A MOTHER'S EPIPHANY: REUNION WITH LONG-LOST SON AFTER 29 YEARS
By Pablo A. Tariman Manila Sun 13th May 2012
You won’t believe how I met former OFW Esperanza Tresvalles from Bato, Catanduanes.
In 1992, I was overseeing this outreach concert in Bato town parish center by the lake beside a historic church that dated back to the 1830s.
Esperanza Tresvalles, 68, (center) with son Tarik (first from right) now 35. He last saw his mother when he was four years old.
On the night of the concert, I was surprised by an unusual concertgoer.
In her summer rag-tag attire and with some wild flowers on her hair, Esperanza was quite a sight. She took the back row of the hall and listened attentively as the Handel and Verdi arias reverberated in the hall.
While soprano Luz Morete -- with Najib Ismail on the piano -- was singing Sisa’s aria (from Felipe Padilla de Leon’s Noli Me Tangere), I saw Esperanza rapt in attention. Her hands were on her lap and she looked like an African royalty in a command performance.
Little did I know that she was the island’s modern-day Sisa.
In the post-concert reception in the church convent, I noticed she spoke perfect British English. She spoke better English than most of us except for her looks: the face was gaunt and weather-beaten, the hair disheveled with some dried twigs entwined on her hair. The faded dress – torned at the sides – is made of discarded sack.
From the way her life unraveled now, her story is the stuff of prime time telenovelas.
She is the third of eight children by her father’s first marriage. In the early 70s, she went to Manila and worked in the households of the Rocha’s, Roces and Belasco’s who lived in exclusive subdivisions in Manila and Makati. Later, she was London-bound and was classified as a general cook in her passport application.
It turned out she worked for several households in London which explained her British English and British manners. Before she came back to the Philippines in the late 70s, she worked as a hospital attendant at the Royal National Hospital also in London.
While in London, she had a love affair with a British national named Tarik Homayou Khan. They met in London’s Piccadilly Circus and a love affair ensued. “She was the most handsome man in Europe as far as I was concerned,” Tresvalles told this writer in 1992. Tresvalles referred to him as her husband whom she met through a friend working in a University College Hospital along Warren Street in London.
A part of the Piccadilly Circus in London where Esperanza Tresvalles met her overseas sweetheart, Tarik Khan.
That love affair set at Piccadilly Circus (notably at Leicester Square) produced a son who carried his father’s name. The young Tarik Khan was born on December 4, 1976 in England and was baptized at the St. Thomas More Church in Swiss Cottage, London.
The St. Thomas More Church in London where the young Tarik was baptized in 1976: Tarik plans to go back to London with his mother at year's end.
While in London, Esperanza prepared for her eventual retirement. She regularly sent money to her family in Bato, Catanduanes and advised them to build a house for her and her son.
In the early 80s when her son Tarik was only three years old, she returned to Catanduanes hoping to retire in a house for which she regularly remitted money to her family.
When she set foot in her hometown Bato, there was no brand new house to speak of, not even a single post and the younger brother to whom she sent money was nowhere to be found. She ended up in lodging houses in the capital town Virac at which time the townsfolk noticed her eventual descent to madness.
Tarik's mother (first from left) with son, Tarik, (second from left). Tarik's friends in Catanduanes made quiet reunion possible.
At this time, the islanders surmised it was family betrayal that caused her madness.
As fate would have it, the former OFW ended up a modern-day Sisa (the madwoman in Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere) in the island province commuting regularly between Bato town and Virac.
The first sign of the former OFW’s insanity according to her aunt was when Esperanza tried to burn the house of her father, Torribio. She would scream and yell, “You don’t deserve this house!”
The sight of a madwoman and her four-year old son Tarik roaming the streets of Virac and begging for their food was too much for Virac resident Willie Urbano. In 1984, he decided to adopt Tarik, took care of his schooling from Grade 1 (in Virac) and Grade 2 in Legazpi, Albay where Urbano became a much sought-after couturier.
But before he reached Grade 3, the young Tarik was ran over by a bus on his way to school but survived. He ended up in Orthopedic Hospital in Manila where a new chapter of his young life started. He found a German foster father, turned rebellious while coping with the trauma of his past and ended up in a Pasay house for migrant youth managed by Fr. Ben Villote..
From 1984 to 2011, Esperanza roamed the streets of Virac and Bato towns, lived in church belfries, town squares, by the lake and found short-lived menial jobs in parish convents in exchange for food and accommodation.
In the mid-90s after I wrote a first story on the plight of Esperanza, I met the young Tarik Khan who was already then in his 20s and living in Metro Manila.. From my story, he was able to piece together the shattered life of his mother.
On his own, the young Tarik also wrestled with the demons of his past.
He couldn’t find the strength to see his mother. First of all, he himself was jobless. He was trying hard to face the reality of his mother out there living in the streets and he unable to help.
One of those who helped him cope with a difficult transition from teen to adulthood was the family of Dr. Tony Protacio to whom he wrote: “As a kid and for many years, I was always trying to figure out and looking for answers why these things happened to me and my mother. I’ve led a confused life as a result of this. Then I thought maybe this is all part of Life. All my young life I was coping with the wounds of the past.”
When he was four years old, he got an inkling his mother was no longer her normal self. She was buying crates of mangoes for him and they were perennially on the streets begging for food.
At one time, they were on the beach of Virac town. He remembered his mother carrying bundles of religious images and she would promptly hurled them at the waves as she wailed, “Why me? Why me?”
The young Tarik recalled he embraced his mother and pleaded with her, “Don’t take it so badly, Mommy. You still have me!”
But in that demented state of his mother, Tarik said he didn’t remember missing meals. His mother always made sure he had something to eat.
He told me in 1993: “When I have finished my studies and have a good job, I will come back for my mother and take care of her. Surely, I do miss her.”
Tarik – now 35 -- finally came to terms with his past and decided to do something with his life to be able to help his mother. He returned to Legaspi City and finished his studies and found job in an organization that provides research services to call centers, as well as human resource, training and consultancy services related to online and other e-business services.
He got married – to one Reashiela Lucena -- who is now finishing her master’s degree.
Tarik Khan with wife, Reashiela Lucena, while vacationing in Vigan: he had to confront his past for 29 years before he found himself face to face with his mother
He confided: “I learned that life is not perfect, nor is it fair. I realized that I could not go on forever hating my past and blaming it for the monster I’ve become. Instead, I could start embracing my wounds and learn to play the cards that I was dealt with. Life now has more meaning for me. I am now able to understand fully why bad things in the past had to happen.”
Tarik decided it was time to see his mother after not seeing her for 29 years!
“I realized that Mom’s got no one else in the world but me. The worst thing I can do is to show up when she was dead or when I’m no longer needed. That would just be really sad. Also, I needed to know my true past to fully understand who I am now.”
A month before Mother’s Day this year, Tarik was sure he had come to terms with his past and is now ready to be reunited with his mother – whatever her conditions are now.
He sought the help of some friends in the island -- Sonia and Efren Sorra -- to arrange the meeting. Ms. Flor Balota, manager of the local Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), offered the office lounging room for their meeting.
Last April 18, Tarik took the first flight to Virac, Catanduanes and went straight to the PPA office. On the way to the reunion place, he did not know what to expect. “I did not know how I would react. I didn’t know how to be a son; I have never been one for nearly 30 years.”
When he finally saw his mother, he was overcome with pity. “Mom has grown old. I really wanted to cry the first time I saw her, I had to hold it back because there where many people around us. But when I hugged her, I no longer was able to control my tears.”
In between sobs, he whispered to his mother, “I’m here to take care of you Mom.”
It took a little while before Esperanza could figure out the now grown up son she has not seen for 29 years. Tarik guessed it was because of her mental image of him as a boy.
Surprised Esperanza replied repeatedly: “My little boy, my little boy!”
After a while, she held the face of her son with her two hands and said “you look exactly like your father.”
A friend in the island -- Theresa Herrmann -- offered them the use of one of her house surrounded by gardens so mother and son could bond in privacy.
In that garden house, his mother was still feeling her way around. She would only talk to him when he asked her questions.
Said Tarik: “But slowly she felt relaxed and started to tell stories of me as a little boy in London. For several days, she was still doing the things she’s gotten used to in the streets, her home for more than 30 years. She would wear her clothes wet from the laundry and let it dry in her body. She was used to that life. I had to constantly remind her that she now has a home and she no longer needs to do those things. She tells my wife that I will leave again someday.”
Mother said, “Then I go back to the pier again to see you?”
It took some time to reassure Esperanza that her son Tarik was back for good.”
Concluded Tarik: “On my end, I’m learning how to be a son again. I plan to bring her back to London, hopefully by year’s end. Rehabilitating Mom back to her former self may take some time, I know. But I’m ready to be with her and do whatever it takes. I will never leave her side again.”
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