Stories Need To Be Told...
...lest they dissolve into oblivion.
There are moments that need to be captured and made eternal simply because there is a wealth of emotions and spirituality in them. Painting a picture with words is one of the ways to immortalize these for people who were not there and for the future generation.
This is my contribution....
Sunday, February 28, 2010
I had just done the Saturday afternoon show and I was anxious to finally start my weekend. It had been a gruelling week, what with half of the staff sick with one thing or another. Then the intercom buzzes and I am told someone is waiting for me at the lobby. Immediate disappointment. Who can it be? It can’t be good.
I see a man, in faded jeans, a t shirt that I was sure used to be white, but is now almost grey. He wore a tattered baseball cap, the color of which I cannot distinguish anymore. His rubber slippers were of the same kind but of different colors and of different ages, telling me, they were half and half of once used to be two pairs. His head was bowed and he held a small plastic bag. His skin was of coarse burnt chocolate, veins stood out his arms and I was almost sure his hands were heavily calloused.
The sight of him could be intimidating if you judge the mere appearance. But he looked up and immediately, I saw the pain in his eyes. My trepidation evaporated and my weekend plans faded into non importance. This man needed help.
The guard by the door signalled to him that it was I whom he was looking for. The man stood up and muttered something as he made some awkward gesture which I was not sure if he wanted to shake my hand or bow before me. He looked so lost.
I greeted and I asked him to sit back down as I sat myself down opposite him. I asked why he was looking for me. He reached into his pocket and pulled out remnants of what used to be a man’s wallet. It was empty, save for a faded picture and a piece of tattered and torn piece of paper. He hesitantly hands me the piece of paper, telling me he is a convict, discharged three days ago and the piece of paper was his discharge slip. He served nine years for killing a man – a cop. He digs out the picture and tells me it was his family. The name on the paper identified him as Adolfo.
This is his story.
Adolfo was 43 years old when I met him. I was 21. He comes from the province and he came to Manila 12 years ago in the hopes that he can make a better living here for himself and his young family, only to realize that life here is not what he thought it would be. Being raised with the principle of hard work, he persisted and finally ended up selling young coconuts (its meat and water), or buko, loaded up onto a wooden cart. For a while, it worked. It supported their food and the small shanty they rented.
Needless to say, it was no picnic-to constantly be exposed to the elements, pushing a big heavy cart, earning virtually mere coins. But he was happy. They were simple folks with simple wants and simple joys. Until the dark face of evil touched their lives in the form of a corrupt cop. He began charging Adolfo a toll fee so he can continue to peddle his coconuts without harassment. At first, he acquiesced. Even if it meant even more belt tightening, even more zeal to sell more, to earn more, pushing himself harder.
So this went on for a time, becoming a part of the routine. He started not to feel the sting of the extortion anymore. But then, two of three children fall sick, the rains come, lowering the demand for thirst quenching coconut water, making it harder to move around, most times finding himself drenched and cold.
He begged the cop to give him a break. He told him he would make it up another time, just that today, he needed whatever little he earned, for his two sick children. Plus he needed to get more coconuts so he can sell and continue earning tomorrow. This face of evil had no heart. He forces the man to give up his hard-earned money, threatening him with his service pistol.
Adolfo saw the gun. It flashed in front of his eyes just as the image of his two sick children, with his young wife beside them, replayed over and over in his head. His world seemed to topple on top of him. Everything went dark. Very dark.
When the darkness faded and lightness made its way back into Adolfo’s consciousness, he realizes the bolo (big knife used for agriculture) was dripping with blood, the cop, on the ground, lifeless. His breathing was calm. But his hearbeat sounded like thunder inside his chest. He realized right there and then, his life was about to end.
Killing a man is grave. Killing a man, who WAS a COP, was a death sentence, even before you go to trial. As he was arrested, he was beaten short of an inch of his life. His arraignment was postponed several times because the cops were hiding the fact that he was virtually paralyzed from all the beating he had gotten. When we healed enough to make it to court, the judge asked why he was in the state that he was in. His own lawyer told the judge he was beaten in jail. A lie, coming from his supposed defense attorney.
Position in society does afford some people expediency. He was sentenced 12-20 years. He said he never met with his lawyer so he never knew how he was defended.
He was rewarded for good behaviour so instead of the minimum 12 years, he was released only after nine. All he had in prison was a small battery operated transistor radio, and that was when he met me, on the air. He took note of the office address and kept it with him for 1 year. Immediately after he was released, he started walking and asking for directions as he crossed the metropolis via Highway 54 (now EDSA), from Muntinlupa to Quezon City.
Three days after he was released, he now sits in front of me.
I was young and not quite equipped yet to respond with immediacy to scenarios like this and I thank the heavens for somehow poking me back to reality and making me realize, this man ‘walked’ all the way here. He probably didn’t know where my station was, or he probably didn’t have any money. Probably both. I ask him whether he had eaten. He said he was ok. I asked when was the last time he ate. He said the night before. It was nearly 6 in the evening.
I sprung into action. Producing food and a drink. And when I handed it to him, he took it and began eating. Saying he was hungry would have been an understatement.
As he ate, I look at the piece of paper in my hands and I realize, this is the only proof this man had that he was released. By sheer bad luck and bad prison system, he may be picked up reported and his records may show only his sentence, making him an escapee of sorts because he had only served 9 of the minimum 12 in his sentence. So I excused myself and went to the office to make copies of the tattered paper.
When I came back, he had finished his food and he was sitting up and I could tell he was more alert now. I handed him his release paper plus two other copies. I held on to one. I told him, if ever something happens, if he loses his copies, that he is to contact me, because I was keeping another copy. I told him I was going to be a witness for him.
In an almost silent voice, he said “I knew I could count on you.”
This prompted me to ask, “Why me?” I was nowhere near any fame or fortune and the network I worked for certainly wasn’t the biggest or the strongest. He said he was surfing through the stations and he heard my voice. He said I was reporting from a calamity from Pampanga during the aftermath of the Pinatubo eruption. He said my voice kept breaking as I narrated how many people were devastated. He said, it was then he knew, I had heart and that I can actually care.
This made me start to cry but I wanted him to continue. I wanted him to tell me why he had come to me and how I can help him.
He told me, he hasn’t seen or heard anything from his family for eight years now. He said the first year, they came and visited him. But times were hard. The visits became fewer and farther in between. Then it completely stopped. Someone told him that his family went back to the province. He wants to follow them there. He had no means, no money, no nothing. He doesn’t even have any identification on him save for his release papers and he said he dared not use that for fear of being refused to board a ship or a bus.
After hearing this, I went back inside, consulted with my superior, made some phone calls. I then made a round on the skeletal force (it was Saturday) that was on duty, explained everything and asked for donations.
When I came back, I had the pledge of a big shipping company for a free ticket, P1,200 for Adolfo and some clothes. What he had in his plastic bag was all the possession he had in the world. A couple of t shirts, a couple of underwear and torn and tattered shorts, very much like what he was wearing. I gave him my duty jacket (I wasn’t supposed to because it was official issue and only for organic personnel, but I didn’t care for petty sanctions at that point), and a thin blanket that the staff uses for overnight duty.
I signed for the vehicle and the driver that was to take him to the shipping company’s office and gave him the letter, authenticating him as the person we had asked assistance for. They are also going to let him use their facilities for him to clean up and sleep at, because he sails for the province at noon the next day. The shipping company was also kind enough to assure us, they are going to take care of him, feed him and assist him all the way.
I hand him the money. He looks at me and he had tears in his eyes. He told me that it had been years and he doesn’t know how his family will accept him, if they will accept him or if he can even find them. He said his wife may have taken a new partner and he had been steeling himself for it. He said if that were the case, he will not hold it against her, and he will probably just let things be the way they are. He said he doesn’t know what the future holds for an ex-convict like him and that he is trying to take things one at a time. First, he has to let his family know he has gotten out. He has to know they are ok. The rest will follow.
As he stared at my business card, he looks up and seeks and engages my eyes. He asks, if ever there is nothing for him in the province, if he can come and serve ME instead.
I told him, he can come back to me and I promise to find some kind of work for him. I told him to just contact me.
Once again, he does that awkward movement that could have been a clumsy attempt at a handshake or a hug. This time, I didn’t have to think twice. I solved the dilemna and opened my arms for a hug. This big bulk of hardened man, a killer, collapsed in a sobbing heap. All his unspoken thoughts and feelings pouring out in the form of tears. He knew I understood, and that was all he needed. To reconnect. For someone to believe in him as a human. For someone to look at him as man, not a criminal.
Then he left.
Five months later, I get mail. It said he found his family and he found his wife still waiting for him. His children are still with them and has missed him so much. They have a small patch of land they now till and a few chickens and goats. He said life was good again.
At the end of the letter, he wrote...
“Maraming-maraming salamat po sa inyo, Mam.”
I said to myself, “No, thank YOU Adolfo, for renewing my sense of hope, for giving back the belief that there can still be happy endings, that I can still believe in the human spirit and the goodness each and everyone of us have inside us. Thank you.”
at 9:45 PM