By Jennifer Lee-Bonto

She was expecting a baby any moment. The OB-Gyne told her that she should be in Manila two weeks before her due date. The doctor had more reasons to be worried than that though. Pope John Paul II was arriving in Manila and included in his hectic schedule was celebrating mass at the UST Grandstand, which is inside the compound of the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in the Philippines. Coincidentally, the UST Hospital, where she was scheduled to give birth, is also inside the UST compound, so there lay the paranoia.

She was, of course, hardheaded. The Pope was already in Manila and she was still in Laguna, finishing her company’s yearly assessment and planning. Until one night, she couldn’t sleep because of the contractions. She knew she was having contractions but she tried to hold it out because there was no bus ride to Manila that early in the morning.  She’d rather not wake up the people in the neighborhood and be the center of attraction. She held out the contractions until 6 a.m. when she felt she could not breathe normally anymore.

As soon as she woke her husband, they gathered some clothes and hit the road. It was a simple choice of riding a bus or getting to the nearest Los Banos hospital. But they weren’t thinking anymore. They went for the first bus on sight. Fortunately, it was bound for Buendia. Throughout the ride, she kept herself from panicking. Husband and pregnant wife did not let go of each other’s hands. They just stared at the seat in front of them.

Every time the contractions came, she would close her eyes, squeeze her husband’s hands, and silently count her breaths. Her husband would bow down, squint his eyes, and silently endure the squeezing on his arm while the stupefied passenger beside them by the window held his breath. The rest of the passengers continued their sleep unaware of the silent drama in row four.

She knew that if she gave birth in an airplane, her baby would be a free flyer forever but she never heard anything about a free bus rider forever.

When they got down the bus terminal, she couldn’t keep her face from crumpling. She wasn’t shouting but during contractions, she had to stop her slow walk. The street food vendors knew what was happening and couldn’t help but be rattled, “Naku! Manganganak na ‘yung ale!” (Look! The woman is about the give birth!)

The first taxi was all run-down but it was no time to be picky. But like most of the taxis in the metropolis, run-down taxi drivers can be more picky than others.

Naku ser, may blockade na sa Nagtahan, hindi na tayo makakalusot. Sa Makati Medical na lang tayo,” (“Sir, there’s a blockade at Nagtahan. We can’t pass through. Let’s go to Makati Medical Center instead.”), the driver blurted out. The blockade at Nagtahan, a highway leading to UST, only confirmed that that morning was the same morning when the Pope would say mass at the grandstand.

She almost hear her OB’s voice reverberating in her eardrums, “I told you, hija! You have to be here before the Pope gets here!”

But they couldn’t afford Makati Medical Center and the OB was commissioned at UST, so they tried to get another cab. Luckily, the
next taxi driver not only took the maternity challenge, he was also driving a brand new Toyota Corolla. As soon as they got inside the cab, the driver put on his hazard lights. If the husband could have swallowed a siren, he would have opened his mouth as well.

Nagtahan was closed and the whole street was lined with onlookers and well-wishers. The Pope was going to pass through that same highway. Their taxicab approached the police barricade and signaled to the policeman that an emergency was at hand. It was the only time when she gave out shrieks of pain to the best of her overacting abilities. The kind policeman let them pass. The taxi got through.

They were the only vehicle in Nagtahan. That was how a VIP felt. The busy road was all to themselves, both sides. The well-wishers lined at the sides all knew that there was an emergency because the taxi didn’t have tinted windows.

In a few seconds, six by six trucks filled with army soldiers escorted them. It was the escort of the Pope and was supposed to be a few meters ahead of the Pope. It just so happened that the taxi was there and so it appeared that they were escorting the taxicab. Behind the cab, was the Pope mobile with no less than His Eminence Pope John Paul II himself waving at the crowd.

If they arrived in Nagtahan a little less than a minute, she would have given birth inside the taxi. They owed a lot to the Pope who was able to close Nagtahan for them and even allowed them to get ahead of him, a few meters ahead of him. It was more than enough meters of a miracle they needed.

While the Pope was saying mass at the UST Grandstand, she gave birth to a six-pound baby boy. Much to the dismay of a tabloid reporter, they named him Victor Boanerges which means “the victorious son of thunder.” And to make them grateful every day for that miraculous moment brought by Pope Paul, they nicknamed Victor, Popie.

A few years after, Popie got circumcised on the day that Pope John Paul II died, but that’s another story!

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