Why you should care
Because none of us know what tomorrow will bring.
There was no deathbed. There was only death, period.
It was a cool night in February, but I was boiling from the inside — the pores on my skin becoming tighter and tighter as I walked to the chapel. It wasn’t my first death. My uncle, my grandfather, my artist friend, my classmate’s sister who also became my friend … I know how death looks. I know how it smells, how it feels. It is nothing new. Yet as I was walking through the parking lot of the funeral home, past the well-trimmed shrubs that managed to live in a place like this, my body forgot how to feel.
They said nine bullets. They said there was an eyewitness. They said it was around three in the afternoon on a weekday, which is to say, people were working. The weight seemed too heavy and too light at the exact same time.
Dad’s coffin was white and fancy. There were five oversized couches on either side of the massive chapel and an aisle at the center. I almost mistook it for a church. But at that moment, I wasn’t a fan of God’s decisions.
What they don’t tell you about death is that when you walk toward the coffin, it will feel like you’re walking for miles. And if the cause of death is tragic, it will feel like your kneecaps are made of titanium. Your bones are shaking but your knees remain strong and steady and willing to carry the weight.
The day they murdered my father, he was off his schedule.
The autopsy report showed five bullets in my father’s chest. Entry points were all in the chest, which is to say he was facing his killers.
He was supposed to go to the banana plantation he supervised every Tuesday, but that week he went there on a Wednesday. I remember seeing him leave, his usual shirt and jeans and an overstuffed backpack full of a day’s worth of clothes clinging to his back. He had just arrived at the plantation when a girl, *Mara, who also works there, called him and said two men were outside looking for him. She said she thought they were potential banana buyers.
My dad paused Ninja Assassin, which he was watching on a laptop he bought secondhand and went out with Mara. She unknowingly introduced my father to his murderers, who quickly thanked her and sent her away. Just as she turned her back and took a few steps, shots were fired. My father ran. Mara’s police testimony ended.
The autopsy report showed five bullets in my father’s chest.
Entry points were all in the chest, which is to say he was facing his killers. Then a bullet shattered his femur, which caused him to fall. I don’t know if he was already in the packing house when he fell, or if he crawled his way there. For days, I could not stop imagining my father’s body — more crimson and less white, sprawled on the floor with the stacks of boxes and mountain piles of bananas waiting to be packed. The flimsy piece of paper that was given to us days after he passed also said he had a gunshot wound in his arm. This meant he was shielding himself. Perhaps my father thought his skin was made of titanium.
I guess they paid the killers well, and I guess the ultimate goal for the hitmen and the one who hired them was to make sure my father would not see the daylight of February 18. They shot him more, twice in the head. They achieved their goal.
The lights in the chapel were a cozy yellow. The air-conditioning was too strong for a shanty town girl like me. My grandmother — dad’s mom — no matter how overly emotional she was, made sure we knew the rules — the candles on either side of the coffin should be lit at all times. Nobody should wear pink or red. And we should never leave the dead “sleeping” by himself at night, which means someone should stay awake in the wee hours. Filipinos have many, many beliefs.
His wake lasted nine days. And somewhere along those nine days, I noticed one of his eyeballs was not in his skull anymore. The stitches in his face were noticeable, but the missing eyeball wasn’t — unless you stared closely for too long.
Perhaps he knew too much about cases his boss was working on. Perhaps someone in the banana plantation didn’t agree with the idea of straightening up. Perhaps someone wanted banana corruption to keep going. What I know is that he was off his schedule that week. And he just arrived when his murderers came looking for him. Someone tipped someone. Or maybe the murderers were just good guessers.
When we buried him, we were all wearing white, except for the kids. The kids were instructed to wear red. Another Filipino belief. The flowers were pretty, but all I can see were the ribbons that said “In memory of … ”
It took me weeks to cry real tears. It took me eight years to let go of his belongings. Since his death, our front door has had three locks and a peephole. I have learned to memorize the sound at night — the different insects, the cat walking on the corrugated tin roof, the water dripping from the broken gutter. I have learned to master the way the shadows change, depending on the moonlight.
My father’s murderers are still out there. And I don’t know how long it will take before I can sleep at night again.
*Mara is not her actual name.