“Cris, they are in your hands now. Sorry that we won’t be able to help as much as would be needed. I’ll send some money for Papa’s hospital expenses, not a big sum but I hope it helps. Ludy said that she will help with the medicines. As soon as you get the list from the doctor send it to her right away.”
The sound from a long distance phone call seemed inaudible at intervals but it was easy for him to second guess what was being said by his older brother. There would be little help from them. His older brother Jim and sister Ludy were just hardly a year in the States, not financially set, and have been surviving from a series of illegal broken employments and were staying with cousins for the time being. Cris was the only one left with their aging parents at home.
“Okay lang Kuya, I still have enough from my savings account and if need be I could arrange for a loan from the bank.”
He replaced the receiver of the phone on the rest cutting short the conversation. He sort of expected that his siblings abroad were not in a position to promise a substantial amount and by then the long distance call had been long enough to be an additional burden.
Cris Montesor worked in a bank in charge of foreign transactions. He has been with Pilipinas Bank and Trust for almost a decade now. His current position is at the level of a junior officer. He worked his way from being a messenger through various clerical posts and now as a junior officer he was at the threshold of being a part of management. Maybe in a few more years, but now, a definite possibility.
This morning he was called by the head of the Foreign Department on the pretext of doing an appraisal of his work. It did seem odd to him that his boss would be making an appraisal just two months after the New Year.
“We have been watching you work. I am glad to inform you that of all the sections in our division it is only yours that we have had zero errors in the files and transactions and… the timeliness and the accuracy by which you have done your work have been commendable.”
The boss, Mr. Torres sounded like he was reading unerringly from a script and the words were like from a form letter.
Cris just sat there listening. He was still a bit off coming from the tossed sleep he had last night after talking with his brother. It did not occur to him immediately that his boss was making a preface to an announcement of a promotion…his promotion.
“I’m sending you to Davao together with the audit team to look at the operations of our Matina branch. We suspect Oling Agdao of some indiscretion…no, not suspect, we’re pretty sure of it. You will deliver our letter suspending him from his post and for his immediate recall to the head office. While there you will review all the transactions that he had gotten into, look over the operations, familiarize yourself with the staff and schedule meetings with all the primary clients of the branch.”
“When do I leave?" he asked almost absent mindedly.
“Why, now…soon! But first pass by HRD who will apprise you of the new responsibilities as embodied in the management manual. We can talk about your new salary when you get back with your report and when the audit guys have confirmed their findings.
“You mean like now…today? He asked.
“It has to be soonest. This is all rush-rush and hush-hush. Nobody should know about this. Find out when the audit team is leaving, I want you to be on the same flight as theirs. Oh, before I forget, you are to lock up all of Agdao’s things. Don’t give him the chance to get back to his desk. Instruct the security guards not to let him in once he’s out of the bank.”
He sat at one of the “al fresco” tables in front of Starbucks café sipping a big tumbler of “caffe latte”. Marie would soon be there. He called her up to tell her of his promotion after finding out the departure date from the audit guys. It was really soon…like tomorrow noontime. He was to stay in Davao for as long as it takes to come up with a comprehensive report of the situation. He reckoned that it would probably take two days, three days max.
Marie was his girlfriend of more than five years. She has kept on with him despite the fact that no mention of marriage has been made by him, not now nor of any hint that it would be in the near future. As women are wont to make, several veiled ultimatums have been made but without much effect.
On the phone she sounded excited. She might have thought that at last he might ask the magical question. He had always parried earlier suggestions by saying that he was not financially ready. Cris’s mind was farthest from any notion of marriage, not even now. The promotion was a cause for joy, truly, but it was not to be celebrated in this manner. In fact it did pose some special problems, the assignment being an off base one. It sort of made the problem of who would take care of an infirm mother and a convalescing father more convoluted and then what of Marie.
She came from behind him. With a playful mushing of his hair she greeted him with a warm buss on the cheeks.
“Mr. Bigshot himself! Hah, didn’t I tell you that your bosses will soon come to their senses and recognize genius.”
“Hey, you want to give me a cardiac arrest or what?” he sat up from the surprise tackle from behind and embraced her firmly upon seeing it was her.
“I left the office after my client meeting. Anton, my team mate wanted me to stay to do a post appraisal of the meeting but absolutely no way could he make me stay a second longer.”
Marie said this with a haughty head turn. Besides she knew what the guy was up to. It was just one of those ploys to keep her after office hours.
“Let’s have dinner at the Via Mare, my treat” she said.
“Can we do this some other time? Perhaps, like when I get back from Davao…have to make arrangements for somebody to look after my Mom and Dad who is still in the hospital. I’m leaving tomorrow noon, you know.”
“Shucks! I wanted this to be memorable. I know how much this meant to you. It is not everyday when one gets his first management appointment. But I do understand. You could at least buy me iced coffee and stay with me till I finish it.” He couldn’t help but notice her crinkled brows when she said this.
“Okay, but no longer than that. I have to chase up a cousin and convince her to be by Mom’s side while I am away. I couldn’t ask you to do this knowing how busy you are, but, please do call them up every now and then to check.”
She has barely finished her cup of coffee when he stood up and said he had to go. He said this unapologetically, almost brusquely.
“Will call you when I get back.”
He walked through the throng of the six o’clock crowd that had began to mindlessly mill around the square. Marie stood there as if forsaken and forlorn but she knew that to be understanding was her way of coping. It made the hurt unjustified and therefore she should not be hurt at all with his abruptness. How familiar this feeling has come to be. She has to understand again and again why Cris cannot, will not or may never. The promotion gave her hope but then she thought that events may have conspired against her. His Dad getting sick would probably negate the financial gains from the promotion and that the new appointment would take him away from Manila.
Alone in the table she viewed the people in the square and found it odd that they all seemed to be paired up, couples walking hand in hand, some hands on shoulders, others mutually waist-bound hands, chatting and laughing in pairs. She looked at her watch to find out if there was still time to do the post appraisal with Anton and hurriedly left.
Cris left the hospital after bidding his parent’s goodbye. He gave his cousin his hotel address and the telephone numbers of the hotel and the bank in case she needed to get in touch. With his hurriedly packed luggage of two pairs of pants, three trubenized shirts, two sports shirts and a pair each of his underwear he barely made it in time for the closing of the departure gate. He planned on getting a briefing from the auditors regarding Agdao’s anomalous case in flight since he didn’t have the time to do it yesterday.
As soon as the fasten seat belt sign was off he eased off the cumbersome belt and went to the toilet where he found one of the auditors in the queue waiting for his turn.
“Give me about half an hour before I come to you guys for a briefing. I still have to sort out my notes on the takeover from Agdao.”
“Sure, take as much time as you want. I think the flight is roughly two hours.”
Back in his seat Cris did not think too much about the Davao scenario that would greet him. Other thoughts were keeping his attention. Financial problems, sick and aging parents left to his care, a promotion that would take him out of Manila and then the ever patient Marie who stood in the wings waiting.
The plane was fifteen minutes away from Manila. He could see thick and dark clouds from underneath which didn’t look as threatening as an overcast sky when they left Manila. The plane had flown above the weather and it seemed that it was proceeding smoothly on a well paved highway with occasional flashes of lightning from below but too far below for him to worry.
He was scribbling on a piece of paper a list of things that he needed to do the moment he sets foot in Davao. First in the list is to look for a house near the bank, a list of friends and associates in his network who are residing or doing business in Davao. More on the list was for hospitals and medical facilities, things to bring over from Manila. When it came to this the list became longer because he knew the bank will pay for the moving expenses and he could bring some of the furniture and appliances. Buying new things was out of the question.
Going back to the first item in the list he placed a note that it had to be large enough to have one spacious bedroom big enough for his parents. Initially he wrote three bedrooms, then just two big ones, another big one for Marie and himself. Finally, he settled for just a small room and one big one. The small one was for himself and the big room for his parents. He tucked the piece of paper into the zippered pocket of his traveling bag, gave it a pat and stood up and went in the direction of the two auditors who were seated at the front area of the plane.