“C’mon, let’s eat first.”
Shang started pushing me toward the doorway. Dahil gutom na rin naman ako ay nagpatulak na rin ako. We were discussing about the company history and how it runs. It might seem unnecessary, but he said I should give attention to these stuff since I would be sitting at the top someday.
“Wow,” he said in awe. “How do you even fit all those food in your stomach?”
I glared at him in return. “Shut up and eat, old man.”
“You know what, you should really stop calling me that,” he complained. “I’m 23, for god’s sake.”
“You’re turning 24 in a few days, right?” I shuddered. “Old man, it is.”
“I’m gonna call you an old hag when you turn 20,” he muttered.
His frustrated face made me smirk. Shang was really fun to tease.
It’s been five months since I got here. Everything was chaotic at first but I managed to adapt gradually.
As promised, after attending a bunch of special classes during my first week here, Dad got me enrolled in National University of Singapore to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Since I left before my last semester in my previous university, I had to finish it here. Fortunately, NUS credited my units from my previous university since it was affiliated with them and they’ve been sending students before for their foreign exchange programs. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, major in Management.
It was really a tough semester. I had to catch up with everything and I needed to work harder because it was the top university when it comes to business courses. I didn’t want to fail, and most importantly, I didn’t want to disappoint Dad.
For the last five months, I wasn’t able to rest. It was hard and exhausting, but for the first time, I liked what I was doing. Studying had always been an obligation for me, but when I finally realized what I wanted to do in the future, it changed my perspective. This time, I’m studying because I want to understand the world and the path I will be walking on soon.
“You have an email.”
Shang’s words brought me back to the present. I glanced at my phone and saw the familiar email address. My heart thumped nervously and I immediately read the message.
From: Dr. Zara Wina <email@example.com>
To: Chloe Esguerra <firstname.lastname@example.org>
We are pleased to inform you that your GMAT scores are eligible for the Master’s program in Business Administration. However, you are required to have a minimum of two years of post-university full-time work experience.
Halos mapangiti ako nang mabasa ko ang unang part ng email. I heaved a sigh of relief when I learned that I passed the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) since I applied for their Master’s program, but I didn’t know I have to have a work experience, too.
Tiningnan ko nang masama si Shang.
“You didn’t tell me about the work experience as one of the requirements.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know. I mean, I thought—”
“Now I have to wait for two more years to be eligible,” I said while rolling my eyes.
After naming kumain ay bumalik ako sa office niya habang siya naman ay dumiretso sa meeting nila. I slumped onto the couch, rested my head and closed my eyes. Memories from home came rushing in and I had to epen my eyes or else, I’d be overwhelmed again.
Napatingin ako sa phone ko at bumuntong-hininga. I actually bought this for work and business purposes. My personal phone was in my room and I rarely bring it with me nowadays. It felt like I would be held back once I saw the photos, contacts and memories there. I didn’t even know why I feel this way.
Tumayo na ako after a few minutes at dumiretso sa top floor kung nasaan si Dad. Pumasok ako sa office niya nang makita ko siya ro’n.
“Chloe. Why are you here? I thought Shang—”
“He’s in a meeting right now,” I replied.
“I see.” He walked toward my direction. “You need work experience, right?”
Nagulat naman ako nang tanungin niya ‘yon. How did he know?
“You knew,” I muttered. Hindi ko sinabi sa kanya na nag-apply ako for Master’s program.
He smiled at me, revealing the wrinkles around his eyes. “I just had a feeling you would apply for that. And you really did.”
I was planning to surprise him with that. My plan was already ruined.
Naupo naman siya sa tapat ko. He gently pushed a file toward my direction and looked at me curiously.
“I thought you would want to go home after finishing your degree,” he said. “It’s been months. I know you miss them.”
“How about you?” I asked. “Are you coming with me?”
Dad bowed his head and I already knew his answer. “Right now, I can’t.”
There was a few seconds of silence between us. I just stared at him and realized he had lost much weight. Half of his hair had already turned gray and white. Wrinkles had already covered his face and hands.
I had hated him before but deep inside, I’ve been looking up to him since I was young. Maybe because he was always the cool and strong father to me that I failed to notice he was also growing old. He had been carrying the company on his back for almost two decades and it was already taking a toll on his body.
“I’ve always been curious,” I said, breaking the silence between us. He looked at me and I breathed deeply. “Singapore is just a few hours away from the Philippines. Why couldn’t you visit me before?” I asked, choking back the tears threatening to fall. “Why couldn’t you come home when you weren’t busy?”
My voice cracked and faltered. “You know, when I was still a kid, my wish remained the same during my birthday: I hope Mom and Dad stay for a while. I hope they stay with me.” I choked back my tears and smiled. “But the opposite happened. You couldn’t come home for my birthday anymore. You couldn’t spend the holidays with me anymore. In the end, you stopped coming home. And I started hating both of you.”
“Chloe . . .”
“But you know, now that I’m here, I’m starting to understand your decisions.”
“I’m sorry,” he said and I could feel the pain from his voice. “Even if I tell you our reasons, they will only sound like excuses.”
“I know, Dad. I know. Because that’s what I’m feeling right now.”
Dad heaved a heavy sigh. He must know what I was talking about.
I always thought family should come first and you shouldn’t let go of the person you treasure the most when you found them. I couldn’t understand before why some people choose to prioritize their work than the people who mattered to them. After stepping into this world, I suddenly realized why.
It wasn’t just about their work or money; it was for survival. Most were for the survival of their families and theirselves. Some, for the survival of their passion and dreams. And as harsh as it might sound, these deep emotions could either help you move forward or hold you back from surviving.
When I was having a hard time, those people were my anchor. They helped me get through the difficult semester, but at the same time, made me want to quit and just go back. I was conflicted. I was in a mess. I thought I’d sink and drown, but when I thought about what Mom and Dad had gone through, everything became bearable.
Pakiramdam ko, kapag umuwi ako ngayon, hindi na ako makakabalik. I missed them so much, but I didn’t want to see them yet.
“I can’t go home, too, Dad,” I said. “Right now, I can’t.”
“I’ll stay with you.”
Dad got up and sat right next to me. He patted my head as he gently pulled me toward his shoulder. The next thing I knew, my tears were already streaming down my face.
“You’ve chosen a rough and dark path,” he whispered.
“How did you even bear it for so long?” I sobbed. “It’s lonely and heavy.”
“Because of your Mom.”
Despite the tears, a smile escaped my lips when I heard that. “I see. You had a guiding light.”
I went home after Dad approved my application. I’d start working in the company next week.
Papasok na ako sa bahay nang makita kong may iniwan sa mailbox ang postman. Napakunot naman ang noo ko. I didn’t know mails and postcards were still a thing.
Lumapit ako ro’n at pagtingin ko sa loob ay may limang envelopes kaya kinuha ko ‘yon at pumasok na sa bahay. Dumiretso ako sa kwarto at nilapag ang letters sa kama. There were no details about the sender but I knew it was from the Philippines because of the postage stamps.
Binuksan ko ang isa na mukhang five months ago pa na-deliver.
Kumusta ka na, Sungit?
My heart sank when I read the first line. That guy . . . how could he . . .
Alam kong magiging busy ka na at paniguradong hindi mo rin agad mababasa ‘to pero gusto kong sumulat sa’yo kahit isang beses sa isang buwan lang. Hindi ko rin naman kasi masyadong ginagamit ang phone ko at mas gusto ko ang ganito.
Napangiti naman ako nang mabasa ko ‘yon. He was really an old-school guy. Handwritten letters over digital messages, huh?
Sabi mo bago ka umalis, hindi ka na iiyak, pero sa tingin ko hindi mangyayari ‘yon. Sabi ko, pwede kang magtago sa akin pero mukhang hindi ko na ‘yon magagawa ngayon. Kung iiyak ka man, sana may mapagtataguan o masasandalan ka. At kung nahihirapan ka na, lagi mo lang tingnan ang litrato nina Czanelle at Clark.
Naalala mo ba ang isa mo pang sinabi sa akin?
“You deserve the better version of me.”
Hindi ko nasabi ‘to sa’yo noon pero hindi ako ang deserving para d’yan. Ikaw. You deserve the better version of yourself, Chloe.
Kaya sana, sa pagbalik mo, kaya mo nang harapin ang sarili mo. At pagdating ng araw na ‘yon, haharapin din kita.
I read all of his letters and the emptiness I felt these past few months were filled by his words.
He was right. He wasn’t deserving. He was much more than that. And he only deserved the best.
“Dad,” I muttered while holding his letters close to my heart. “I found my guiding light.”