It finally arrived. The day I leave my kids once again. Last night seemed like a million miles away as I opened my eyes, secretly hoping it was earlier than I thought so I could lay and listen to the kids breathing just a while longer. It was 5.55am, almost time to disturb the sleeping angels. I lay for 10mins more, thinking of all the ways I might say goodbye that wouldn't make me cry. I wanted to be strong today, and be positive for the kids... Some of them had been dreading this day all week, I could see it on their faces.
I turned over an Resthor opened his eyes, 'time to get up' I whispered, but he didn't move. His eyes told me what he was thinking though. Out of all the kids, Resthor is one who takes my absence personally. He's been victimised a lot as a kid, so feels that my leaving is a reflection on him, despite telling him otherwise. I kiss him on the forehead as I drag myself out of bed. There is a lot to do today before I leave, and I need to make sure I have packed everything I am taking. As often happens, i have gifted many of my things to the kids: a torch to Randy, a baseball cap to Roz, scarf to Resthor, cotton buds, batteries, lights, goggles, snorkel, after-sun lotion, deep-heat. These things are dispensable, and lighten my load when given away, although the kids had gifted me with many tokens of love: sweat- towels, hankies, teddies, stones, letters, pendants, necklaces, rings...
As the boys begin to stir, and perform the morning tasks in what seems like slow-motion, I end up deep in thought on my bed, so much so that when the bell rings for breakfast it takes me a while to get going, and I am last into the Payag bar the teachers.
Today's breakfast seems tasteless, so instead of having seconds, I run back to the dorm to grab my charged camera and change my clothes ready for the group photo that is to happen after breakfast.
After a while Erwin calls me, and I head out to the rotunda where the kids are heading. There is a ladder set up so I place my camera on top and set up the self-timer. I encourage a smile from the kids and press go. I'm in place just before the first take, and manage to rearrange myself for the second one. I run back to check all is well and signal a good picture, and we disperse, to get ready for school. I say goodbye to Emily and Erwin, who are headed off for college, and trundle back to the boys dorm, with two small hands linked into mine.
As the boys shower and dress, and i start to arrange my stuff into bags, Resthor takes up a seat on his bed and asks why I can't stay any longer. I tell him that its very expensive and that I need to get back to my life in England, though at this moment, I'm not even sure I've convinced myself of this truth. After a while he ponders that if I hadn't have taken them all to Sunburst on Sunday, I could have stayed longer. I sit down next to him and put my arm round his shoulders. After a moment of silence I say, 'No matter how long I stay, I'm going to have to go home sometime. And I'll be back next-year. It'll go quicker than you think.' His eyes remain grey and sad, and I don't blame him, my voice probably wasn't that convincing. There is something about him; and about many of these children; that connects us, like two spirits that dance when they are together. I love him like a brother, and I hate that I am the cause of his sadness. Sometimes I wonder that if I had never come here at all, he would never miss me, but the outcome of that would be that my life is incomplete.
At this precise moment I am torn, between what I want to do and what I have to do. I fight back tears as I give him a reassuring squeeze and continue packing my things. He stays for a while, watching me, and then he is called to shower, and he leaves.
I finish packing my stuff up and head to the Payag as the second school bell rings for my last school assembly. I am more in control of my emotions this morning, and don't feel comfortable being emotional in front of the paying kids. They prayed for me in assembly, and we headed off for school with me still reading the book I want to desperately wanted to finish before I left. Thankfully I was only 10 mins from the end, and I then took the cards and bookmarks to the classroom to write them out whilst still spending time with the kids.
It took me the best of 90 mins to finish, wanting to put a good personal message in each. After that I wrote a note for Shine and the teachers, and gave them some money to have a Christmas treat themselves. Heading back to the dorm, I assured that everything I was taking was packed, and headed to the Payag to see the older girls who were preparing lunch. I had a good ole chat with Ferl and Rece, and gave them the bag of cards and bookmarks to distribute once I had left. I heard the bell ring for morning tea, which was my signal to leave, so headed to the dorm for my bags. Hill came and helped with my suitcase (that is considerably lighter than when I arrived) and I walked towards the massing group of kids who wanted to say goodbye.
All morning I had had papers and envelopes thrust into my hand, heartfelt notes, pictures and letters from the kids saying goodbye. Now was no exception, and I was soon clutching so many small gifts and letters, as well as my my water-bottle, handbag and passport holder than I had to deposit all into my seat and return empty-handed for hugs. I noticed Resthor standing at a distance as I was saying goodbye to everyone, and was worried he might not say goodbye, but he did, and I gave him a very big hug and said I'd be back before he knew it. Reylee and JM also seemed gutted that I was going. Randy said nothing as I hugged goodbye, but I assured him Rona would be taking good care of him while I was gone. (She had actually promise in a later to me that she would).
I could not delay any more, as Shine was ready to leave and the kids waiting to pray before morning tea, so I climbed into the front passenger seat and gave Joyland a big wave goodbye. I continued waving long after the kids were out of sight, and out of all the times I have driven away from there, this was the first time I managed not to cry. Shine had already expressed how gutted she was that I was leaving, and the majority of the journey was spent in silence as we drove down the long windy road that led away from Joyland.
At the airport, the goodbye was swift and tearless. I assured Shine I would be thinking and praying for her, and that she was an amazing friend. Out of everyone I know in the Philippines, Shine and Des are my closest friends. I gave her a big hug and turned and walked towards the ticket-check point. When I turned round again, the multi-cab was gone, and I watched it driving through the car-park exit.
As soon as I walked through the entrance, my mood changed. There was no-one here to be strong for, and I held back tears as I lined up for Check-In. There were two extremely scary looking German men in front of me, and I felt on edge until I walked up the escalators to security. I bought a few things before I headed through the security gates: some Otap for Dave and butter cookies for me, as I had missed morning tea and would be missing lunch too.
The wait in departures wasn't long, though I managed to throw my cookies all over the floor when I opened the packet. I had Internet so took the chance to update Facebook, and soon I was walking down the tunnel to board the plane. My seat was near the back 22A, as I had asked to be seated on the left of the plane so that I might spot Joyland from the air.
As soon as I was seated, seatbelt on and bag tucked away, the years began to fall. There was no reason to hold them in anymore, the seat next to me was empty and the lady on the end of the row was sleeping. I sobbed into my sweat-towel, knowing that this is the longest moment in time that I would be away from my kids, and as Negros faded into the clouds, my soul faded into darkness. The tears fell steadily, so that by the time the Pilot announced our decent into Manila, my eyes were red and sore.