By Jesse Hernandez Liwang
When I landed in Christchurch, in the middle of its coldest winter in years, I realized that I was finally an orphan.
The sky was grey and the air was wet that day. My wife would follow as soon as I got a good job. I was alone for a while, half-a-world away from everyone I knew in the Philippines. The four-hour time difference would hit me soon enough.
“Do you know anyone there?”, “do you have a job waiting for you?” they all asked back home. “No, no.”
It was all a risk. A leap of faith, maybe. An act of desperation, definitely. The New Zealand Immigration Service had done its job well; selling visions of a Garden City, first-world minimum pay, and subsidized health care. “Are you willing to become a baker?” was the half-serious, half-joking question from the visa officer.
I gave up my job for this. I gave up my family and friends for this.
It took two years to get my work visa. Then right after I had booked my one-way ticket and firmed up my plans, my father died.
My father sunk into unconsciousness one day and everything went downhill from there. He was in the intensive care unit for weeks. Was I able to tell him about New Zealand? I can’t remember now. I probably did. I hope I did. What else was there to talk about when I visited him on those rare weekends?
He had been bedridden for more than a year after hip replacement surgery. We had all hoped he would get better and stronger. “All he needs is physical therapy,” said the specialist doctors. But he didn’t and he grew thinner and weaker and more bedridden each month.
In the last months before his death he began to mumble his words. We didn’t know then that he was probably having minor strokes. No one can tell for sure. I was worried about how I would understand him when I called long distance from New Zealand.
I could see how he was when my siblings in the USA called him. He mumbled and listened while they talked. I would be like that. Maybe I could send a video instead, which he could play on a DVD player. I could give him my DVD player, which I have to leave anyway.
In the Christchurch International Airport it hit me: no father to call, no one to send my video to. No one told me about this. A new life awaited me in a shuttle to the city and I had no time to mourn.