"Starting today, March 16, there will be a nationwide lockdown..." the country's president declared.
My jaw dropped at the announcement. Cristine groaned and complained about what she heard. Sam shouted a protest and Martin stomped their feet towards the chicken to cook our lunch mumbling things that mean complaint with the situation. Sam got back to playing with the kids after the flash news.
Cristine looked at me anxiously, "Why of all this time, Ate? And when we were going to get back to our hometown? This is outrageous and mad!"
I draped an arm around her shoulders and rubbed her back comforting her. "We'll survive this pandemic or whatever this is called. We surely will, Tine. God won't let us starve. That's for sure."
A sigh escaped her lips as I give her an embrace and comfort her more.
The government wnet strict on people getting out of their houses as soon as the nationwide lockdown was declared. Only at least 2 people of ages between 21-59 are allowed to shop for necessities. Four of us in the makeshift boarding house were aged between 21-40 so we pair up to get supplies. Luckily, I am a permanent resident in the city so we were given supply stubs and IDs for getting out.
The pandemic always felt like camping but with face and surgical masks on when we travel for getting our needs, and not getting out unless we have things to get from the outside. Some of our co-teachers also helped my cousins, too. They gave them rice, noodles, canned goods--mostly everything that can be eaten--for the duration of the time they stayed in my makeshift boarding house.
Even before they arrived to stay with me, I have some water spinach and horse radish plants on the yard for consumption planted by my green thumb husband. An idea struck Martin to add more plants for thrifty reasons: garlic, onion, ginger, and oregano.
It felt fun in a way but uncertainty eats us because of the border restrictions. If it continues, they will be trapped in the city for longer than they want and that's just heartbreaking for me even if I selfishly want them here too in a way.
"By and by the restrictions in every border checkpoints are being pulled out for each province so that people of each local government units may fetch their residents and take them home on the residents' decision," a news reporter said.
"Oh, that's why earlier I saw some vans and cars getting here with signages that they rescue people from whatever place they came from," Sam blurted out while we eat some dinner.
A small beep caused surprise to us all. It was Tine's phone first and then the others rang too or vibrated except mine.
"Ate Julia?" She paused for a moment to contain her excitement. "The government of our town told us that they will be fetching us on May 24." Tine smiled but tears started to pool on the side of her eyes.
"Will you be okay when we're gone here?" She touched my shoulder.
"I will be. I'll manage. You know how resilient we are in the region. It runs in our blood." I smile keeping my sadness and selfishness inside myself.
"Thank you so much." My cousins hugged me simultaneously once we're through eating.
"Take me home, country roads..." Sam and Tine sang as they packed their stuff at least two days before they will be getting home. Tine's voice sounded excited but the words in her song talks of loneliness on both leaving me here and getting home.
"Hey, don't be sad. We have phones right? What are phones for if not for communicating?" I leaned on the door frame of their room, arms folded and smiling dearly.
Tears filled our conversation again flooding the whole boarding house up.
"I will miss you, my dears."
Before getting in the car, my three cousins and I shared an embrace which will be marked in our hearts once they get home that day. Their things were gathered and stuffed into bags all having at least three years of memories from their former work.
"Take care and be safe. And goodluck on getting into the school you will be happy with when you get home."
My kids cried as they saw their aunts and uncle wave goodbye in the car. I embraced my two toddlers and buried my face on their back with the same gloom they felt as my cousins leave our house.
The whole day I prayed for the four of them to get safely to our aunts and uncles. And by 10 pm, they texted me that they have arrived in their own homes safely.
The next day was reserved for the journey conversation. My cousins all told me about their experiences and realizations on the way home.
"It was a long way because of border checkpoints. It felt like a movie scene, Ate," Tine sent me a message.
"The sci-fi types?"
"Yes. It was like World War Z with a different stuff happening because no one is running from zombies."
A smile appeared on my lips.
"Why did you guys, get home at an almost wee hour in the night?"
"Checkpoints, Ate. Lots of it. When we went out here, there's one. Each town or city we pass through, men in uniforms check the passengers and where we are going, stuff like that," Sam added.
Since then, my cousins were continually updating me with their lives--Martin was accepted as a teacher in college, Sam is still waiting for her work item in a public high school while Tine is still applying for work in every job she can. There are also times in which I update them of what happened to our school after they left, how is the city and the progress it offered after the nationwide lockdown.
When September came, Tine called me like an excited schoolgirl. "Ate, at last I got a job!"
"Wow that's nice. I bet you have already updated your boyfriend from my place here?"
"Yeah he's so happy." A shy giggle resonated in the other side of the phone.
"So what is it?"
"Contact tracing volunteer." I heard another excited tone from her.
A weird sensation entered my body giving me shudders. 'I hope nothing bad would happen. I hope everything will be alright. I hope this is just my imagination,' I repeated a mantra in my head.
"Wow that's great!" I showed support through my words after a moment of silence from my side. "Just take care out there and be safe. Okay?"
"Ate, I'm one of the best there is in being healthy right? Don't worry."
I chuckled nervously, hoped she will be safe and whispered a prayer to God.
By December, my dreams shifted from happy, lighthearted moments to weird, symbolic ones. Once I dreamt of falling off a cliff. I told my husband about it. Then another dream with me extracting a loose tooth.
And then a dread came to me when Sam called as I'm working. "Ate, Tine's feet and legs got swollen. She's rushed to a hospital here."
The news made my knees weak and had a couple of tears roll off my cheek. "I can't go there personally, you know that but we here at school will collect some money for her and help in the way we can."
A day after that horrible news, I began seeing and sensing weird stuff:
1. I saw an unfamiliar room with sickly white paint and heard people rushing in and out to get my blood pressure and stuff like that;
2. I also saw my arm attached with a dextrose and more fair than my own skin;
3. A white blanket is draped over my feet which feels leaden and that I can't just move; and,
4. I smelled and tasted food that's quite unappetizing--plain rice, blandly fried fish and broth with some veggies.
Everytime I see and sense the visions, I panic, bolt up sitting and bite my lower lip in pain. And then a realization hit me, Tine and I are linked in a way.
I asked for my other co-teacher Tommy who is a physical therapist, too. "Tine should have second option for the diagnose because in my opinion, based on what Sam told us, it did not meet what she was actually suffering from."
I told my cousins about it but like when I talked to Tine, they refused to believe me on it. That night, Tine and I had linked again. This time, a medication was given to her to subdue the pain for awhile. I felt her gradual relief that made me sleep better until the next day.
After a month of accidentally linking my sight and sense with Tine, I called my cousin from afar.
"Ate." Her voice sounds raspy and tired but happy to hear from me.
"How are you feeling now? It's been awhile since Sam told me stuff about you."
"I'm feeling a lot better now. Sam is still waiting for her work item though and with that she's assigned to teach our little nephews and nieces on the modules. Hehe." I heard Tine slightly chuckle.
"Perhaps you can already walk at this time?" I asked her with a hint of anxiety in my tone.
"Oh, no. Not yet. The doctor said I should have more rest days for now to regain my strength. My muscles are still not working okay. Possibly neuron damages, he said? But with time, it'll get better." She sounded calm but it has some underlying tone which I can't point out--melancholy maybe but I'm not sure.
The link happened again after Sam told me that Tine drank some concoction that made her pain worse than it is. I could see through her eyes that she's clutching the bed to hold the pain and let it subside slowly inside her body.
"Tine was rushed to the hospital and the pain had gone up to her waist," Sam called me after the doctors had her sleep to make the pain leave her for a time.
With this, my co-teachers and I amass another batch of money to help my dearest cousin. My cousins helped her too by doing fundraisers in our hometown. We came up with an ample amount but it seemed too little for her to be cured by the doctors. By June, Martin told me that our cousin is in the direst of need to be healed.
I felt her weaken everyday like a candle slowly being consumed by its flame. I felt her drift on and off of sleep as her lungs tighten and get filled with something heavy. My aunt who was there when it happened rushed outside to get a doctor. And Tine was given an oxygen mask to make her breathe.
She continued to be paralyzed and frail as the time passed then one day, Tine closed her eyes and went into comatose. Tears ran down my cheeks when this happened so I called Sam.
"Hey, what's happening there now? I dreamt that something bad happened."
"Ate, Tine is in comatose. The doctor's revived her for awhile and now is still breathing. But still no miracle."
The next day, Tine's comatose dreams are passing through my eyes like mine was hers too. I could see her visit every person dear to her--her family, our relatives in our hometown, her boyfriend planting a kiss on his lips and hugging him, her co-teachers in the past and then, me. She smiled and waved at me mouthing, "Sorry. I tried but He wants me back now."
I, then nodded with some tears gliding along my cheeks, and a prayer passing through my lips to guide her to heaven. And with that sudden farewell, my vision shifted to my own in the faculty room staring at my laptop screen showing an edited copy of a module. 'I hope it ain't true. I hope it ain't true. I hope God saves her. I hope God heals her.'
That night, her soul left the earthly terrain she lived for 24 years--months away from her birthday to become 25. A lot of posts were sent to her in social media--dedicated ones--that show how much love my cousin received since she was born.
Truly, a human lives long or brief enough to give impact on people they encounter with. But they don't die for when people remember them, they live in their hearts, memories and minds. They are immortalized.
*Ate-means elder sister