Briones: Living in the third world

THERE are times when the temptation to wallow in self-pity is very strong, especially when faced with problems that are beyond your control.

You start to believe that you’ve been dealt a bad hand. Until, that is, reality bitch-slaps you with a vengeance.

When living in a third world country, there are people who are bound to have it worse than you do.

So many, many more.

I had this eureka moment while I was on my way to the city last Thursday.

I was inside a cab that had seen better days with a fly as a companion in the back. The FM radio was on.

The driver was yelling over ‘80s music that most local stations like to play, fixating on what happened to a family in Barangay Marigbago, Lapu-Lapu City last Tuesday night.

He rambled about a 12-year-old girl, who failed to save her three-year-old sister from a fiery death.

I was familiar with the tragedy that befell the Castillano family, having edited the story for the Thursday issue of SunStar Cebu.

So I knew that Jeraldine was upstairs sleeping with her six siblings and their grandmother when they were woken by flames.

Jeraldine, who recently graduated from elementary school, grabbed her four-month-old sister Mary Girl and handed her to their grandmother who was waiting at the head of the stairs.

Her 11-year-old brother Jeffrey went down first while Jeraldine ushered their other siblings to follow him.

Flames had almost engulfed the second floor of the Castillano residence. The heat was so intense it forced Jeraldine to throw two-year-old Junril downstairs.

Jeraldine was trying to reach for Mary Julian’s outstretched hands when she lost her balance.

By the time she got back on her feet, it was too late.

“Naglisod na ko og saka (sa hagdanan) kay dako na kaayo ang kayo (I could not go back for Mary Julian because of the flames),” Jeraldine said.

Jeraldine, seven-year-old Mary Jeraline, four-year-old Dante Jr. and Junril suffered burns in different parts of their bodies. Jeffrey and Mary Girl escaped unscathed.

There were conflicting reports as to the whereabouts of the father, Dante Sr.

According to one version, he helped the children get out of the burning house. Another said that he was not home.

Either way, Dante Sr. lost a daughter after losing their mother last January a week after she gave birth to their youngest child.

I could barely make out what the driver was saying over Air Supply’s “Now and Forever,” but I kept thinking about a detail I deleted from the story.

Dante Sr. was crying while he rummaged through their damaged belongings for Mary Julian’s birth certificate so her burial could be processed.

I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was embarrassed to “see” Dante Sr. at his most vulnerable. Or maybe, like most people who read the story, I was just grief-stricken by his losses.

Grief, though, was farthest from my mind while the driver went on and on about the tragedy.
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