Fragment

“What time will you be back?” James frowned as he paced back and forth. He glanced at the door and saw his fellow bodyguards walking down the hall. He went out to follow them, as they were going to have a briefing of the events that occurred for the past two hours.

“Nandito na ako sa Alabang. Malapit na ako kina Dad. I’ll be back this afternoon,” His pregnant wife, Alyana, said. “Don’t worry.”

“Paano ako kakalma at ‘di mag-aalala? Ikaw ang nagda-drive papuntang Alabang. Sabi ko naman sa iyo na huwag ka nang pumunta doon e.” He quietly said. He stopped in the hall, trying to put a quick end to this call.

“I don’t want to discuss this with you right now, JAY. Tatay mo ‘yun. Alam ko naman na hindi mo ako sasamahan na dumalaw doon, kaya gagawin ko na ito ngayon bago man lang ako manganak!” His stubborn wife replied on the other line.

Fine! Ang tigas ng ulo!

“Huwag kang magalit,” Alyana seemed to hear his thoughts. “I can manage, love. I will text you when I get there. Okay?”

“Alright. I love you. May meeting kami. I have to go.”

“I love you, too.” He heard her say and quickly ended the call. He went inside the briefing room just in time for the discussion has now started about the earthquakes that occurred since around seven this morning. The Philippine President was already inside and James quickly apologized for his late entrance.

Being one of President Baltazar’s bodyguards, James and his team would ensure that their Commander-in-Chief and his family would be taken to safety. They have been briefed about the procedures when an earthquake happens and today’s events seemed to be more crucial than they thought. He looked at the statistics on the projector. The PHIVOLCS provided the information today. There were at least ten reported earthquakes and everything occurred within the West Valley Fault. The highest that they have recorded on the Richter scale was at magnitude 4.1. They could not ignore this one. Millions of lives in Luzon were at stake in case the big one happens.

“Mr. President, PHIVOLCS has been constantly informing us about this.” The Malacanang Palace’s secretary continued, “The NDRRMC and the Armed Forces are now at work to prepare what is necessary. We don’t want to take our chances because these recent earthquakes were very unusual. PHIVOLCS could not consider these as isolated cases anymore.”

“Sir,” Mark, the online administrator, raised his hand. “There were already trending topics for the Philippines in the social media about the earthquake. Madami na ding nakapansin ng mga ginagawang preparasyon sa mga evacuation sites na nakatalaga para dito. People started speculating already.”

“Not good,” The secretary shook his head.

“We have to inform the people about what was going on. We have to be prepared and try to save lives.” President Baltazar said. “Hindi man natin kayang i-predict kung lilindol nga nang malakas pero hindi din natin gusto na mag-panic ang lahat.”

“Surely, it’s human nature to be curious and to react on it,” One of the advisers said.

“Hindi natin maiiwasan iyon. Pero napaghandaan na ng NDRRMC ang magiging reaksyon ng mga kababayan natin,” President Baltazar replied. “I was informed that they were slowly trying to take the people out towards the safe sites. Hindi natin pwedeng ipagsawalang-bahala ito ngayon. Mahigit sampung lindol sa loob lamang ng dalawang oras. Mas mabuti nang handa tayo.” He looked at James. “Major Faulkerson?”

“The palace is still secured, Sir. I immediately sought the report from my team about these earthquakes and gave a briefing. Furthermore, you don’t have any schedule this morning because it was your daughter’s birthday today, Sir. My team and I will take you now to the safe place to make sure that our Commander-in-Chief survives. I won’t risk this, kahit pa mag-false alarm tayo.” James replied. He already trained his team about the plan and the first part was now executed. “You have to follow me, Sir,” He added quickly when the president tried to argue. He nodded to his second-in-command, Jared, who understood the gesture and went out to prepare the helicopter.

The secretary nodded. “Anna, prepare the President and the First Family to leave now. Walang impake. Kailangan nating ilikas sila ngayon.”

“No.”

Everyone turned to the President. Their Commander-in-Chief stood up. “Hindi ako tatakas sa lugar na ito habang alam ko na madami din ang gustong makaligtas. I will continue to monitor here in Malacanang. You can take my family to Batangas instead. But I will not go with you.”

“Pero, Sir –“ James tried but he stopped when his boss glared at him.

“I’m your Commander-In-Chief and I’m ordering your team to take my family to safety.”

James’s jaw clenched. He was stubborn but his boss could be worst, besides being older and wiser. There was no time to waste. He excused himself and looked for Jared. He found his comrade at the palace grounds, where the helicopter was already waiting. “Jared, hindi sasama si Presidente.”

Napamura nang mahina ang sundalo. “Nakahanda na, Sir!”

James nodded. There were two choppers waiting. “Iwan ang isa dito. Ikaw ang magdala sa pamilya ni Presidente sa Batangas. Ako ang maiiwan kasama niya. Sige na, brad.”

Jared stared at him for a moment. James didn’t know what to feel right now. This felt like goodbye. He has a feeling that the Big One was indeed coming.

“Ako na ang bahala kay Presidente. Mag-ingat kayo, Bordero.” Tawag niya sa apelyido nito.

Jared gave him a salute. Just in time, the President’s family was now out and was being ushered inside the helicopter. The First Lady, Olivia Baltazar, turned to James. “Nakausap ko si Isagani. Ayaw niya talagang umalis.”

“Ako ang bahala sa kanya, Ma’am.”

The First Lady reached out to James and tightly held his hand. “Promise me that you will take care of my husband, hijo.”

Olivia hugged him, much to his surprise, and then she went inside the helicopter. She was crying as James closed the door. He gave a signal to the pilots, including Jared. He quickly went to a safer place, watching them go. Just as when the helicopter managed to fly away to safety, the earth began to shake. His heart started beating fast. If this was indeed the Big One, his thoughts instantly went to his wife. Alyana was driving somewhere in Alabang now and he silently prayed that she was safe. Sakop din ang lugar na iyon ng West Valley Fault! He ran back to the palace, making his way through, meeting the people who were on their way out. While his thoughts were on Alyana, he also has a duty to do. He had to reach the President.

“JAY!”

He heard President Baltazar’s voice. He ran towards his boss as the earth continued to shake. This was strong! He felt dizzy. He was losing his balance but he managed to reach for the president. They both went to the open area but it didn’t seem enough. The earth was still moving, at mukhang hindi pa titigil anumang minuto mula ngayon.

James never thought he would be able to hear a loud rumble as everything moved. With his arms ready to protect the President, they watched in surprise as the earth started to break and open up. People scrambled to a safer area. They could hear loud bangs from the electric transformers outside. Posts were falling down. People were in panic, especially when a part of the palace has just crumbled down, much to everyone’s horror! Humahampas din nang malakas ang tubig na mula sa Pasig River!

James put the president to safety.

“Ikaw, bata ka, binalikan mo pa talaga ako!” Pinagalitan pa siya ni Presidente Baltazar habang inililikas niya ito sa mas ligtas na lugar sa bakuran ng palasyo. Tumigil na ang lindol, but there were still strong aftershocks. Nag-umpisa nang bumaha sa paligid.

James could not say anything. He was nervous and worried about Alyana, but he had to focus on his surroundings. “Dinala na ni Jared ang pamilya niyo sa Batangas, Sir.” Tanging sagot niya.

“Ang pamilya mo?”

Hindi nakasagot agad si James. He tried to ignore the question as he did his job. They were still safe in the open ground. Patuloy pa din ang aftershocks. Parang niyuyugyog sila ng nang-aasar na lupa, at ang ingay ng paligid. Madaming nag-iiyakan. Kasabay niyon, may narinig na naman silang sumabog na transformer. He tried not to imagine how his wife was alone and vulnerable at this moment. He ached to be where she was, making sure that she was safe.

“James. Tinanong kita.”

He turned to his Commander-In-Chief. “Nasa byahe ang asawa ko po ngayon sa Alabang.”

With that answer, President Baltazar frowned. James stood up, trying to assess the situation and avoid his boss’ scrutiny. He was worried enough about Alyana already. He wanted to leave and look for her but he could not. It was frustrating the hell out of him. Madami ding kailangang tulungan ngayon. He turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was his boss.

President Baltazar sent instructions to the palace staff that now surrounded them. “Pupunta ako sa evacuation site sa Pasay para i-check ang mga nangyayari. Pwede na kayong umalis. Remember the staff briefing we had about the earthquake. Magpapadala din ako ng magsusundo sa inyo dito para makauwi kayo at alamin ang nangyari sa mga pamilya ninyo. Kung hindi pa kayo makakabalik sa opisina ay maiintindihan ko.” Some thanked him and started leaving, while the others wanted to stay and help. The President further gave instructions while James asked one person in his team to ready the helicopter. In a matter of minutes, they were already airborne.

And up in the sky, they saw the devastation caused by the earthquake. Several buildings crumbled to the ground. There was fire everywhere. Jones Bridge broke and there were rescuers on the site already. Nag-aalala na si James sa asawa niya. Nakakagulat na may network signal pa at habang kausap ng Presidente ang pamilya nito sa telepono, James took the chance to call Alyana, too.

But she was not answering. Tahimik na umusal siya ng dasal, hoping that she was fine. He wanted to find her. Damn! For the first time in his life, he wanted to abandon his duty for his wife! He swallowed hard as he looked from afar.

“Oscar, idaan mo ang chopper sa SLEX, bandang Alabang.” Wika ni President Baltazar. Agad na napalingon si James dito. “Buntis ang asawa mo, di ba?”

“Y-yes, Sir.” Hindi niya magawang makapagsalita sa pag-aalala kay Alyana. She was not answering his calls. The helicopter now veered towards SLEX. And they saw the magnitude of the damage caused by the earthquake. They passed by the airport runway and there were cracks there, too.

“It was magnitude 8, according to the report sent to me now. Mabuti na din na ma-assess ko ngayon ang mga nangyari bago ako pumunta sa Pasay.” Napailing ang president sa tabi niya.

“Sir, pwede naman tayong pumunta na sa Pasay para ma-monitor mo ang mga nangyayari.” Wika ni James. The crack in his voice betrayed him though. He was worried sick about his wife that he was close to tears. He turned away. Metro Manila looked like a battlefield. It was a depressing sight. The helicopter maneuvered further down the south. The Skyway, thankfully, did not give out. President Baltazar was seen wiping his tears for what he witnessed. Sa totoo lang, lahat sila sa loob ng helicopter ay labis na naapektuhan sa mga nasaksihan habang nasa himpapawid. Everything looked horrible. The sight of Metropolitan Manila, and most likely the nearby provinces, was devastating.

“James, I know what it felt like to lose someone and not knowing what happened.” President Baltazar said. James knew. His boss’ mother was one of the people in a passenger plane that disappeared ten years ago. “Ayokong danasin mo ang paghihirap na pinagdaanan ko.”

He didn’t know what to say. If it wasn’t for his father, Alyana would not think about leaving their house to travel all the way from Quezon City to Alabang. Alam niya sana ngayon kung saan hahagilapin ang asawa. But from the way everything looked like now here in SLEX, mukhang mahihirapan siya kung saan banda naroon si Alyana. Kasalanan ito ng ama niya. It has always been his father’s fault.

James grew up without his father. The elder Faulkerson was in the US, and only when his mother died that James’s father decided to show up and tried to make up for his sins to his son. Nag-TNT daw ito sa Amerika at hindi makauwi agad dahil sa takot at kahihiyan. Nagkaroon lamang ng tunay na lakas ng loob nung nalaman mula sa isang kaibigan na may malubhang sakit ang ina ni James. Ngunit hindi na nito naabutan pa ang asawa. Natatandaan niya ang mga panahon na sinumbat niya sa kanyang ama ang mga pinagdaanan nilang mag-ina. Malaki ang sama ng loob niya na kaya naman palang umuwi nito, pero ngayon lang kung saan mamamatay na ang asawa. Since then, his father tried to make up for everything to his son.

But James could never forgive him. He suffered when his father was gone. He helped his mother to make ends meet, sacrificed many years to work and study at the same time. He enlisted himself to PMA through a scholarship and graduated with high honors. He was sent to a battlefield for a while, until his mission ended. And then, he was now assigned to be the bodyguard to the President, a man whom he looked up to like a father, higit pa sa pagkilala niya sa sarili niyang ama. Magkakaanak na sila ni Alyana at hindi niya kailangan ang ama niya sa pagsisimula ng kanyang pamilya.

When they reached the Alabang area, the helicopter tried to fly low so that James could quickly check for his wife’s car. But it was a hopeless case. His hands were trembling at the thought of losing Alyana. He could not imagine life without her – and their baby, as well. He was breathing heavily as the helicopter circled once again and they took the same route to look for something familiar.

But her car was not anywhere in the area. Sa kalagayan ng buong Metro Manila, mahirap hanapin ito ngayon.

A thought came to mind but he shook his head. He didn’t want to think about it, but this might be his last chance. He would leave his post to look for his wife. Bahala nang mawalan ng trabaho.

“Sir James?”

Both men at the back turned to one of the pilots. “Hindi tayo pwedeng magpaikot-ikot dito sa ngayon. Hindi po ligtas.”

The president quickly turned to his most trusted bodyguard. “Bumaba ka, James.”

“N-no! I won’t abandon you, Sir.” Agad na lumabas sa labi niya, kahit iyon na ang sign na hinihintay niya. “Sir… I promised the First Lady. It is my duty to protect you whatever happens.”

“Screw your duty!” The men were surprised at the President’s sudden outburst. “Hanapin mo ang asawa mo! Alam kong sundalo ka at priority mo ako, pero damn, JAY, bumaba ka ngayon at hanapin mo ang asawa mo! Bumalik ka sa akin kapag naiayos mo na ang pamilya mo.” By the time that he was finished with his litany, the helicopter was now so low, James could jump on top of a stranded bus.

He gave a salute to the Commander-in-Chief. “Thank you, Sir. I will never forget this and I will be forever thankful.” He swallowed hard. President Baltazar responded to his salute and quickly, James opened the door of the chopper and jumped out. Once he was out, the helicopter immediately flew away.

Packed with a sudden adrenalin rush, James jumped from the bus. Everything was chaotic on the ground. Sinimulan niyang baybayin ang kahabaan ng kalye para hanapin ang asawa. Biglang may nagsigawan sa bandang kaliwa niya. His eyes widened when he saw a lost little girl crying habang may nasusunog na establishment sa likod nito. Hindi napansin ng mga tao dahil sa pagkakagulo. Mabilis na tinakbo ni James ang kinaroroonan ng bata. Saktong may babagsak na malalaking tipak ng mga batong semento sa likod nito!

“Nanay!” The girl cried as she held on to James’s neck. He looked around. Nagtatakbuhan ang mga tao sa paligid nila pero pilit niyang hinahanap kung nasa malapit lang ang ina ng bata. He could imagine this child as his own. Mababaliw siguro siya kung maiwala niya ang anak niya in the middle of chaos.

“Ayaaaaa!”

“Nanay!”

Among the chaotic crowd, a woman emerged and took the girl from James. “Salamat!” The woman was crying as she held her child back in her arms.

Hinatak ito ni James papunta sa kung saan may open space. “Dito lang kayo. May parating na tulong na.” He looked around. “Kung magagawa ninyong maglakad pa, pumunta kayo sa evacuation site.” Binanggit niya dito kung saan may malapit sa Alabang area. Nang masiguro niyang ligtas na ang mag-ina, ipinagpatuloy niya ang paghahanap kay Alyana. Malapit na siya sa subdivision kung saan nakatira ang kanyang ama. And although he hesitated to see his father, he didn’t have any choice but to go there, hoping that his wife was with Ricardo.

He never thought that he would consider it a safe place for his family. And he realized that despite everything that happened between them, the man was still the reason for his existence. Ama pa din niya ito. Ricardo was someone he could always consider his home. He suddenly began to worry about him, too, hoping that the old man was also fine. He reached the last corner before his father’s subdivision and found that it was flooded. Saan nanggaling ang tubig?

His eyes widened when he saw his wife’s car. The door was open. Alyana was not inside! He looked around. “Alyana! Alyana!” Kinakabahan na siya para sa asawa. Palinga-linga siya habang nilalakad ang kahabaan ng kalye, pasikot-sikot sa mga nakabalandrang sasakyan at sinasalubong ang bawat taong tumatakbo at nagkakagulo sa paligid niya.

And there was the earthquake once again! Malakas pa din ang uga ng paligid at lalong nagkagulo ang mga tao.

“Alyana!” He treaded through the flood, trying to reach the subdivision. Madaming natumbang poste at gumuhong bahay. Hindi din naiba ang tanawin dito. “Alyana!” He continued to call for her. He successfully managed to avoid a big tree. Natumba ito sa harapan niya, pero itinuloy nya ang pagtahak papunta sa bahay ng ama, silently praying that his wife and his father was safe.

“Alyana!” He stopped on his tracks when he saw his father’s house. “Pa! Papa!” He could barely hear himself because his heart was thumping wildly on his chest as he ran towards the house. Gumuho na ito. “Papa!” Sinimulan niyang tanggalin ang mga tipak na bato. His tears never stopped flowing. “I’m sorry, Pa. Please be alive, Pa,” he quietly muttered as he removed the debris one by one. “Pa! Alyana!” He sniffed. Sana’y hindi pa huli ang lahat! Isang malaking bato ang kailangan niyang tanggalin bago niya makita ang kabuuan ng natitirang bahay ng ama. Pilit niyang tinatanggal iyon.

“JAY!”

That voice! Mabilis na lumingon si James when he heard Alyana’s voice! At sa kalye, nakita niya ang kanyang asawa habang akay ang kanyang matandang ama. She made it! They made it out alive! He started to walk towards them. Magsisimula na sila nang panibago. He realized that despite what happened in the past, he still loved his father. It would not be too late for him to ask for his forgiveness, right?

The earth started to shake once again. His eyes widened when the ground he was walking on moved. He lost his balance and fell. He heard his wife call his name.

“JAY!”

***

Alyana sniffed. And wiped her tears once again. Hindi yata matigil ang kanyang iyak. Beside her, her father-in-law gave her a smile and a nod. Since the Big One happened, maraming nagbago sa buhay nila. Hindi lubos maisip ni Alyana na mangyayari iyon, at ang makaramdam siya ng matinding takot sa buhay – para sa anak, sa asawa at sa kaniyang biyenan. She has been praying so hard for the reconciliation between her husband and his father. Ever since they got married, she thought it would be easier. Pero matigas ang puso ni James para sa ama. Hindi nagbago iyon kahit na noong nabuntis na si Alyana at palagi niyang hinihiling na makita ang biyenan.

Until that massive earthquake happened. Akala niya ay katapusan na niya at ng kanyang anak. She faced her frightful moment when she was almost near her father-in-law’s place. Malakas ang naging galaw ng paligid. Lumabas siya para makaiwas sa anumang bagay na babagsak sa kanyang kotse. Kahit na dumadagundong ang dibdib niya sa kaba at takot, pinilit nyang makarating sa kalapit na subdivision na kinaroroonan ng biyenan. Tinakbo niya ito sa kabila ng naramdamang takot at kaba. And when she found Papa Ricardo, all she could think about was James at kung nakaligtas din ba ito.

“Hija,” wika ng kanyang biyenan sa kanyang tabi.

Alyana nodded, quietly telling him that she was fine. She looked down to her flat stomach, and then to the man on the sofa in front of them.

James quietly cradled their baby in his arms, while sleeping soundly on the sofa. Hindi niya hahayaan sanang gawin iyon ng asawa but the moment was too precious for them. Since the earthquake, every second of their lives was very precious for them. James returned to his bodyguard duties after two days of settling his family, including his father, in a safe place in Laguna. Hindi ito mapakali hanggang hindi nagiging maayos sila, until Ricardo assured him that he would take care of Alyana while he performs his duties to the President.

Alyana remembered that day during the earthquake, when she thought she was going to lose her husband. She watched in horror as he jumped from one debris to another para lang makaabot sa kanila.

James grunted as he rose from his knees. Ilang beses nang lumindol pero malakas pa din ang pagyanig! Nang tumingin ito sa kanila, bigla itong sumigaw. “Alyana! Sa likod mo!” She could not move dahil nag-aalala siya sa asawa na nasa gitna ng mga gumuhong bato. She watched as he quickly went out of what used to be his father’s yard to join his family.

“Alyana, ang puno!” When he finally reached them, mabilis na inakay niya pareho papunta sa malawak at ligtas na lugar. He quickly checked on his wife. Siniguro nitong wala siyang galos.

“Okay lang ako. Okay lang ang baby,” Alyana was crying despite that. She hugged him so tight. “Akala ko hindi na kita makikita! I’m so scared!”

“Ako din.” James closed his eyes. Alyana savored the moment that he was now here, back in her arms. Hinanap talaga sila ng kanyang asawa at laking pasasalamat niya at nagkita-kita sila! Slowly, he turned to his father who was quietly watching them. “Pa…”

That single word broke her father-in-law to tears. The couple now surrounded him, guiding him to sit on the ground. They could still feel the aftershocks but they were safe here. For now.

“Hindi ko na naisip na maririnig kong tawagin mo ako na Papa, anak.”

May bikig sa lalamunan habang pinagmamasdan ni Alyana ang mag-ama. In a very unusual circumstance, dumating na ang panahon para magkaayos ang dalawa. Bakas sa mukha ni Ricardo ang hirap na tiniis nito sa paghihintay ng kapatawaran ng kanyang anak. On James’s part, it was obvious how he realized now that he should be the one asking for forgiveness. Because during those times when he should be understanding and forgiving, he chose to shame his father. He chose to walk away from him, not really care about him. He chose to dwell on the hatred that he harbored for all those years that he was away.

“I’m sorry, Papa. Patawarin mo ako.”

“Ako dapat ang humingi ng tawad sa iyo, James.” The older man continued to cry at sinubukan nilang aluin ito.

“No. Ako po ang dapat na humingi ng tawad. Hindi ko inintindi ang mga dahilan ninyo at mas pinili kong manaig ang tampo at galit ko sa pagkawala ninyo. Sorry po, Papa.” He cried this time as he went to hug his father. Alyana saw from that moment, James would cherish every moment he had with his father.

At tama nga siya. The relationship between the two men slowly became better. They also started a new life after the earthquake, as well. It was difficult. They lost their homes but since James’s father was able to invest in a low-cost housing in Laguna, doon na sila sama-samang nakatira ngayon. Makakaahon din sila. Mas inspired si Alyana ngayon, lalo na at kumpleto na ang pamilya niya.

She watched as James stirred from his sleep. His arms held on gently to their son. Kararating lang ng asawa niya at kinarga ang anak. Pero dahil sa pagod ay nakatulog nang di sinasadya. When he opened his eyes, he saw her and his father. “Sorry, nakaidlip lang saglit. Alyana? Bakit umiiyak ka?” He went to them, carrying their newborn son.

“Tinitingnan kita. Ang gandang tingnan ninyong dalawa,” Alyana wiped her tears. “Emotional lang na makita kang hawak si baby.“ She looked up at him. “Thank you,” She glanced at her father-in-law. “Thank you po.”

Alyana watched as James turned to his father and smiled. “Pa…” He offered their son to him. With emotional tears in his eyes, Ricardo carefully took his grandson. Three generations in front of her. She felt very blessed at this moment. Alam din niyang mas higit ang nararamdaman ng asawa niya ngayon. James looked every inch a content, happy man, and he should be. Nakapagpatawad na siya at magkakasama pa silang buo ang pamilya ngayon.

Alyana could not ask for anything more.

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