By: Luis Mondejar, Jr.
I met Dodong 20 years ago. I was reviewing then for the Bar exams in Manila. A man of my size-five feet and two inches tall-clad in maong accosted me at the gate late in the afternoon. “Are you Pabling?”
“Yes,” I replied albeit reluctantly because it was the first time that I saw him. As first-timer in Manila, it was but natural for me not to trust anyone I did not know, afraid I would be duped, as Manila was known to be teeming with people preying on probinsyanos. However, Dodong didn’t look like someone who would victimize someone like me. “I’m Dodong, older brother of Babe,” he introduced himself. Babe was my girlfriend. We were engaged and were set to be married after my sojourn in Manila. Excited, I shook his hand. “I’m glad to meet you, brod,” I said.
That was how it began. Every weekend, he would visit me in my boarding house in Quiapo. And we went out to paint the town red sometimes. Our favorite place was Luneta, especially if I run out of cash. It was not good to splurge on things during Bar review. “Bling, I have something for you,” he said one day. “What’s this? I asked as I opened the package. “Newspaper clippings!” I exclaimed.
I unrolled the bundle. And alas! They were case digests culled from Manila Bulletin. “Good, I will no longer flip the pages of the voluminous SCRA. This will do,” enthused. Yes, Dodong had helped me a lot in hurdling the Bar exams. With his kindness, generosity, and gentleness, I was inspired to overcome my difficulties-financial and otherwise. I felt as if he were an extension of my girlfriend, his sister, because of the moral support he showed to me.
When I passed the Bar and practiced law, we would still meet up in Manila whenever my work takes me there. His sister and I were married then. He was my constant companion in the city. My sidekick, so to speak, even until he got married in Antipolo. If he knew I was staying in a hotel, he would come and get me and persuade me to stay in their house. I would say that I didn’t want to bother his family with my stay. “It’s alright, “Bling. You’re now part of the family. You married my sister, right?”
I would hand him a handful of bills as a payment for his generosity, an amount which was even less than what I would actually pay in a hotel, but he would just whisk my arm away and refuse to accept anything from me. Very recently, though, strange things happened. Dodong placed a long distance call to me and told me he could no longer meet me at the airport. In fact, he told me that he could not meet me during my stay in Manila.
“I was not able to call you up right away. I have been too busy these past few days,” he said. I earlier called him up telling him that I would go to Manila and asked him if he would fetch me at the airport. “If you come to Manila, Bahala ka na sa sarili mo. I’m leaving, I’m going away. Far away. I will never come back. And you will never see me again.”
Then, his voice faded. The conversation was ended. I was speechless. My heart pounded, nagged by doubt and fear. It was early in the morning, 6:30 to be exact, when we had that telephone conversation. After driving my son, Cesar, to school, I proceeded to my office only to be surprised by a phone call coming from my wife at home. It was still too early in the morning. All the offices in the five-story building were still closed, save for ours. ” You surprised me, Virgo, “I said. I call her Virgo because she was born on September 15 under the zodiac sign of Virgo. Virgo couldn’t speak right away.
I heard she was sobbing. When she began her spiel, her voice was punctuated with occasional sobbing. “Manong died,” she said. Manong was Dodong. “Ha? When?” I was taken aback. ” This morning, 3 a.m.” She sobbed again. We ended the conversation after I asked her to take it easy. I was staring blackly at the ceiling.
Tears slowly rolled down my eyes. I was seized with deep sadness, unable to accept what happened. I was also in denial. Dodong talked to me at 6:30 a.m., more than three hours after he died. I shook my head in disbelief. Three days after he buried in Antipolo, I bumped into Dodong’s former classmate in the seminary and also an acquaintance of mine at a mall.
“I didn’t see you at Dodong’s funeral,” he said. “How about you? Were you there?” I asked. “Yes. I have been in Manila for two months before his burial,” he informed me “How did you know that he died?” I probed. “It was very queer, Pabling. I don’t know if you’d believe me,” “What is it?” ” On the morning he died, he telephoned me, telling me to go to their house in Antipolo. He said that it was very important that I go to their house. Something, he said, awaits me there. I wanted to asked him what but he was such in a hurry. He said he was hanging up because he was busy. And so he hanged up.”
“What else happened?” I asked him again. “Off I went to Antipolo with a cousin. It was already getting dark when we reached their house. We were surprised to see that there were quite a number of people in their house, some praying others whimpering.
I learned that Dodong just passed away at dawn that very day. But I swear it was Dodong I talked to during lunchtime,” Dodong’s former classmate related. I looked at him steadily. He looked at me, too. We were both speechless. One thing was certain: Dodong’s soul speaks.