As we were loading the bags back in the car at the end of the day, my wife, RL, thought out loud: maybe when the car suddenly wouldn't start the previous morning, it was a sign.
So since the car won't start last Sunday, we asked a friend if we could rent her dad's cab for Gabriela's birthday party at a beach house in Binloc, Dagupan. On her way to our place with the cab, the neighborhood mechanic did his magic and managed to get the car to start. But since there were a lot of us - total of 11 kids, 14 or so adults, instead of the others having to commute down, we decided to just bring the cab too anyway.
Everyone got to work right away as soon as we got there - I stopped by the roadside market in Damortis to get something that can be cooked fast for lunch (I went for chicken adobo); kids immediately took off their clothes and put on sunblock, etc. We’ve been here too many times it’s almost like a second home.
Later that afternoon, after a quick dip in the water (which was deliciously warm), I went to the Dagupan market to get something to add to my daughter’s birthday pasta dinner - inihaw na karpa at bangus, ensaladang talong, kamatis, arosep at bagoong. In the meantime, my son Leon and his gang of friends fiddled with his Ipod and the little girls watched a movie on gab's laptop while waiting for the food to be ready. I took pictures in between fanning the inihaw and reheating the sauce.
While of course there were some drinks, there was really no heavy drinking later that night. But there was much storytelling, that after the kids already claimed their spaces on both the living and dining room floors for the night by 10pm, us grown-ups stayed up ‘til way past midnight. I went to bed at around 1am next to my wife who went to sleep an hour earlier. The rest stayed up until about 3am.
I could hardly understand everything our friend Rose was saying (it was barely 6am), but I did pick up the words "wallets", "found", "outside." I understood that we were robbed. I got up and the first thing I checked out was the area where I placed the laptop the night before. It was gone. RL's bag which was next to it that had both our wallets and our phones - gone. The next minute everyone was awaken by the commotion and we all looked around some more to see what else was missing. I got out and walked towards the beach hoping against hope to still see a couple of guys running away from the house with our stuff. I saw our friend, Tolits, instead, sprawled on the beach. My heart stopped, the first thing that came to my head was that he probably woke up to discover the house being robbed and the robbers stabbed him and dragged him away from the house. I hesitated for a while before calling out his name. He got up and I started to breathe again. He was gonna sleep in the tent for the night but when it got too hot, decided to just sleep right under the stars. He immediately went to the tent to get his phone, it was gone too.
The kids woke up because of the commotion, and RL broke the news to Gabriela. Silently, she cried.
The laptop was a Christmas gift from Grandma, so was Leon's Ipod. Never mind the phones, but I distinctly remember the day RL and I traveled down to Manila to finally buy a DSLR after a long time of putting away a little money every now and then to be able to do so, plus some additional money from a friend who thought it was worth lending us some additional cash for a decent camera. It wasn't really a high-end, pro-quality DLSR, but we did what we could with it. At least we didn't have to rent or borrow anymore everytime we needed a camera. With it, we've documented conventions, weddings, and lots and lots of performances... and even more picnics and roadtrips and rainy days in Baguio. That's gone too. Plus some cash that may be not much, but is worth millions when you don't have that much.
They must have sprayed us with some gas, they said, that's why nobody woke up. Whatever. But the worst thing those thieves did was not to walk away with all of the above. Those are easy to let go. What I can't forgive them for is breaking Gabriela's heart the morning after her birthday.
We stayed in the warm waters of Binloc the rest of the day, and just before sundown, God treated us to a magnificent show... while the last of the day's rays shone, the site of dark clouds and falling rain far in the distance was magnificent. And on the other side, a beautiful sun-kissed sky. I took a few pictures with Gabriela's pink Kodak point-and-shoot. Good they didn't take that one.
On our way home we passed by a terrible accident. People died. I tried to distract the children to look the other way so as not to see the bodies being laid down on the sidewalk.
We're so lucky, afterall. We're so, so lucky.