I arrived at the office this morning to some small commotion. An elderly couple sat in our reception sofa, looking up intently at Fr. Denny as he explained something or other to them. Was this another impromptu parent -- or grandparent -- conference over failing grades and such? But no, there was a different sort of tension in the air, one of urgency and gravity. In the background, Jocel and Annette flipped through papers hurriedly and made phone calls.
"...just Francis? Don't you have a family name?" I heard Fr. Denny say to the couple from across the room. "It's going to be hard to find that guy." Then to one of the girls: "Can you look through my class records for anyone named Francis."
So it wasn't just another conference. Intrigued by the snippets, I approached the group. Somehow I had an inkling of what was going on.
"Yes," Fr. Denny said. "Their grandson has been missing since October 8. We're trying to look up his friends to see if they know anything."
Francis, it turned out, was not the missing student, but rather the friend. The one we were looking for was Kurt Russell G---. He had been gone five days now, with not a word to his worried grandparents.
"He's a shiftee from engineering," Fr. Denny explained further. "He was in my programming class this sem."
I offered to head over to the Engineering Department to see if they had any leads. I barged into some teachers in conversation and explained the problem. One remembered Kurt Russell from last year, but beyond that, not much else. She rifled through her index cards, but turned up nothing.
"Have you tried Facebook?" she suggested.
"That's what I planned to do next," I said as I thanked her.
If you're expecting a happy ending to this story, there isn't any, at least not yet. I need to make that clear just in case you were expecting a satisfactory denoement to this episode. As I write this, they still have not found Kurt Russell yet.
Why did Kurt Russell disappear? I don't know. Neither for that matter, do his grandparents.
His grandparents were folk of the earth, loud and brusque in speech and rough in manner, but I felt they were worried about Kurt Russell even if they didn't show it outright. If anything, they conveyed annoyance on the surface, but that, I think, was preferable to histrionics. "His mother called long-distance the other day," I heard the old woman mutter. "I didn't know what to say to her." And again: "We've been paying his tuition all along, and all the while he was just...."
I caught a glimpse of Fr. Denny's grading sheet for the class which Kurt Russell was enrolled. Beside Kurt's name, I saw an "FD" -- Failed and Dropped, as early as the midterms from over a month ago.
"He's a good boy," the grandmother said again. "He doesn't have even have any friends over. He comes home straight from school."
Unfortunately for us, Kurt Russell had very poor presence on the social networking sites. On his Facebook account, his profile pic was an anime character, with no friends listed. His Friendster had a bit more fluff -- teenybopper greetings, flirtatious friends -- but it wasn't much more help. Besides, it was last updated two years ago. No leads up that alley.
"We've been calling him on his cellphone over the weekend," the grandfather said. "He doesn't answer."
"Maybe if someone else tries," Fr. Denny said. He dialed the number on his phone. "It's ringing." He waited a while, then finally: "No answer."
"Can we try tracing his location from his phone?" I suggested.
I won't go into the details of how my friends managed it, but they did. They got an address of the vicinity which Kurt Russell's phone was in. I had to admit, I was impressed. It was a slim lead, very slim -- for all we knew, the phone could have been stolen, or worse -- but it was the only lead we had. Armed with an address, the grandparents left the office.
"The address doesn't exist!" the grandfather said when they came back later in the afternoon. "We tried looking for it. We asked the barangay captain. They couldn't find it." He held the slip of paper in his hand.
"It's not an exact address," Michelle explained. "It's just the vicinity of the phone." She had to repeat it two or three more times before it sank in.
"Did you show them a picture of Kurt?" I said. They had not. "I think you need to go back there and ask them if they've seen him."
All they had was a small wallet-sized photo.
"Scan it and blow it up," Fr. Denny said.
I left the office and returned an hour later. At the elevator, I met the old couple again. I was coming out, they were going in. The grandfather had a sheaf of papers in his hand, Kurt's face printed lightly on each sheet like the face of Christ on the Shroud of Turin. He nodded to me. I thought I saw a slight smile.
"We're going back to the area," he said.
"Good luck, sir. I hope you find him."
"We'll let you know if we do. We will." They stepped inside.
"I'll pray for his safe return."
The elevator doors closed.