They Always Visit the Ones They Love by Jhoanna Calma

“Did she visit you yet?” my younger brother asks after the plane takes off, his eyes closed, halfway into slumber. I lean my head back and tighten my belt. I feel the hum of the airplane’s engine through the floor, through my seat, against my skin, and I think maybe it’s really my mother, her spirit running through me.

But I know I am fooling myself. “No,” I tell my brother. “She hasn’t.”

We are flying back to Chicago from the Philippines, where my brother and I led my mother’s funeral procession, walking slowly behind the hearse that carried her body to the cemetery where her own parents were buried. I can still feel the sun scorching the back of my neck, and the clamminess of my brother’s palms as he gripped my hand. The next day, Auntie Vivi flew back to Chicago to get her home ready for us. She had agreed to be our guardian.

Now, I look out the airplane window, trying to find comfort in the dark endless sky, but I can only see my reflection staring back. Auntie Vivi told me before she left not to be afraid if my mother came to me, whether in my dreams or through sensations. Because the dead always visit the ones they love.

She won’t be visiting me.

I don’t want her too, anyway.

Beside me, my brother starts groaning, and when I look at him he is nodding his head up and down. I nudge him, once, twice, three times before he finally wakes up, his eyelids drooping, his brows furrowed.

“AtŽ,” he breathes out, calling me “big sister” in Filipino, his dark eyes peeking at me. “I dreamt about her,” he whispers.

I place my hand on his arm. His skin is damp. He did not want her to visit him either. He is scared of things like that.

“She came to you?” I ask. He nods.

I should have known she would visit him. He was her favorite.

He turns his head and looks down at his lap. He looks a lot like her: the same pointed nose, the shapely purplish lips, the long, thick eyelashes. My mother loved to brag about him. At parties she playfully introduced him as her kasintahan, her “sweetheart,” with her slender arm draped over his shoulders, the dinner champagne causing a slight glaze in her eyes and a languidness in her steps. Left alone at our table, I watched my brother, young and handsome, at ease with playing the part, his arm wrapped around her waist to hold her up, making sure she was safe from falling over herself, like we both imagined our father might have done long ago.

Always, when we came home from those parties, I gave my brother the cold shoulder. We’d come home and he would walk her to bed, her arm still slung over his shoulders, and I’d lock myself in my room. He’d knock on my door. I never opened it. I’d stick my hand under my mattress and pull out the only picture of my father that my mother hadn’t locked away. Rough handling caused creases in the picture, somewhat distorting my father’s features, but I could easily tell from which side of the family I inherited my looks. I always wondered where he was, wondered what she did that made him go away.

I look out the airplane window, trying to see beyond my reflection. Mommy, I say inside my head, come to me. But I know she won’t. I could never will her to come to me when she was alive, in death it was impossible. I want to run away again, close the door on my brother, on the picture in my mind of him and her. But his fingers find his way to my hand. He holds my fist in his palm.

“She was in my dream,” he says, softly. “She was wearing a white, pearly gown, and she had her arms around my shoulders, and we were dancing, and she kissed me on the forehead.”

“Stop,” I tell him. I turn away from him. I close my eyes.

But he doesn’t listen. Instead, he squeezes my hand, with more strength than I knew he had. “She leaned into me, and she whispered,’Kasintahan, are you listening to me?, take care of your AtŽ, take care of your big sister for me, please.'”

And when I open my eyes my brother is looking at me, and for a moment I see so much of my mother in him that I think I am looking at her ghost. When I blink away the tears that have welled up in my eyes, my brother looks like himself again, looking at me so tenderly and with such concern. I move to embrace him, and in his ear I whisper, so softly I can hardly hear myself, “Kasintahan, kasintahan.”