Monday, October 25, 2010


By: Mikejuha


It was about six o’clock in the afternoon of July 20 when I checked-in for my SV 866 flight to Manila. It was the hottest month at over 40C. In KSA, when a temperature like that comes, I would know it was time for my yearly vacation. For an OFW, vacation time is one of the happiest things to look forward. For with it, families become whole again, relationships are strengthened, and the presence of loved ones savored.

And for me, every vacation time opened up new horizons. Two years ago, I got married. Last year, my first baby was born. And on this vacation, I was looking forward to a year-and-two-month-old baby girl who could already walk and stammer a few words.

J-Ann was only 3-month old the last time I saw her. She was beautiful, healthy, intelligent baby. They said she inherited my features – eyes, nose, broad forehead, skin, head, my ears… even the birthmark on my left arm; she had it too. At that time, she barely knew everybody except her mother whom she had been attached since she was born. She would only go with those whom she recognized and trusted. Unfortunately, I wasn’t among those people. Perhaps, it was because I would always tease her until she would cry hard. So that in my many attempts to cuddle her, she would turn her head away and cry as if I were some kind of a monster.

But at least, she remembered me. I don’t know if it was sadism but I loved to tease my baby so much – kissing all over her face and body, distracting her eyes with my big face, snatching away her toys, talking to her with eyes enlarged as if I were angry, whatever annoyance I could think of just to make the poor creature cry in all helplessness. For me, hers were the sweetest little cries I had ever heard in my life. Every time she cried, something deep down would tell me I was indeed a father.

I remember a time when J-Ann cried fiercely and my wife complained rushing, “You don’t know anything about father stuff!”

“Of course I don’t. Because if I had an experience before I married you, I don’t think you would like it!”

And as if mother and daughter had found an ally in each other, my wife – cuddling my baby – would charge me into a corner with nails ready to wreck havoc on my skin until I finally shout, “OK, OK, I give up!”

It was fun. I mean, it was relieving to think of those happy times. With my family, there is a candid part of me that just goes out. With them, I am playful, funny, even silly unlike the serious person that I am in Saudi.

“I thought I’ve married an uncorrupted, saintly person. I didn’t know you’re such a childish, silly, and –“

“You know, dear wife, many people died or had fallen victims because of misjudgments. Do not always trust your eyes because oftentimes, looks deceive. But look at you. Aren’t you proud to have married the most handsome creature in this whole wide world?”


“And you are my one and only wife in the Philippines!”

“You mean you have other wives in other countries, huh?”

“Only textmates, but if we get to know better, who knows?”

And again, there would ensue a terrible chasing that would stop only after many bruises had landed on my body.
My deep thought was interrupted by the passenger advisory emanating from the built-in speakers of the lounge. “Passengers bound for Manila, please proceed to gate number 7…”

It was 8:30 p.m. when the aircraft took off the runway of the Dhahran International Airport. While the cabin crews were busy for the safety demonstrations, my mind flew even faster.

“Has J-Ann changed in features? Will she ever come to me without having to fear that I was the monster who made her cry? Will she recognize that I was the ‘Papa’ she always kissed in picture?” These were the questions I asked myself as the aircraft struggled on its route to Manila.

The plane touched down the next day at exactly 10:45 a.m. at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was eleven thirty when I went past the immigration and then finally to the waiting area. My wife thought that the plane would arrive at 12:45 so I waited for about two hours until I felt a pat on my back. It was my wife. It was an emotional reunion after almost a year of missing each other. After I gave her a big hug and a kiss, my eyes were focused on the little girl she was carrying. She wore a light yellow dress matched with the gold earrings I bought on her first birthday and the gold bracelet her Godfather Cris gave her as a present. Although she was sweating hard and her hair was unkempt, I could see how she had grown into a beautiful little girl.

“J-Ann, who is that?” My wife barged in excitedly pointing at me.

She gave me an oblivious look and then answered as if reciting an incomprehensible line, “Papa!”.

“Alright!” I shouted to my excitement as I gave her huge kisses and a lift. It was the first time I heard such a word from my baby. It was as if I became instantly a totally different person, so proud to be a father. And for the next two hours on our journey home, the two of us, father and daughter, were almost inseparable. It was one of my happiest moments - to have seen how my baby changed, grew more mature, and did things she couldn’t have possibly done a year ago.

But everything was not all-peace between me and my baby. On our first night with the three of us together, she kept crying to see me on the same bed mother and daughter used to sleep. She must have questioned what right I have had as a stranger to kiss, hug, and sleep with her mother and divide the attention only she had the right to enjoy. She never trusted me. For her, I was a threat to her being the baby to her mother. Whenever I would attempt to lie on the bed, she would drive me like a furious mother hen charging an intruder away from her chicks. Her favorite place to sleep was to lay prone over her mother’s chest perhaps making sure I would never get anywhere near them. She was a tough guard, tougher than the toughest basketball player. And I was the battered opponent, unable to shoot or even hold the ball for a single goal. On that night, I was a big bunch of a weakling, underdog father sleeping among the bugs on the floor.

I think that at the age of one, my baby had already mastered the art of manipulation and of getting her way, unlike the helpless baby that I knew of her. For the next few days that we were together, always she won in every “fight” between us. She knew how to use effectively her best weapon to get what she wanted - crying. And she never just cried; she cried hard. And the sweetest cries I adored when she was only a three-month old toddler became a terrible plague to my ears.

She knew how to fight back too. For instance, if I grab her toy the way I used to, she shouts and grabs it back. If I distract her with my face in front of her, she crushes it like a rubber toy. If I read her a story, she takes the book away and pretends to read it herself as if to show me that she was a better reader. If I attempt to befriend her, she gives me a sharp and intimidating look as if to threaten, “Don’t even think about it!”

I remember one time when while her mother was doing her chores in the kitchen, she was left alone playing in the living room. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to start our friendship. I crawled down to her in the hope that such a playful gesture would help tame her. But as she saw me, she immediately grabbed her ball and fell back to the wall like a cornered serpent ready to unleash a potent strike. As I reached in front of her, I closed my eyes and protruded my lips making her aware I was ready to offer her the historic “kiss of friendship”. But before my lips could touch her cheek, a full 180-degree spank had conveniently landed on my face. I was left awestruck when she hurried to her mother as if to proclaim she had crippled a “monster”. She was very naughty.

But I later learned her weakness. She liked very much to be outside of the house and to watch, walk, run with the other children, or just to have a free ride in someone’s arms. For me, it was an opportunity to “corrupt”.

“J-Ann, Papa will go outside. Do you want to come with me?”

As if an emergency had happened, she would hurry to find her shoes and endorse them to me to put on her feet.

“Soos! Soos!” (for shoes). In that instance, we both achieved some degree of mutuality. That was my springboard to win her attention.

Our leisure time was to stay in front of our television set. Our favorite shows together were “TV Patrol”. My wife knew that I always watched the live telecasts of those shows in KSA. So that she made it a point not to miss watching them. In spite of the many miles between us, our tuning into exactly the same channel at a particular time had created a kind of an emotional link-up, a mental telepathy of some sort – a meeting of minds on issues and events. It was like a family united together; only we were on different corners of the globe.

J-Ann liked to watch TV so much. For her, it was a teeming source of learning. It was on TV where she learned to count 1 – 5 with her fingers, to remember the places she loved like Jollibee or McDonalds, to learn meanings of words, even to turn on and off the set or change channel by remote control. And she liked to watch the commercials more than the heart-rending episodes of the soap opera.

But the problem with J-Ann was that she had a habit of staying dangerously near the TV monitor. Perhaps, it was her way to distract us or solicit attention thereby exposing herself to the radioactive. Then again, a fight between us would ensue when I forcibly carry her away from the set and she would vehemently protest releasing her tormenting cries. Such hostilities would only end after “Mama” had interceded and declared a cease-fire.

“J-Ann, give Papa a big kiss”, my wife would coax her. After a moment of negotiation, the poor girl with tears still rolling down her face extends her little arms around my neck and presses her lips against my cheeks.

“I love you baby”, I would pacify. “Now let Papa give baby a nice kiss”. She would position her face towards me as I plant a kiss on her lips. Then I would wipe off the tears and let her sit on my lap.

That was the sweetest part. What I like most of my baby was her capacity to let go of ill feelings at an instant. Usually, our fights would end up in a peaceful reconciliation especially when Mama mediates.

Towards the end of my vacation, my baby had gradually surrendered to me her trust. She had learned to accept me as a playmate, a co-occupant of the bed, and a father who could give her the love and protection she thought only her mother could give. Her favorite game with me was “catch” where I was always the “it” to catch as she would struggle to run as fast as she could. Every time we played, her laughter and giggles reverberate through all the corners of our room. It was music. And in the evenings when we go to bed, she would climb up to lie down over my chest instead of at her usual place on her mother’s.

There was one night when while she lay on the bed with her Mama, I showed her I would sleep down the floor like what I did the first night I arrived. But she came down to me and pulled my arm with her little hand.

“Papa, sleep, sleep!” pointing towards the bed where her Mama was sleeping. There, I found I had won her complete trust.

In less than one month of getting-to-knows, my baby and I became best friends at last. But just as our friendship would have blossomed into a deeper father-daughter relations, I had to leave her for another contract abroad.

At 10:00 a.m. on the 21st of August, I bade goodbye to my wife and baby at the airport. I didn’t know if J-Ann understood that I would never be seen again for the next 11 months. But she resented when I turned her over to her Mama’s arms after I kissed her and proceeded to the check-in lounge. I could still picture her gloomy face and how she scuffled in protest to be left behind. But the best she could do was only to cry. And she cried helplessly as if I heard her call out my name, begging me to stay. It wasn’t anymore the sweetest nor the tormenting cry. It was the cry that could melt a father’s heart. That was the last cry I heard from my baby.

It was 3 o’clock dawn of the following day when I finally reached my accommodation. When I plodded the narrow path-walk leading to my building, it was like nothing had happened. I opened my room to find the same things, the same arrangements as I left, except for the smell and the accumulation of dusts which had piled up in my absence – as if time was frozen for the last thirty days. “How time really flies fast”, I murmured in deep sigh of loneliness.

I dropped lay flat on my bed in all exhaustion of that ten-hour journey. When I woke up, it was already late in the afternoon. I turned on the TV. It was “TV Patrol”. I figured that on another time zone at that very moment, my wife, sitting on her favorite armchair, was watching exactly the same show. Then as usual, as J-Ann would stay near the TV set, there would be cries of protest which would end up on a kissing drama.

But back in my room in Saudi Arabia, I was alone and could not hear anymore of those cries. There was something I missed.


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