded my restive soul. I settled in Singapore and have been here for more than a decade. My years here gave my soul satisfaction and peace, and I couldn't be more thankful for how my life turned out.
I write this essay in the midst of COVID-19. Singapore's economy, like the rest of the world, is taking a hit. I am worried on a personal and macro level, but I believe that humans are smart, and that the whole of humanity is resilient. We will all be pained for a while, policymakers will pull levers to alleviate the pain, and then with hope, we recover, we learn, and become better human beings.
I get in touch with family through text and video chats, a usual practice that has lately become an imperative. I mostly stay home as social distancing is advised. Prayer has become more important than ever, and lucky for us, my family members and I are able to pray with a community through online church services that we attend at the same time.
Manila is on lockdown. Early one morning, after prayer, I found my niece online. Out of habit, I asked her how she is. She is okay. I asked her what keeps her busy during lockdown. She said she and her brother have classes online. I was relieved, amazed to know they remain productive in these difficult times. I replied okay. Life goes on if it has to go on online.