The Patron

Photo by Stefan Munder/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.
Photo by Stefan Munder/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

“I can’t wait to see the rest of our family again,” Dodi’s father-in-law Jose called through the open door. Dodi walked into the room, luggage in one hand and his baby daughter in the other, kissing and hugging her goodbye. Dodi’s wife followed behind with more bags piled in her arms. Dodi and Jose were on their way to the Philippines to celebrate Jose’s birthday.

Dodi placed his daughter on the ground, where she clung to his fingers. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll be home before you know it. It’ll be just like all the other times.” He gave his daughter one last kiss, hugged his wife and whispered “I’ll see you soon.” Dodi and Jose rushed to the car. They couldn’t afford to miss their flight from JFK International.

It was a cold and dark February evening and the smell of gasoline greeted them at the airport. They arrived with more time than they figured, and Dodi almost felt guilty because he could have spent this extra time with his wife and daughter.

After collecting their items they went to the duty free shops to spend some of their extra time. Thinking of his family members down in the Philippines, Dodi passed the books, magazines, and “I heart New York” t-shirts and made a beeline for chocolates, cigarettes, and drinks — items he knew would be too expensive, always too much for his family to afford.

Dodi spent the next 18 hours watching inflight movies, sleeping, and eating. The morning greeted him with stale air and an inflight breakfast of eggs, sausage, and a small piece of toast. As he took a small sip of his water, he finally saw it. Tall buildings towered over the city and he swelled with a sense of pride as he stared at the approaching islands. Tiny specks in the ocean grew bigger with each second, like many inflating balloons. This was where Dodi was going to land: Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The Manila Dodi saw from the airplane was alien to him. When he left for America nearly a decade ago, the city was all large plots of open green land and now it looked paved with cold gray cement. He heard that security would be different, too. There were rumors that bag checkers would put bullets into suitcases of travelers if they weren’t bribed. The rumors travelled all the way to America, where Dodi had even seen a story about it on CNN. Just to be safe, when Dodi arrived at the immigration desk, he handed the clerk ten American dollars.

When Dodi and Jose passed through the airport doors into the hot Philippines air, they found eight joyous relatives awaiting their arrival. Everyone embraced and exchanged, hellos as they walked to the family’s small jeep.

“Everything seems so new. Look at all these huge buildings,” Dodi commented. “Is the economy doing any better now?”

With a sarcastic shrug Dodi’s cousin said, “It’s supposed to be better, but people are still not making a lot of money.”

“It’s been almost a decade since I left and yet there is not enough income. Awful,” Dodi thought. Their jeep pulled away from the airport and into the surging traffic. Buses, cars, and mopeds were everywhere, honking their way through the streets and swerving to get ahead of the rest. Dodi had almost forgotten how dangerous traversing the streets was in the Philippines. His eyes drooped and he emitted several high pitched yawns. But his relatives kept the conversation going. They asked him many questions about his home on Long Island. They joked with Jose how it felt being a year older, and then the conversation turned to the subject of the many wallet thieves skulking around Manila. Twenty minutes later, their car turned onto a familiar street. Dodi was about to pass out when his aunt shook his arm and yelled, “Wake up!”

When they pulled into the driveway of his aunt’s small house, everyone squeezed out of the jeep like clowns at a circus. Dodi and Jose were heading to their rooms to unpack their belongings when they heard a knock on the front door. Almost swinging off its hinges, the door brought in two more of Dodi’s relatives who heard Dodi was in town, so they rushed over to see him. The sun was dimming as their group crowded around the kitchen table, delighted to hear their long-lost family member’s stomach growling.

“What’s for dinner?” asked a cousin.

“The birthday boy decides,” Dodi’s aunt said.

“Chicken sounds good,” said Jose. “We can get take out at that chicken joint we passed while driving.” The room went silent. Their heads drooped down as if they were attending a funeral.

Dodi knew they couldn’t afford it, so he added, “I’ll treat.” All of a sudden the room was filled with smiling faces. 

The drive there was silent as the group imagined the crunchy skin of the chicken and the juicy meat underneath. When they arrived at what looked like the Philippine’s version of KFC, the sky was already growing dark, which the dim lights inside did little to brighten. “At least,” Dodi thought, “the place is relatively clean.”

“How many do you think we need?” asked Dodi.

“Let’s see,” said Jose. “A bucket could feed something like two and a half people, so two to three buckets should be good for everyone.” The receipt came to be about forty dollars in U.S. currency. The smell of the chicken was divine. Driving home, the entire car smelled as if it had been rolled in flour and grease and had been fried to a golden perfection. Pulling up to the house, all the lights were off. Dodi stepped out of the jeep and grabbed two of the buckets. “Seems like no one’s home. That’s odd,” his aunt said.

Opening the door, Dodi found that his relatives had multiplied from six to 28, all anticipating their own piece of chicken. Dodi looked on with dread. He was excited to see everyone, but he cringed at the fact that now there wasn’t enough food to go around. After rationing the three buckets of chicken, everyone was pleased with the snack, but Dodi wanted to make sure everyone had at least one filling meal. He felt the same kind of guilt he had suffered at the airport. “It’s the least I can do while visiting,” he thought.

He stood up, as if making an announcement and shouted, “Who wants Chinese?”

The buffet staff had to combine tables to fit all 28 people. Each person ate their fill and they all beamed at each other, especially at Dodi. At the corners of the restaurant, managers and waiters alike stood in quiet suspicion of the large party, making sure that they would pay their 3,000 peso bill. After feasting, everyone was grateful for the dinner but Dodi became reserved and deep in thought.

Jose pulled him to the side. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes and no,” Dodi replied. “I’m happy we are here and we are having a good time, but I feel like I need to do something more for them.”

Dodi stared at his family members, who were filled with both glee and a ton of chicken lo-mein. He thought for a moment before his head perked up. “That’s it!” he said to himself. “I’ll take them to the SM Center Mall. Maybe they’ll like that.” After everyone was done eating, Dodi told them about his plan.

Everyone seemed shocked. “Dodi you have done enough already — you don’t have to,” his aunt said.

“No, I want to,” Dodi replied. That night Dodi did not sleep well. He missed his wife and children. He felt it was unfair that he had more opportunities than his family because of where he lived. He knew his family had come because they heard their wealthy American family member was visiting, but he didn’t blame them. He knew that if he could afford do something special for them, then he had a responsibility to do so.

The next morning everyone got into the jeep and drove to the mall. Dodi reminded everyone, “You can buy whatever you want, but it can be only one thing. Choose wisely.” With that, a parade of people burst through the doors of the mall to hunt for the perfect item. The mall was huge, one of the largest in Manila; the hallways were as endless as Manila’s streets. Dodi noticed there was a lot of U.S. merchandise for sale. Each relative chose something they wanted; some got brand name pants, others – shoes, the kids – toys. Leaving the mall with their new treasures in tow, each relative showed their gratitude to Dodi for his kindness. They hugged him tightly, each in turn, either shaking his hand or kissing him on the cheek.

Dodi’s aunt and cousin kept him on the front porch when they returned. They wanted to formally thank him for everything he had done.

“Why did you do that?” said his aunt.

“Because I wanted to. It just felt right. After leaving for the United States, it feels good to do something for you guys back here.”

“Do you like it there?”

Dodi felt a surge of pride as he looked back on all he had been through to get where he was now. Emigrating to the U.S. to become a nurse, working as a shopping cart retriever as he got his degree, then becoming a CA at Stony Brook University and finally getting his certificate as a full-fledged nurse. It took some time, but it was all worth it for Dodi. He only wished that all his family could have come and settled with him on Long Island, but he knew, and felt guilty, that would be impossible.

“Yes,” he said. “I like all of it.”

The next morning Dodi said his goodbyes to his family. The plane homeward took off on a humid, 80-degree afternoon and landed at night with a shock of chilling March air.

Dodi and Jose walked through to the pick-up area, where Dodi’s wife and eldest child were waiting for them. When Dodi’s daughter saw him, her face lit up with excitement. He took her in his arms and she cried and squeezed her dad. She had never cried when he returned from the Philippines before. It was as if she knew this trip had been something different, special.

“How was the family?” asked his wife.

“I actually treated them to a shopping spree yesterday,” he said, and when he saw his wife’s face pull into a grimace Dodi chuckled. “But I didn’t spend too much.” 

Dodi’s daughter had a confused look on her face that turned to excited recognition when she asked, “So you were like the Santa Claus of the Philippines?”

Dodi thought for a moment. “Yes, honey,” he said, laughing. “I guess I was.”

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