8.30 pm, November 28; “Mrs. Rowena? This is an emergency call from Qatar, I am so sorry to inform you that your husband passed away this afternoon, Mrs. Rowena? Are you still there? Hello??? Hello???".
12.30 pm, November 29; "I'll be leaving Doha now and will be in Manila tomorrow afternoon. November 30th I'll be arriving in Tacloban Airport".
2002, less than month before Christmas, the 9 ½ hours flight from Doha to Manila which covers approximately 4,500 miles seemed to be an endless journey of my life. I am a frequent flyer of Qatar Airways but now I am restless and in tears, I wish I am not coming home, I wish it is not Christmas, my head is heavy, I am going into a deep slumber...
Nov. 14, 2002, “Manong Bay, is your January flight schedule confirmed already? I will miss you Bay, at least you’re going home for good to be with your family and start a new life with them.”
Manong Bay is my roommate; we share the same room since we arrived in Doha in 1992. I used to call him “Manong” out of respect because he is 10 years senior to me. I have enjoyed his company, he is like a father to me, we are both “Waray” and we both came from Civil Aviation industry that’s why we have a lot of common things to share.
After 11 years of working as Aircraft Mechanic, Manong Bay decided not to renew his contract which ends on January 21, 2003 to be reunited with his family in Leyte and start a fresh life with the copra and coffee plantation he recently bought in preparation for his retirement.
28th November, it was one of Manong Bay’s casual windows shopping in the mall checking his lists for the pasalubong while I decided to take my usual siesta lazing in the bed.
It was 6:00 pm when I was awaken by the incessant ringing of our telephone, I grabbed the handset and I recognize the voice on the other line, it was my boss, my ear seems to refuse every word he says as tears start running down my face.
“I am sorry to inform you about the loss of your friend, now I am assigning you to accompany the remains of Mr. Sarino to his hometown and you have to leave tomorrow.”
As I stood beside him, the Catholic priest gives his final rites, I cannot remember if I was able to sleep last night or if what time I woke up that morning. I cannot feel anything as the priest shakes my hand as a sign of condolences. I was staring at the cold body of Manong Bay as he was being shifted into the aluminum casket, and I was in pain losing a father-figure like him, we shared joyful moments and difficult days and at that moment for 11 years as OFWs and I was consumed by grief as the casket was finally sealed and was put into a wooden crate. I was viewing death as if it is some kind of ending, when in actuality it is merely a new experience in the life of one’s soul.
I signed the last documents from the Phil. Embassy officials as they bid their final words to a “kababayan” – a departed OFW. I feel tired but my body is numb, I do not know if I still have tears to cry.
As Qatar Airways lift-off from Doha, I ask myself why would a man of great faith who has devoted half of his life chasing his vision in the foreign land to fulfill his promise for a better life to his family was cut short of his dream? We arrived in NAIA and I was met by PAL personnel for other documentation requirements.
I was met by my family in the airport's arrival area. My wife was in tears as she tries to console me on the passing of my friend.
The following morning, I was bound to Tacloban Airport, I have only an hour of sleep and my body is aching as if I was a wounded soldier duty bound to escort a fallen hero, my mentor and a Gladiator to bring him home to his homeland, to his final resting place.
As I step out of the airport, a young girl carried a piece of cardboard with inscriptions "Kuya George", then as I come near her I realized that its her 9 year old daughter, tears starts to blind my eyes. And I cannot remember the words that followed; all I knew was that we're all in tears as I was embracing Manong Bay's family.
Manong Bay has departed from this world with a good name and in peace. Perhaps he was done, fulfilled his purpose, and was called Home.
"The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." (Isaiah 57:1-2)
May the Lord bless Manong Bay on his walk with Him.