THE PROMISE

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 By Joel P. Salud

This is  a story that sounds too scary to be true. But,  according  to the source, it did happen…

Ronie (not his real name), an OFWcivil engineer that worked  for an American company in Thailand, had just  received  his first pay check and was  excited  to tell his  wife about it.  To earn a fat sum of American dollars was  a dream-come-true for the couple who’d  been married for almost  six years. It was  1990, the height  of Filipino overseas workers migration, when the couple thought  of trying  their luck abroad.

They loaned  from a bank and from  close relatives who were  just too thrilled to see the couple make something of their lives. Both came from very modest, lower -middle-class families and  had been childhood sweethearts  since they  were 15.  When Christia gave birth to her only son Paolo, the husband  Ronnie thought of  earning  more money so that the  couple could prepare  sending Paolo to a good private school when the time comes.

The first trip Ronnie  made was in Dubai, where he worked  for a very appreciate  Arab boss, who gave  him extra  cash incentives  just so he could send more to his family back home.  After two years, he was  recommended to a Thai-entrepreneur  who needed a civil engineer for a specific project in Bangkok, Thailand.  Coming highly recommended, the Thai entrepreneur even  doubled  his salary. Ronnie  could not pass up an opportunity to earn more cash, hence,  he accepted the job.

The couple and their son Paolo, who was then about five years old and studying in a Quezon City elementary school, celebrated the eve of Ronnie’s departure by going to the movies and having dinner at home.  Christia herself  prepared  all there was  to prepare to make the  despedida party worthwhile. After going to the movies, the family arrived  home and had dinner as planned.

It was a  wonderful night for the couple,  as well as  Paolo who spent most of his time on his father’s lap. After Paolo went to bed, Ronnie  and Christia talked  for almost five hours until finally they both went  to rest. “Promise me you will come back to us…. “Christia said as  if having  a foreboding  inkling of what was to come.

“Chrissi, babe, of course,” Ronnie replied with more than the usual  tenderness  while softly  caressing his wife’s cheecks. “I will  miss you…”

Christia, out of the blue, made a  promise: “On the day you come back to us, I  promise a bonquet of  roses, the same white ones I gave you during  your birthday, will  be waiting for you on the table…”

It has  been a flattering gesture of Christia to give Ronnie flowers during special  occasions. They kissed and made love that evening. For almost two years, Ronnie worked  hard to provide  more than enough of his  salary to his family.  He wrote  and mailed Letters to Chritia and his son Paolo almost  every other day. Christia,  on the other hand, never missed an opportunity to give her  reply or send  pictures through email.

However, during  the first week of the last three months before his furlough,  Ronnie noticed that Christia had missed writing back.  He was  too busy to notice at first  since he was in the  thick of finishing a multi-million-dollar project in Bangkok. A friend  and co-worker who was also a Filipino told him the company’s email server had been  down and offline  due to repairs for the past so many days. However, Christia should  have written and sent her letters through regular mail, Ronnie thought. He hasn’t received  a letter or email  for almost four days.

When the server was finally fixed, Ronnie received  an  email  from his neighbour  in Quezon City, saying that his wife  and kid met a tragic  accident a few days ago.  Their housed burned  down due to faulty electric wiring, killing Christia and Paolo who were  trapped within.  He almost fainted; the news was more than he  could bear. However, he  saw another email in his inbox- from his wife Christia-sent a day after the aforementioned tragedy.

The email message  read:<Ronnie, please come home…I miss you so much… Christia>. A blurred photo of Chistia and Paolo smiling  while  sitting on the couch in the  living room was attached to the message.

The next day,  Ronnie filed for  an early vacation leave so he could go back to the Philippines. When his boss ask why, he kept mum about it, and instead  whispered that his mother was gravely ill. The boss,  without second thought, granted  him permission  and even took care of the travel requirements and expenses.

The only available  flight was the late evening  flight back to the Philippines, but he did not mind. Ronnie  was just too glad to come back home and make sense of what has happened.  He arrived at the airport at around 11:30 in the evening and went straight to the subvidivision  by taxi.

Since it was a Saturday, it took him more than two hours to reach his house. When he finally arrived, his house was there, not burned  down as  was told him, and the lights were all open. He rang the doorbell and out came Paolo and Christia, looking delighted that the man of the house had finally arrived. Ronnie hugged  them both tightly as they walked  into his home.

Nothing  seemed to have changed. Paolo went to  bed at eight in the evening, the usual time. Christia and Ronnie had a long conversation about what had happened in Thailand, his projects and his work. Christia  listened attentively. Ronnie however, was having misgivings about telling her the bad news he received. It was probably a bad prank,  but why would his neighbour do something like that? He never mentioned a word.

The only thing Ronnie noticed was that there was a bouquet of white  roses on the dinner table, and the very faint scent of burning wood, which he thought was coming  from outside.  “How did you know I was coming today?” asked  the puzzled Ronnie. “I just knew…” Christia smiled. “Why don’t we celebrate ?”blurted  Christia. “Tomorrow , let’s invite  out neighbors to party for your safe return. I want to do this, baby. Please go invite Roxanne, the Barangay Captain. But she’s probably at home at the moment; let’s not bother her anymore. Just do it tomorrow morning…”

Tired  and exhausted from worry and jet lag,  Ronnie  asked Christia  not  to clean up the dishes that night and just go with him to bed…

Christia was  still  asleep beside him when Ronnie woke up and took a walk  outside the house. He recalled what Christia  said that night and proceeded toward the Barangay Hall, which was just a few blocks away.  When he reached  the Hall,  he knocked  on the door and Roxanne,  the Barangay Captain, opened it. When  Roxanne saw Ronnie, her face fell.” When did you arrive?”  Roxanne blurted out uncontrollably. “Last night…”  said Ronnie with a puzzled look on his face. “Were you told about what had happened?” the Barangay captain could not contain her tears.

She’s been a family friend ever since the couple moved in the house  down the street. Ronnie asked, “What about?” Didn’t  Christia’s family tell you? Come with me!” Roxanne said while she  dragged Ronnie out of the Hall to walk back to his house.  When they reached the street where the couple lived, Ronnie saw nothing but  piles of  burned wood and  collapsed cement walls.

Everything from furniture to clothes was gutted to a crisp. He could make out their bed among the ruins, black now because  of the soot.  Ronnie fell on his knees and cried aloud, not knowing what to say or think.  He saw his travel bags placed in front of the burnt gates of the house,  unopened and  intact.  When Ronnie got back his composure  after about an hour, he went inside  the  gate to look through the rubble.

After a while, he noticed something sticking out of the smoking ruins- a small  white rose petal, fresh and untouched by the apparent wreckage. It was only then when  it  dawned on Ronnie that Christia kept her promise.  According to the story,  the white rose petal, withered now, still remains with  Ronnie to this day.

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