Growing up, I always found it weird that my great-grandpa only had one picture in the entire family album. It was really mind-boggling for the family loved taking pictures. Even before my generation popularized it, it had already been a family tradition. And all of the said pictures were kept in the attic.
Going up at the topmost part of our house had been my most favorite past time. I loved rummaging through mountains of photo albums and be amazed at how different the world was back then. I'd stroll along the streets of Prague, marvel at Mount Fuji, swim on the beautiful beaches of Boracay, attend prestigious award shows like Tony, run through the hills of Vienna - I could travel the world and experience new things.
But when the fun and excitement subside, before I end my adventure, I'd grab the old and tattered brown photo album. 1930 was blazoned on a small, golden plate.
I carefully tucked it on my lap and opened it. The first page immediately fell and thanks to my trained reflexes, I caught it in time. I slowly put it back on its place and gazed at it.
A tall, young woman pranced around a sunflower field, pink lips smiling at the camera gleefully. Slightly slanted brown eyes sparked with love, and right hand placed firmly behind her straw hat in an attempt to fight against the breeze.
I caressed the picture before my fingers rested on her face. A face that mirrored my own...
I turned to the next page which had the picture I could gaze at forever and still, that wouldn't be enough to solve the puzzles hidden in it. The same woman, now evidently older, was cradling a baby on her arms. Beside her was a youthful-looking man, shyly giving the camera a small smile. His heather brown hair was messy and unkept while the silver glasses on his face was slightly crooked. Ironically though, his suit was freshly ironed.
That was my great-grandpa. And this was the only picture we had of him.
I remember asking my grandmother about the story behind this photo. She just laughed and patted me gently on the head with her thin, wrinkled hand.
"My dear Lin," she slowly said. "Your great-grandma always told me this, 'Your father was really camera shy. I forced him to take this picture with me. He was so awkwardly cute'."
We both giggled. Obachan was a really great woman. She always pat my head, a gesture that my great-grandpa apparently always did to her before his disappearance.
I could still remember the tears on grandma's face when I asked what happened to Grandpa Juan. He suddenly went missing one day during one of his business trips while grandma was still six years old. The local government sent a search party but he was never found again.
Since then, I couldn't get off my mind why Grandpa Juan only had one picture. Surely before his death, he had other photos, right? But before I could ask Obachan about it, she died. I tried to ask mother but she had no idea. Sighing, I just accepted the fact that the story behind my Grandpa Juan was one of the world's unsolved mysteries.
And so, I moved on with my life, questions about my great grandpa lurking in the deepest parts of my mind.
For a long time, I didn't think about him and just focused on my life.
I lived a really great life. The family business which Grandpa Juan started became even more successful under my management. I was actually called "The Goddess of Luck" because whenever I had problems, especially when it's money-related, a few days later, it'll be solved on its own.
There was one time when the company needed a billion dollars in order to prevent bankruptcy and I was at rock bottom back then. A few days later, the same amount I needed was deposited on my bank account. I was shocked but nevertheless, I just welcomed it, thanking God. And somehow, I believe it was Grandpa Juan helping me. Since then, it had always been the same thing.
I also had a caring husband and kind children who later on became successful in their own fields. I had friendships that lasted my whole life. And most of all, I had travelled to the places I only saw in my family albums when I was young.
I couldn't ask for more.
But there was one thing I wish I knew now that I'll die soon, I want to know everything about my great grandpa. How was he like? Why did he disappear? How did he know which land to invest on which resulted to the family's financial success for many generations to come? Was grandpa really my benefactor?
Everything about him was a mystery I desperately want to be solved.
I was interrupted from my thoughts by the cries of my family.
"Grandma!" Luke, one of my grandkids cried. "Please don't die."
I patted his head gently just like what Obachan used to do with me. "Shh, it's okay. You'll be okay. Everyone will be okay."
My daughter sobbed even louder. And others followed suit as well. My heart broke but there was nothing I could do. I'm too old now. My husband and friends already went on ahead of me. And I'm truly blessed to see my grandchildren grow up.
"I'll always watch all over you." I said with a sad smile.
Tears continue to fall down their faces. The guys tried to be strong but their eyes shone while the women and kids sobbed.
I looked at my eldest son, Mark, who had been trying his best not to cry this whole time. He nodded. He knew what I wanted and he knew this would be the last time they'd see me.
"Now, everyone. Give your grandma hugs and kisses, and let's go on our way." His voice broke.
At first, no one dared to move but after a few seconds, one by one, they said their goodbyes. Mark was the last one to leave but before he did, he held my hand gently. "Mother, thank you for everything. I wish that your question will be answered."
My eyes slightly widen. How... How did he know? I never told anyone...
But before I could ask him, he just kissed my hand, gave me a smile and left. And I was alone again with my thoughts.
I just smiled while looking at the window which had a view of a small sunflower field. And I could imagine my deceased loved ones dancing around it with great-grandma Maria leading. A sigh of contentment escaped my lips. And soon, I'll join them.
I was about to close my eyes when I heard the door creak open. I immediately looked at the source and my breath got stuck on my throat. Tears fell down from my eyes, and for a short while, I forgot how to speak.
A tall, young man closed the door gently. He touched his heather brown hair as he sighed. "Glad I made it in time." He then fixed his silver gray glasses and made his way towards me. He carefully sat on the chair beside me, making sure not to make a crease on his black suit. Clearing his throat, he was about to say something before I beat him to it.
"Grandpa Juan." I said weakly. I'm so happy. I couldn't believe it. He was really here! Grandpa Juan came to pick me up! I wonder if I can go and ask him some things first.
His eyes widened before chuckling. "That's correct." He then patted my head gently and for a while, I felt like I was back to my six year old self who always go to the attic.
Many questions swam in my mind. I don't even know where to start and I knew I barely had enough time. And so, I just asked the question I had since I was a child. "Why did you only have one picture?"
He smiled while he continued patting my head. "My dear Lin, I have to limit pictures taken of me for I have a secret. I'm an immortal, you see."
. . . Everything now made sense. Why he needed to leave great-grandma Maria and Obachan behind... How he knew which land to invest in... How he was able to take care of me without revealing himself... And most of all, why he only had one photo.
I laughed weakly. Who would've thought that immortals are real? I know that his explanation was surreal and sounded impossible, but ironically, I believe him.
"Thank you for all of your efforts, my beloved Lin." His eyes glistened with tears. "Now rest. I swear I'll continue watching over the family."
And I knew he will. All this time, he'd been watching all over us. No wonder when I have problems, it'd solve itself magically. The same thing happened to the other family members as well. I could really see how much he loved us. He is, and will always be, our guardian angel.
I nodded. Now, I have no regrets.
The last thing I felt before darkness claimed me was Grandpa Juan's gentle hand, slowly caressing my head, enveloping me with warmth and love.