Re-entering the light
This essay is the Third Place Winner in the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. The author is a BS Physics student at the University of the Philippines in Baguio City who tells a story about the life his Uncle James lives as a Safety Inspector at the Philex Mining Corp. This story is told under the narration of the author's mother, James’ younger sister.
“Excuse me Doc, masakit ang ulo ko (my head aches),” he muttered to my older sister. I got up from my chair and studied him closely, looking into his eyes to see if there was more to what he said. After recovering from that blow to her ego my sister starts to laugh while saying, “marami na ba akong wrinkles sa mukha? Hindi pa naman ako ganun katanda kuya” (“Do I have wrinkles on my face? I am not yet that old, brother”).
She thought it was another joke from James. But there was nothing more to what he said. He honestly thought my sister was the doctor. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What will I do when memories of me start to fade?”
I watched my father enter the tunnels many times as a child. Once a miner enters that dark tunnel, there is no assurance of seeing him emerging from the darkness. It did not take long before my brothers, including James, entered the tunnels as well.
My father was a supervisor at the Philippine Natural Resources Company in Acupan mines when James became a miner at the age of 16. Mining was one of the most sought employment opportunities during that time. Although my father was already a supervisor, James and the rest of us had to take part in making both ends meet.
I come from a big family with 9 children, and including my father and mother, that would be 11 people who need sustenance.
It was an honest job. You work, you get paid. You work well, you get promoted. I am not saying that it was perfect. Mining entails a lot of risks. I remember my brother telling me, “I went into that dark tunnel with a purpose. I go in, collect, and re-enter the light. It’s scary. But the fact of going back into the light kept my purpose intact. Each of us who went had different reasons, but we all had one purpose.”
I witnessed the fulfilment of that purpose every night, during dinner time, when we would all be seated around the table and have dinner together as a family.
After a few years, James found the person whom he wanted to share life with. She was from Bontoc, Mt. Province. She was also a daughter of the mines. They were very happy together. James and Rosita finally decided to start a family of their own. They got married.
James was hired as a miner at the Philex Mining Coprporation. They settled there in Philex ever since. They had 5 daughters by the time James was promoted to Safety Inspector. They were living a simple but happy life. James shaped his life around the mines, so did his wife and children.
One day, just like any other work day, James entered the tunnel. His colleagues would greet him with a warm smile along with a hand shake. My brother was the outgoing type. He chose to look at things from a positive point of view. He was happy most of the time, even when problems arise at home or in the mines.
On that day, he was inspecting an isolated section of the tunnel. He found a leak on one of the tunnel pipes. By word of mouth, the extent of the leak was unknown to him until it was too late. He fainted, face down on the rubble.
“If he was brought to the hospital a few minutes later, he wouldn’t be alive by now.” The words echoed along the hospital corridor as we absorbed what was happening. The miners found him lying on the floor and in a second they acted as if they were part of a collective mind thinking as one.
They carried his body out of the tunnel and alerted the nearest hospital. It’s amazing how the people who work in the mines have that sense of oneness. They are fuelled by this protective instinct to help each other during times of dire need. Unknown to the general public, these are good men who are more often than not criticized for being a part of the mining industry. These are men who have chosen to live a life full of risks to support their family. My brother was one of those men.
My mother, father, James’ wife, and I were standing outside the recovery room. “He needs to be treated. His body absorbed a high dose of hydrogen sulfide, he needs rest,” the doctor added.
As to the extent of the damage, that remained to be unknown, until that day when my sister and I were watching over him. At first he called his visitors names that weren’t theirs. The day after that, he started forgetting who the people around him were. A few more days passed and more manifestations of memory loss became evident.
I went to the hospital to bring him lunch one day. I was a step away from the door of his confinement room. The anticipation of what might be waiting on the other side crawled under the fabric of my skin, piercing its way into every strand of hair in my body until I was numb. In that moment of stillness I said to myself, “I will not be forgotten by my own brother.”
I mustered all the courage I could, laid my hand on the door knob and turned it as I moved forward. I saw James standing by the window. “Good morning, kuya! Anong ginagawa mo diyan? Dapat nagpapahinga ka sa kama.” (“Good morning, brother! What are you doing? You should be resting on your bed.”)
His response was most unexpected. He turned his head to me and I saw something that I have been longing for ever since the incident. I saw a smile, vibrant at the very least. He had fully recovered, my brother, at last.
That day was one of the best days of my life. The doctors said that all necessary procedures were conducted to make sure that James would have a full recovery. All of the bills were paid for by the company. After that day I told my brother that there were other jobs out there and that he need not go back to the mines. We parted ways with the silence in the air as a response.
James resumed his work as the Safety Inspector at the Philex Mining Corporation. James and Rosita had 3 more children, all boys. All 8 of his children finished college with the educational aid from the company. None of them entered the mining industry but they were all brought up with the same ideals passed on by their father, and grandfather, and generations of ideals from a family of miners.
Now and then, I experience moments of silence in the air. During those times, I recall the voices of protesters expressing their hatred for the mining industry. Sometimes I remember waiting for my father and brothers, including James, at night and I recall how we felt when we were all there for dinner.
But most of the time, during these moments of stillness, I remember James telling me, “I went into that dark tunnel with a purpose. I go in, collect, and re-enter the light. It’s scary. But the fact of going back into the light kept my purpose intact. Each of us who went had different reasons, but we all had one purpose.” - Rappler.com
The "Faces of Mining short story writing writing competition" received 105 entries from employees, their family members, and the residents in host communities of Chamber of Mines' member firms. Amid negative perception against mining as a mere resource-extractive activity, this contest was launched in July to show the real-life, human interest stories of individuals who have personally experienced how mining touched their lives through the years.
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