Hello and Goodbye
NICA Safehouse, San Juan
Sunday, 1815H (PHT)
Carrera rubbed her hands as she walked back and forth outside the conference room. She turned to Grandma and shook her head. “No. No, I do not—I cannot do this.”
“Go and talk to him.”
She dreamed about this day, longed for it in so many ways, and pled for years for an answer. Now her wish had come true, but she showed a bit of hesitancy.
“I am so angry at him.”
“You do not want to miss this for anything.”
“I do not know what to say.”
“Well, you can start by telling how angry you are at him. Go on from there.”
“It is not that easy.”
“I am telling you it is going to work.”
“Oh, I hope you are right,” Carrera said as she hugged Grandma.
“Okay, go inside.”
Carrera combed her hair with her shaky fingers, then straightened the ruffles on her dress. She took a deep breath as she walked into the conference room.
“I am ready,” she told Ryder, who waited for her on the table with Madrid.
“Marvelous. Please sit in front of the laptop.”
“Thank you,” Carrera said.
“I’m happy for you,” Ryder responded, then leaned close to the laptop. “Okay, New York. Manila is ready. Get Sergeant Carrera.”
A man from the CIA New York Office answered, “Sure, hold on.” An inaudible shout boomed from the laptop followed by another shout, “Here comes the Sergeant. He’s all yours, Manila.”
“I appreciate it, New York,” Ryder said. He turned to Carrera and said, “Good luck.” Then he left the room.
“Take your time. I will be outside,” Madrid said.
Carrera wanted Madrid to stay, but she was too tongue-tied to ask. She felt protected by his embrace last night. Now, there she was in the conference room, alone again.
She’d composed what she would tell her father. Truly, she’d memorized her opening line word for word. It was only one sentence with five words. She would say, why did you abandon us? She couldn’t wait to spew those words at him. Once she said it, she would leave the room for good. And that was her reunion plan.
Carrera stared at the laptop. It showed a man in a business suit pushing a disheveled person in a wheelchair. It wasn’t her father because he appeared to have only one arm. No, the man couldn’t be him.
New York Office could’ve made a mistake. Her father always kept his hair cut neat and short. But the man on the screen wore longcurly hair like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. She moved to the edge of her seat to take a closer look. Her heart throbbed harder when the man spoke his first word.
“Maristella?” the man asked, his voice quivering. “Is that you, my daughter?” Her mother once said she got her father’s looks. But the man on Skype had a weather-beaten face—not the clear and smooth skin she remembered as a child. Yet the voice? His voice was the same tone as her father’s.
“Oh, thank you, Lord! Oh, my God. I found you at last!”
It was her father all right. His raspy voice and his hazel eyes— those eyes, more than anything else—proclaimed him as the one. She couldn’t believe it was happening!
“I looked everywhere for you, Brian, and your mom. God knows I tried everything,” the man said as he raised his right arm to heaven. “How are you doing? How’s your brother, your mom? Are they okay?”
Carrera was speechless as she stared at the screen.
“You thought I left all of you for good?” the man continued. “No, I didn’t. I got hurt in Kuwait. The doctor said I wasn’t going to make it. I did—but they’d cut off my left arm and my right leg to save me.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. He stood up to show his missing limbs, but he fell back into his seat.
Carrera’s stiff body started to loosen up. She rested her elbows on the table. It would keep herself steady in the chair.
“Look at these—all these letters I mailed.” The man raised a bag from his lap, then reached inside to show the returned envelopes. “They all came back one by one. When I left Walter Reed, after months of recovery, I went back to the Philippines three times. I searched Olongapo, Angeles City, and Ermita. I had no success.”
Carrera wanted to say something, but she couldn’t find the right words to say. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her body trembled, and her chest heaved as she listened to her father.
“I couldn’t find work—no one wanted to take a disabled man. My disability benefit isn’t enough to support my fourth trip. My family gave up on me. The US government gave up on me. But listen, I never gave up on all of you. I never gave up on you, on Brian, and on your mother.” The man cried as he pulled out two old pictures from his breast pocket. “These photographs—yours and Brian—kept me alive through these years.”
Carrera raised her shaking hand and gently touched the computer screen as tears freely flowed down her cheeks.
“I stayed homeless just to save money so that I could go back and search for all of you again. But God is so good. He answered my prayers,” the man said, crying like a child as he touched the computer. “Talk to me, my love.”
Carrera finally found what to say, and she said it in one word —Daddy! She reached for her father’s hand on the screen and cried, and this time she cried tears of joy.