It was a weekday afternoon around 4:00pm Manila time when we arrived in Pasay when I and my husband John went for an errand. We went with my youngest son Aeon, my third daughter Zam and my father. We allowed them to come with us primarily because we have our own car and for them to also joy ride with us.
When we arrived, we parked our car just along EDSA in front of a provincial bus terminal. I didn’t realize that time that it was the terminal that my father’s friend Alex was supervising. So, me and my husband head on to our purpose, leaving Zam our 4 years and 8 months old third daughter to be exact with his Lolo so she doesn’t need to walk far with us. We only took his younger brother Aeon who was a year old then. We were not able to park nearer the place where we were going because there was no parking area at the location. So, we didn’t have any option in terms of parking, it was the nearest we can get.
When we were done, it was raining. So, we decided to call my father to ask him to just drive towards us so we don’t run in the rain especially that we have Aeon. When he answered his phone, he said “Zam is missing!”, it didn’t sink in at first. I asked him again, “what do you mean missing?”, with my heart pounding. I didn’t understand what he said.
We ran back to where we left them. We found my father, on the other side of the road where the terminal is, worried. His friend Alex was there, too. I was anxious asking where Zam is. So, my father said, when we called, he left Zam at the terminal just beside Alex’s office to get the car with the intention of saving her from the rain. His plan was to cross the road and pick her up after getting the car so she doesn’t get wet, or else she’ll catch colds. Uncle Alex on the other hand as we call him since I was young, when he saw my father crossing, he directed one of his barkers (person who calls passengers to ride busses) to shed her with an umbrella to make sure she doesn’t get wet and as added protection.
A good intention turned to a disaster!
Simply, a message relayed can’t always be understood when focus is out of line. Mr. Barker did shed her with an umbrella, but he assisted Zam in boarding to a local bus waiting in front of the terminal. A local bus with a route of Novaliches-Pasay. If I recall it correctly, the bus company was Doña Elena who has numerous number of buses with the same design. Before my father noticed that Zam was not where he left her, the bus already left without anybody taking note of the plate number.
When we arrived at the terminal, my father already tried to chase the Doña Elena buses that he was able to see along the way. But, he failed to find her. And again, they went to chase together with my husband John. Me and Aeon were left at the terminal praying so hard to make them find Zam at once. I was hopeful. They searched the stretch of EDSA in Pasay. They came back after 30 minutes, failed.
My tears were flowing vigorously, my heart was pounding so hard. I insisted to go with them on the next round. We rode at the back seat of the car as fast as we can, knowing that every second counts. And that Zam’s safety is at risk. Just by getting lost in a place that’s 3.8km far from our home is putting her at great risk. But, not just that, incidents of missing children sold to foreigners, child labor, rape and the trade for internal organs were all over the news! I was also worried that she might be hungry already. Uncle Alex also went with us, because he felt guilty of what happened to Zam.
As tears fall from my eyes as I call her name over and over again, my eyes was like a hawk, trying to magnify every corner of every possible place that she can be as I hold on to Aeon. I was praying hard to God to give me back Zam. I can’t really describe how I felt as we take chances of finding her. We stopped at every police station along the way and checked if she was found and surrendered by a good samaritan. Every attempt was a failure.
I can’t fully describe the feeling of loosing hope, hoping, and finding hope at the same time. I felt like I died so many times in every stop we make. We tried to go back and forth a couple of times in the same stretch hoping that she got off the bus. I tried to search info of the bus company in the internet. But the bus company didn’t have a working contact number where we can ask them to radio all their buses to ask if they’ve found a child. We failed multiple times. I was becoming hopeless and my worry increases as every second pass. Especially, that it was almost dark.
The last stop.
There was no sign of hope in finding Zam. Until, we decided to stop at the last police station in the area, the Pasay Police Station. Everybody went to the women’s desk to again file a missing child blotter except for me. I didn’t get off the car anymore, I felt so weak, all I did was cry and pray hard at the same time.
They came back feeling angry at the people at the police station. It is an SOP that a missing person should be missing for 24 hours for them to file it as a case due to possibility of stowaways. Are you kidding me? She’s just 4 years old and she was accidentally boarded into a bus! They did no action and said to wait for 24 hours! Impossible people! I still feel angry until today. There should be a difference when it comes to missing kids like Zam. They know nothing about how bad people can become. There should be an exemption! They gave NO help.
All I can do was helplessly cry. John was also crying as we were loosing hope. My father was also hopeless. How can there be hope, when it’s already dark and impossible to see a small child in a crowded place such as Pasay. We have no clue as to where Zam is. We didn’t know where to contact the bus company, all we know is that the company is in Novaliches which is far from where we were, and that we plan to go to see if Zam was taken to the area. But, everything was unclear. We were so helpless.
Then my phone rang. It was our house help calling. I took the call, without a clue why she called. Then she said, Ning (as she calls me) “anion na si Zam sa arong” in our local dialect. Zam is here at the house! I cried so hard! But this time with overflowing happiness as I reconfirmed with her that Zam is home. Yes, Zam was home! My 4 years old daughter was HOME! I never felt so relieved in my whole life! Thank you Lord!
We hurriedly went home. When I opened the door, I saw Zam sleeping at the couch, with dirt on her face and clothes. Looks like she was so tired and fell asleep while waiting for us to be home. I took her in my arms as I cried of relief and gladness. She woke up and cried with me as we hugged her tight and continuously thank God for bringing her back to us.
I gave her water and asked if she wanted to eat. But, she refused. She said she was full. I checked her for any signs of abuse or maltreatment. She was okay. Our house help said that a man brought her home. The man actually hid her in his back when he knocked at our door and asked if we were missing a kid. But, our house help was clueless that time and said no. Then Zam came out from his back. He then instructed her to call and inform us that Zam was home as we might still be searching and worried.
Zam is a witty kid. She knows her full name at her age. And if you ask her name, she’ll always give her complete name including her middle name. A bit long because she has 2 names and last name is long too. But, she says it anyway, with confidence. She knows my name and her Dad’s name. She definitely knows where we live. She didn’t memorize the whole address but she knows that the place is called BCDA by many.
Here’s her story, as she relayed what happened to us. When she was boarded by the barker to the bus, a father and son passenger was sitting near her and she thought they were Daddylolo’s friends. So, she thought that Daddylolo ( a name she calls my father) wanted her to go with them and just fetch her after a while. She calmly sat beside them thinking that she had company. So, she didn’t mind the bus leaving the area.
After a while, when the two whom she thought was her company got off the bus, she was asking herself why Tito and Kuya passenger left her behind. That was the time she got scared and started to cry. The conductor noticed her crying and asked her who she was with. She didn’t know, she only said that Tito (the man with a son) left her behind. She was asked, where she lives and answered them that she is from BCDA, though the conductor and the driver were clueless where the place was. She was also asked how old she was and since it was nearing her 5th birthday, she would always say 5 years old.
She knows that they passed in SM Mall of Asia because she saw the big metal globe in front of the big mall. The conductor and the driver had her seated in the front seat at the back of the driver. She felt safe and calmly seated while the bus went on in its route.
When they reached Guadalupe, the conductor let her down the bus and endorsed her to an MMDA officer. She knows the uniform of the man because she sees it when we are traveling and would ask what and who they were. The man took her in a small office as she described it. Maybe a satellite office. She said she was asked again of her name, age, mother and father’s name, and where she lives. And again she was able to answer them clearly. She was also asked if she was hungry and undoubtedly, because of the time and stress she had, she said yes. The officer gave her biscuits and juice.
After, she was done eating they rode a motorcycle going to the big MMDA office which is the main office in Guadalupe which is 1.8km from our house. She was again endorsed to a group of officers there with women. She was again interviewed. Same thing she answered clearly. It was by God’s grace that an officer there lived just a couple of buildings aways from us in the same community. They fed her again, maybe because she was too hungry for the biscuits, she ate again. She said it was a cup noodles that she was given.
After eating, they took the MMDA truck and drove to our place. As they pass by Market! Market! in Taguig City. She exclaimed in happiness, “malapit na tayo sa bahay!” We are near our house! When they reached the village entrance, that’s when she knew that she was really home. She would guide the way to our unit.
The officer told her to hide in his back so they can surprise us. So, she hid as they knocked on the door. As our house help opened the door, Mr. Officer asked if we were missing a kid. She said no, she wasn’t aware that Zam was missing. Then she came out. The officer then instructed our help to call us for he knows we are still in our search.
I called work that night and asked permission not to report because I lost all my strength in that event. I never knew how hard it is to lose a child until I lost mine. It was just for a couple of hours, and my emotions and mind were not syncing. How much more for those who lost their children for more than what I’ve experienced. The feeling is so incomparable and devastating. It was the longest hours of my life.
When I watch the news and see missing kids and families searching for their loved ones, I feel for them and I hurt for them. Reminds me of the time that I lost Zam.
It was a good thing that I was able to make her memorize her name. Frequently, asks her where she lives and our names. This information is very important in cases like this. I can place a name strap on her, but that can be lost. Having her memorize the information can be more helpful.
I regret that I wasn’t able to make her memorize my phone number. Maybe it made it more easier for Zam to find her way home.
Some would probably say, I shouldn’t have left her with her Lolo. But, it’s easier to blame than being in the same situation.
When we pass by the terminal where she got lost, she still remembers. And actively say, “Dyan ako nawala.” That’s where I got lost! with a smile on her face.
At this moment, it’s been almost 7 years when it happened. Few more months and she’ll be celebrating her 12th birthday. How time pass by so fast. But, time won’t erase the memory of that experience at least to me. Zam has almost forgotten what happened 7 years ago. That’s a good thing I think. At least she forgot about the trauma it cost her. I am most thankful to God for giving me back Zam. I also deeply thank the men who became instruments for Zam to find her way home. I can’t imagine how I can handle sanity if I totally lost her. Truly, God will always be the driver of our lives if we allow Him. All glory and praises to Him.