Monday, September 27, 2010

United States Marine

"But this is not my reservation form?"
"My apologies," said the reservation clerk, taking back the slip at Parkroyal Hotel on Kitchener Road, Singapore, "Sir, here's yours."
"Wait a second," I took back the slip and looked at it very closely, "This 'J' initial looks very familiar."
"It stands for Jose Caban, an American," said the clerk with a big smile.
"OK, Will you will be shifting my luggage to another room?"
"Yes Sir."

We four, me and my three friends arrived that morning from Hyderabad on a ten day package tour which would takes us to three countries Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. As soon as we landed at Changi airport, Alex, my room mate's face puffed up horribly confirming the doctor's fear that he had developed an allergic rash to either the food he ate on the flight or must be due to an insect bite and as he wanted to be alone, I went down to the lobby to personally sort out the issue of booking another room for myself.

Joining my friends at the swimming pool, I ordered a cocktail. Enjoying a swim after the drink, I made my way to the pool side bar to order another one of that exotic concoction and saw the same 'J' initial on a bill on the counter. It looked so very familiar, but I was not able to place where I had seen it before.

As I was sipping the cocktail, a tall dark tanned gentleman came and ordering a beer from the counter initialed the charge slip with 'J' in the same style. Turning towards him I smiled, "Hello"
"Hi," wished back the gentleman in a rich baritone voice, "I am Jose Caban."
And as I looked awestruck, he asked, "Tourist?"
"Yes, from India."
"Oh, nice place," said Jose as he sipped his beer, "I am a freelance reporter."
"I am working for ABN AMRO."
"Ah bank," exclaimed Jose, "As a Freelance reporter we have no deadlines, no schedules, but have to prepare a covering story, investigate leads, news tips, probe documents and interview people at the site. In that way our work is pretty hectic as yours."
I laughed and said, "Not as exciting as yours."

Then suddenly it struck me that the word 'J' was initialed in a style strongly resembling to the one on the back of one of the two photographs which I found in an old Bible that I had bought in an exhibition sale some three months back.
"Do you sign like this, every time?"
Jose laughed loudly, "Oh that, no specific reason. I just follow my granddad's style."
"Did your granddad visit India?"
"No, never, why?"
"I see a striking resemblance to the initial on the back of a photo which I found in an old Bible."
"Only last month," I explained, "when I was arranging the bookshelf, I opened the Bible and saw two black and white photos of a man, one in a checkered coat with and an unlighted cigarette, and the other in a US Marine Uniform."
Sipping the beer he just nodded.
"But what intrigued me was a small card, just like those you get it when you take your weight."
"Uh .. Uh."
"It's some sort of an Identification Check issued by the now defunct Dixie Greyhound Lines and dated 15 January 1951."
Jose who was about to sip his beer, stopped midway, and asked, "January ?
"January 15, 1951."
Keeping the mug down, asked, "Dixie Greyhound, 15 January 1951. Are you sure?"
"Yes, positively."
"And the photo?"
"He is a US Marine officer, as he dressed in the 'Blue Dress Uniform.'"
"Can you come to my room for a sec? I would like to show you something."
Seeing the agitated look on Jose' face, I hurriedly followed him. Jose opened a brief case containing a lap top on one side and a stack of papers, neatly arranged in plastic folders alphabetically. Flipping to alphabet 'S', he pulled out a folder marked South Korea and from it took out an envelope containing a 4x 6 black and white photograph of a US Marine, exactly the same as that I have.

"Yes it's the same one," I exclaimed, "But who is he?"

"Praise the Lord. Oh God, oh my God."

Stunned, I starred at Jose, who rushing towards me, hugged me warmly and said, "It's a miracle. It's a miracle."
I sat down and starred at Jose, who was silently crying and wiping away his tears. There was complete silence for a long time as Jose tried to recoup from the unexpected turn of events.

"The photograph you see was that of my grandfather late Johnson Caban, who fought alongside Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, a war hero, at Incheon, South Korea during the Korean War in 1950," explained Jose, "He was with my family for Christmas and left the country on January 15, 1951, presenting a Bible to my ten year old mother who unfortunately forgot it in a Grey hound bus. That was the date I never forgot, as my mother told me in detail about the incident, umpteen times. As the Bible has no address except for these two photographs we were not able to find it. Loosing a Bible is not what you cry for, but she felt badly because that was the only photograph of my grandfather in a red and white checks coat, presented by my grandmother for Christmas and in the 'Blues' uniform after his promotion.'

I listened wide eyed as Jose continued, "She was totally devastated as she received the news that my grandfather was killed in action on February 3 1951, just a few days after he landed in Korea."

Sipping water, Jose continued his monologue. "It was my grandmother who told me all about how my mother took a long time to recover from that dreadful news, though she was hardly ten she not only adored but virtually worshipped him, as she was his only child. The date January 15, 1951 was so engrained in my mind that it had become an obsession for me to find out all the details about his life as US Marine, about his friends and about everything, before he died. I was able to find this photograph from his commanding officer and half a dozen incidents about his heroics."

And looking at me, he asked, "Do you still have the Bible with you?"
"Yes, I have it."
"Can I buy it?"
"Jose it costs only five rupees. Please take it as a present. For me it's an old Bible. But for you it's a piece of nostalgia. You give me your address and I'll courier it to you as soon as I reach Hyderabad."
Jose kept silent for a longtime and said slowly, "I won't tell my mother about finding the Bible and the photographs. I'll tell her only when I receive the package from you."

I couriered the old Bible as soon as I reached Hyderabad.

Two weeks after, I received a big bulky blue FedEx envelope, with a photograph, a note and a cheque for $ 10000. The note said 'Hi, Thank you for the Bible. You should have seen my mom's expression as she opened the package. My eyes were filled with tears as her gnarled sixty eight year old fingers opened the Bible, and for me it looked as though a ten year old girl was opening her dad's gift. I saw her eyes lit up as she turned over to the first page of the leather bound Bible and found intact, the full size photograph of present day Nazareth as it was in 1951. Seeing it, she burst out crying. It was not a sixty eight year old woman but of a ten year old girl's cry of experiencing a miracle, which is above human understanding .And I cried along with her. Never in my life did I have any occasion to cry. Never in my life had I experienced a miracle.

I have enclosed my mom's photograph, which I have taken after she received the Bible. Its a million dollar smile. She wants to meet you personally here at Memphis. I have enclosed a cheque for $10000, please keep the cheque beside your cheek, take a photograph and send it to my mum. Please don't laugh. You know what she will do with that. She will frame it and tell half the Memphis that you are her hero, and that you will be visiting her soon. Jose.

P.s: My mom did not sleep the entire night, on the day the Bible arrived. She was busy touching and feeling it. Just imagine my mom's Bible traveled all the way from Memphis to Hyderabad and back. I believe in Jesus Christ. But from now onwards, I believe that He is a miracle working God. Maybe Jesus taught my grandpa to initial 'J' in a flamboyant way to ensure that his future generation remembers what a great God he worships. I don't usually say, Thank you Jesus and Praise the Lord very often, but now will be saying it very frequently, so next time we meet don't be surprised if I say, Praise the Lord brother.

Victor Jasti from India has this passion to write short stories based on Bible and real incidents. He also writes Christian fiction & poetry. Five of his poems were published in Temporal Currents compiled by an American author Ms Christine Tricarico

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