Bye, Aga

"Overheard from the street, as I was having coffee: "Ang aga-aga, lasing ka na naman, Aga!" - me, on Facebook, in September 2017.

Some time after posting that, I got to know Aga more. He wasn't simply a drunk; he had a mental condition made manageable by medication.

Off his meds, he would have violent outbursts and he drank more. But when he was stable, he'd sweep the area outside our house, which was always a mess because of foot and vehicle traffic. He still drank.

Perhaps he was an alcoholic because of his mental illness. Or could it be the other way around?

The tricycle drivers knew him and sometimes gave him money. Our helper Jean gave him food regularly, partly because he helped her when the garbage truck came but mostly because she is a good person. She didn't want to give him money because he would use it to buy alcohol.

Once, he asked for a pamasko, a Christmas gift. A shirt, he said. After that, my brother Nolan always had something for him.

Aga always had a smile for me every morning as I left for work, and he always greeted me when I arrived in the evening.

Once, I saw him say hello to a little boy walking to the public school with a parent. They knew him, perhaps too well, because the parent had a wary look. But the child smiled happily at him and Aga handed him a twenty-peso bill. The parent protested, tried to give back the money, but Aga insisted.

He couldn't afford such generosity, was my thought. But he did anyway.

Once, I also saw Aga fighting with a jeepney driver. His hand was wrapped in a cloth that was red with fresh blood and he was shouting threats, pacing in front of our house in the area beside the guard house.

People who knew him told the driver to stop because Aga wasn't in his right mind. Someone came and took him home.

Jean told me the next day that he was okay.

Aga lived with family in the community near our house. I don't know if he was ever married or had children, but his siblings cared for him and fed him and left him alone only when they could.

Part of that care entailed bringing him to the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong for his regular medication. Turok, Jean called it, an injection.

In the last few months, Aga hadn't been given his regular dose of meds. They were turned away by the NCMH because of the pandemic. "Iwas COVID daw," Jean said.

There had been an outbreak in the NCMH, and the hospital had struggled to cope.

And besides, how could his siblings bring in Aga from Las PiƱas? There was no public transportation. And perhaps, for them, no work and no pay.

They had to lock him in his room when he started turning violent again. He still drank when he could, but then he stopped eating. Then he fell ill.

Last Monday, I overheard the guards talking about a dead body being picked up. "Kukunin na yung patay," I thought I heard. I strained to listen but heard nothing more.

Aga died that day.