“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you alone.” Greg took the baby into his arms.
“No, don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. It’s two months earlier. Who would have expected? There were no signs at all.”
Unexpected. No signs. A quite familiar storyline.
Life’s a Fairy Tale
“So, that’s it. We will be here on vacation in the last week of April. When we return to the city, We will bring Beth with us.”
He was Dr. Rod. He was the only son of the landed Busco spouses. My father was one of the caretakers of their vast landholdings. His wife was a doctor as well. They came home for the golden wedding anniversary of Dr. Rod’s parents. It was customary for them to pay my parents a visit every time they were here. Tatay and Dr. Rod were best of friends.
I was about to graduate from high school then. I really wanted to pursue college, but my parents could not handle the financial burden college entailed. When Dr. Rod and Dr. Denise, his wife, learned about my predicament, they offered to send me to college. In exchange, I would be doing some household chores for them.
That night, I could not stop thanking God. I was absolutely certain that it was God who designed everything. Well, was there anything in my life which I did not attribute to God? Perhaps, I was greatly influenced by the religiosity of my parents. Tatay was the chapel prayer leader and was always active in the church ever since he was a teenager. Nanay was a veteran catechist and had been a chapel officer, in various capacities in the past two decades or so. On second thought, by force of circumstances perhaps.
When a person finds himself trapped in a virtually hopeless situation, when he can’t seem to do anything to get out of a miserable state, he instantly becomes an epitome of faith. After all, amidst patent hopelessness, the best recourse is to create your own indomitable source of strength. When hope falters and the world crumbles, faith strings back the broken pieces of one’s dreams and breaks the dawn of a new beginning .
Things went smoothly. I even hardly noticed that I was almost through with my third year in college. Slowly, things appeared real to me. College was something I strongly dreamed of. But I always knew that it was a dream doomed to remain just a dream forever.
Recognizing the reality of my college journey, I began dreaming, and more I dreamed. In a way, I started indulging in a ‘happily ever after’ of my own tale.
But my fairy tale, just like any other, had its tragic twists too.
Just as I began thinking that my make-believe world was real, my phantom dreams vanished like ghosts fleeing in fear of a breaking dawn.
The Tragic Twists
Something felt weird when I came home that night.
Dr. Rod and Dr. Denise, whom I fondly collectively referred to as the ‘Doctors’ for convenience, were naturally warm. The house was always in a light mood regardless of what happened in their work.
“Whatever problems there are in work remain in work”, Dr. Rod would quip. “The home is a sacred abode of pure joy. No external force should violate that sanctity”, Dr. Denise would add.
That night, though, the seriousness of the atmosphere was unusual. I thought the ‘Doctors’ were mad that I came home late.
“I’m sorry. I had to photocopy some notes. I need them for our exams tomorrow”.
“It’s okay”, Dr. Denise remarked curtly. That was just too unlikely of her. Every time we were together, she couldn’t seem to step on the brakes. She always had a lot of things to talk about, mostly rumors, gossip and every inanity there was to gobble.
The ‘Doctors’ looked at each other. Their eyes seemed to convey serious thoughts. Thoughts which they didn’t want me to hear.
I excused myself and proceeded to my room. I couldn’t sleep. I just kept turning and tossing. I was deeply bothered. I was scared that i might have committed a serious wrong.
During breakfast, the queer mood continued. “When is the last exam day?” Dr. Rod finally broke the silence.
“Today. It’s the last day of the semester too”.
We were supposed to have a class gathering after the exams. But, still bothered by the unusual atmosphere in the house, I went home right away. I cooked their favorite food for dinner as my way of saying how deeply sorry I was for whatever wrong I did. After dinner, they invited me to the gazebo outside.
The ‘Doctors’ asked me what were my plans. I told them that, first thing, I wanted to to visit my parents. But, of course, they had the final say. Somehow, I’d learned to let them fix my schedule. I thought that it was the most subtle way by which I could express how grateful I were to them for giving me the opportunity to pursue my college dream.
“We think you should.”
Dr. Rod’s voice was emotionless. But the words struck me like a dagger piercing through my heart. I was shocked. What wrong too grave did I do that the ‘Doctors’ deemed it necessary for me to go home? They normally felt sad every time I went home. But, now, they seemed to be too eager to send me home. Was it because I came home late the other night?
Dr. Rod took a deep breath. Dr. Denise put her hand over my shoulders. They tried hard to be as calm as they could while breaking the devastating news.
Last week, Nanay attended a seminar in the parish. The parish was located in the Poblacion. The road from our barrio going to Poblacion traversed several kilometers of uninhabited mountains. On her way home, the jeepney which she boarded was stopped by a number of armed men. It was a robbery. One of the passengers decided to resist and fight back. Gunshots were fired, a couple of which hit Nanay. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
I was shocked. I couldn’t seem to say a word. I couldn’t seem to move. For a while, I seemed to have lost my senses. ‘Why’ was the only word that kept flashing in my mind. Finally, I burst into tears.
Traveling home, I was consumed by rage and despair. All the pains and sufferings I endured in the past sprinted back in my memory. And, now, the tyranny of time had played its brutal joke on my mother’s life.
I kept asking why.
In my hands, the world I hold
To my wishes, the gods oblige
By my command, joy abounds
Perefect life in paradise…
Lightning strikes, thunder roars
Storms dash the world into the dark
In a snap, all is gone
What remains is a wasteland
Phantom dreams tear my soul apart…
Looking around , I considered it was a perfect place to end such a melancholic existence , with a range of mountains on one side and an endless ocean on the other. But Tatay was waiting for me. It was one of those times that he needed me the most. Besides, if I decided to jump off the ferry, would that end all the pain, or would it only lead to a more savage world of far greater miseries?
The thought of Tatay and the uncertainty of what might lie beyond death forced me to hold on to life.
Never Say Never Again
A few days after the burial, Tatay kept prodding me to return to the city. “We have all the reason to mourn, Beth. But I don’t think your Nanay wants you to spend the rest of your life mourning over her. You have your own life. Not everyone here gets the opportunity to study in college. Don’t let sorrow hold it over you.The future is vast and bright. But you have to make a choice and make a move now.”
I didn’t want to leave him. But I knew, if I chose to stay, I would forego the chance, perhaps the only chance I had, to change our lives.
Somehow, I was able to slowly gather myself. I began weaving dreams again. I made a promise to myself that I would succeed not only for Tatay and myself, but, more importantly, for Nanay. Maybe there was no way I could find justice for her death. But, should I achieve the dreams we built together, that would be the sweetest revenge I could exact for her senseless end.
I picked up the broken pieces of my dreams. I recreated the shattered world of my fairy tale. My journey resumed.
But time could be such a sadist foe. And, more often, time is steps ahead in the war of life.