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Stray to Family: A Tail of Love, Acceptance, and a Bond Beyond Words

Nat Sabado


Stray to Family: A Tail of Love, Acceptance, and a Bond Beyond Words

Lae Eronico/AMAPS

A bond forged through adversity and love.

I trudged along our dusty street, eyes on the setting sun. I took a glance at my smartwatch: 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Almost dinnertime. 

She was waiting for me at the gate of our house, eyes on me. I sighed. She must have been wondering what took me so long and must have been waiting for hours. 

“Hey,” I greeted her, reaching for her for a tight hug. “Sorry I just got home. Our dance practice took longer than expected.” 

She looked at me with those brown sad eyes, drowning me with the silent reproach that borders more on missing me than being angry at me. 

“I’m sorry, love. Really.” 

She started walking to the front door; I followed, heaving a sigh of relief. Looks like I appeased her with that explanation, and all is well. 

Dinner time is family time for our household. Tatay has always been strict with his no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule. We follow this lest we risk his quiet wrath. Nanay contentedly looks at us while we finish off her cooking with much gusto—she cooks a mean menudo like nobody can. Kuya is often quiet since he commutes back and forth from our house to his university in Manila and traffic is at its worst nowadays. Ate usually likes peppering the dinner conversation with minutiae of her day and with her current fixation with K-Pop idols. Bunso, being a rambunctious toddler, likes blabbing and being doted on by Nanay and Tatay.  

Me? I keep her company while we ate dinner close to each other. I sometimes talk to her and when I am lucky, I get a response in return. Often, I am content sitting in companionable silence, checking to see if she is finishing her meal or still has enough water to drink. I am sometimes rewarded with a smile or a quick touch as a sign of thanks. She really is quiet. 

I think part of why she is quiet is because Tatay does not really like her. He first objected to her coming home to us and was about to send her off when I put my foot down. Me, the middle child, who rarely makes my wishes known. Me, who often goes with whatever my family decides for me, asked for Tatay to please let her stay with us. Nanay, seeing how much this meant to me, quietly spoke to Tatay and that was that. Tatay grudgingly agreed and said if she ever so much as gets a hair out of place, she is out for good. I promised that I would help her adjust to our household and make sure she stays out of Tatay’s way. 

But something in her wanted to try to reach out and make amends with Tatay. Ay, that sounds wrong. She has not done anything wrong. Yet one cannot help but feel that with Tatay’s quiet disapproving glances and his brisk tsk-tsk-tsk! whenever he sees something he is not happy with. She seems to be the usual target of that and seeing her bow her head down in shame and in unhappiness makes my heart go out to her. Many hours during weeknights and weekends were spent in our backyard with me consoling her. “Ay hoy don’t take it personally. Tatay likes you; he is just like that.” She would turn at me with those eyes that seem always ready to shed tears and I would feel helpless. 

Despite this, she persisted. She would choose to sit near Tatay while he is having his morning coffee. Tatay would throw her a quick glance but say nothing. They’ll sit in awkward silence for about thirty minutes before Tatay goes and prepares for work. She would be at our front door when it was almost time for him to get home and would quietly greet him. He often ignores her, but she does not mind. She continued to do this until bit by bit, Tatay’s disapproving glances changed to one of tolerance and you can see his eyes automatically going to the spot where she sits by when he arrives home. 

One night, after dinner, while she and I were quietly playing, she suddenly kneels over and starts twitching and foaming at the mouth. Panicked, I yelled for Nanay, but it was Tatay who rushed to our aid. He picked her up effortlessly, shouting, “Mahal, get the car started please!” The whole house was in chaos as we scrambled to get medical help. 

On the way to the hospital, I was crying while holding her. Tatay was focused on driving, honking at cars, and yelling that we have a medical emergency. Nanay was in the front seat, on the phone with the hospital to make sure they were ready to receive us. 

Once we arrived at the hospital, the medical team immediately took charge and asked us to wait by the reception. I could not keep still and kept walking, waiting for someone to burst through the doors and tell us that she was okay. Nanay brought out her rosary and started praying. Tatay, with his typical calm demeanor, is seated quietly, looking at the double doors. 

Anak,” I hear him call me and I approach. She will be okay.” 

“How do you know? Do you promise?” 

Tatay knows things like this. Trust me.” 

And I, in my childlike love for my father, trusted his words. 

It’s been a year since that night. She is well and with the medication given, she rarely has another epileptic episode. She and Tatay have been inseparable ever since, with Tatay cuddling with her during his morning coffee and hugging her when he arrives home. I jokingly call out Tatay, saying how he loves her more than he does his own kids. Tatay just gives me a disbelieving look, says, “Ay tigilan!” and goes on cuddling her. 

Our Chi-Chi. Our adopted askal from the city pound.  

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