Rain fell hard on Miguel’s skin, wetting his shirt as he ran out from his car and into the entrance of the Mandaue City Jail. A police greeted him upon entrance as he showed his ID and directed him inside the City Jail Function Hall where he saw his officemates waiting for him. Eventhough Miguel hates the idea of wasting his time with the prisoners when he could be somewhere else instead, he knows that he needs to be here to show everyone how compassionate he is, and to show his boss that he deserves the promotion he longed for two years now. The hall was not very wide and spacious but it had tables and chairs intended for them to use. Few minutes later, the prisoners began marching up towards the hall in a straight line, like kindergarten pupils guided by their teacher to move in a careful and cautious manner. There was only one thing Miguel observed about the prisoners: they all smelled like rotten meat. It was as if they never had a proper bath for many years and was already accustomed to their own stinky smell. He wanted to go ahead and leave the activity but he knew he had to stay. His boss always has a heart for the unfortunates and if Miguel plans to gain his favor, he needs to show him that he is a compassionate creature as well. Miguel can’t wait for the program to be over. Little did he know that the program was about to get more interesting.
Each of them was assigned by their boss to talk to a prisoner and get to know them. Miguel almost cussed in front of his boss but instead, he managed a smile and uttered the words, “Great idea boss.”
You need this. Miguel said to himself. Even if it means licking his shoes, he will do it for the sake of promotion. Since his father’s death two years ago, all Miguel ever cared about was his job and his promotion. He became the most hard-working staff in their company. He stayed late at his office many nights and he even works during Holiday seasons. “Miguel was changed.” That was what his officemates would whisper into each other’s ears like it was some obvious secret.
The prisoner assigned to Miguel was named Andres as shown by the name tag he wore around his neck. He was a middle-aged man who is no different than the other inmates who also smell like rotten meat. He has these wrinkles in his forehead and around his eyes like broken lines spread on his skin as marks of his old age. They both sat down and stared at each other for what seemed like a lifetime. Miguel doesn’t know how to start up a conversation with the man in front of him. He was already thinking of creating a dramatic story about this man to escape dealing with the awkward situation.
“So, how are you?” Andres spoke first, breaking the silence that separated between them.
“Fine, I guess.” Miguel replied casually.
“So, what’s your story? How did you end up here?” Miguel asked Andres politely but obviously without sincerity, just plain inquiry.
“Well, I surrendered to the police for using illegal drugs.” Andres said plainly to him as if it was a normal thing to say. Miguel was surprised to hear someone say these words as if he had no regrets. He almost seemed like an ordinary man if it wasn’t for his yellow shirt.
“What pushed you to surrender to the police?” Miguel felt the sudden change in his behavior. He felt the uneasiness crawling underneath his skin. It took Andres a moment before he could reply to him.
“It was wrong to use drugs you know. And..” Miguel waited for the significant subsequence in his reply. He could almost feel the truth coming out of him, opening himself away.
“My daughter convinced me to surrender.” Andres lowered his head before he raised it again and looked at Miguel straight into his eyes. He could see into his eyes the bare truth, screaming its way out past his iris.
“Your daughter?” Miguel clarified and he saw him nod his head at him.
“You must love her very much.” He said as if it was intended to comfort him.
“I do. She always believed in God’s mercy and stuffs like that. She’s a very religious girl.” The moment he heard the word “God”, Miguel chuckled in a manner that almost appeared like a laugh. It stunned Andres to see him react like that as if he said something funny.
“Why? Is there something wrong?” He asked him naively.
“Nothing. It’s just that I don’t believe in stuffs like that anymore.”
“In what particularly? In God or in religion?”
“In both of them.” Miguel replied sternly followed by a consuming silence on both of them.
“Well, you must have a good story for it, at least.” Andres never took his eyes off from him as if he was expecting him to open up like a dissected frog in their biology class, spread out widely open for them to see. But somehow, Miguel could also feel the need inside him to share him the sad story of his life. In fact, he could somehow see his father’s image on him. Andres patiently waited for him to answer paired with suspecting eyes that never got off him. And so he ended up releasing the words..
“I did believe in all of them once.” He started to feel the pain and the lightness inside him, blended together in an odd combination.
“What happened?” Andres’ suspicious eyes were planting its claws on him, demanding him to open himself up and share the details.
“I was young and relentless back then, just getting to know the world. I wasn’t much as a person but I had complete utter faith in God. I go to church every Sunday, confess, ask for forgiveness in every sin, and attend the mass but I realized I was only getting played at by religion. You see, I never really asked a lot of things from God that’s why I really didn’t get the logic why God didn’t grant me the only favor I asked him.”
“What did you ask for?”
“My father was dying of cancer back then. He was the only family I have left in this world. I had no siblings, my father had no relatives; he was the only family that I treasured in my entire life. I could’ve asked for him to make our mother return to us and make us a happy, complete family but I didn’t. I accepted his plan for me and that is to live with my father. I loved my father so much that’s why I don’t understand why God took him away. My prayer was simply to heal him and he couldn’t even grant it.” Miguel could now feel the waters pooling in his eyes, trying to free themselves just like the words he let out as free as birds, now wandering blissfully and freely in the air. The long silence after Miguel said those words was deafening.
“You know what? You’re wrong.” Andres said to him like a teacher correcting a pupil gently.
“I mean, I wasn’t much of a believer either but I think God has mercy for us. Even though his plans are different than ours, that doesn’t change the fact that he is a merciful God. You said you had complete utter faith in God, but faith means trusting him even if you don’t understand his plans for you. If God didn’t have mercy for his people, then why are we still here? He could’ve ended our lives for the sins we made but here we are.”
There was something about Andres said that made his skin feel like it was being sucked out. This man sitting right front of him, has been through worst things in life, didn’t have almost all the things he possess, but still believes in mercy and God himself. It struck him and made him wonder all the rarity of it all, the truth and the sincerity being said from someone who’s almost lost everything.
“Why do you believe in him?” He asked him with bended brows, eager to light the once bright candle-light that was now dim.
“I believe in him because he was the only thing in the world that makes sense to me. What else could be the reason why I am still alive and wake up everyday as if I had no cancer in my own body?” Miguel was shocked to hear the word “cancer” out from someone who doesn’t seem to have one.
“I believe in him because he continues to give food for my family, send my child to college even if we don’t have much. He grants me his loving favors everyday. That’s what you should see not the things you didn’t have but the things God gave you.”
All Miguel could think of was, how can a man like him, locked in a cell and denied of freedom, still believe in goodness and God’s mercy? He lost a right to exist in this world yet he lives as if each day was a beautiful surprise. As Miguel reflected on the words he said, he realized the most precious thing he had lost; his father was the only thing God didn’t grant him yet he possessed a lot of things Andres didn’t have, enough for him to believe in God’s mercy.
“What are you going to do now?” The question puzzled Miguel and made his brows meet.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean now that you have heard this, what do you intend to do?”
Miguel thought he knew how to answer but the words came out from his mouth like falling leaves out from a dying tree. What could he do now? What’s going to happen in his life? Is he going to change his belief and the way he lived his life just because a dying prisoner told him some things?
“I don’t know. Perhaps I will drink to that thought.” He let out a chuckle and looked away from the eyes of Andres.
“You should talk to God, again.”
“I will.” He replied to Andres as if it was some sort of assurance of a good thing he didn’t mean to waste away.
The activity in the City Jail lasted for almost two hours. Miguel looked up to the sky in search for the pouring rain that sprinkled him a while ago but he could only see the deep blue dark sky painted with a shade of faded grey. The wind touched him and made his skin turn to ice as he walked towards his car. Miguel couldn’t keep a clear mind while he was driving. His mind travels back to the most beautiful memory of his father one Christmas evening when they were happily enjoying the holiday on the beach of Daanbantayan Cebu. He still remembers it all.
Miguel could see the happiness in his father’s eyes like floating lanterns into the empty night sky. It was the first time he treated his father for some lavish vacation after he struggled in finding a job. He could see the purity of his father’s smiles and laughters as they watched movies in his old laptop to spend the evening. In the morning, they would wake up to the beautiful scene of the beach where the sea reflects the profound beauty of the blue sky above them. They would hear the charming whispers of the waves and the chirping of the birds like beautiful melodies of nature. They would swim into the sea as if the sea drowns all the uncertainties of life. Those moments were infinite.
The next day, Miguel’s officemates were surprised to see his desk empty. He was absent that day and it was strange for him to be absent especially without permission simply because it is not Miguel’s doing. They all know that Miguel has been very engrossed in his job that is why it was strange to see him absent that day with no permission from his boss at all. For Miguel, he would do everything for his job.
That morning was covered in dark gloomy clouds swarming in the sky like huge cotton balls used in charcoal sketching. A news struck all of Miguel’s officemates as they were informed by their boss that his car was hit by a dumptruck while he was driving home yesterday. The accident appeared on the news, showing his car greatly crushed by the dumptruck, emphasizing the impossibility of Miguel’s survival. His officemates grieved for him for a while then they all went back to work as if it was another ordinary day.