Thursday, August 7, 2008
It was a night when an entire nation only has one thing in mind and speaks the language of pure excitement.
The rich and the poor, young and old, men, women and children - families enjoying quality time at home, the troops and rebel fighters camping out in the most far-flung barrios in Mindanao, the sick people in hospitals, the rich and powerful, practically everyone from people in high places to the most impoverished citizen - everywhere and anywhere you are for as long as the television or radio can reach you, and wherever you go - there was simply no escaping the anticipation of something truly special that within minutes is bound to unfold on this magical night.
That same fever-pitch excitement is a bomb waiting to explode in the Magpoc household. Dinner was served early and craning her neck to keep an eye on their black and white Admiral, Nena Magpoc was simultaneously washing the dishes now while she watched from the kitchen, water almost overflowing from the sink clogged by morsels of food the kids left on their plates the effect of excitement overwhelming the appetite.
But the forty-something housewife and mother of three couldn't care less, afterall this is the 70's and it would still be years from now before water crisis, rice crisis, power crisis or for that matter, any word associated with crisis rises to prominence in the national consciousness. The real impending crisis and one that this family cannot afford to even imagine is their team making an unforgivable slip against their mortal enemies on the hard court.
"It's starting, it's starting!" The boy Jun exclaimed as the panel rattled off statistics, trivia and some juicy tabloid gossips on the lives and loves of the jersey-clad millionaire players while they pranced around the court during the customary round-robin. Mang Teddy, the man of the house downed his fourth bottle of see hoc tong and reached for another bottle from the ref. Eyes still glued on the Admiral, he cut himself in the thumb as the can opener slipped off the tin cap and tore at his flesh. "Darn, this thing won't work!"he cursed, angrily throwing the can opener out of the window then licking his blood. The girls both barely in their teens huddled on the long couch, giggling everytime mug shots of the mop-haired scoring machine wearing jersey number 6 are flashed on teevee.
Everytime the two most beloved teams in the land clash for the title, the nation is split evenly in two. You can put them in a giant scale and you'll get a perfect balance. That's just how it is. The nation has been polarized by team loyalties. In politics, you can switch alliances as often as you change clothes and people will not begrudge you for doing that but in basketball, you are a fan of one and only one team until the day you die. Some nights you watch a game, but some other nights, you watch a fight.
Tonight is one of those nights, a championship night, a night of the great fight.
Mang Teddy has nurtured his family to be the loyal fan club of his beloved team. He must have figured "If I were to suffer serious anxiety attacks game after game, I might as well have company in misery, and who else could perfectly fit the role than the wife and kids?"
"What the hell in the world are you up to now, Teodoro? Throwing away the can opener like that, you're throwing away good money!"
"Throwing away good money? That damn thing is totally useless. You're the one throwing away good money buying such useless stuff!"
"Well, that's the only thing I can afford with the budget you gave me!"
"Shut up, Nena, don't insult me in front of the kids, chrissake!"
Then Mang Teddy quickly changed mood. "So what do you want for snack, kids?" he asked magnanimously, his way of atonement for guilt.
"Fish crackers" was the hometown crowd's overwhelming choice, the half a sack pack that sells for five pesos, which an entire family of five can take a whole week to finish.
"Give me the money now, Tatay so I can get to the store while it's still on commercial break", Jun the designated runner retorted impatiently. He's only 8 and already, he knows the game inside out like a real junkie. He reached for the huge one peso coins from his father's hand then darted out like rocket shot from a cannon. He took the backdoor leading to the balcony, ran downstairs at blinding speed, and upon reaching the gate, rode his imaginary motorbike at full speed to the sari-sari store, the frantic voices of the game announcers in his wake, the screaming from every house in the neighborhood at the jump ball accelerating the boy's magical ride.
As expected, the nearest store was jampacked with neighbors watching the game there. Jun had to squeeze his way between rows of sweaty, pot-bellied men and call out the China man three times in increasing volumes to make sure he gets noticed. Then, half a sack of fish crackers riding on his back, he transformed into the superhero The Flash, making his way home in split seconds.
The boy couldn't believe his eyes.
The hysteria of the household that he left a while ago has been replaced by darkness and dead silence. Every light in the house including the Admiral is switched off, the mood a funeral in the middle of a raucous new year's day celebration. Looking up in the dark, Jun saw the silhouette of his father alone in the balcony, holding his bottle and the boy knew better than approach him in the middle of the uneasy calm.
He dropped the fish cracker at the doorway and tiptoed across the pitch-black living room which has been littered by fragments of what seemed like a few broken plates. The door to the main bedroom where he sleeps on the same bed in between his father and his mother every night was locked and he could hear the familiar sobbing in the dark that he always dreads to hear. The boy slumped on the floor and began to cry himself until a shadow emerged from the girl's room and his big sister Delai took him by the hand. He will sleep with his sisters tonight, if sleep is possible amidst the tumultuous screaming from the next door neighbors who happened to be cheering for the opposing team.
It was indeed the night of the great fight.