“Nick! Nick!” Efi Rimon calls out to his devoted Filipino carer in the next room. Day after day, for nine years, Nick Esplana has answered Efi’s call to attend to his every need.
But this time Nick doesn’t answer. Nick is not in Efi’s Katamon sheltered apartment. Nick is lying dead from liver cancer in his home in Manila, prior to burial.
But this is not only the tragedy of Nick Esplana, the devoted and reliable carer who gave content and meaning to the life of the totally handicapped young Efi Rimon, making his life bearable and challenging. This is also the tragedy of Efi, for whom Nick became like a son and father combined, and for whom Nick’s sudden illness, departure and death constitute a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, because, as Efi so often told me: “I love Nick.”
WHEN ILLNESS struck Nick a few months ago, Efi – who can move only one finger but whose mind is more nimble and smart than that of most – found the money to help Nick travel back to Manila for urgent treatment. But it was already too late. Before he could have the life-saving operation, Nick passed away, leaving Efi grieving and bereft.
During Nick’s illness, the wheelchair-bound Efi had even been looking for ways to fly to his hospital bedside to comfort and encourage him. Efi told me many times, with tears in his croaky voice, of his promise to Nick to rehire him as soon as he became well.
Nick was a fine-looking, athletic, musical, bright and hard-working carer. With his fine Catholic Christian ethos, he served as a true role model for those involved in the difficult work of helping the handicapped. His work was not the easiest, for despite Efi’s unusually strong independent spirit, he has been totally handicapped from birth and requires a lot of attention.
UNDER NICK’s devoted care, Efi flourished in many ways. He became very adept in the use of both phone and cell phone. He loved to listen to music CDs and to watch the films of Van Dam and Clint Eastwood. He kept his room and papers in tip-top order. He learned to use the fax and dictated many letters concerning himself and Nick to the various social authorities and government ministries.
He let nothing stand in his way. He stoutly and successfully defended Nick from any attempt to send him back to the Philippines – because for Efi, Nick was a true passport to life.
In those nine years Efi managed to write three books about himself and his feelings, and about the love of his life, a beautiful handicapped Arab girl who, sadly, did not return his affections. Efi also went on several memorable trips abroad.
I first got to know Efi when he was still in the Ilan home for the handicapped in Gilo, and I saw his determination and resolve to achieve a more independent existence in his own sheltered apartment; which is where Nick entered his life. I too learned to admire Nick, and through him all the wonderful, selfless, devoted Filipinos and Filipinas who give so much to the elderly and handicapped members of our society.
In his modest way, Nick gave so much to Efi until a cruel disease and death took him away from the one who needed him most.
Nick is gone. But the seed of love he planted in Israel, in the heart of a young, physically challenged Israeli man, will never wither. It is a moving memorial and example.
The writer is a London-born Jerusalem translator.