I was on my way to meet some friends at a cafe in Makati when my bluetooth automatically blared songs from my phone’s iTunes library. I didn’t pay much attention to them until one brought back fond memories of my childhood – and my brother Les. It was Poetry Man by Phoebe Snow.
I was reminded that where we were once five, there are now just the two of us, having lost my eldest brother Kutch in 2015 to what we think was cancer. Until around 4 years ago I used to live in the family home that we all moved into in 1980, some 8 kms away from where Les moved to when he got married many years later. I used to be able to go visit him and his kids fairly often, but the distance and the traffic from where I now live, some 20 kms away further up north, now make this a challenge.
Snippets of our days together started filling my mind as I found my way unseeingly around the streets of Makati.
I hadn’t even started nursery when Les taught me the letters of the alphabet and taught me to tell time. Our mom had purchased a magnetic board that held all the letters of the alphabet and, huddled on our beds on many early weekend mornings, Les taught me which ones were which, which numbers where what. A magnetic clock went with the package, and he taught me how to use the hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand.
He taught me how to tie my shoelaces during my pre-school years. “Form two loops, and tie a knot.”
When I was finally in primary school and had my own proper school bag, he taught me how to arrange and line my books from largest to smallest, notebooks according to the order of classes.
When I was in high school, Les was in college. I knew most of his friends, had crushes on some of them but knew that none of them would dare court me because I was “Les’s kid sister”. Les was my willing chauffeur to all my high school parties – a good reason for him to drive around the city or spend some time with his own friends.
For the most part of my college years, my dad worked abroad in Saudi Arabia. While Les was the middle child, it was he, not my elder brother Kutch, who took over in my dad’s absence, screening my dates and telling them off when they’d bring me home a minute past midnight.
“It’s late. You’re late.”
My date would be mortified. “I’m sorry, Sir.”
“That’s fine. Make sure this does not happen again.”
Then Les’s role took a turn that became evident when I sought his advice regarding a career move I was about to make in 2011. My mother had just passed away around a year earlier, my father much earlier in 1998. I was being offered a job for a more senior role and I thought it best to seek his advice. He was ecstatic for me, and in that instant became my cheerleader.
Barely 5 minutes after ending the mobile call, it rang. It was my Gail, my sister-in-law.
“Nes, Les is crying. He’s practically sobbing.”
I was puzzled. And worried. “Why? What happened? I consulted him about a career move I am to make and I thought he was happy for me. Is there a problem???”
I could almost see Gail smile. “He loved it that you called him. He felt like being your dad and he liked it that you consulted him and sought his advice. He loves you very much.”
So today, soon after Phoebe Snow sang the last note of Poetry Man and Pat Metheny began to strum the first few bars of American Garage, I called him.
“Hey bud, I miss you and I love you.”
He chuckles the way he always does and says, “I miss you and I love you too, Nes.”
Our Dad would surely have been proud.