For my little brother/Homecoming

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For my little brother by Enoch Leung
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I watched as the city flew past me through the rolled-down window of the car. It was pretty rare for me to have a car ride, even though I saw cars on the road all the time. Gloria was behind the wheel, navigating the crowded streets with ease, as if she'd lived here her entire life. She caught a glimpse of me in the rear-view mirror. "Your brother is very fortunate to have you," she said.

I could only nod as I brought up a hand to wipe away a few tears.

"I know you cannot wait to see your brother, and I'm sure he misses you dearly too." Her smile waned slightly. "I do remember what your mother said about your unfortunate older brother, who I hear also left home."

"She... she never talked to him again," I said in a quavering voice.

"Your mother was, understandably, very angry at him. She couldn't accept the fact that her eldest son had become a drug dealer." She paused as she weaved the vehicle through a narrow, traffic-congested intersection. "But she did tell me that he comes home on occasion."

My mind raced back to the discussion I had with Ricky. Maybe he's trying to remember all the good times, the life that he once had and lost. You should talk to him, let him know that you're still there for him, just like you're there for Evan. It's not too late.

It's not too late... It's not too late...

"It's not too late," I said out loud.


I straightened up. "It's not too late for him to come home. Even though I never really knew him and loved him like I did Evan... he's still part of my family. He's still my older brother. And to my mother, he's still her eldest son." I paused briefly to take a breath. "I want to talk to him, form that bond we didn't have in the past. I know he's still grieving over my father's departure, but... he's also my brother. He's still my brother. I'm still there for him."

She was quiet. I could see her eyes beginning to water up in the mirror. A few tears escaped her grasp and slid down her face.

"I want my father to come home," I said suddenly. "I want my older brother and my father to come back. I don't care about what they did or what my mother thinks about them. They're still a part of my family. I... We, we were one happy family. It didn't matter that we were living in a cramped slum having to pick from a garbage dump and eat pagpag. We were together, and we had love for each other, for our friends and for our neighbours. It was enough. I wouldn't have swapped places with the King of Arabia if I had my family."

We rode along in silence for several minutes. I knew my words had sunk deep inside the car, and they kept bouncing around in my head. I was almost dazed, as if I had surprised myself with my own soliloquy. Finally, she said, "You are very, very thoughtful, Garrett. I wish I knew more people like you."

Another round of silence, this one lasting a bit longer than the one before. "So what do you plan on doing once you get home?" she asked, breaking it.

I could go on and on about the possibilities. Sleep in a place that wasn't packed with eighty boys. Eat food that wasn't prison food. Be able to roam about freely without being restricted by bars and bullies. But all I could say was: "I just want to see my brother again."

She smiled. "That's it?"

I almost grinned. "I could die happy after that. Just want to see him again, tell him that I still love him even after all I've done."

"You mentioned love," she said. "What do you think love is?"

"Love is—" I paused. Love was many things. Love was patient and kind. Love was enduring and resilient. Love never bears any grudges or desires any hatred. Love puts others over self. Love... is what God is all about. God is a God of love.

"Love — true love — is when we are willing to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. True love never wanes or gives up, even in the worst of circumstances. True love doesn't keep any records of wrongdoing, and it doesn't seek to punish out of self-delight. Love is—" Another pause. "—the very core of what God is."

I looked at the rear-view mirror. She had a look of surprise and amazement on her face, although still functional enough to continue driving. "That was... That was beautiful, Garrett," she said simply. "You know love better than most adults think they do."

She straightened up in her seat. "A year ago I was in Cebu City, also documenting poverty and the organizations out there that were helping to combat it. Around six in the morning, I came across a group of four boys living on the street, all of them orphans with no family or siblings. Yet the way they slept together touched me, and when they woke up, they were exceptionally close to each other. I followed them for a few hours, bought them some food, and told them that I cared about them and how I admired their resilience and their love for one another. One of them — the oldest of the four, I supposed — said, 'I would rather have nothing and be with my friends — whom I consider brothers — than to have everything and be alone.' I was moved at how they were able to find such close, loving bonds even when everyone else on the street ignored them on a daily basis." She wiped away another tear. "You are right, Garrett. Love is the very core of God's nature. And it is also true that God can be seen even in the darkest parts of the world."

The car was beginning to slow down. I could see the familiar streets of the neighbourhood near where I lived. "Could you drop me off at the mountain?" I said suddenly. "My brother should still be scavenging there right now. I want to check."

She nodded. "Of course, Garrett." She didn't make any comment about how I wanted to see my brother first and not my mother.

I started because of him. And I'll finish this with him. I love him, I really do.

The car crawled to a bumpy stop. This was as far as she could go in her humble, little car, but I was fine with that. I wasn't expecting a four-wheel drive from her. I removed my seat belt, opened the door, and said, "Thank you Gloria."

As I got out of the car, she rolled down her window. "Before you go, Garrett," she said, "I want to give you something." She reached into her pockets and pulled out a small business card. It had her face, name, and phone number on it. "If you need anything, feel free to call me. I am always happy to speak with you."

I smiled. "Thanks again." Suddenly, a new thought popped up into my mind. "Will we ever see each other again?"

"God permitting, yes," she said. "I work in different parts of the city, so I might not be here as often as you'd like, but I'll remember you and look for you when I do return." She rubbed her eyes — goodness, how much emotion a child could stir up in an adult! "I work with many NGOs around here, so I don't generally stick to one place for long, but I won't forget you. I won't forget anything you've said. I definitely will not forget about what you did for your brother."

"For my little brother," I responded.

"Yes... for your little brother. Your bond is unmatchable. I pray that it will remain strong for years to come."

I gave her a final wave, a tearful goodbye, before she turned the car around and drove away. As she did so, I could see her waving goodbye to me from the side-view mirror.

God bless her; she's so selfless and kind. Quite unlike many of the people I met on the streets.

I turned back towards the mountain. I still couldn't believe I was home... home to the grim reality of the place we lived in, sure, but still home nonetheless. From the day I ran from home and looted a street stall, to the night I spent on my own sleeping on the streets, to the day I met Dodger and made one hundred pesos within a matter of seconds, to the night I joined the Diablo Wingz and met Marcos and Lewis, to the day I learned about Julio's gang and how we were now at odds with each other, to the night where we tried to rob that jewellery store and where I got arrested, to the day Goliath punched me in the gut, to the night God appeared before me, to the day I met Ricky... God sure has led me through a lot of strange situations, but I made it through, and it all worked out okay. Now I was home after all these months, and I'd be lying through my teeth to say I'm not elated. My life was not over, though; I still had a long life ahead of me. And where will God take me next?

But first, my brother. My little brother.

I ran up the slopes as fast as I could. My brother! My brother! I'm coming for you! I will see you again! I will keep my promise to you!

I love you, Evan!

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