I hated to be the bearer of bad news.
But for the sake of his dear old buddy Simon Marco, Father requested me to send Leo an email.
June 6, 1998, 3:17 p.m.
Subject: Papa Simon
I hope this could reach you in time.
It's hard for me to tell you the sad news about your father. He died this afternoon – a sudden death by stroke, his last and most severe one. He was at work when it happened. Please reply if you can find the time to come home. Tia Gertrudes, Papa and I took care of everything. His body was at the hospital morgue. Tomorrow his body will be brought to the chapel. Take care of yourself. Condolence.
Reply as soon as you read this.
A restrained sadness showed in Leoncios eyes. His quiet demeanor proved it took him a while to process the content of the email. Head bowed down and hands over his face, he slumped over to the sofa inside the living room of his apartment. He didn’t feel the need to read it again.
The sad news was too much for him to bear.
Leo felt mixed emotions. Shedding of tears overwhelmed him. Anger was much easier to express. A surge of hate feeling brewed deep within. A pinched face and frigid features.
Why Papa? I dreamed about you just the other night. Was it a premonition? A form of goodbye? He thought. Why did everybody have to leave me?
Later that day, though still lost in space about my message, he switched on the computer.
June 6, 1998, 5:38 p.m.
Subject: Papa Simon
I was deep in sorrow right now after I read your email. Truth is, I don’t know how to face this unfortunate event. There was no way for me to go home in Frias. The cruise ship was on its way to Ireland. It would be impossible in my situation. By the time the ship was on its way back to Southampton, my father was buried. Thank you for helping Tia Gertrudes. I greatly appreciate that. I am calling the accounting office tomorrow to send the money. I will come home as soon as I can. Take care.
I was glad to help, Leo. I pondered, as I read his response to my email. I went to the chapel at the courtyard beside Parroquia de San Agustin and informed Tia Gertrudes about Leo’s answer. As an elder sister of Simon, she knew about the complicated life story of Leo and his father Simon. As an award-winning salesman, life was good for both of them. But their relationship was not an emotional one, rather, it was like “living with a close friend.”
Father told me, Simon and Leo enjoyed a few good moments together when Leo was younger, and while they lived in Tabora. They shared common interests - swimming, boating, and fishing. As far as Tia Gertrudes was concerned, her little brother Simon was a very happy man, but things changed after the death of Leonila. The father-son relationship was strained by Simon’s bitterness. He buried himself with work and stayed away from Leo for one reason - his son’s face reminded him of his beautiful Leonila. It was not as evident when he was younger, but as he grew older – for Simon, their striking resemblance was so eerie. He could not bear to look at him for so long.
On his recent visit to Frias before his death, Leo noticed, something seemed off about his father. Leo made a slow stride to the kitchen to see Simon.
“Ahem,” he said as he tried to get his father’s attention.
Simon didn’t even flinch. He lowered his gaze and focused on the newspaper. He remained sitting and didn’t raise his head, as if nobody was standing in front of him. Leo dropped his box of cigarettes on the floor, to get his attention, but nothing happened. Lines formed between Leo’s eyebrows, his face frowned. His lips pursed. He opened his mouth but no words came out of it. It had taken him a while before he formed the first words.
“Are you feeling okay, Papa? Do you need anything?” Leo asked.
Simon merely shook his head. He remained cold and distant. Suddenly, he moved the chair back and rose to his feet while he grabbed the newspaper from the table. He disappeared from the living room. He heard the loud sound of his bedroom door as he shut it behind him.
Leo became nonchalant about his father’s non-expressive attitude.
Before Leo left for Southampton, he confessed to Tia Gertrudes about his thoughts of losing him while he was far away. And how he could cope with these challenges alone. Leo felt despair but distance made it even harder for him to express his real emotions. The question is, how to deal with it? The pain of losing someone was something he never experienced. His father sheltered him from pain and suffering.
The body of Simon was brought to a side chapel of the Parroquia de San Agustin for a two-day vigil. Inside the chapel, funeral wreaths, flowers, and candles filled the front area where the body of Simon Marco was lying in repose. Simon, as a distant relative and a very close friend of Papa, we all attended his funeral.
Surprised by the presence of Alegria, she and her library staff brought some flowers and paid their last respects as well. At first, she wasn’t keen on coming to the funeral but I insisted. It was agreed everybody should wear black. I was stunned to see Alegria was the only one who came in white.
“Oh my gosh, I thought I mentioned it to you. So sorry, I forgot,” I remarked the moment I opened the door to let them in.
“You did. It was my choice to wear white. I don’t see death as something to be sad about. I believed everybody goes to heaven. God does not discriminate, you know.” she explained.