Suddenly, there is a void that follows me around. I couldn’t even say it is a vast expanse of emptiness, like an orb floating within the reaches of my existence.
The series of events that transpired between June 18, 2011, approximately 3:00am and winded up to a full crescendo at 11:30pm on that same day, have shattered, destroyed and maligned the very sensitivity of the bond among friends, families and the public.
What could I say? What could have I done? Does thinking up scenarios of arriving home to our small apartment would have made any difference? Had I decided to go home early, could I have saved my friend’s life? Had I been more attentive earlier in the day, could I have warned Mhalou that I don’t feel good about her newfound friend? Or, if any of my co-habitants have been there, would Mhalou still be among the living? And realizing that, even if I was there, or the either Dotty and Amy were there, we would all have been murdered in cold blood. It’s THAT heavy on my heart. The guilt, the anger, the pain, all composing that same sphere of void that hangs heavy now on my weary soul, if people do have souls.
The experience leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like copper shavings drawing blood on the insides of my mouth. It was so surreal, so vivid, yet so muddled, it has taken too long to end and was fast enough to jog the memory. The whole time I was running from the gate of Coronado Heights to the door of our apartment, stumbling, falling hard on my face before reaching our shared habitat, I was in a haze of confusion. All the people around, some I know, some I don’t, and some have the familiarity of a dread most would try to avoid. Several times I tried to walk past the the cordon of police and tanods, but only at the last instance of identifying the body of Mhalou Dominguez Laquindanum, did I get the full slap in the face and the blood curdling truth that my friend is dead, tied up with electrical cords on hands and feet, blood pooling under, while her head was obscured by the blanket that was used to gag her and was wound tightly around her neck, probably to suppress her cries for help, if she tried. I just had to go down and gather my wits. The cops were polite enough, SOCO however hindered by the smallness of the place and the apparent contamination of the crime scene, proved to be efficient and thorough. I was still staring at a blank wall, trying to look for reasons why it happened.
Dotty was shaking. Deng was shaking. Russel was shaking. I’m numb from the waist up. The glaring lights from cameras made it even more alien. More than twenty stab wounds. Mhalou was dead more than 5 hours. Nobody heard anything.
Mamu is gone. Her carefree laughter will not be heard again. Our kitchen stories over pasta and coffee will have no more sequels. I lost a dear friend.
A couple of laptops. Her Samsung cellphone. Some cash.
The young, brazen killers were served with barbeque, spaghetti and Mamu’s own recipe of adobo. Soda. And they had a feast with the welcome food. The aftermath should have been a DVD marathon.
What happened instead was something out of the novels and crime shows on tv we both loved, but only more gruesome and painfully blatant. Four of them murdered Mhalou. They probably took turns stabbing her using our own kitchen knife that broke, leaving the blade embedded on her dying body.
And the day wore on, with us the living, those she left behind wondering what actually happened. Our minds broken like glass jars in a bonfire, melting, exploding, turning to wisps of flame. We, Dotty, Deng and I, shared the heavy load giving statements to the police, darkening our fingers and palms with blotter ink, repeating over and over to a tired, bewildered investigator all that we know so that we can all go home and rest.
But rest comes later. Coming back to the apartment was heavy on our feet. Took me three cigarette sticks to finally go up to the room and clean all the blood where Mamu lay dead.
And I gave.
All the pain. All the anger. All the guilt of not having been there.
I cried while wiping the blood with rags. I sobbed lifting the rubber mat that stuck to the floor from the blood that dried. My whole world was spinning in a tornado of memories and sadness and fear. it seemed like an eternity.
And the day wore on.
And the night. With candles lighted on the foot of the stairs.
I chose to stay.
Amy cannot take it. Dotty is still shaking. Deng went home to Nanay Norma.
And I stayed.
Today, Mamu’s remains will be cremated. She will be leaving this Earth in a blaze. She would have been delighted to know that. She’s a proud woman. A proud mother. A single mom who spoke her mind, never really conformed readily to the norms, and relished the freedom of deciding for herself, doing things herself, and helped anyone who asked for it. A woman who loved books, movies, and the simple things like Angry Birds. She woul shriek and laugh at things that made her happy. Mamu lived for her children. She worked like a horse. Asthma cannot stop her. But four creatures did.
And all she ever wanted was to be happy.
I say goodbye to a friend. A confidant. Someone who would have kept life interesting.