Kuya Allan’s Homecoming

On the eve of typhoon Ondoy’s devastation of the National Capital Region, our family was comfortably seated at McDonald’s party place in Katipunan.  We had another dinner date with Kuya Allan, the eldest cousin of the brood.  He was home for a brief visit.  He had migrated his entire family to Vancouver, Canada in ’03.  This was his first journey home.  We already had one lunch date at Dampa, Libis, but as in any Filipino family, despedida makes the blood bonding complete.

McDonald’s was SRO.  The rain was heavy which surprised every motorist.  The natural instinct was to seek refuge at the fastfood centers and avoid the looming traffic.  But it was on every one’s mind.  The tables were all occupied and the counter queues extended to the space outside the entrance doors.  Since our entourage counted twenty, the manager opened up the balloon filled menagerie for us.  As luck would have it, we had the entire nook to ourselves and we had the most enjoyable evening of kwentuhan at bidahan.  As cozy as we were chatting and the children busy with balloons, no one was wary of the impending doom that would befall many just down the stretch of the highway.

Jonjon initiated the talk, commenting on the college girls’ noses perched on thick textbooks.  He said that he had topped most of the exams he took and he did not have to bury his face on the pages.  The trick is to study whatever is needed beforehand, review when necessary, and do not teach all the formula to your classmates. That elicited a good laugh and started the ball rolling.  Jonjon related his frat initiation and blamed Kuya Allan for turning him black and blue.  Had Kuya Allan not allowed himself to be paddled ages ago, then they would not have wondered what could that be.  Boys will be boys , I guess.  Glad the few men in our women-dominated family still stand tall.

And our discussion flowed to the adventures Kuya Allan had in his adopted country.  Needless to say, the ache pinched the hearts as the eyes controlled the tears.  Kuya Allan was an electrical engineer and he had a good job at the Philippines’ foremost electrical company.  He had a decent home in Lagro, another pad for rent, a van for traveling, and another utility vehicle for spare.  His two elder children were in college, the first one about to earn her degree.  The youngest was in grade two.  And his wife, Ate Cynthia, was a nurse at the waterworks.  Yet, Kuya Allan wanted to make his dream of venturing the world come true.  He did not foresee the obstacles that would make the realization painful.

At first, his relatives on his father side, received them well.  They were allotted a comfortable shelter in an unoccupied room.  But as days turned into weeks, the romancing ended and the harsh reality of surviving gripped the entire family.  The burden was heavy on Kuya Allan’s shoulders.  He was the head of the family.  And he was shocked to know that even blood ties mean nothing in an alien land.  The relatives gave him the blank stare and shrug the shoulder treatment.  One has got to do it on his own – alone!

Kuya Allan accepted his fate and swallowed his pride.  He endured eight hours of smoldering by day and dishwashing by night. He rotated his head 180 degrees and willed to make life begin anew.  And he did.  While stretching his stiff neck from smoldering, he glimpsed at some people walking from a distance.  When he asked a fellow worker what  institution they had  for a neighbor, he learned that it was a home for the mentally handicapped.  Without hesitation, he applied to be a volunteer.  When the interviewers asked him what experience has he got with mental patients, he related the sad story of our lone uncle, Tony Caraos, who lost his sanity in the war, and yet lived a full life with us because we treated him as normally as we can. And Kuya Allan was accepted immediately.  Little did he know that a routine as easy as caring for someone mentally deficient would give him the money he needed to sustain his family’s needs.  All he did was usher the patients to their next activity, like watching television.  Or he would sling his arm on the shoulders and bring them somewhere to walk and talk.  Most of the time, he did the talking telling the patients I am Allan Garcia, I am an engineer…etcetera. Before he knew it, they would have coursed kilometers on end and all he did was practice his lines for future interviews.  And so Kuya Allan cried, remembering  Uncle Tony who seemed to be with him every inch of the way.  And he drove the van with the mental patients to all the parks around the area.  And Kuya Allan had his grand tour of this side of Canada. He uttered a prayer of thanks to Uncle Tony for never deserting him in the greatest trials of his life.

Kuya Allan was given an engineer’s job not long after.  But he continued to spend a free night or two at the mental institution, watching tv with the patients, just sort of keeping them company. Or he would sleep the long night to serve as the patients’ night guard.  It was a way a paying back for the blessings he received. That gave him a sum to enable his wife Ate Cynthia and youngest daughter Yanna  a journey home in ’07.   The eldest,  Tata,  had married and born a beautiful girl called Sophie.  Ico came home in June. And Kuya Allan had his six years after leaving this beloved islands which, he said, could never be forgotten.

I received a text message from Kuya Allan the afternoon of September 26, during Ondoy’s heavy downpour.  He asked Kamusta kayo? And I said Lakas tubig pasok bahay. And he knew that tragedy had struck.  My other cousins’ homes were penetrated by the muddy flashflood.  That left us a night of total darkness and fear.  Little did we know that many had perished and many more had been clinging to dear life.

Kuya Allan had boarded his plane back to Canada as scheduled the following day, a Sunday.  I was unable to communicate with him anymore because the cellphone batteries were dead.  And nowhere could the gadgets be charged because of the power blackout.  I was also making my route checking on who needs help. Some nephews and nieces had been stranded in schools.  Nephew Adam was trapped somewhere in Katipunan and walked his way home the morning of his birthday, September 27.  He was able to capture images of the flood waters in his cellphone.  But the sight of dead bodies left him sleepless for so many nights.  I also spotted canine carcasses and some marines carrying an unknown corpse in a stretcher, but I swiveled my head to the mounting garbage instead.  I do not like the sight of the dead in my memory.

Long after the calamity, I thought about Kuya Allan and my prodding him to write his stories in a journal.  He said Ikaw na lang. I said okay. It is sad that I had to write his story alongside the most devastating typhoon that paralyzed our country.  Yet, if I recall right, Kuya Allan always leaves with a bang.  When he departed for Canada in ’03, the Trillanes group sieged Manila Peninsula Hotel in order to topple down the incumbent government.  This time he left again with another bang, much grimmer though.  But that is Kuya Allan.  Godspeed, wherever you are!

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