SEVERAL years ago, my father was recruited for work at a palm plantation somewhere in Malaysia, which he reluctantly considered due to pressing economic necessity.
Since they were there without proper documents (backdoor), they were constantly on the lookout for Malaysian authorities for if they were arrested and could not present the necessary papers, and worse still they could not express themselves in the Malaysian dialect, they would be deported.
In his two-year stint there, he had seen many Filipinos who were imprisoned, shaved and sent home penniless after they were arrested by Malaysian policemen.
Immediately after leaving Zamboanga City, they had to act like fugitives. They boarded a ‘kumpit’ (a small motorized banca) and my father experienced his first stab of fear as they all jumped into the water when the revolving lights of the Malaysian coast guard was trained on them. They all held onto the sides of the ‘kumpit’, routinely submerging their heads completely under water when the lights hit them and only resurfacing afterwards. Only the motorboat operator was seen by the coast guards.
They docked at a secret wharf in Malaysia at dawn, and right from the ‘kumpit’, they made a mad dash towards a truck which was hidden in the bushes, its top decorated with thick branches and leaves of trees as a camouflage, that transported them to their shelter.
My father lived in a bunkhouse in the middle of the palm plantation with other companions from Davao City and neighboring provinces. They would work under the palm tress as silently as they could and hide under the bushes when they hear the sirens of police cars passing by, going out only after they are sure of safety.
One noontime, they had just finished their lunch and were relaxing a little before going back to work when Ondoy, the ‘clown’ in their group who had stayed in Malaysia for quite some time already saw a man approaching the bunkhouse.
He peered at the man for a few seconds then without warning, leaped towards the door and ran away as though he was chased by demons.
Alarmed, everyone followed suit, scampering in all directions. Others leaped over the low windows and sought hiding places under the thick bushes nearby. The bunkhouse was empty and silent in a jiffy.
My father, who was new to the routine, wasn’t able to run far because his foot got tangled in the root of an old tree jutting from the ground. He only managed to hide behind a big water drum very near the bunkhouse. He waited what would happen next, his heart hammering so loud that he was afraid the man would hear it.
Nervously, he peered from his hiding place and saw the man knock at the door. When no one answered, the man looked around and went around the bunkhouse, peering at the windows but left afterwards when he saw no one was about.
Everyone emerged from his hiding place, expelling huge breaths of relief that the man was not a spy from the government and that there were no policemen who came to arrest them.
Suddenly, Ondoy, who was the last to emerge from his hiding place started to laugh, and very soon he was helplessly rolling on the floor holding his tummy while his companions just stared at him as though he’d gone mad.
When he’d finally stopped laughing, he explained that the man was a Pakistani trader whom he owed several ringgits (Malaysian currency) for a set of mats and blankets, and since he didn’t have the money or the desire to pay for it, he fled.