“Good morning, Ms. Chloe Esguerra,” the guy in tuxedo greeted. He was sitting on the couch while holding a cup of coffee.
Tumingin naman ako kay Nanay Meling at tumango naman siya. She looked at me with worried eyes but I smiled at her to give her assurance that everything would be okay before she left the two of us.
Umupo naman ako sa tapat ng lalaki at saka ko inilapag ang bag ko sa gilid. He gave me the ticket, along with my passport and visa. When I looked at the details, I realized I’d stay there for four days and I had to double check, hoping that my eyes were just playing tricks on me, but they weren’t.
“Why?” I looked at the guy. “Why do I have to stay there for four days?”
“Sorry, Miss, but the only one who can answer that is your father,” he said with a heavy sigh. “But it is for your family’s sake.”
I almost scoffed at the mention of that word, as if they really valued its meaning.
“What if I refuse?” I posed, tossing the ticket to the table.
“Then I have to forcefully get you to the plane,” he answered while pushing the documents I needed towards me.
See? How could he say this would be for our family’s sake if his words sounded like orders and threats?
Sinamaan ko ng tingin ang lalaki pero nginitian niya lang ako. Dahil wala rin naman akong magagawa kahit ano pa ang gawin ko ay tumayo na lang ako habang bitbit ang bag ko. I returned to my room to pack more clothes and I had to use a luggage because I’d be staying there for four freaking days.
Tiningnan ko naman ang digital clock sa bedside table ko at past 4 A.M. na. Hindi ako nakatulog kagabi dahil kung anu-ano ang pumapasok sa isip ko kaya naman maaga akong nag-prepare. I thought it would only be for one day that was why I didn’t prepare anything but my valuables.
I quietly left my room and Greg, he told me his name before I went back to my room, was already waiting for me. He carried my luggage and we both went down carefully to avoid uneccessary noise that could wake up everyone.
Si Nanay Meling lang ang gising ngayon at hinatid niya kami papunta sa kotse ni Greg.
“Chloe,” she called, her face still painted with worry.
“I’m fine, Nanay Meling,” I said. “Huwag mo na lang munang sabihin sa kanila.”
“Pero . . .”
“Ikaw na muna ang bahala sa kanila.”
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay pinapasok na ako ni Greg at saka niya pinaandar ang kotse.
I never had the chance to visit Singapore because of my parents. They once invited me but I declined. I couldn’t imagine spending some time with them after so many years of being alone. And I felt like if I went there, I’d lose my pride.
“Our flight is scheduled at 6:15 A.M. You still have an hour and a half to rest.”
Hindi ko naman sinagot si Greg at nagsaksak na lang ako ng earphones sa tenga ko. Tiningnan ko ang phone ko at nag-compose ako ng message para sa kanya.
Hey. I’ll be out for four days so take care of them for me.
I scheduled the message to be sent at 6:15 A.M., the same time as my flight so I would not be able to see his reply. Pagkatapos no’n ay saglit akong umidlip at nagising na lang ako na nasa airport na kami.
The flight was around four hours and when we arrived at the Changi airport, several guys dressed like Greg were already there to pick us up.
“The meeting is about to start,” the tallest guy said to Greg.
“Let’s go, then.”
They escorted me to the car and after a few minutes, we arrived at one of the largest financial services corporation in Singapore—APB Group.
“I thought I’m staying in a hotel?” tanong ko kay Greg.
“Yes, but for now, you will stay here until the meeting of the board members is finished.”
Pinapunta naman nila ako sa office ni Dad at habang naglalakad kami ay nakita ko ang meeting room kung nasaan sila. One of the board members opened the door and I saw a glimpse of him and it looked like he has aged a lot. Nang nandoon na kami sa office ay iniwan ako nina Greg at umupo naman ako sa couch habang hindi pa rin sigurado sa kung ano ang gagawin ko rito.
I was about to wander around his desk but the door suddenly opened and Greg came into sight with a grim expression.
“Sorry but you have to come with me,” he said.
Kumunot naman ang noo ko. “I thought I have to wait for—”
“They want you there.”
Hindi ko alam kung ilang segundo akong nakatigil lang dahil sa narinig ko. I thought I just misheard it but he repeated those words in a more forbidding manner. Wala akong nagawa kundi sumunod sa kanya pero habang naglalakad ay lalong lumalakas ang tibok ng puso ko.
The employees were looking at us with curious eyes but I held my head high and kept my poker face. When we arrived at the meeting room, several pairs of eyes stared at me but I only looked at his cold gaze.
“Are you kidding, Mr. Esguerra?” one middle-aged guy said.
“We want Ms. Antonio, not a . . .” sabi ng isa sabay tingin sa akin, “teenager that looks like her.”
Napataas ang kilay ko sa sinabi niya at tinitigan ko siya. I didn’t back down until he averted his gaze.
Hindi ko alam kung anu-ano ang mga pinag-uusapan nila pero may idea na ako sa kung paano tumatakbo ang meeting. Antonio was my mother’s maiden surname and it looked like some of them were demanding him to let them see her.
“She’s on a business trip,” Dad said.
“Where? She needs to present her portf—”
“That’s why she’s here.”
Muling tumingin sa akin ang board members dahil kay Dad. My heart thumped heavily against my chest and my hands were shaking but I managed to hide them before anyone could notice.
“Meet Chloe Esguerra,” he said while gesturing at me and his introduction was met with a lot of reactions.
“Esguerra? Does that mean . . .”
“Is she your daughter?”
“You’re bringing in a family member?”
“Are you out of—”
“She’s not my daughter right now,” he suddenly said with his unyielding face and all of them went silent. “She’s here to represent Ms. Antonio so rest assured her presentation would push through.”
Amidst their murmurs and exchange of words, I could only hear his silence. I wasn’t expecting any of these yet I was here, caught in the middle of some company problems.
Ngayon alam ko na kung bakit niya ako pinapunta rito. Kung bakit kailangan niya ako. I was his last resort.
The board members left the room one by one as I stood there, dumbfounded by what just happened. I was trying hard to hold my tears back while clenching my fist hard enough that my fingernails were digging into my skin. Greg went out, too, while the two of remained inside.
“I didn’t know this is how you say hello,” I said, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
“Chloe, not here—”
“What? Are you afraid that somebody would hear me?”
“Chloe,” he called and I could feel the threat in his voice but I didn’t care anymore.
“I shouldn’t have went here. You just proved that you’re nothing but a—”
“Watch your words, Chloe. I am your father!”
“And now you have the audacity to call yourself my father?” I retorted, still confounded by what he just uttered.
“You don’t understand—”
“Because you’re not saying anything!” I snapped and the tears I was trying to hold back streamed down my face. “You couldn’t even tell me the situation beforehand and now you’re saying I don’t understand?! Goddamn it, Dad, I’m not a kid anymore!”
Before I could even breathe, his hand had already met my face. I never allowed anyone to slap me until now and it was an unfamiliar kind of pain. It stung and hurt a lot . . . but it was nothing compared to what had shattered inside.
“Chloe . . .”
“Don’t you ever call my name again,” I said while wiping my tears.
Honestly, it was kind of refreshing. Maybe being slapped by him woke me up from my delusions that he could still be a decent father.
I calmly walked toward the door and before I left the room, I muttered the words I could only say in my mind prior to what had happened a minute ago.
“I hate you.”
I left the room thinking that I’d feel better after that but I didn’t expect to get even more hurt than I felt before saying those words. In the end, I was the only one in pain.