Yesterday was Clara Angela A. Cajilig’s 8th death anniversary.
Gela, as her close friends fondly call her, was one of the most cheerful person I had ever known. We met in 1996; we were in 4th grade. I transferred from St. Scholastica’s College in Manila to Elizabeth Seton School in Las Piñas City since we moved to the city. We were busmates, but never became classmates. She had this natural straight, rich brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin. My first impression of her was that she’s mestiza.
Like little girls with bestfriends, whom they can share their secrets with, we became really close—so close that as soon as we got home from school, we would call each other and talk for hours. I even remember one summer break when we wrote letters to each other, and asked our moms to send them by regular mail. We did this all summer, and it felt like we never grew tired of talking to each other no matter how repetitive our stories had been.
Sometime in 1997, I noticed that she no longer rides the bus to school. I also heard that in one of her swimming classes, she had been excused because of health reasons. I did not understand this at first, but I had come to notice the changes in her physical features. A few months since the last time I saw her, she looked like she had gained weight and her natural straight hair had become wavy (almost curly). She had told me that she will no longer be able to join in any of their PE class because her doctor had restricted her from strenuous activities as well as too much sun exposure. When people asked her why, she would say that she has lupus. To be honest, I did not completely absorb what she meant nor understand what lupus was, until I almost never saw her in campus. We stopped calling and writing to each other.
In 6th grade, she went back to school. Gela still looked different—a little chubby with wavy/curly hair—but this time her skin had patches or what they call as butterfly or malar rashes. I had never seen her in such condition, but despite her situation, she still managed to smile and chuckle at the smallest things that make her feel so. In God’s grace, Gela was able to graduate from grade school. In August 1999, she celebrated her 13th birthday at their house. She invited a few good friends from different sections, and one of them was me. Being the bubbly person that she was, Gela showed us her pet turtles which she believed had no use since they can’t really do anything significant. Her bed was moved from the first floor to the area near their living room because it was more convenient for her [and for everybody] should she need assistance to her needs. Despite all these, she remained humble and thankful.
I transferred to another school in high school, so we got a little distant from each other. We would only call to greet each other on occasions like our birthdays or Christmas. It was in January 2001 when I received a call from her bearing a horrifying news about our former classmate, Arlen, and her mom being murdered to death. We then both decided to visit them at their wake that weekend. If I may say, I had known Arlen and her mom to be so close that during our dismissal, Arlen’s mom would be waiting by the gate to take her home. It was one of the most heartbreaking event that I had known.
Two years after, my Mom told me that she bumped into Tita Bebot (Gela’s mom) at the bank. According to her, Tita Bebot had grown older than the last time she saw her. Grey hairs, wrinkled skin, and she looked like she dropped a lot of weight. When my Mom asked Tita Bebot on how Gela was doing, she just burst into tears and Mom saw the pain in her eyes. Tita Bebot had recalled how painful it was for her to see Gela unable to get up from bed on her own, not being able to walk, and worst—she lost her ability to grip things in her hand. It even came to a point when Gela had to use a catheter for passage of fluids. She had been bedridden, and every now and then, they would put her on her wheel chair, roam her around the house for her to get some fresh air. With these things, Mom had told me that I better visit Gela before it’s too late.
I was speechless.
Sometime in October 2003, I dared myself to get in touch with Gela. I swear it took me a lot of courage to call her, and ask her how she had been doing. I did not want to sound like I knew something unpleasant was coming. I did not want her to feel that way. To my surprise, I heard her distinct, buoyant self. It was kind of a sign of relief from my end—at least she was doing okay, somehow. Without too much trying from my end, we agreed to a movie date one weekend with her dad. They picked me up at my house and went to Alabang Town Center. We had no prior idea on what movie to watch, so we ended up watching Freaky Friday, starred by Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. She was okay. Aside from the fact that she was a little fragile because she had just recovered again, she was in a great disposition. She told me how badly she wanted to go to college, but Tita Bebot, along with her doctors, won’t allow her. She also told me about prodding her mom that they all migrate to the US since she won’t go to college. Gela wanted to take BS Education in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila). She wanted to be a teacher.
Needless to say, we had fun catching up.
On February 13, 2004, Friday, I received a text from Kyrene. She was a schoolmate from grade school, and eventually became my classmate in college. We were both common friends of Gela. In her text, she said,
Jae, wala na raw si Clara… (Jae, Clara has passed away…)
I froze. I read and reread her message; it somehow failed to sink in. Tears began streaming down my face. Without much thought, I went to my parents’ room where my Mom was. She looked perplexed upon seeing me, and all I managed to do was hug her tight, and broke down. When I had finally calmed myself down, I told my Mom what I was crying about. It was like on cue—we both cried in unison.
Upon arriving at Gela’s wake, I saw familiar faces. Some were my schoolmates in grade school, some I no longer know. It was an awkward place to exchange hi’s and hello’s. Someone had told Tita Bebot about our presence, and she took us in. From a distance, I could see Gela’s white coffeen, with her best picture laying on top of it. Her elder brother, Kuya Angelo, was sitting silently at one corner of the room. There was a lot to take. She was only 17.
Every year since Gela’s passing, I would utter a silent prayer for her eternal peace. I know she’s in a happier place right now, watching over her family and loved ones.
Gela, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you are terribly missed.
P.S. Did you realize that the last movie we watched was Freaky Friday, and that she died on a Friday, the 13th? Mind-blowing, isn’t it?