BEtween friends: Tribute to a friend PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 09 March 2015 14:03

Friendships come and go. Some last only as short as the hi, hello, goodbye we utter in response to some introduction made by a third party. Other friendships last a week, a month, a year and then end as if it never happened at all.  These friendships are readily forgotten for lack of reasons to last.  When next you chance to see them downtown, you don’t even remember the occasion, much less the name.

While most friendships go by that road, there are others that prove to be more memorable and enduring.

A long time friend was buried last week. She was a co-teacher I met oh so many years ago when I was a college student and she was new in the teaching profession.

After teaching in private schools for more than fifteen years I transferred to a government school, upon the advice of friends, where she, serendipitously, had already been teaching for some time.

We faced each other in the faculty room and because our tables were a whispering distance we found a lot of things to talk about during our free periods even if we differed in the disciplines we taught.  I taught English grammar and literature.  She taught Pilipino.

Unmarried with no close relatives in Zamboanga she made up for the lack by having a lot of friends.  I could not remember having known or heard of anyone in school disliking her for one reason or another.

Helen Gutierrez was a cheerful and generous person.  She was generous with her time.  She would lend a hand to anyone who needed help.  She was generous also with her resources. At Christmas she gave away gifts going around the houses of friends on Christmas Eve on a contracted tricycle.  Our friendship reached a point where I would often put a little paper bag on her table containing a sandwich, a big guava or several pieces of boiled or fried and sugared bananas.  Helen reveled in these like a little girl, more the thought than the food itself and I enjoyed seeing how happy she was with the little I could share.

One day, three months close to her retirement, I noticed a beautiful gold ring with sapphires on her finger.  I jokingly suggested I borrow it.  Without any second thought, she gave it and insisted I wear it.  I wore it proudly.

That weekend when I tried to return it she assured me there was no hurry to return it.  One day on her last week before retirement she called me to a corner and in soft tones told me I could keep the ring as a remembrance of our friendship. I couldn’t believe my ears.  I told her others might think I cheated her out of it especially when she had gone and I kept wearing it. To prevent that she told some of our friends that she was giving the ring to me.

Her retirement kept us out of touch. I suppose she had retreated to the quiet and humdrum life of the retiree, while I kept on with the business of surviving the odds until my retirement too, six years ago.  Two years later I left for Cambodia upon an invitation to teach at Norton University and travelled the rest of South East Asia on the side.  After two years, I came back.  Last year, some friends told me Helen was sick. I visited her soon as I could.  She was frail, shrivelled and bedridden because of diabetes.  She couldn’t even recognize me. I showed her the ring on my finger.  She pretended to understand but her eyes were blank.  I stopped trying.  It was all I could do to keep my tears back.  Her condition haunted me for many weeks. I prayed for a miracle that did not happen.

Helen was buried last week.  But the 22k gold ring is still on my finger and will always remind me of her.  Thank you, Helen, for having allowed me to be a part of your memorable and enduring friendship.