A Burial One Afternoon

IMG_1435It is not often that I attended burials, and if I did, it would be for one reason:  To pay my last respects to the dead.But today was different: They would be burying the man who, while still living, had often considered me his enemy.

Indeed I was, for I was the essence of everything that he had fought against, both in morals and religion. He had despised my teetotalism, criticized my scripture-quoting sermons, belittled my warnings about hell, laughed at my preaching about heaven. He would mimic me, or make fun of my gestures. Was it he who once accused me of being a subversive? But I was thankful that only he believed his story– the rest of them did not. As a result of his gossips, many attended my lectures, and I was thankful too that he had become my best recruiter. He would attend my Bible lectures, holding not a Catholic Bible but a jug of Vino Kulafu in one hand and a glass half-filled with wine in the other, in total disregard of proper decorum and good manners. Concerning this breach of etiquette, he had been warned, not only once or twice but perhaps thrice: if he kept this on, they–his friends in religion– would eject him bodily out of the hall. He never listened.

Once they made good their threat to give him a lesson. But he came back again, after a month.

What was it about his childhood religion that kept him in a state of adoration of everything Romish? I once challenged him to prove by his life that his religion was better, that it could change a good-for-nothing fellow to something God would value.

Change? When he asked for evidence, I told him, “I am. I began smoking at age nine, drank whiskey at age eleven. Can you top that? But I left it all when I became a child of God at age twenty-two. You too can.”

I too once read to him that part of his Bible that says he has a soul. Where would he like to spend eternity? He smiled at the thought of a heavenly bliss in the great beyond, where he would be missing his drunken friends and his drinking bouts, and shaking his head he said, no, he would have none of it. But I think my preaching kept pricking his insides, giving him bad dreams, troubling his soul. The idea that even his Bible speaks much against the kind of life he was living left him with no recourse but to throw it away–his cherished Catholic version given by a priest. He was disturbed by the thought that his Catholic Bible is a mirror too, that when he looked at it he saw himself as a sinful man, a good -for-nothing. That was the last time I saw him.

Two years after that he took sick. Brought to the hospital. Lease money that made him spend two days at the ICU. But when the bills kept piling up, he was brought home.

They told me that he spent his last days in bed. He could not move, and he even had to be force-fed, for his mouth would not open even if he felt hungry.

And so it was that God took control of everything that he had and everything that he would have. The blessings in his home stopped flowing. Or so they said. He was bed-ridden, and nobody in his home took his place as the bread-winner of the family. His wife was too old to work in flower fields. Neighbors would not help. His drinking buddies did not come.

O yes, he had a son, a copy of everything that was he–manners, attitude, and beliefs. The young man even fared worse. Days after his father was brought to Cebu Doctors Hospital, police officers too came for him. The charge: possession of dangerous drugs. The young man, like his father, never listened to my advice.

His last week on earth was something he could not forget. Members of the Lord’s body paid him a visit, per my urging. When he saw them, he wept. He wept as he had not wept before.

That night, after their visit, he breathed his last.

And so this one afternoon, as the last rays of the Wednesday sun vanished beyond the trees, they buried him in a borrowed crypt. I said borrowed: The owner of the crypt, a cousin of his, allowed his remains to find a niche in the ground, even for a season. If the owner dies, they would have to find another burial place for Teban.

His name was indeed Esteban, in English, “Stephen.” They shared a name, yes, but Esteban was not everything that Stephen the first Christian martyr was.

I turned my motorcycle’s throttle on, ready to leave. This was one different afternoon in my many unusual afternoons. I vowed never to see it again. But only the Lord knows.

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