Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dasal sa Alon

A day to escape from my life in a box...
A day of defiance...
A day at the beach....

Galit ang dagat

Bawat hagupit ng alon sa pampang ay sumasabog na matinding poot

Kulang na lang na ito'y magsalita
Sabihing ako'y nalulungkot
Nangungulila sa naglahong kulay at ganda ng dati kong daigdig

Mundong nabili na
Ngunit paulit-ulit pa ring binenta
Hanggang wala nang gustong bumili

Katulad ng perlas na ginawang kwintas
At gomang tirintas na inilalako sa tabing-dagat

Yakap-yakap ng babaing kulot
Ang mayamang matanda na galing sa ibang bansa
Na nagmamasid sa bawat nababasag na alon sa batuhan
Na nagiging tulis-tulis na liwanag

Kaya huwag na tayong lumusong
At sumubok na magpahabol sa alon

Dito na lang tayong magkahawak-kamay sa pampang
Makipagtuksuhan sa mga alaala
Habang dumidilim ang langit 
At nagagalit ang dagat

(Puerto Galera, sunset, Oct.15, 2013) 

Friday, September 6, 2013


As if the rain could read my mind.

I stepped out to a roaring downpour that instantly turned the Pinaglabanan Shrine into a shallow pool of dirt and mud that almost seemed unreal now, almost unrecognizable from the earlier scene of a bustling and breezy urban park under the scorching midday sun when I quietly walked in, unnoticed by anyone in the crowd about an hour ago. That scene and the crowd are now completely gone. Perhaps, I figured, the rain alludes to my own drastic mood swing from one of quiet purpose to complete emotional chaos and the message from the rain could only be one of two things – either it sympathizes with my sorrow, or it actually mocks my misery.

I said purpose because I just made a promise to myself earlier today that my search for Rosalie would end now. Not tomorrow, not tonight but now. Right here, right now. And then sad to say I got my wish.

I reached out to my briefcase and held the paper in my hand, scanning carefully every entry – the dates, places, numbers, notes, punctuation marks included – and still I can’t seem to come to grips with the reality of my heartbreak, if only people knew what I am going through and what all of this meant to me.  For the past several weeks, the thought of Rosalie consumed me. Without any exaggeration, it was already a matter of life and death to me at this point.

The case of Rosalie was referred to me by a friend, through an innocent phone call that unexpectedly came while I was cruising EDSA on another rainy afternoon in mid-July. I vividly remember hesitating whether or not to take the call, wary of accidents that occur most of the time from the slightest distraction. Atty. John was almost frantic, struggling to catch his breath on the other end of the line while narrating the story of this family fortune that now lies at the center of a bitter and protracted lawsuit. And this is where Rosalie comes in. If we can prove that she is still alive, we might as well take a bite from out of all that bounty.

And so during the next few weeks, I live, eat, and think of that single thought and in fact even in my dreams, I dream of Rosalie. How is she now, how does she look like, and most of all, where can I find her. Every single day and every single hour of those past few weeks, I agonized over these thoughts, completely consumed by the great desire to know the answers to my questions. It was like a seed had been planted to the core of my soul. It was causing me so many sleepless nights. It was already eating bits off my health and I was sincerely terrified it might just be a matter of time before it robs me of my sanity.

Long hours of research and visits to government offices, meeting people, asking around, losing my way to where I am going, finding my way back again to where I’ve been, spending the last cent of my money, borrowing someone else’s money and spending it to the last cent, skipping several meals, and missing important appointments, I have to deal with all of that, which is really bad but not as bad compared to the fact that the progress of my search had been excruciatingly slow. Only bits and pieces of information would come out of the blue which do not even remotely compensate for the enormous amount of energy I was already expending.

This much I have learned. She was born sometime before the war. Married in the 50’s and after that, disappeared without a trace. And now, I need her with the urgency and desperation of one who lives his life for the moment that he finds the missing map to the hidden treasure, the one elusive piece of the puzzle that I will never ever forgive myself if I should let it elude me.   That’s how obsessed I was. 

I remember early this morning, my conversation with Mr. Horror Movie. He was at the stockroom of the census office in Times Street, and immediately upon seeing him I was prompted to relate the experience to something about movies. You know what, I have this habit of automatically connecting people, events, and experiences to the movies I watched or books I’ve read at some point in my life and on that particular moment, my reaction to the sight of Mr. Horror Movie was obviously unflattering. But what am I supposed to do? That meeting turned on the hidden switch. I couldn’t think of any other image or sentiment that would connect me to him except for the Nightmare on Elm Street. One of these days, I would have painful karmic lessons from having this aberrant behavior.

But there he was, in what I would call the dungeon of the census, a place that reeks of the stench of decay, the dim light mood does not help in any way to assuage my morbid mixed emotions when I walked in. As I turned left to one of the isles in between rows of bookshelves, he was there, smiling a wicked smile that almost made the hair on my neck stand stiff. But in fairness, he went about his work with the absolute dedication of the man who seems to honestly want to have nothing else to do with the rest of his life than this. I wouldn’t be surprised if his last wish is to get buried somewhere here.

I mentioned to him first the full name of Rosalie making sure I pronounced it right and gave the few details I have gathered about her life from all my adventures and just like that, Mr. Horror Movie immediately went to work scanning across piles upon piles of documents that connect to the past, frozen in time.

I was surprised to be left alone in the dim-lit room with the mixed scents of noxious fumes, dead things, the leaking sewer, and the unforgettable smell of paper mill that never fails to take me back in time to my old job as proofreader at the old Evening Post. I tried looking behind my back from time to time, expecting some rabid voracious beast to leap out of the dark and devour my intestines. In that brief interlude of time somewhere underneath the bowels of this scary old building, amidst shadows and secrets, I fought fear by retracing my steps back to that dark rainy afternoon in July when I received Atty. John’s phone call while driving in the middle of Edsa. One day, I was in Sta. Rosa Laguna, and the next day, I was flirting with the thought of taking the last plane trip to Davao but decided against it after a friend tipped that someone at the Civil Registry in Mandaluyong holds the key to my fortune. One moment I was at Quiapo underpass looking at magic amulets, and at the South Cemetery the next. And then there was that drinking binge with forgers, fixers and plain crooks during yet another typhoon-ravaged evening at some stinky bar in Claro M. Recto, when I had grown so desperate, too desperate that I seriously considered breaking the law if that is the only way to get what I wanted.  

The introspection was cut short by Mr. Horror Movie’s sudden appearance from the dark, carrying a huge book that let loose a mighty spray of dust when he abruptly opened its pages. And there it was. Everything that I wanted to know about Rosalie. That yes indeed, she walked the aisle as a 21 year old bride in 1957. I wonder what gown she had, the scent she wore. Was she pure and untouched at the altar on that day? Afterall, those were the days.

And then, finally, I got the fact that I wanted to know. The one answer to my question, the one I've been waiting for. Immediately, I wanted to scream, I wanted to tear this building apart, I wanted this place to burn to the ground, tell it to bring its secrets to hell, and never come back again even in my memory.  My instinct was to bid my farewell to Mr. Horror Movie, but as if on cue, as if to read my thoughts, he offered his hand, not saying a word, but I fully understand that what he meant was his job was done and I should be going. I accepted the handshake and it felt cold, like shaking the hand of a body that’s just been taken out from the morgue. When I turned my back and headed for the sunlight, I had to squint and blink to adjust to the sun until I realized I was in tears.

If my discovery from the dungeon with Mr. Horror Movie this morning was not enough to bring me down to my knees, my next quick stop – here at Pinaglabanan crushed my spirit beyond resurrection, by this time, the sun had absconded and left the whole of the heavens to the rain. So this is where the journey stops, I said to myself. Rain-drenched Pinaglabanan. As I held the paper in my hand – a reproduction of the microfilm entry that officially validates the record I just found at the dungeon – I was consumed with a totally different, incomparable kind of emptiness that I have never felt before in my entire life. Rosalie has become more than a ghost from the past. I realized she has taken her place somewhere in the deepest corners of my consciousness, a place that takes only the worst of emotions to enable me to sink deep enough to recognize that it actually exists.

I wonder what they made Rosalie wear at the funeral, her own funeral. I wanted to know if the mortician did a good job to conceal the ravages of tuberculosis that led to her untimely death at the tender age of 24, three years after her wedding. Maybe she was a beautiful woman, a lovely bride, but how was she when she laid there lifeless. Cold. Dead. It is almost unfathomable that someone I have never even met, someone I would never have the chance to know, someone who was there long before I came, and left already long before I had my turn to come to life, someone who is not and never will be a part of me except perhaps for a passing memory, or if not an obscure image in time, a speck in space, indeed unfathomable is the only word I can think of to describe the short, very short and anonymous life she lived and in the mysterious confluence of events that she found me, or rather that I found her, and then how one thing led to another until here I am questioning my purpose, my being, my own faith. I was grieving for someone I never came to know, someone from another generation far removed from the day the great force behind the order of things commanded that I come to life.

I am a man who had lived through many episodes of pain and grief but here, right here under the rain, while holding the paper that is already beginning to wilt in my hand, the suit I was wearing already a complete mess, and my spirit broken, and as I stood defiant under the rain, and completely soaked to the bone, I knew I had fallen down a new depth where I have never gone before. Another heartbreak like this would probably kill me.

Rest in peace Rosalie…

Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Father's Day

"When I was a child, I had life all figured out. Life is all about making sad people become happy. I guess I never changed the way I think from there because up to now, years later, I subscribe to the same school of thought. What I never expected was just how far this simplistic yet life-altering principle can take me. You would think it takes a rocket scientist’s understanding of life to be able to reveal the purpose and reason why we live. Well, think again. I became a journalist. Analyzing unfolding history not from the safety of the office cubicle but in the frontline, where the raw emotions of a rebel attack aftermath, the tears of a losing Olympian, the last dying dream of a PWA (person with aids), and the national hysteria of a Michael Jackson visit would inevitably spill over you."
My father was almost in tears looking at the distance and almost totally unconscious of my presence as he spoke. I realized he was talking to himself. The impulse to make people happy is one of my father’s most powerful and endearing traits, in fact it ruled his life and one I am quite pleased to become a living and breathing witness to.

"It is almost addictive. It consumes you, heart and soul you sink deep into your own trap, you just keep doing it from the first time you felt the sheer joy of transforming grief into smile then you go at it over and over again at the expense of your own private time and relationships and never run out of opportunities because there are just too many people in the world who are sad and waiting to be consoled."

I truly believe the man and for a while I was genuinely sympathetic. Then I remember the late nights he would come knocking at the door, only to fall asleep like a dead log for long hours, and then leave and be gone for days without a word, at times, even for months returning only to reenact this cycle of sightings and disappearances all over again. I remember the awful drugs and drinking binge, the endless waiting to see him come back. I haven’t really forgotten and I doubt if it is within me to forget the absentee celebrant that he was during his own birth day and on father’s day, his excuses for not being there to pin medals when we did well in school, the fact that it was mom who taught me to swim, to bike and fly a kite, the dark void that he left in my boyhood.
"So as I was saying, I took it a step farther, quit my job with the network with my career just starting to blossom and all my life savings I had no second thought about spending for tuition to enroll in law school and in the next four years I had toiled like a slave, friends say I had completely lost my mind, well, they can say what they want, it’s a free country, but law school was an obsession a reason to push myself to work even harder, to live in constant desperation to be an attorney at last."

He broke into a half-smile at the mention of attorney at last. He is indeed an attorney at law, one of the very best. His colleagues would tell me about it to have me drawn into a conversation and I would oblige like a dutiful son to affirm the impression, by showing them how I had I kept abreast with all my father’s achievements, to take the cue from them, as if I had been programmed to do so. And indeed, they were genuinely amazed, maybe envious when speaking of my father’s landmark battles in court, the winning lawsuits against mighty business empires and high-profiled criminals, the oral arguments in the High Court that they can’t stop talking about in legal circles and conversations like these are part of urban legend, a modern day lore except that everything they knew is true. He played his maverick’s role with aplomb.

But these friends are completely mistaken if in their opinion my father earned a fortune from his practice. I myself am beleaguered by this irony. If the man had really earned his millions, well, he made a good job hiding it because I have not seen the benefit of those staggering tales of money. Always a simple man, you don’t equate father with fancy clothes and cars. We live in the same neighborhood from the time I was born and see no hope of moving into a better place, not that I am complaining of what we have and where we are. My father had never failed to remind us that a lot of people are in worse shape in the few times, rare occasions indeed that something like conversation would break the silence between the two of us. The law completely took him away from us. I still do hate the missed opportunities, the family bonding moments that we never experienced as much as we craved for them, just the simple joy of having a complete household, and the comfort in the knowledge that he was in the next room, and not the sad fact that he was not really present in our lives even when he is around because his heart throbs for the call of the courtroom, and the files of documents that demand too much of his time to make sense of life’s legal side and that side of life that people make with their greed and infidelity, the people who just can't wait to be relieved of their sadness. 
The medical attendant signaled my visiting hour is up. I gave him a hug and as he bent to kiss my forehead, I realized I will never be as tall as he, and maybe it is a metaphor of how I may never come to reach the heights he managed to scale. But I am happy with what I am and what I’ve done. That’s always been my retort and rebuttal.
As I walked out of the hospital and stand at the street corner now, my mind was deluged with reminiscences, a rush of memories that come forth almost in the form of a physical force ramming against the doorway to all the deepest private thoughts that I have kept so tightly closed and which I have always tried to avoid being exposed and agitated. It was not his fault that he took to heart the child’s faith that maybe it was destiny's will that wanted him to heal people of their sadness for there cannot be a more noble thing to live for. If only I had the power to change things before they happened I would have made him realize that one must hold back bits of that happiness that he was unwittingly giving away, if only to save some for the people in his life who truly mattered. I am selfish, in a way I guess I am but the way I see it now in hindsight, it would not have hurt to have spared something for himself, the happiness that he thought was abundant and inexhaustible. 

He might have succeeded in a grand way in turning sadness to gladness, but doing so had left him almost completely consumed with sadness himself, betrayed by his childhood faith.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I can’t recall anymore how long and how many times I’ve done this before, sitting under the tree right next to the rows of food stalls here at the Quezon City Hall open food court chilling out over halohalo on a disposable paper-thin plastic cup.

It’s been so long since the first time I’ve been here doing this but I remember it was years ago, as a struggling government employee and it’s amazing that I still do this now. My thoughts then were of the forthcoming prosperous times, perhaps having cappuccino at new world cafĂ© poring over the newspaper’s business section to analyze the latest movements of my blue chip stockmarket investments.

I have since stopped being a bureaucrat and those thoughts of prosperous time have remained just thoughts but refusing to fade.

The friends that I used to visit every now and then at their office desks in the nearby city courts are not there anymore; they have moved on for better things. It gives no comfort reminiscing of my old job at Visayas Avenue, which with the passage of time have only memories to offer now, and not exactly pleasant ones.

Most of my friends don’t get in touch I really doubt if they ever pause once in a while to think of me at all. Well, since I only get to remember them once in a rare while too, I guess I have no right to expect as much.

So when I go back to my old haunts like I do today, here in this familiar spot under the tree, it brings me a feeling of being stuck in the past, of being left miles behind by those who stood beside me when I was just at the starting line of the rat race.

Maybe I should have embraced destiny instead of chasing it. 

Maybe I should have stopped daydreaming of coffee breaks at new world long ago. If I did,  who knows, perhaps i would not be feeling like this, alone in the world and lonely. There should be purpose not only bitterness for every moment of reminiscences that I spend with my halohalo under the tree.

You know what, I don’t really like the taste of halohalo but I just don’t understand why I keep on coming back and doing this…