Around 15 years ago, my workmate died. His death created a path for my future.
I was fresh off uni, starting my promising job as a TV reporter in a new local TV station set up by one of the biggest broadcasting companies in the Philippines. The pioneering staff had a bright future, because we were the first ones in.
While we were hiring, my boss asked me to help search through the piles of CVs for our next office accountant. His CV popped out. His name was Earl. He had good grades and good job experience even though he’s only three years older than me.
It was a good hire. His personality clicked with everyone in the office, the seventh person in our small station. Aside from being clever and polite, Earl was funny, kind, efficient and good looking. Basically, an all around good guy. Even our mother office commented on how organised our paperwork was.
He was also quite the older brother. Every payday, he’d make sure he brought something for his parents and younger siblings, and helped pay for bills.
The day before he died was payday. Like every other payday, we all sat down outside the office, buying tempura on sticks from the man peddling street food. He went home early instead of joining the rest of us in the city, because he wanted to play basketball with his younger brother and buy dinner for the family.
The next morning, I was woken up quite early by a phone call from the office. This was out of the ordinary because I never get a call from the office. My schedule was different from everyone else (work hours till midnight or dawn) so they always let me sleep in. A frantic workmate told me Earl was dead. My still sleepy mind couldn’t understand what she was saying.
Dead? How could that be? We just had tempura with him the day before.
Earl died in his sleep. Filipinos call it “bangunguot” – something that’s linked to acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis. He was 24.
His brother, who was sleeping next to him, couldn’t wake him up in the morning. For a long time, he blamed himself thinking he could have done something to help Earl.
Days after he died, the whole office still couldn’t process it. His aunt, who was working in Singapore as a domestic helper, came home for the funeral. We went to their house every day during his wake. Filipino wakes sometimes last for a week. We got to know his family.
You know how when someone dies and people just talk about how good the person was, even thought sometimes they weren’t? Well, we were only telling the truth about Earl. He was a good person.
After his funeral, his aunt went back to Singapore to work. We all kept in touch, bound forever by Earl.
Several months after Earl’s death, my father sent me an ad on the paper about a full scholarship in Singapore for a masters degree in communication. I sent my application through and waited for a reply. The university sent me an email saying they couldn’t accept my application fee because it was in US dollars. They could only accept Singapore dollars (I mean, seriously, it’s a call for international application, they should be more flexible).
During that time, my family had no credit cards (we were always too poor to get one) and getting Singapore dollars meant having to go to Manila just to exchange money.
A trip to Manila was very expensive then.
Basically, I was going to miss out on a scholarship because I couldn’t pay the $12 fee.
Then I thought of Earl’s aunt. I contacted her, asked her for this huge favour. She was more than happy to pay the $12 fee. And she did.
I got the scholarship.
The first time I arrived there, she was at the airport to be my guide. She found me a place to live. She taught me where to go and how to travel around the country. She let me borrow money because the only pocket money we could afford was $60 and my first stipend was a month away.
Her contract was finishing then and she was leaving Singapore. But before she left, we spent almost every weekend together.
I couldn’t help but think how Earl’s death led to that part of my life journey. I would have preferred he didn’t die though. His aunt would’ve still helped me. She is that kind of a woman. But Earl’s death brought us closer together.
It is strange how paths cross in mysterious ways.