Story by Budjette Tan
Photo by Brandie Tan
It was all too late when they realized they had buried the key with their grandmother.
Lola Noneng, or `la Nick, as Randy started to call her when he was a toddler, always carried the key to the drawer of her writing desk on her bracelet. It was make-shift bracelet made out of an old telephone cord, tangled with a scapular and an October medal medallion.
So, after the funeral, Randy had no choice but to break open the key lock. They were hoping that some missing papers of `la Nick would be found somewhere in her writing desk.
Randy’s grandmother always spent her evening at that desk, writing on her journal, writing thank you notes and birthday cards to people, and still wrote the occassional letter, despite the fact that she knew all her grandchildren’s email addresses by heart.
Inside the drawer, was a stack of writing paper, unused envelopes, `la Nick’s favorite pens, and, strangely enough, one of Randy’s old comic book; an issue which he thought he lost when their house got flooded during the big typhoon. This was the first comic book ‘la Nick bought for Randy when they went to National Bookstore one Sunday afternoon. It was badly reprinted issue of The Flying Phantom – the story where he fought the alien race made out of time crystals.
As Randy flipped through the comic book, he found a calling card for “Iking’s”, a hardware store / locksmith shop / hopia store located in Binondo.
Turned out, Iking Ling, the owner of the store, was an old friend of ‘la Nick.
Mr. Ling pulled out a dusty box from his store room and brought out a key and key lock set for the writing desk drawer.
“You need to replace the old lock with this one.” He put the key lock in Randy’s palm and then he cupped it with his calloused hands. “You need to do it yourself.” Which sounded strange because Randy was already thinking of calling Mang Robert to install the key lock.
“I will. I’ll do it myself,” Randy promised.
It didn’t take Randy long to install the key lock, following the instructions that came with the box.
And so he tested the lock, inserted the key, twisted it, pulled out the key, and gave the drawer a firm tug. The drawer was definitely locked.
He then unlocked it and pulled it open.
A sealed envelope popped out of the drawer.
It was addressed to Randy, written in the unmistakable script of ‘la Nick.
Randy opened the envelope and the room was suddenly filled with his grandmother’s favorite perfume.
It was a thank note from his Lola Noneng, thanking him for all the time he visited her, took her out for trips to the nearby mall, or just spent the evening with her, watching her favorite teleserye. And lastly, she thanked him for getting her writing desk fixed.
Randy wiped away his tears, got a piece of paper from the writing pad and wrote a reply to his la’ Nick. He left it in the drawer and locked it.
The next day, he got a reply.
He corresponded with ‘la Nick for a year. She replied to every letter he left for her in the writing drawer. She answered every question except for, where was she writing from and how was this all possible. She also asked Randy to do her favors, running errands, meeting with her old friends and relatives, settling debts and closing old wounds. In that year that Randy served as a mailman for his grandmother, he learned more about ‘la Nick’s life and learned more about his family.
Randy received the last letter from ‘la Nick’s on her first death anniversary, which had one last favor and took Randy most of his lifetime to fulfill.
But on Randy’s 67th birthday, he unlocked the drawer and found a new note.
His grandson found him smiling as he read the letter.
He handed the key to his confused grandson and said, “I’ll be seeing an old friend soon. Here, you take care of this while I’m away. Don’t worry, I’ll be in touch.”