Saturday, March 28, 2009

History and Rey

We came back seven decades into the past and retraced the steps of hundreds of thousands of unknown soldiers to find the boy named Rey. How we found him was a major story in itself. We needed a face for the documentary we were filming and the first choice was a veteran stage actor whose credits as a thespian included a pioneering role in the defunct children's show Batibot. Bur for reasons not entirely unexpected, Kuya Bodjie Pascua turned us down.

The text message in which he relayed to us his decision was a splash of cold water into our already sagging spirits midway into the project. But I respected the decision. As one of the outspoken critics of the present administration, Kuya Bodjie was just being true to himself and for me to begrudge him would be pointless since I knew the risk beforehand, and decided to take chances. If anything, I only felt bad for the time and effort that were wasted when he had instructed us to deliver the draft of the documentary to the coastal town of Isabel, more than 180 kilometers from downtown Tacloban, which took practically one full day off from our itinerary, only to be told at the end of the day, that, for all the troubles we had, the answer is a definitive no. He never texted back after that, and neither did he answer calls from me again.

But since the very definition of this job that we are doing is perseverence, which is what you learn from the plight of the filipino veterans, the incident is just one of many humps on the road that at worst could delay but could never spell doom to a desperate cause and mission. We did not hie-off up north to Bataan for a week of filming elusive subjects and continued the odyssey all the way to the province of Leyte here in the South just to lose heart at the slightest suggestion of failure. Like the old soldiers who persevered and marched forward through firestorm and cannon balls, all three of us, Fred, Nono and myself have answered the call to walk the gauntlet, emboldened by the sheer faith that hell, yes, we can do it.

With our first choice gone, we never stopped believing that the face that will breathe life to the documentary was just out there, waiting to be found. And so we searched for him, or for her, whoever he is or she is for that matter, since we haven't decided yet which gender or age or social class to consider, only we knew the mystery will unravel once we find what we were looking for. We searched long and hard, a search taking us deep into the arts and academe of Tacloban, particularly the theatre guilds of its old famous universities, where who knows, we might just bump into a future celebrity, and be first to enjoy the privilege to work with talent that is one of a kind.

That faith was affirmed when we met Rey.

He has the most soulfoul eyes and talent that, the moment he shows it to you, would let you know right away how it feels to be in the presence of something special. Rey plays the piano like he was born to play it. His English is impeccable, and reading from a makeshift idiot board, you would never know his words are taken off a script but words that spontaneously flow out of a brilliant mind and a heart overflowing with kindness. He was most humble and appreciative of the hard work we put into the four hours of shoot, not once complaining or letting his discomfort show despite the fact that the summer heat was methodically draining our energy, and the repetitious filming of spiels could be painfully boring.

No he was never one to come up short in energy level, even when most of us were already feeling exhausted and edgy, for in between spiels Rey on the other hand would find time to run on the grass, hum a tune, or crack a joke at his parents, who have diligently stayed along at the entire filming in McArthur's famous shrine in Palo. I even felt at some stage, that they were actually the ones who had supplanted the energy and creativity for the filming session, during the brief spells that we were losing strength, physically and in a figurative sense. It's refreshing to find people who could still exuberantly enjoy what for us had become routine work from the sheer length of time that we've been doing it, and I must say that just to be around such people brings in me personally, the creative energy I could only wish I always have at my disposal everytime I need it. I realized that we feed on the energy of those who are seeing the world from our vantage point for the very first time, because their curiosity will always let us know that there is beauty and purpose in the work that we do, except that we seem to take it for granted.

And oh yes, Rey is only 8 years old.

He breezed through the shoot like a pro. And in those few hours of our spontaneous interaction I had unwittingly intruded into their lives, Rey's and his family's, and it was truly a privilege to know them - his doting mom, his father, an engineer at Coke Tacloban, and Rey's aunt, a Physics professor and Fulbright scholar. In short, they are ironically the kind of folks I sometimes dread to meet because of the sense of sadness that inevitably goes creeping in when the time comes to walk away. The moments that I hate.

So by the time we were packing up, Rey had completely won our hearts. And for me, how I wished he was my child, especially after the boy gave me a hug, a parting gesture that summed up the emotional highpoint of the moment, when now we knew, no matter what happens after this, that at some point in our lives, we have shared something truly special, a bond that would last long after this day is through.

I told him he is destined for greater things because that was exactly how I felt deep in my heart. But I couldn't tell exactly what he was meant to be, because that's not for me to say but for him to find out. I knew Rey will find out in time, and he will be up to the task, and I am sure he will prove worthy of the fate he was given.

Rey will never fail me, I am sure of that, when the time comes.