Diwa & Kaffi 05 06

Author’s Note: This will be a long entry as both these chapters are tied together, not only in plot but in character, and thus should be read together. Choices are made. Destinies are put into motion. And most of all, Diwa and Kaffi’s world begins to expand.

CHAPTER FIVE

Diwa paused at the door and exhaled, preparing himself. Now or never.

He pushed it open and stepped inside.

“Pop?”

Samuel lifted his head, startled by his voice disrupting the silence of his office in the rear of the apartment. His father was half-sunken in the desk chair, holding an open manila folder in his hands, but his eyes and mind were focused elsewhere. Diwa held back a sigh of frustration, always finding him like this. Over the last couple of years, Samuel had started retreating from the family more frequently to hide back here among the books and mountains of paperwork left by multiple generations of landlords, almost none of it in any semblance of order. He’d always say he had big plans for the room, but he never seemed to get anywhere with them. He would spend a few hours puttering around, making half-hearted attempts to go through some of this detritus and moving things from one pile to another. Most of the time he’d sit here at his cluttered desk, staring at paperwork but never quite focusing on it.

Diwa visited the room as little as possible, mainly because the overwhelming dust and mildew made him sneeze, but also because it was unbearably depressing. If Diwa was going to take over his father’s job, completely clearing this place out would be his first project.

“Diwa,” Samuel said with forced surprise. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Here we go… Diwa cleared his voice and began. “Pop, are you busy?”

Samuel recovered from his slouch and made a show of looking around his immediate area. “I’m free,” he said. “Something on your mind?”

Diwa ventured deeper into the room, his nose already starting to itch. He navigated around stacks of file boxes and rolled-up documents and made his way to the ancient lumpy couch next to Samuel’s desk. He sat down gingerly, and the cushions gave way far too easily in response. The back of the seat had lost most of its padding over time and the wooden frame underneath dug into his back. Wincing, he felt a wave of embarrassment and leaned forward instead, perching on the edge. He amended his first project; he’d also replace all the furniture in here with something from this century while he was at it.

“Graymar and I were watching that game of yours the other day,” Samuel said in an attempt at small talk. “That was one hell of a catch.”

Diwa forced a smile and reflexively balled his hands into fists, remembering the sting on his skin. “Thanks,” he said. “It was a wild throw, so I’m surprised I even caught it in the first place. I’m glad it missed the tenants. Kaffi felt bad about that.”

Samuel nodded and once more there was an awkward silence. Diwa hated when they ended up like this, too embarrassed and self-conscious to say or do anything, to make the first move. This had been happening since Diwa started high school, and it would always fall to Diwa to break that silence and get him talking again. Maricel was right, he’d been closing himself off far too often. He knew it wasn’t the stress of the job, or his friendship with Graymar…both were strong and stable as ever. It had to be something else, something more personal.

He cleared his throat and started again. “Pop…Kaffi and I have been talking the last few days. We’ll both be graduating in a couple of months. We’re both of age to start the apprenticeship.”

Samuel’s eyes brightened. “Mangyari pa, Diwa! You’ve been speaking of it for years! And you’ve shown an increasing interest in the last few months,” he said. Finally, an honest smile crossed his face. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed, and I’m glad you want to take that path. What would you like to know?”

Diwa nervously scratched behind his ear, hiding a frown. “I want to make it official, Pop. I’d like to officially accept the inheritance when you retire. Teach me all that you know. Let’s start this.”

Samuel nearly fell off his chair with delight. It was the most animated he’d ever seen his father in years! “Diwa! Ah, ang sayá-sayá ko! I’m so glad you asked!”

Diwa nodded, trying to keep the conversation going…and down to earth. “Kaffi and I felt it was time to make it official,” he said. “He’s talking with Graymar tonight.”

Samuel calmed himself down and leaned back in his chair. He was obviously excited, but Diwa couldn’t help but feel there was something else. Relief…?

“I’d like to start as soon as possible, Pop,” he continued. “We can get the paperwork started tonight. You can have us run errands and odd jobs, that’s fine. And I’d like to be more active in the tenancy committee meetings as well.”

Samuel’s smile faded just a little bit. “You’re sure about this?”

Diwa saw that question coming – he always did – and answered it quickly. “I’ve been watching you do your job since I was a kid. So has Kaffi, with Graymar. We understand what to expect.”

Samuel sat in silence for a few moments longer, taking it all in. It made Diwa nervous because it always made him second-guess himself. “Why do you want this, Diwa?” he asked.

“I’ve always wanted this,” he started. “I thought you’d be—”

Samuel quickly held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t think about me, son,” he said, maybe a little more forcefully than necessary. “This isn’t my life we’re talking about. It’s yours.”

Diwa stared at him, unsure how to respond.

*

Gods…am I ever going to turn this place around?

Samuel was simultaneously drawn to and repelled by this room every time he walked into it. He had no idea how many years’ worth of documents was stored here, and no idea how he was going to sort through it all. It felt like such an impossible task. His father Daniel had let it get this way, frequently disorganized as he often was, and had never let Samuel touch any of it. “I know where everything is! There’s a method to it!” he’d say. Samuel knew that was a lie, but he never called him on it.

And now, decades later, the room smelled of mold, mildew, and years of dust. No wonder Diwa spent as little time in here as possible. It was a losing battle, and he didn’t know how to turn it around. He’d meant to straighten it out years ago when he took over as co-landlord, but that never happened. He just kept putting it off. He’d always said that one of these days he’d clear it all out, give it a good cleaning and renovation, and his first guest in the new, clean room would be Graymar.  The temptation to just shred it all and start over was immensely strong.

For now, though, he’d settle for having his family come visit him now and again. In fact, he’d truly been surprised when Diwa walked in. The poor boy had been all kinds of distracted lately. Perhaps he was here to talk it out.

To be brutally honest, his proclamation that he was taking the inheritance seriously, starting tonight, had surprised him. In fact, he’d been just as surprised at his own reaction: he was immensely proud of his son at that moment…but he also felt a profound sense of relief. A strange, giddy relief in the revelation that he wasn’t going to be stuck in this position forever.

And that both fascinated and terrified him.

“You’re sure about this?” he’d asked. He had to make sure Diwa wasn’t just rolling with his emotions. That had sometimes been his downfall, and this was a serious undertaking.

But Diwa knew how to answer. “I’ve been watching you do your job since I was a kid,” he said with determination. And he certainly had! “So has Kaffi, with Graymar,” he added, just to underscore his point. “We understand what to expect.”

A serious undertaking indeed. One he would never force upon his son if he didn’t truly want it. He knew that feeling all too well. He didn’t want Diwa to get to his age, still wondering if he’d made the right decision.

“Why do you want this, Diwa?” he asked.

The boy faltered. “I’ve always wanted this. I thought you’d be—”

There it was. A vague feeling of self-doubt, and he saw it clearly. This was the same conversation he’d had with his father years ago, and he had to diverge from it before it was too late. He held up a hand between them. “Don’t think about me, son,” he said. “This isn’t my life we’re talking about. It’s yours.”

Okay, that didn’t quite come out the way he’d wanted, but he’d certainly gotten the boy’s attention, so that was a start. “Being a landlord here at our estate is not about having power, Diwa,” he continued. “It never has been, and never will be. Nor has it ever been solely about making a profit. Look around our apartment. Or this room, for starters! We’re comfortable, but we’re not exactly drowning in opulence here. I have never held any power over our tenants, because they don’t need it, nor do they deserve it.”

He paused again, judging Diwa’s response. He was surprised, maybe a little afraid he’d gotten him on a tear, but that was a good thing. He had to understand what this position truly entailed as early as he could. “That’s why the estate has their monthly tenancy committee meetings,” he said. “We’re here as anchor and caretaker, Graymar and I. We help the tenants feel welcome, safe, and cared for, like they are truly at home. This is precisely why he and I are as visible as we are. That’s why you see us on the balcony or on the roof or walking the grounds or up in the air most days. We watch, but we also participate. It makes us all feel safe, but more importantly, it makes us feel connected. Do you understand?”

He exhaled, as surprised at himself for saying such things as Diwa was for hearing them.

Diwa lowered his head and looked away, looking a little defeated. “I understand.”

He didn’t believe that for one minute. He understood alright, but now it sounded like an impossible goal. He knew Diwa believed in it despite the odds, but he didn’t yet believe he could reach it himself. The last thing Diwa needed right now was to fall into a terrible habit of always second-guessing himself. He’d fallen prey to that himself far too many times, and he did not want Diwa to suffer the same insecurity. Time to change tack here a little bit. He rolled his chair over and took Diwa’s face in his hands.

“Diwa…” he said softly. “Look at me. I know you understand what I’m saying. But it’s one thing to say and another to do. My father and my grandfather both drilled that into me at an early age when I put myself in line for this inheritance, and I need to drill that into you, right this moment. I believe in your conviction, Diwa. I always have. I know you can do this. I believe in you and Kaffi. But what you need to understand is that conviction and belief isn’t enough. You need to do. You need to prove to me and Graymar, and the rest of the estate, that you’re willing to dedicate your life to it.”

He saw it just then – a spark of hope in the boy’s eyes. He let go and leaned back in his chair once more, already convinced. “If you and Kaffi are as committed to this as the two of you say you are, then this will be easy for everyone. We’ll take it day by day. Errand by errand. Project by project. We don’t need to fill out the paperwork until you’re out of school anyway, so we don’t have to worry about it unless you feel it’s necessary. Does that sound fair?”

That spark of hope began to grow, showing in Diwa’s lopsided smile. “Yes,” he said, and straightened his shoulders. “Tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it. And I’ll do my best to learn from it. We’ll make it official when we both agree it’s time to do so.”

“There will be a hell of a lot of work to do, a lot to learn.”

“I’ve seen you work, Pop. Like I said.”

“It takes dedication.”

“I’ll try my best.”

He tried not to laugh, as that would send the wrong message, but he couldn’t help remembering this same conversation he’d had with his father, so many years ago. “Good,” he said. “See me after school tomorrow and we’ll start lining up things for you to do.”

Diwa bowed deeply. “I will,” he said, and gave him a hug. “Marami pong salamat, ama. This means so much.”

“You’re welcome. Now go do your homework. And tell Kaffi I said hello.”

Diwa laughed and nodded. “I will.” He got up and left the room a lot less gingerly than he’d entered it, radiating with excitement.

As soon as his son had closed the door, he exhaled, feeling that unexpected relief once more. He’ll be a fine landlord, he thought, turning back to the folder of documents that he hadn’t been reading. A better one than I could ever be.

*

CHAPTER SIX

Kaffi circled above the estate, studying its size and location in relation to the other nearby estates. It was of medium size with six towers, two rows of bungalows, a large community center complex, and the long thin strip of orchard and garden in the rear. Many of his classmates lived in much bigger and busier estates nearer the city, and some lived in smaller ones closer to the countryside. This one was right in the middle and that was just fine by him. It was the only one he’d known his entire life, and he had no plans on moving elsewhere.

And now he’d agreed to partner up with Diwa and plan out their inheritances as co-landlords, to live here for the rest of their lives. Why had he agreed to that? A very good question indeed because it was not a decision he would ever take lightly. He’d talked about being this estate’s landlord for ages, just as frequently and as obsessively as Diwa had. The tenants were already expecting them to be next in line.

But Diwa had been so persuasive in his new plans today that it made him rethink everything. Did he really want the inheritance? Did he genuinely want Graymar’s position? Did he want to dedicate his future to this kind of career, staying here in this suburb and seeing the same people day in and day out? He wanted to fly! He loved being up here, cheating gravity, witnessing a much wider expanse of the world than most ever saw. It was the way of all tintrite, to fly distances and experience life from above. That was why he’d been so tentative on the train ride home. What if this all came to nothing, could he handle having wasted all that time and energy?

And yet…it all came down to Diwa. He was his best friend, and he’d offered him a solid, stable future. He could just as easily get a job in transportation or delivery. He could go to the city and be a part of the constant movement there. That was Iliah’s intent once she finished her own food service internship. That was the intent of Aldrine, Diwa’s elder ahpadé, as well; he’d gone to the city to work in corporate banking. And so many of his classmates were itching to leave their own estates and enjoy the great expanse of world and sky.

But it had come down to one thing: Diwa had asked him to be at his side. And that had moved and excited him deeply, more than he’d ever expected.

He wasn’t entirely sure how to process that.

Well – no reason to keep wasting time obsessing over it. It was nearly dinner time back home and he’d need to flag down his own paddir and have the talk. It could end up being a frustrating butting of snouts, but it would be worth it. He dropped down in a lazy dive towards the roof of Building C, ready to face whatever was coming to him.

*

Graymar growled as he puttered through the apartment, listlessly shuffling from one room to another, though Kaffi wasn’t entirely sure why he was irritable tonight. Oddly it reminded him of one of their pettiest arguments from just a few years ago. His paddir preferred walking on his hinds and straight vertical whenever possible, though it tended to slow him down to compensate for the balance, and while that was common among most tintrite, he would sometimes criticize Kaffi if he didn’t do the same. Kaffi found it so much easier to lean slightly forward when he walked on his hinds, keeping his center of balance low. Graymar felt he was too old to be walking so deferentially. In a fit of annoyance and lack of patience, he’d once responded that he would walk on his wings if he so chose, and that particularly sarcastic comment had resulted in an explosion of tintrite cursing followed by three days of silence. They’d eventually made peace, though, and it was agreed that they would simply put up with each other’s irritating habits.

Tonight, though, Kaffi was on his best behavior. Standing tall, wings resting against his back, snout pointed down. Even Iliah and their amma were surprised by his deference.

Graymar, of course, understood it to mean that Kaffi was about to ask for a favor.

He was, after all. No question about that. He waited until after dinner, when Graymar made his customary walk up to the roof for a final scan of the main green. When Kaffi asked if he could tag along, Graymar paused briefly, locking eyes with him. His paddir certainly knew what he was up to, and he steeled himself for a gruff response with an added hint of withering patience, but surprisingly it never came. Instead, Graymar gave him a quick and amiable smile and hummed in agreement.

One hurdle cleared, Kaffi allowed himself one quick ruffle of wings and a quiet hum of excitement and followed him out of the apartment.

They said nothing as they rode the elevators up to the top floor and remained silent until they reached the roof access door. He shivered and yipped once as the door opened, the sudden cold breeze unexpected, and Graymar hummed in agreement, muttering that he hadn’t expected the temperature to drop so soon. Together they walked to the edge of the roof, resting up against the railing, looking out over the estate grounds. He’d seen his paddir up here countless times, had even been up here with him now and again, but this was the first time he stood next to him as an equal, as a tintrite with a similar goal.

This was going to be tough.

Graymar closed his eyes and took a deep breath, two of them, before opening them again, and turned to his pahyoh. “That game you play with Diwa,” he said in a surprisingly soft tone. “Your invention?”

Kaffi kept his nerves in check and hummed in response. “Both of ours. It evolved from a regular game of catch, to keep it entertaining.” He paused, grinning slightly. “And Diwa’s aim is absolutely horrendous.”

“Hmm,” Graymar said quietly, though Kaffi noticed a slight flutter of wing tips, a sign of amusement.

“Paddir…” he said, pausing again to gather his courage. He let his own wings flutter briefly before he continued. “Can I ask you something?”

Graymar dipped his snout at him. “Of course,” he said kindly.

Here we go… Kaffi thought, surprised by his paddir’s uncharacteristic calm, and started in. “Diwa and I have been talking more seriously about the estate. About the inheritances. We’d like to shadow you and Samuel, learn the job. Maybe start the internship—”

“Stop a moment,” Graymar said, holding up a paw, a single talon lifted into the air. “Kaffi, I’d like you to listen to something first before we continue. Indulge me for a few moments.”

Kaffi blinked at him. “O-okay?”

Graymar slowly lowered his hand until it came to rest on his belly and shifted his attention toward the center green below. His eyes moved slowly from the grass to the people to the buildings, seemingly at random. His long, pointed ears had pricked up and began turning slightly in different directions. He’d slowed his own breathing enough that Kaffi couldn’t hear it. He’d seen his father do this countless times and from many angles. It was part of his nightly ritual. His father would often stand up here, remaining still and majestic and…

No, he wasn’t posturing. That wasn’t like him at all.

Graymar was listening to the estate.

As quietly as he could, Kaffi turned to the center green and listened as well.

*

 Graymar gave Kaffi a few minutes to acclimate. He must be patient for his son right now. Kaffi wished to hear what was to be heard, and it was up to him to teach his pahyoh. This would be the moment he matured in his eyes. No longer a youngling.

Kaffi listened, just as he would.

He listened to the chatter of the older mandossi couple on the balcony across the way at Building B. The fiery and always cheerful Diana-Sessteen and the quiet and reserved Becca-Nossiami, two of the longest-staying tenants here. They were talking about the upcoming gardening season and the hopes that their small allotment behind the bungalows would be fruitful. One had heard the news about the co-op farm and was eagerly awaiting the next meeting to sign up for it. The other showed interest but not investment, choosing instead to remain with their small lot on the estate.

He listened to the soft trudge and the rumbly yawn of an aanoupii coming home from a long day on the job. Porro, who lived in one of the bungalows to his left, another long-term tenant. He worked for a construction company a few miles away and always took the light rail to and from the office. He had a slightly later shift than most tenants, and he was almost always alone when he returned to the estate, but he was never lonely. He was humming to himself as he scuffled across the pavement towards his home.

He listened to a few human younglings laughing and talking loudly and ignoring most of the others around them. Leo and Gavin’s boys, Terry and Bradley. They were fine and respectful kids, he knew. They were at that age when they were too self-conscious about some things and utterly oblivious about other things, still learning about life. They were leaving the community center to his right, heading back to their apartment.

He listened to the gentle hiss of the wind through the branches of the trees that lined the green. A cool spring breeze that gave some tenants a shiver, but others – like Kaffi – a twitch of excitement. Wind meant convection, and convection meant flying.

“Do you hear the estate, Kaffi?” Graymar said, his voice quiet.

Kaffi hummed nervously in response, his wings twitching slightly.

He understood. Graymar gave him a smile. His pahyoh was indeed attentive and eager to learn. “That is the sound of an estate at rest, Kaffi,” he said. “And yet if you come up here during the day, when you are usually at school, you will hear completely different sounds. You might hear the day care children, the chaperones, the retirees. You will hear those who work from home, coming out for a stretch or for fresh air or maybe even for an errand across the main street at the market. You may even hear Samuel on his balcony, blathering on about whatever might be on his mind. Do you understand?”

Kaffi turned to him, eyes dark and wide. “I could use some context,” he admitted.

Yes, he was indeed eager to learn. He nodded and turned back to the green. “The sounds of the estate are what lets me know that all is well, that the community is alive. I hear its pulse. There will always be a sound, somewhere. We tintrite have better hearing than most beings here at the estate, I’m sure you know. You will always hear the sounds. If you hear it, it means the estate is a living, breathing entity. And with that, you will also know when something is wrong.”

“When a sound is missing,” Kaffi ventured. “Or out of place.”

“Indeed, Kaffi,” he said. “This is why you see me up here on this roof at various points in the day. The green is shaped like an amphitheater, in a way. Sounds bounce off Palm Building and I am able to hear all the different levels. The bungalows and the other buildings on each side of us act as baffles. The same as with Samuel’s perch on his fifth-floor balcony across the way.”

Kaffi’s eyes narrowed, trying to find exactly where Diwa’s apartment was. “His is near the middle, to the right of the central stairwell,” Graymar said. “Look for the light over the door that has more of a whiter hue than the others.”

“I see it,” Kaffi said, grinning.

Graymar snuffed out a breath and ruffled his wings. It was time. “In answer to your yet-asked question, Kaffi: Yes, I shall let you shadow me. I am aware that Diwa also shows interest in Samuel’s position. The two of you have been talking about inheritance for quite some time now. The two of you may indeed become future landlords. Is that what you wish to do?”

Kaffi nodded and hummed, barely containing his excitement. “Very much so, paddir,” he said.

Graymar hummed once more in response, looking back out on the green. “We shall start tomorrow,” he said.

“Thank you, paddir,” he responded. And for the first time, he joined him there at the roof, listening.

*

Glossary:
(Note: Samuel’s Tagalog is supposed to sound a bit awkward. He can speak it, just not very well.)
Mangyari pa, Diwa! – (Tagalog) Of course, Diwa!
ang sayá-sayá ko! – (Tagalog) I’m extremely happy!
ahpadé – (tintrite) brother