We, the displaced Filipinos abroad, harbor some fears as we go through our lives outside our beautiful islands. What are the things we fear? Losing our jobs? Our passport? Our cellphone? Afraid of not being able to send enough money next month? Afraid of the growing distance between us and the family we left behind?
One thing I noticed that displaced people fear most, not only Pinoys but many foreigners here in Spain, is that ONE UNWANTED PHONE CALL.
I’ll go straight to my story.
Roughly one month after I arrived in León, I received a call from my aunt. It was very early in morning, around five. I saw that she had previously tried to call me twice. Something was wrong. She was extra complacent, easing something in. I had to brace myself, she said. And there it was… the unwanted call.
Someone had passed away. I remember my whole face crumpled. I was afraid to hear which information was about to be disclosed so “unwantedly”. Was it my mom? Or dad? Or someone else? Do I get to choose who?
It was followed by a digital sounding bawl. My Ericsson phone participated and tried to soften the blow. I knew she was crying. I knew I was crying. But all I could hear was scratched noise on the phone. I felt the ground melt under me. I didn’t have anyone to turn to.
All I can remember then was I burst out of my room, out of our quarters and knocked at someone’s door. My future flat mate from El Salvador and I were still living in the university dormitory at that time. A few days before, we had found a cheaper flat to move in together. My instinct made me knock at her door at that early hour and found her still grumpy from the untimely intrusion.
And I told her. I don’t remember how I said it. I’m sure I put her in a difficult corner. Almost like a blackmail. She was practically a nobody to me. We met just a month ago! Everybody was practically a nobody to me. One month after I arrived in León, I became that poor Filipino student whose father suddenly passed away. She stayed with me and anchored me to the ground.
To make the shitty situation even worse, I only had a single-entry visa. I could go into the country (which I already did) but once I left, it would be harder to go back and finish my scholarship program. There were choices to be made.
I was crying in front of her. And everything went gray, or black or hazy. I remember having dressed up and packed a small backpack and walking in the cold towards the bus station. I was thinking of going to Madrid. Why? I wasn’t sure.
Gladly, she stopped me. What was going to Madrid going to do? Make it better? Bring my dad back to life? Bring me nearest to him knowing that there was no way I was going to be able to say goodbye? Irrational thoughts after irrational thoughts.
Suddenly, it was morning. I remember using a lot of my coins and calling my family on an expensive payphone. I remember that male receptionist looking at me across the hall. I can’t even write this article straight because it sure was a spiral; a labyrinth of a literally shitty day. I remember crying extra loudly on that pay phone.
I could go on. The images are coming to me as I write this article. But I think I’d rather write about something else. My classmates found out the next school day. They were looking at me like a suicide bomber: so fragile, reckless and about to explode. But goodness flow in afterwards. Most to them seemed to know what to do. Death comes to all us after all.
They all tried to take me out. Most of them offered something to do. My Japanese classmate, Tomoyasu, in his most awkward, paused way…. “ummm…., we are… going to… this place and that….” he looked at me… “... come along?” The Americans, in their most American way, took me out… dancing. Priscilla, from Connecticut, grabbed my arms and with her big green eyes full of life, told me, “We are going out and we’re gonna drink and get drunk in honor of your dad who I’m sure loves you no matter what”.
I’m sure we all dread that kind of call. Since then, I would get “angry” with my family when I would suddenly receive a sporadic call or message from them. Mind you, before Whatsapp groups existed, it was all just SMS’s or phone calls. Now, it is so much easier to keep in touch, to stay connected.
I’d like to mention something my former boss from Argentina told me. He said that choosing to live a life abroad away from family, one should be always ready to accept such tragic things to happen.
“Argentina might be as far as the Philippines from where we are. If suddenly, I get a call and they tell me one of my people has passed away, I should be ready to accept the possibility of not being able to easily go back to say goodbye.”
It seemed such a very cold thing to say, I thought to myself. But he was right. Filipinos in Spain, we are exposed to being too late and being too far when these things happen. It is hard to explain.
That was what my Argentinian ex-boss was trying to tell me. Ever since then, I am no longer afraid of sudden unwanted calls. If ever something similar would happen, (knock on wood), I knew that I made them feel loved by me.
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PC Dolores is the pseudo name of a creative Filipino expat in Spain.