I enjoyed reading Ayah’s letter, kept in my wallet to read from time after time when I was on duty. I was happy with my success, which gave me strength and courage to face life with enthusiasm. But, the deluged came without warning.
One day, it was my day off; I went alone to “The David Plaza Hotel” – a three star hotel near our accommodation - to unwind after duty hours. It’s around six in the evening, I entered at the main entrance, directly to the red door with neon lights blinking all over it, as if saying, ”Welcome to the World of Happiness”. The bar was darkish, but I can clearly view the counter with beer dispensers, beer mugs, wine glasses and bottles. I sat at the counter and a Filipina bartender asked me for my order.
“Please give me a mug of Heineken beer and a bowl of salted peanuts.”
“Yes sir, a moment please.”
I felt a tap on my shoulder that triggered my reflexes to stand, and back away from where I was seated. It was Ronnie my assistant manager in the store.
“Sir, Whazzzup man!” while holding me tightly on both shoulders, that I moved backward to the counter; while the Filipina bartender handed my beer staring the scar on my forehead. I said in a low voice, “Ronnie, what are you doing? Please behave.” He only smiled, held me in my arms and seated on his table. He was alone and quite tipsy.
“Sir, I have a secret to divulge to you. This was from a reliable source. Some of the staff at the other branch was gaining a sideline.”
“What do you mean?”
Ronnie Ramirez whispered to me everything in details. He even named names of the staff and handed a small bottle, directly putting into my right hand.
“You know Sir, try this it’ll erase your loneliness. Keep it secret, you know the CID, always watching. I think you knew that the “night-shift-police” are roaming around in hotels during the night.”
I accepted the bottle and put it in my pocket. I went to the bathroom, fingered the bottle and read the label. It was a cough syrup and the precautions stated, “Don’t drive, it can cause drowsiness.” I spotted the bottle, it was half-full. I swallowed bottom's up, wrapped the empty bottle and put in a trash bin. I returned to the table and seated calmly. I consumed my beer totally. Ronnie ordered for another round, then another, and again, until I felt stunned with my whole being, not saying a word. My visions were becoming blurred; everything was abstract in size, moving, swaying, colliding, but small portion of my brain functioning normally. Still, I can hear and feel. I noticed Ronnie, smiling, still talking to me. He paid the bill. We went outside while Ronnie aiding me to walk. We were on the elevator heading upstairs.
“Sir, we’re going up, to the fifth floor at the Twilight Bar.” Ronnie’s joyfully teasing me.
“Twi-light-great-we’re-going-to-to-fly…?” I answered in a slurry tone while aping to fly with my hands on the air. I slumped down at the elevator floor. Ronnie helped me up.
“No, Sir, no, just another round, hang-up and listen to the music. There’s a music band up there. Come, see and feel the rhythm of the night, man! Enjoy!”
“Sir, walk normally…”
“Okay! Okay! Walk-normally…”
We entered at the Twilight Bar, seated near the right hand corner of the stage. Ronnie called the server and ordered two mugs of Forster draught beers with slices of lemon and peanuts. The band played the mellow rhythm song that made me felt tired, down and irritated. It was freaking me out and my energy collides inside of me.
“Ron, request-a-song-of-my-friend-Michael-Jackson…” I commanded Ronnie like a soldier.
Ronnie called the server for a piece of paper and pen. He wrote, “Please play a Michael Jackson song. Thank you!” He gave the piece of paper to the music band on stage. The band played, “Man in the Mirror of Michael Jackson.” After drinking my beer, I bolted on my seat. I was suddenly energized, all over me. I stood up shaking and wobbling heading to the platform. The band continued playing, not bothered by my presence. I danced with all the vigor on the stage. Customers and employees were laughing at me with my horseplay, and even the band. I perspired a lot that my polo shirt and denims were wet. I was a laughing stock at that moment, never realized for any consequences that I might befall.
“Sir, come down, come down the stage!” Ronnie shouted at me. I heard him but I continued my stunts on the stage. I grabbed the microphone and sang together with the music band. After which, “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you!” Bowing on stage like it was the greatest performance in my whole life!
Ronnie came up at the stage, clamped and dragged me outside the Twilight Bar.
“Man, what are you doing? You’re such a jerk! You’re an embarrassing moron! Come! We’ll go home now!”
Ronnie influenced me more than I could expect. We experienced the glorious moments of our lives every night around Dubai after our duty hours and day-offs. Our friends multiplied, so did our party invitations. Ronnie and I spent lavishly for our caprices with no limits. We pretended to be rich in the eyes of our new friends. I disregard my job...my dream...my family...just for the sake of sustaining my “cough syrup” addiction...an addict in the eyes of my staff and my friends. My staff did not bother or afraid to report to the higher management about my addiction. They kept it a secret. I kept it as a secret too, even with my family back home.
Ronnie introduced me to his friend, Ryan Mallari. He got everything under his domain; wheels, money, freedom, food and anything he liked most. He’s the mover of my vices for free, and anything I wanted with my life at the moment in Dubai City.
Ronnie distanced himself but completely with us and I was hooked totally with the “cough syrup overdosed” addiction that my bank savings began to decline. I borrowed money from my friends, loaned from the company and even selling my personal things. I was disoriented; I could not think normally and my health slipped down steadily. I tried so hard to attend with my work, to have a salary at the end of each month to pacify my existence. I was helpless to the point that nobody cares for my well-being. Almost a year, my life took its toll when I received a letter from Ayah.
Eighteenth day of June 1987
How are you? You’re not telling me the truth? Why Marco what happened? Or, you’re out of your mind? You know, I couldn’t bear anymore to look with our children with nothing to eat. We were having our food once a day and I do not know what to do! Anne and Kent asked me about you. I can’t answer them truthfully.
Now, I am in debt here in our place. The mini market where I am getting our food summoned a police for not paying my bills, so I signed an agreement that I have to settle this thing next month.
Marc, please, sends money at once, I am begging for you, please…
Take good care always. Do not forget to pray, He was there waiting for you to knock.
I cried for pity with myself and family, I cried for the bitterness in my heart, I cried for what I’ve done, I cried for my weakness and cried...following with my dreams but, I’ve muddled my chances, asked for forgiveness to the Lord, asking why I am easily influenced...why I am like this...a weakling...My heart bled...Ayah too...our children suffered...I have sinned...a mortal sin...
I telephoned my friend Ryan Mallari, “My friend Ryan, please, please help me now. I want some money for my family back home, just this time friend? “
“Sorry my friend Marco Fernando I don’t have neither.”
I was crying in my room, heard a knock, I dried the tears in my eyes. I composed myself hurriedly, so as nobody knows that I was crying and opened the door.
“Marco, what happened? I heard you crying, what’s the matter?” asked Ronnie while stroking my shoulder.
“Ronnie please helps me...read this...” I gave to him the letter and read it. “How much do you want?” he asked me.
“One thousand American dollars, Ron, can you lend me that much?”
“I didn’t have that much. I have a proposition for you. Did you remember what I told before, that the other branches were making money as their sideline?”
“Yes I remember.”
“Then, starting tomorrow or the next, we have to do it. Schedule me in your shift, so that we’re together. I have to do all the action, okay?”
“Okay,” answering him without hesitation.
I scheduled Ronnie together with my shift every day. The cashier connived with Ronnie to do the secret method of gaining cash out of the store products. After a week, Ronnie came to my room.
“Sir, Marc, I’ve got the one thousand American dollars, give me the address of Ayah Isabel, I’ll be the one to send to her at once. I have a friend in the Remittance Exchange.”
“Okay, here’s the address.” Ronnie wrote in a small piece of paper and left.
“Ron thanks!” I shouted at him while he left, filled with joy. I was glad that Ronnie will send the money. I was excited to know that Ayah Isabel can repay her debt. I trusted Ronnie since we worked together. Ronnie encouraged me again for the cough syrup addiction. We were doing our ploy to support our vices and I continued using the “cough syrup overdosed”.
TO BE CONTINUED###
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