Three months left. That was all. And it was not even a whole three months. It was two months and twenty nine days. He had been counting. Every morning, since that visit to the doctor, he had been counting. And tomorrow, it would just be two months and twenty eight days. And then, in the end, he would have to leave his son. Alone. There was clearly nothing left to do, but pray. And cry.
They were on a bus, his son and himself, going no place in particular, on the sunniest of spring days. The boy almost looked normal, except that his eyes seemed a little uncoordinated, somewhat unfocused. But you had to look at him closely to notice. The way he acted, however, gave his condition away. He looked ten, perhaps eleven, but he was most decidedly too childlike for his age. “Fire truck!” he would say, identifying the red vehicle parked in its station. “Dog!” he exclaimed, pointing at a morning jogger’s pet on a leash. “Flag!” he said, looking up at a waiving banner, glancing at his father for reassurance and acknowledgement that he had identified correctly.
The boy had his father’s visage. Lines and wrinkles on the older man’s face camouflaged the similarity, but the boy’s eyes whispered of his father’s. Assenting with a nod and a smile, the father thought back to a moment just half a year ago, when all hope was snatched from him.
“You may have six months. Nine, perhaps, if we can manage the spread,” his doctor had said, on his insistence for an estimate upon being told they had lost the fight. The cancer had plagued him for five years now. It had been a rollercoaster of victories and defeats, illness and remission, joy and desperation. He was a man of wealth, and he had recruited to his camp the best doctors to be found, and into his arsenal the most modern medicines. He could not bear to leave the boy, and he had waged a brave battle, unyielding in hope and unsparing in treasure. But in the end the tumor had won. It was time to give up, to prepare the terms of surrender. Other than the boy and himself, they had no other family. How could the boy go on without him? He had to find a savior.
That was six months ago. He had three months remaining, he thought, placing his odds at the more optimistic nine months. Two months and twenty nine precious days left to spend with his son. He had to absorb everything.
Today, this second day of what little he had left, they were on a bus. The boy had always wanted to ride a bus, but there had been no reason to. They had several vehicles, including a limousine with chauffer. They even had a jet, which technically belonged to the firm, but which the man could use as he pleased by reason of his position. And living in a cloistered part of town, in a neighborhood unaccustomed to public transport, meant limited access to the bus stops. But his son had been insistent.
The past months had been a whirlwind of wonderlands. He had taken hundreds of photos of him and his son – with Mickey and Goofy, with Elmo and Oscar, on a steam train waiving from the engineer’s window, on a pirate ship, on Apollo 11 taking off for the moon, on the Nautilus bound for the ocean’s unknown depths – trying to create memories he hoped his son would not forget.
He would never know, he thought, if his son would even remember. He seemed so carefree, never wanting anything, never asking to go someplace or do something. If left alone in his room, he would happily pour over his picture books to no end. If allowed to play in the garden, he would sit on the swing, swaying so very gently, his feet tucked beneath him, squinting at the sky. He was the most gentle, innocent creature he had ever known.
They were riding the limousine one day, and the chauffer had given way to a red, articulated bus, the one that had a joint in the middle, and the boy was surprised to see the bus seem to break in two as it swiveled to negotiate a turn. “Ride that bus?” the boy had asked then. He had dismissed the request, lost in more important thoughts.
But the boy was uncharacteristically persistent. Since that day, he would ask every time they went out, “Ride bus?” He seemed to have enjoyed the trips to the wonderlands, but he had not asked if they could go back. The bus, however, was something else. He asked for a bus ride everyday, specifying that it should be the “long bus that breaks in the middle.” He was just as happy to get a “maybe next time”, but the next day, he would ask again. And so this sunny spring morning, the father had asked the chauffer to take them to the bus stop, and that is how he found himself that particular morning on a bus, watching his son name everything he could see under the sun.
They got off the city center for some food. The boy gave the driver props, a fist to fist bump, a greeting he had learned from his therapist. Upon alighting, the father embraced the boy, knowing he was unaccustomed to pedestrian rules, fearful that he might run off to something interesting in disregard of traffic. At least that is what he told himself. Deep inside, he knew that the traffic was simply an excuse to hug the boy, to hold him in his arms, and not let go, ever.
It was the last happy moment they would share. The doctor’s estimation was not too far off, and the cancer claimed complete victory just a couple of weeks after.
“Thank you all for being here,” the lawyer intoned, as he opened the meeting. “He had left it in his will that all of you should be present and know his wishes before anything is given, and I am sure he would have been very happy to see all of you today.”
He had been a great philanthropist, and he had died wealthy. He had generously given to all he deemed worthy – for the education and needs of those who claimed to be his relatives and friends, to hospitals and orphanages, to schools and universities, to learning and the arts. The beneficiaries of his bounty were all present that day, gathered in one of the great rooms of the luxurious residence where his will was to be made known.
What a good man he was, they whispered to each other, and how sad that he is now gone. What a waste, they said, to die at such a young age, and at the peak of his wealth and profession. And to leave a son who was not able to take care of himself! It was all so tragic, they solemnly agreed, as they hushed in anticipation of what was in store.
“First is the matter concerning his son,” the lawyer announced. “As you all know, the boy is a special child, unable to take care of himself. The father wishes that the boy be taken by someone who will love the boy as his own, and not by someone who would take him for money or remuneration. He felt it best to ensure this by attaching no wealth to his son. Thus, except for a stipend to take care of his needs, he has left nothing to the boy.”
“Is anyone in this room willing to take care of the boy?” the lawyer asked, when the murmur had died down. They were all good men, the people in that room. They were upright and sensible, pillars of society even, but to take care of the boy! They knew him – he had accompanied his father in many of their events. They knew he was lovable in his innocence, but the limitations imposed by the boy’s mental facility, or the lack of it, meant that taking him was a lifetime commitment, and that made it too heavy. Take care of the boy! “I am not in a position to do it,” they had concluded in the privacy of their thoughts.
“Will anyone take the boy? Will anyone save him from an uncertain future?” the lawyer had to ask again. And again. And still, the question was answered by a rustle of clothes, stolen glances, and silence once more.
“I will take the boy,” an unsure voice finally said from behind the room, almost in a whisper. It was the housemaid, who had gained entry into the room with her feather duster, dusting the great vases that held sentry until they quietly let her in.
“Do you have the means?” said the lawyer. “You know the boy will not inherit his father’s wealth.”
“I have been with this family for a long time now,” the housemaid said, “and I have come to love the boy. I know him better than anyone here. I don’t have much, but he does not need much. I will take the boy,” she said, this time more decisively.
“Very well,” the lawyer said, and the collective sigh of relief was almost audible in its unison. The matter had been uncomfortable, and all were only too willing to leave it behind and go on with the substance of the will, and how the father’s wealth was to be dispensed.
“That is all,” the lawyer said quite suddenly. “Thank you for coming. You may all leave now, except for you,” pointing at the housemaid.
“What of the rest of the will?” they asked. “Are the proceedings postponed? When are we to come back?”
“That is all,” the lawyer clarified. “The boy is given in poverty. But whoever accepts the boy inherits everything.”
He was born in the stench of a shack for farm animals. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid on hay, like the newborn foal and calf he shared the barn with. He lived his life in poverty, among lepers and beggars. As in birth, he died a poor man, without possessions, naked, humiliated, forsaken. He is given in poverty. Would you take him, if his Father asked?
Atty. Joseph Gerard Angeles was recently confirmed as the Philippine ambassador to South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe by the Commission on Appointments on March 12, 2014. He swore in the new batch of officers and members of the Davao Writers Guild during a ceremony held at the Bagobo House Hotel last April 12, 2014. His speech during the induction was published at last week’s Dagmay.