The honking cars, blaring buses and shouting peddlers on the sidewalks drummed on my ears, while my neck craned out of the open window of the jeepney. Crammed in the Philippines’ version of a limousine and remnant of WWII’s U.S. military jeep redesigned as a cheap means of transportation, I labored to keep my tailbone on the seat. 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 in to enter the rear door. He looked at the series of knees kissing from both his left and right flanks.
“Squeeze in! That seat is for a dozen passengers.” The driver waved his hand, with the peso bills between his fingers flapping in front of my nose.
Dozen, if you got dwarves and elves for passengers. I glared at the driver but held back my tongue, mindful of Ma’am Odie, 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. He’d survive the humid ride as long as he held tight on those bars.
Ma’am Odie fumbled inside her bag that looked ready to retire, 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’ll take care of my fare.” 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. I took out my wallet from my front jeans pocket, but she waved me off.
I managed a tight smile and thanked her instead. Why was she doing this? Bring her students to a rally? What’s in it for her? On regular days, I would have said no, and it would have been easy. She was that type of teacher that I could talk my way around. Even two male classmates got away with drinking alcohol with the townsmen in the middle of the day during their community rotation when they reasoned out that it was part of their “immersion” and “integration.” And they merely took a sip. The skeptic in me can only roll my eyes and say, “Tell that to the marines.”
The jeepney halted. Araneta Coliseum, or “the dome,” stood massive before us. But instead of the usual concert artist or sports team, the banner on the façade flaunted an unfamiliar name. Michelle Corral. The queue was just as long.
I crossed my fingers and alighted the jeepney. I looked around, hoping nobody would recognize me from my school. I had been to rallies, but not this kind. Mama had freaked out when Ate, my older sister told her I had marched in the streets of Manila, masked with a handkerchief, and a water-filled bag dangling from the belt loop of my jeans, in case we get tear-gassed by the police.
“No worries, Mama. It was for a tuition fee hike protest.” The government yawned at those kinds of student protest. 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 Odie. 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 on her radar? We were like needles in a haystack.
Music blasted from the speakers, and people started dancing and singing. Oh no, I groaned—not one of those things. Ma’am Odie stood up and clapped her hands. She beckoned us. I elbowed my friends and giggled.
The singer said, “When you sing, you pray twice. When you dance and sing, you pray three times. King David pleased God by doing so. But Michal, who scorned him was rendered childless.” Uh-oh. I jumped on my feet and joined in. At first, I clapped with barely a sound 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 tone. “Close your eyes and implore the Lord to heal you,” the singer urged and began singing.
Mama’s tear-drenched face appeared from my memory. And Papa shivering in the recovery room, stitches on his chest lay helpless and so unlike the man I knew who ordered people around to do his bidding.
I clasped my hands and prayed.
“We will begin the healing rally with the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the highest form of prayer.” The priest went on stage 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. 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 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 had sat beside Mama at the waiting area while the cardiac surgeons performed a triple heart bypass on Papa.
“It went too fast.” Mama had been calm. Too calm. “He was visiting his classmate from medical school, who was like a brother to him, a cardiologist. They did tests on your Papa when he learned of his chest pains. Four heart blocks. He wouldn’t let him 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 finally spilled the beans, 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. I was three months from earning my Bachelor of Nursing degree. Surely, they wouldn’t disapprove of the relationship. I had obeyed until the end.
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. “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.
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. Although my head was reeling with questions, and my heart numbed at his lame answers, I donned a smile as fake as the man that I introduced to Papa and Mama that night. At least my head held high, knowing that my white cap was intact.
My attention went back to the stage. Michelle Corral had gone onstage. Lay evangelist. Prophet. Healer. Her voice echoed in the vast space into the hollow chambers of my aching heart. She spoke words that broke through my despairing soul. Promises of healing, wholeness from broken relationships, peace amidst the turmoil, each word building faith, and hope in my doubting spirit.
The crowd hushed. Michelle spoke in a language strange and foreign to my ears. Was this the gift of tongues that the speaker had explained earlier? It sounded ancient. Then her powerful voice blasted from the speakers. “Somebody up there is being healed of thyroid disease.” Someone cried from where her fingers pointed. “Somebody down here is being touched by the Lord’s healing hand, curing his prostate cancer.” A man cried and raised his hands. “Somebody on that side….”
I strained my neck and looked at where the healings were coming from. Was this for real, or were they just claiming healing according to their faith?
Then Michelle said, “Somebody down here is being cured of paralysis.”
The man slumped in his wheelchair was being pulled up by a woman, who appeared to be his wife. He appeared unwilling, yet the wife kept on pulling him up.
Dear Lord, don’t let this man fall on the ground, I prayed.
“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 begged God to hear my prayers.
“You, young people up there. Come down!” Michelle was pointing to the top of the Coliseum. The spotlight flashed on us.
My classmates and I looked at each other. Ma’am Odie said, “Go! Go down. She’s calling you.”
“All you, young people. The Lord is calling you.”
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 Julie, 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 until I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Everything I held inside 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. I took a committed step. There was no turning back.
I was on a quest.
Who was Teresa? What was my call? What have I said 'yes' to?