Cars honked, buses blared, and cigarette peddlers shouted on the sidewalks while I craned my neck out of the open window of the jeepney, the Philippine’s version of a limousine.
I labored to keep my tailbone on the seat of this remnant of WWII’s U.S. military jeep redesigned as a cheap means of transportation. If not for my classmates’ thighs sandwiching me on both sides, I would have been on the floor hours ago.
The jeepney halted, and another passenger stooped at the rear door. He looked at the series of knees kissing from both his left and right flanks.
The driver waved his hand, with the peso bills between his fingers flapping in front of my nose. “Squeeze in! That seat is for a dozen passengers.”
Dozen. Is he out of his mind? What did he take us for? Dwarves and elves? I glared at the driver but held back my tongue, mindful of Ma’am O, our community nursing teacher seated across me.
Nobody made any attempt to move. The man sighed and grabbed the bar on the ceiling. Everyone looked away. I shrugged. He’d survive the humid ride as long as he held tight on those bars.
A couple more stops and Ma’am O fumbled inside her bag that looked ready to retire. She took out a couple of bills, and handed it to the driver. “Here’s for the five of us.”
“Oh, no, Ma’am. Please don’t,” I said. “I’ll take care of my fare.” I reached inside the pocket of my jeans.
Heaven knows how much government teachers make these days, even though they worked for one of the top universities in the country. Teaching is much like entering a religious order. You had to be content with intangible rewards.
“Nonsense,” she said and tapped my hand.
“Thank you.” Why was she doing this? Bring her students to a rally? What’s in it for her? On normal days, I would have said no, and it would have been easy. She was that type of teacher that people can talk their way around.
Rumor has it that she once caught two classmates in a drinking spree with the townsmen in the middle of the day. One reasoned out that it was the best way to integrate and immerse with the people. And they had a tiny sip, nothing much.
And she actually believed them. It was laughable. But now as I look back, I can’t help but think, there could be wisdom in that.
The jeepney halted. Araneta Coliseum, or “the dome” stood massive. A banner hung on the façade flaunting not a popular artist or a basketball event but an unfamiliar name. Michelle Corral.
Yet, why the queue?
I crossed my fingers and alighted the jeepney. Looking around, I hope nobody would recognize me from my school. I had been to rallies, but not this kind.
Mama once freaked out when Ate told on me.
“Mama, she marched in the streets of Manila. She could have been tear-gassed by the police.”
“No worries, Mama,” I said. “I had a scarf on my nose and a plastic bag of water in my belt loop in case we get tear-gassed.”
Of course, she panicked all the more until I assured her that the government yawned at the kind of rallies I engaged in. It was for a tuition fee hike. The stakes were low.
But not the one I was about to attend. Mama would have approved. And the stakes were high.
The line eased, and I hurried after Ma’am O. We squeezed our way up the stairs to the topmost bleachers in a dark corner. I grimaced. How could this miracle work? Would Michelle Corral capture us in her radar? We were like needles in a haystack.
Music blasted from the speakers, and people started dancing and singing Alleluia. Oh no, I groaned.
Ma’am O stood up and clapped her hands. She beckoned us to join. I elbowed my friends, who shook their heads and we all giggled. What have we gotten ourselves into?
The singer waved with the microphone on her hand and clapped. “When you sing, you pray twice. When you dance and sing, you pray three times. C’mon, everybody. Remember King David? How he pleased God with his dancing? But Michal scorned and laughed at him. For that, she was rendered childless.”
Uh-oh. I jumped on my feet and joined in the clapping, softly at first, but soon, my feet picked up the beat. Not too bad.
When the praise and worship were over, I sat laughing, my shirt damp with sweat.
The music slowed to a mellow tune and the lights dimmed. “Close your eyes and implore the Lord to heal you,” the singer said.
I recalled Mama’s tear-drenched face from months back and Papa shivering in the recovery room, with stitches on his chest. He looked helpless and so unlike the man I knew who ordered people around to do his bidding.
With clasped hands, I prayed. “Lord, please heal Papa. And Mama. Heal them.”
“We shall begin the healing rally with the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the highest form of prayer,” the singer said.
A priest went onstage and began to celebrate an ancient Catholic tradition I had known since childhood. Born, raised, and schooled a Catholic from elementary to high school under the nuns, I knew the routine—knew when to sit and stand, knew the responses.
Yet lately, I had questioned my traditions. My born-again friends had challenged my faith. Did I know Jesus? Know His words? Was He my personal Savior? The more I read the scriptures, the more it stirred my heart, and the more confused I became. The turmoil that began in my spirit now beset my mind and soul. All the things I had believed, I began to question. I thought I had a perfect life, my future ironed out, but it had crumbled before my eyes in the past three months.
When the priest said, “Lift up your hands and offer your prayers, the body part that needed healing. Claim and believe. Ask and you shall receive,” my hands held the memories of broken dreams and promises.
Just three months ago, November 1991 in Makati Medical Center, I sat beside Mama at the waiting area while the cardiac surgeons performed a triple heart bypass on Papa.
“It went too fast,” Mama said. She had been calm. Too calm. “Your Papa was just visiting his classmate from medical school, who was like a brother to him, a cardiologist. He did tests on him when he learned of your Papa’s chest pains. Four heart blocks. He wouldn’t let your Papa go home. Said it would be on his conscience if he had a cardiac arrest on the way out.”
It was surreal. Papa, a doctor, was now a patient. How did that happen? He didn’t drink nor smoke. His only vice was to eat good food.
Or so we thought.
When Mama spilled the rest of the story, a week after the operation, she was on the verge of a breakdown.
I watched Mama took care of a man she’d rather leave. Deep-seated anger, betrayal, and a sense of obligation tore her apart.
Papa had gambled, and it wasn’t the kind that involved jokers and pokers. He probably would have been better off playing with Russian roulette than with Mama’s heart. For the wrath of a scorned wife would leave scars that festered to this day.
My heart went out to Mama for I knew how she must be feeling. Her emotions mirrored my own.
At the hospital, I had brought my boyfriend, an intern and introduced him to Papa and Mama. I took my chances. Surely, they wouldn’t disapprove of the relationship. I had obeyed almost until the end that I shall not commit to a romantic relationship until I finish college. I was three months from earning my Bachelor of Nursing degree.
I had even bagged this doctor, a board topnotcher, nicknamed Dr. Crush for making nurses’ caps flutter.
Wasn’t that what Papa wanted? His words still rang in my ears back in my high school years. “Take nursing so you can proceed to get a medical degree. If not, be like your Mama and marry a doctor. It’s a safe course. Even if war breaks, you’d have work.”
Indeed, I had followed after Mama’s footsteps. That night, I too was betrayed.
On the way to the hospital, Dr. Crush offered to buy grapes at a nearby fruit stand for Papa and Mama. He opened his wallet and flipped it back in haste. Too late. I had caught a glimpse of a pretty girl’s smiling face and it was not me. So the rumors were true. He did collect wallet photos as well as nurses’ caps.
“So who’s the girl?” I said.
My heart numbed at his lame excuse. I donned a smile as fake as the man that I introduced to Papa and Mama that night. Was I glad I could still hold my head high, knowing that my white cap was intact.
The crowd hushed. This drew my attention back to the stage.
Michelle Corral, the lay evangelist appeared. Her voice echoed in the vast space and into the hollow chambers of my heart. She spoke words that broke through my despairing soul. Promises of healing, wholeness from broken relationships, and peace amidst turmoil produced faith and hope in my doubting spirit.
And then a strange language emanated from her mouth. Was this the gift of tongues that the speaker had explained earlier? It sounded ancient.
Then her voice blasted through the speakers. “Somebody up there is being healed of thyroid disease.” She pointed at the center balcony.
“Somebody down here is being touched by the Lord’s healing hand, curing his prostate cancer.”
A man raised his hands and shouted alleluia.
“Somebody on that side….”
I strained my neck and looked at where the healings were coming from. Was this for real or were these people merely claiming healing according to their faith?
Then Michelle said, “Somebody down here is being cured of paralysis.”
The spotlight focused on a man slumped on his wheelchair. The woman beside him, his wife perhaps, pulled him up. He struggled and strained, yet the wife kept on tugging at him.
I clasped my hands in front of my mouth. “Dear Lord, don’t let this man fall.” I’d hate to see him collapse in a sorry heap.
“Yes, you. Stand up and walk,” Michelle shouted and pointed at the poor man.
An usher helped the wife, and the man stood, unsteadily at first. Then he took one step, then another. The woman cried and jumped up and down. Goosebumps ran down my arms as I gasped. The crowd erupted in a frenzy.
I cried and lifted my hands. “Please heal my parents. Heal us.”
“You, young people up there. Come down!” Michelle pointed at us.
The spotlight lit the entire section of the topmost bleachers where we stood.
My classmates and I looked at each other. Ma’am O said, “Go! Go down. She’s calling you.”
What? Where were we supposed to go?
“All you, young people. The Lord is calling you.” She waved at us to come down.
My classmates shuffled towards the aisle, pushing me along. A man ushered us through the darkness, down the steps, amidst the crowd until we found ourselves on the ground floor, in front of the stage.
We lined up like cadets about to be executed in a firing squad. The spotlight was on us again.
“Close your eyes,” Michelle said.
And so I did. The bright light shone through my closed lids, my heart beating fast.
“One of you will become…” she started to prophesy. A cry erupted on my right. Was that July, my classmate?
“One of you will go to…” Another cry resounded on the far right.
“One of you will become like Teresa…” A current struck the top of my head, like a tiny bolt of lightning, sending a warm and electrifying sensation down my spine and spreading to the rest of my body. I cried from the depths of my being.
“Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord.” The tears flowed like streams, and I kept babbling. Everything I held gushed out from every pore of my senses. I bawled like a child, my yeses incessant.
When the usher led us out of the door, I knew I had entered a new door and closed an old one. Took a committed step. No turning back.
I was on to a quest.
Who was Teresa? What was my call? What have I said yes to?