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Passage

Dr. Rucheng gazed at the tainted shirt of his son spread at the foot of the bed. Zaldy's bedroom was neat. His dresser was in place. The Hugo Boss cologne and after-shave lotions were neatly lined up along with other toiletries. His girlfriend Patricia continued to smile in a timeless dimension of a picture frame on the side.

No amount
of disorderliness
or mess could be found near his boy. His study room was in place. All his books were lined neatly in the shelf.

Walking up to the clothes cabinet, Dr. Rucheng slowly reached for the wooden knob as the doors creaked open revealing shirts and pants neatly folded in place. There was the red long-sleeved shirt he gave him on his 21st birthday and navy-blue cotton top, which made him look like your most favored boy—next door type of guy. Even his Doc Martens and Nike Air shoes were immaculately clean along with his sandals and slippers.

Passing through shelves of books, Dr. Rucheng felt proud of his son. No amount of disorderliness or mess could be found near his boy. His study room was in place. All his books were lined neatly in the shelf. Some were taken out but were stacked up just the same in a corner. The lamp on his desk was clean, not dusty. Even the trash box under the desk was quick to be emptied.

"Your room is too clean I think I'd die of suffocation here." Fred Diwalis said, tossing his cigarette butt into the trash bin. "Maybe we better go to Tibo's place. It's much more comfortable."

"What's wrong with being clean?" Zaldy asked. It was apparent that his newfound friends prefer the dirty works.

"Zaldy, Zaldy, my friend, " Diwalis placed his arm around the neophyte, "In this world, nothings perfect. White isn't really white. You have to look closer to see the spots. But black is black. And that's the beauty of it. Trouble is, sometimes we are too sheltered, we do not know. But the truth is out there. And it's up to you to find out."

Zaldy's eyes narrowed upon hearing those words. He knew he had to pass the test and passing it would mean acceptance.

Dr. Rucheng couldn't help but sigh. He has given almost everything to his boy-good food, beautiful clothes and a big, nice house, not to mention access to the best education aboard a sleek Ford Bronco. Yet amidst the seemingly sheltered world, something was missing. The boy was bored with all the comforts and was eager to try out the hard life.

"Dad, I met this group of guys and they're really cool."

"What's cool for you?" Dr. Rucheng looked up from the newspaper he has been reading.

"They take time out after classes to earn extra by doing side jobs. Isn't that cool? They earn their own money."

Dr. Rucheng put the papers down on the table and faced his son. "People have reasons why they do the things they do. For example, those boys you mentioned might not be getting enough allowance so they have to work to earn."

Zaldy's eyes shone with fascination. "But Dad, it will be great if I get to work and earn my own money like they do. It's not that I'm not getting enough but I like to try it out. I'm old enough, don't you think."

Dr. Rucheng stirred in his seat, uneasy with the way the conversation was going. "I see this as a passing fad. You have no idea what hard work is like."

"Maybe you're right, Dad." Zaldy replied. "Maybe also that's precisely why I want to try it out. Can I, please?"

Dr. Rucheng vividly remembered that eager look in his son's eyes, lovingly caressing his reason to consider his plea, begging him to give in to this foolish yearning. "Ahh," he told himself. "How could a young man want something so badly?" It pains him as a father not to bend and consider. After all, every young man undergoes a strange call to adventure.

He raced down the stairs and was surprised to see his son Zaldy holding
up a box of pizza
and greeting him with
the standard, "Good evening, Sir. Here's your delivery from Uncle Tom's Pizza."

Dr. Rucheng could still remember the time, while on duty at the hospital, he called in for a pizza delivery. He felt he needed to reward himself after a long day at the operating room. He took a quick shower to refresh himself and waited for the delivery to arrive.

"Paging Dr. Rucheng," the operator's finally voice boomed from the intercom, "Please proceed to the information desk."

He raced down the stairs and was surprised to see his son Zaldy holding up a box of pizza and greeting him with the standard, "Good evening, Sir. Here's your delivery from Uncle Tom's Pizza."

"How did you end up delivering my pizza?" he asked.

"It just so happen you placed your order during my shift, Dad."

Dr. Rucheng could not help but shake his head, "I still can't figure out why I allowed you to work…at this hour. And to think you're driving a motorcycle this late."

"Dad, I'll be just fine. Here's your pizza."

Dr. Rucheng handed him a P500 peso bill and chipped in an extra hundred as a tip.

Zaldy smilingly refused, "Com' on, Dad. No allowances, right?"

"Young man, I'm a customer satisfied with your fast delivery services. Take the tip. You deserve it."

Zaldy grinned showing a row of teeth in metal braces. "Thanks, Dad... I mean, thank you, Sir and enjoy your meal."

As Zaldy began walking away, Dr. Rucheng just couldn't help but look lovingly at his son. He admired every step, every gait of the young man walking away with a helmet in hand. He could see his son's back immersed in sweat, something he wouldn't really allow during the earlier days, but now, he knew Zaldy could take care of himself.

"Every man for himself." Fred Diwalis declared as he walked passed the seated neophytes in blindfold.

"Can you tell me the three virtues of the group?"

"Unity" screamed one.

"Brotherhood!" screamed another.

"How about Zaldy Rucheng? What do you say?"

"Loyalty, Sir."

"Good. Show me your loyalty. Recite the creed."

As a father, Dr. Rucheng simply refused to accept the cruelty of the graveyard shift. For him, it deprives a young man of his liberty to enjoy
a quiet evening
for leisure or rest.

"I pledge, to give my love, life and liberty to the highest welfare of the brotherhood. I pledge, to act not on my own accord but to abide by the rules and by-laws of…"

The sound of the Bronco entering the garage somewhat eased the anxiety of the sixty-year old surgeon. It has been a week since Zaldy has been coming home late from work. As a father, Dr. Rucheng simply refused to accept the cruelty of the graveyard shift. For him, it deprives a young man of his liberty to enjoy a quiet evening for leisure or rest. But what fascinated him was the seemingly unfaltering burst of energy of his son. Zaldy may seem worn out after his night shift at the pizza parlor but his spirits were never down. This Dr. Rucheng greatly attributed to youth or to fulfillment derived from such an undertaking.

It was way past two o'clock in the morning and Zaldy has never been this late. Dr. Rucheng stood up from his desk and walked to the sala. The Bronco crawled noiselessly into the garage. A sharp thud sounded with the closing of the car doors and heavy footsteps walked up the front door.

Dr. Rucheng opened the lights at the porch to meet his son. As Zaldy walked towards him, he could not help but notice a bruised forearm that reached for his hand and a bleeding lip that kissed it.

"Sorry, Dad. I know it's terribly late and I wasn't able to call…" came Zaldy's voice almost a whimper.

"What happened to you? You're black and blue all over."

"It's nothing, Dad. I got into a fight."

"A fight?" Dr. Rucheng's blood pressure shot up. "Have you been drinking?"

"No."

"Then, what's all this? Look at yourself, you're a mess, Zaldy. My God, are you taking drugs?"

"Dad, this is just getting too far. I'm tired. Can we just talk about this in the morning?" Zaldy walked past his father but not without a tense limp on his leg. "Good night, Dad."

Dr. Rucheng watched as his son ascended up the stairs, climbing up with careful steps. His boy was in very bad shape indeed. He could tell with the way Zaldy shifted his weight from one leg to another, like every movement causes much pain.

The next day, Dr. Rucheng waited for Zaldy to come down for breakfast. Ten minutes had passed and still no sign of the young man.

There, he was greeted with a sight that will forever haunt him. Zaldy's body was slumped
at the foot of the bed
—cold and lifeless.

"He must have overslept from exhaustion last night," was the reason his mind provided yet something in him refused to listen. So he went up the stairs and knocked at the door of Zaldy's room. When no answer came, Dr. Rucheng opened the door slowly. There, he was greeted with a sight that will forever haunt him. Zaldy's body was slumped at the foot of the bed—cold and lifeless.

Dr. Rucheng tried to scream to let out alarm and grief but no sound came out of his mouth. He rushed to his son, crying and cursing. He knelt to cradle his head, still damp from the shower. Apparently, the boy died of cardiac arrest the same night.

"Unity!" screamed the master initiator as a wooden plank landed on a neophyte's leg.

"Brotherhood!" screamed another.

"Loyalty!"

One after another, the blows came down as each member took a hand at inflicting the "first wound" that would bind the new members with the old.

Zaldy was breathless at the seething pain from the blows. Each was harder than the previous one, coming down like thunder, with jolts of stabbing pain streaking to the core of his bones. There was the unmistakable smell of blood mixed with sweat.

After the first hollering hour, Zaldy passed out. This sent the members to panic. Nevertheless they were able to revive him with a splash of cold water.

"Are you giving up, Zaldy Rucheng?" they asked.

"No.. no.." Zaldy was trying to answer amidst the dizzying array of shadows and sounds crowding in front of him.

"Give up?!" they howled like wild dogs on a prey.

"No..no.." Zaldy was talking to himself. "I've gone this far. I'm not turning back."

After the grueling ordeal, the neophytes were given a thundering splash of brandy along with claps and screams that signaled the end of the initiation rites and the passing of the neophytes as new members.

The defense lawyer took his stand at questioning one of the accused.

"So, when one of the neophytes, Zaldy Rucheng passed out the first time, what did you do?"

"As a precautionary measure, we tried to revive him. Our last resort was to wet his face with water."

"What do you think is the physical state of the victim?"

"We were aware that the initiation might to be too much for him. Again, we took the precautionary measure to ask him if he is still willing to go on with the rites."

"And what did he say?"

"He wanted to proceed."

Dr. Rucheng stood from his seat. "Murderers, you killed my son!" Three of his colleagues tried to pacify him.

The judge banged his gavel. "Order! Order!"

The lawyer proceeded with the trial. "What happened afterwards?"

"We asked the neophytes to perform the last part of the initiation. And they all successfully passed. After that, everyone went home."

"Is Zaldy Rucheng physically fit to drive himself home."

"Yes. I offered to drive him home but he declined. And again, as a precautionary measure, we decided to convoy, escorting one another until we were sure everyone has safely reached his house."

With each passing day, he feared the case was not progressing. Five
of the seven young men involved in the hazing incident belonged
to wealthy and influential families.

Dr. Rucheng once again eyed the tainted shirt of his son spread at the foot of the bed. It bore bloodstains and dirt. The blood had dried up to an almost brownish shade but the dirt remained black. The trial for the death of his son Zaldy has reached almost seven months since the hazing incident. With each passing day, he feared the case was not progressing. Five of the seven young men involved in the hazing incident belonged to wealthy and influential families. Their political connections might just pull the right strings and send them home unscathed.

For Dr. Rucheng, the waiting itself was torture. The memory of a son who was set to conquer the world but was subdued too early kept him awake for several nights. It reached to a point that he could not stand going home to an empty house—no more booming music from the room at the west wing, no more late night TV viewing, no more mounds of potato chip wrappers, root beer cans and cookie crumbs on the floor carpet. Because of this, he busied himself with hospital work, sometimes joining young interns in their rounds during the wee hours of the morning. How he wished he could do something, just something to ease the pain of waiting.

"Paging Dr. Rucheng. Please proceed to the emergency room." The intercom boomed. Two young men had just been admitted after their car crashed to a light post at the highway. The one on the driver seat was in terrible condition while the other was lucky to be revived.

"No, we're not drunk," the young man kept saying despite a broken face. "We did come from a party but we made sure we had our wits with us."

Dr. Rucheng finished the physical examination. "You only have minor injuries unlike your friend. He's losing a lot of blood and we have to operate on him or else we'll lose him."

Before proceeding to the operating room, Dr. Rucheng made a quick review of the patient's medical data: name, age, medical history, physical injuries, CBC, urinalysis, blood type. But what bothered him was the familiar name on the paper: DIWALIS, Adrian Francis L.

"That surname," he told himself. "How could it escape my mind?" It belonged to one of his son's torturers.

Later, he learned his patient is indeed a cousin of Fred Diwalis. He closed his eyes in torment and despair. His mind was playing a host of possibilities. Surgery is one of the most delicate medical procedures. He could sabotage the whole operation and still come out clean with a claim that he did his best. Death in exchange for death. It was the sweetest thing that will heal the numbness of waiting.

In the operating room, Dr. Rucheng gestured for the nurse. The young woman came up to him and wiped his forehead wet with sweat. He looked at the young man on the operating table. An ugly gaping wound was throbbing at the crown of his head. Once more, he held his scalpel and made a long incision to free the scraps of glass embedded in the wound. He looked up at the glass window. Family members of the young man stood outside waiting. He could see the familiar silhouette of the young Fred Diwalis comforting an old woman. He presumed she was the mother of the boy. She was sobbing, crying bitter tears like he did at the funeral of his son Zaldy. He knew the pain she was feeling. The life of her son was now at the mercy of his hands. His gloved hands gave a strange quiver. He knew deep inside they were screaming for vengeance.

He took a deep breath and proceeded to close the wound. His fingers worked swiftly, guiding the needle through flaps of skin. He finished within minutes, making twenty-two stitches in all. He then made a thumbs-up sign that signaled the end of the operation.

The patient was taken to the recovery room and was placed under observation for 12 hours. The family members took turns in watching over the young man. Dr. Rucheng quietly observed them from a distance. He sensed how everyone grew tired and weary from the waiting. He knew their pain yet admired their strength and determination.

On the second day, the patient showed positive signs. He was awake and was able to twitch his fingers. The mother almost fainted with joy upon seeing her son alive. She was ecstatic and insisted in seeing the doctor who operated on her son to thank him.

"Is Dr. Rucheng in?" she asked a nurse. "I must thank him for saving my son."

Dr. Rucheng quietly withdrew from the room as he wiped his eyes wet with tears. The strange quiver in his hands was gone and he knew he had passed the most trying test of his life.

Passage was published in Graphic Magazine (Aug. 21, 2000)

© Iris Sheila G. Crisostomo

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