My heart was thumping hard when I heard the roaring of plane engines. We had been at the airbase for only a few hours, waiting for our turn to bring home some evacuees. Suddenly, everyone who had been glued to the TV earlier watching Pacquiao win was on his feet going to his assigned post. Servicemen, marshalls, social workers, nuns, medics, and volunteers walked past me. It was as if a bell had been rung and they'd been recharged for their afternoon to graveyard shift. The energy was simply contagious.
Back in our tent, a lady started calling off from lists handed over to her. "Four adults, with 6 bags. Navohtass! I can see 34, 34, 34... anything lower? 28...17... I see 12! Going, going, you are the winnerrr!" she barked. A man stood proud and handed over his number as he was escorted by a volunteer marshall to meet his passengers. This went on for hours as we waited happily, clapping for those who "won". We had 97 scribbled on our little piece of paper. Others had been waiting since early morning. I thought to myself it must be like this when St. Peter opens heaven's gates. No one complains because everyone knows he will get his chance to enter. Eventually.
Our turn finally came. We were assigned a lady from Guiuan. She had a ten year old boy and a little girl around 4 years old. We waited a bit more as she was cleared by doctors. Her children were silent in the car but she was warm and chatty, breaking into Waray from time to time which my husband partly understood. We didn't bring them far as they had planned on going back to Guiuan where her husband and older son remained. We were told their relatives in Manila could not take them in, so they now had to be sheltered temporarily in the "Tent City". As they got down, I handed over a hygiene pack I had hastily prepared and told the social worker to call me in case they needed anything else. I made a mental note to check on their status the following week.
We decided to head back to the base and wait again. By nightfall, it started to rain. After dinner, we found ourselves with another lady from Guiuan and her two year old girl. This mother was pregnant and was due to give birth by December. She said she thought she would give birth while waiting for three days to ride a plane to Manila. We brought them to Naic, Cavite in an area still under development. Her husband was a construction worker there. At first, I was cheerful despite the steady drizzle. The roads were clear and well lit. Her daughter finally fell asleep on a towel I had given them so I decided to keep silent as I didn't want to wake her. As we went farther down and made a left into the village she had directed us to go to, the road started to wind. It was dark and surrounded by cogon grass on both sides. Trying to shake off fear, I kept praying for our angels to go before us. After what seemed like an endless stretch of road, we finally saw silhouettes of some men waiting near their barracks.
As soon as our car stopped, one of the men came rushing to open the door. I was moved by how this man, who must've been used to carrying cement bags, gingerly lifted his sleeping little girl from the back seat. She did not stir. It had been a long journey for her and she was finally home, safe in her father's arms. I opened the other door to help the young mother out as my husband brought out their bags from the back of the car. Some men helped him and profusely thanked us. I couldn't see any of their faces in the dark and I was glad they couldn't see that tears had welled up in my eyes. I squeezed our lady passenger's hand as I said goodbye and promised to pray for her safe delivery.
My husband and I were silent in the car as we drove home. It was still dark but I was no longer afraid. There were no more plane engines roaring but I could feel something stirring inside me. Mother and child, mother and child ... the words kept running in my head. I closed my eyes as I thought about what our Mother and Child must have gone through that first Christmas. And then I looked ahead and saw light...