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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our prodigal brother has come home

Our newly-departed brother, Napolito, on his clinic bed

Napolito was the fourth among us six siblings. He was the anniversary baby, born as he was on December 31, the wedding anniversary of our parents, that’s why he was named “Napolito” (Napo from our father’s name Napoleon and Lito from our mother’s name Emelita). I remember the three of us siblings and our parents gathered around the matrimonial bed where Mama delivered him, giggling as we watched the tiny bundle being startled by the New Year’s Eve firecrackers that ushered 1962 in.

He was the the family’s problem child who grew up to be the prodigal son and brother. As a toddler, when he discovered a matchbox, he promptly set fire to our pillows. As a teen, he was the first and only one who joined a gang with whom he associated until he got incarcerated (another first in our family). This same gang would later help him escape while on his way to a court hearing. The gang members, as you may have guessed, are the black sheep of their respective families.

Unlike the prodigal son in the parable of Jesus Christ, he did not want the property we inherited from our parents divided among us, he wanted it all to himself. When the buyer found out that she paid him good money under fraudulent means (he forged our signatures in a fake deed of sale), she hailed him to court for estafa.

But before going to court, he lived a nouveau riche life. He separated from his wife with whom he had seven children and acquired not one, but two common-law wives! He was careful to set up each of them in separate subdivisions, provided them with all the appliances and furniture money could buy (brass beds, large screen TVs, etc.). He bought two caliber .45 pistols and commandeered a taxi and its driver for his commuting needs. He bought his kids new clothes and shoes. He paid for the funeral and burial expenses of an acquaintance whose parent died. He hosted several boys’ night out for his gang.
When he got jailed for the third time (the first for impersonating a police officer & possession of an illegal firearm and the second for violating the Anti-fencing Law) in 1996, his two common-law wives, both pregnant five months apart, came to visit him for the first and last time. After that, they packed up their bags, furniture and appliances and left Gensan.

In the provincial jail, he volunteered to serve as altar boy during the Sunday mass which impressed the jail warden and guards. What they didn’t know was that he was already planning an escape with his gang. And escape he did. A manhunt was organized.

The police team assigned to look for him thought I was hiding him in my residence. Early one morning, while I was going out of the gate, I saw a man in undershirt and pants holding an ArmaLite and running towards me. He thought I was my brother because we could be mistaken for one another except that he was darker while I was the bespectacled one. With an amused look on my face, I watched another man ran after him and stopped him from pointing the gun at me. When I realized what was happening, the blood drained from my face.

So imagine how angry I felt when later during a trade fair, I met one of his gang mates who boasted in a rather loud voice that they helped my brother escape. I told him off in no uncertain terms that that stunt of theirs almost cost my life. I wonder if they ever felt guilty then or now about how my brother’s life or their lives turned out.

So back to jail he went, no bail recommended this time, and stayed put there for the next 14 years. During that time, we helped send his kids to school and visited him in jail. We told his kids, no matter what he did he was still their father and as such, deserved their respect.

But there was no “I’m sorry” or even a “Thank you” forthcoming from our prodigal brother every time we visited him in jail. He was glad to take whatever clothes, food, medicines we brought him, but not one bit of gratitude. He made us feel like we owe it to him to visit him and bring him the things he needed.

When he was finally convicted and transferred to the Davao Penal Colony last year, his health began failing. Early this year, he started having difficulty breathing. He would ask a fellow convict to send us text messages, most of them false alarms and just ruses to make us visit him. When he started vomiting blood, we had to make sure it was true before another brother, sisters and his kids visited him. I asked a former student to help facilitate his hospitalization and treatment and the visits of my siblings and his kids. He spent most of the last two months in the jail infirmary with a nasal oxygen tube to ease his breathing.

Two weeks ago, we received text messages at 3 in the morning telling us to visit him because it might be the last time we would see him alive. By then, we were in contact with the jail officials and we were assured he was ok. It was again another ruse for us to visit him.

Then at 5 pm today (April 25), I just ordered my merienda cena at a restaurant in a mall when I got a call from someone informing me that our brother Napolito just died at 4:30. I promptly informed another brother who was skeptical about the news because of previous ruses and false alarms. He called his jail contacts and was told it was true that our brother has just died from complications arising from his lung ailment.

I would like to believe that unlike the prodigal son, our prodigal brother died remorseless and unrepentant, until I remembered the story a priest shared during a spiritual retreat:
There was once a town drunkard, gambler and womanizer who would physically and verbally abuse his wife and children. One night, while going home after a drinking spree, he crossed a rickety bridge. He threw up violently from the bridge into the murky polluted water below. The wooden rail broke and he fell head first.
The priest asked us: Where do you think this man went after his death – heaven or hell? In unison we shouted: TO HELL!

The priest then posed this notion to us: Don’t forget – in the distance from the top of the bridge to the surface of the muddy water, he would have enough time to be remorseful and ask God for forgiveness. That made all of us rethink our initial answer.
 
This story brought hope back in my heart. I hope that in our prodigal brother’s final moments in the infirmary before he breathed his last, he had enough time for remorse and humility to ask for forgiveness from God and redeem himself in our eyes and God’s.

May our merciful God welcome you in His embrace as you join Papa and Mama, Lolo and Lola in His kingdom.

Goodbye brother . . .
For all the thanks yous unspoken, you’re welcome!
For all the I’m sorrys unexpressed, all is forgiven!

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