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More information TBA. The next morning, I bought my plane ticket. It is a trip he hates, both the voyage and arrival. Thinks of his lost friend and mentor, seated at the typewriter, working away in a slow accrual of letters, words, sentences, puzzling together pieces shed like bread crumbs on the path behind him. The boy will return, heartbroken, lonely, dejected. His three brothers and two sisters are all abroad, free from home—atop a hill in San Francisco, washed under the big Vancouver sky, hidden amid the joyful noise of New York City.
His parents, whom he cannot remember, are in graves he cannot bring himself to visit because he knows their bodies are not there. The grandparents, who raised him as best they could, are in Manila, though he no longer has contact with them because of the emotional violence of their last departure. He knows well what empty houses are and the mischief memories can play when cast among unfamiliar echoes. In the long hours spent in the airplane, he tries not to think about how his parents died, and therefore that is all he can think of.
He flips through the Philippine newspapers, obsessively. He studies his files of notes, clippings, drafts. Tries to write the prologue for Eight Lives Lived, the biography he wants to write about his mentor. He fidgets. Observes his fellow passengers. Judges everyone, in the traditional Filipino sport of justifying both personal and shared insecurities.
He reads some more, searching for a point of reference in a world that has never felt entirely his. He writes some more, trying to explain things to himself. He scribbles an asterisk. Present were his eight-year-old sister, Magdalena nicknamed Lena , his six-year-old brother, Narciso the Third shortened to Narcisito , and their yaya, Ursie no record of her real name.
The newest Salvador came into the third generation of family wealth, acquired through a blend of enterprise, sugar, politics, and celebrated stinginess. The four years before the Japanese invaded would prove formative: throughout his life the familial roots in the Visayan region represented something promising and pure.
According to a spokesperson for the Lupas Land Corporation, there were no fatalities. No group has claimed responsibility for the. But not change. You see, I toiled, but saw so little improving around me. What were we sowing? I grew impatient with the social politics that literature could address and alter but had until that time been insufficient in so doing. I decided to actively solicit participation—you know, incite readers to action through my work.
I think of the poetry of Eman Lacaba, who traded his pen for a gun and lived and died in the jungles with the communists in the seventies. The epigraph of that piece was wonderful. Ho Chi Minh. CS: Pride and fear of death.
You smile but I kid you not. Did you. When you reach farther and farther, sometimes you come full circle. The task then becomes all the more difficult, false steps more likely—though the eventual outcome may become more pertinent.
This of course opens you up to accusations of being quixotic or, worse—or perhaps better —messianic. Mind you, pretension and ambition are different words for the same thing. At Manila. Remember when air travel was fun? Toy pilot wings and smiling stewardesses showing you the massive cockpit? Now they separate us from our valuables and herd us through security gates, shoeless and anxious; they scare us with tales of deep-vein thrombosis; they pack us in like animals, then run Keanu Reeves on screens on the seat backs to lull us into a squirming stupor.
Soon after we fall asleep, they wake us. I bet anyone who is still a Marxist has never had an economy-class middle seat on a packed long-haul flight like this one. Around me, in this tin can, my fellow travelers: we, the acquiescent, unaware insurrectionists; we who have left and returned so constantly throughout history our language has given us a name—balikbayan. These are my people.
Likely a construction worker, one of the millions-strong diaspora indentured by the persuasiveness of dreams. To my other side, two older ladies, sisters by the look of them, fidget and flip through the inflight magazine for the sixteenth time.
One has a rosary wrapped around one hand. With the other, she turns the pages to the photographs. Across the aisle, a petite Filipina with towering shoes rests her blond head on the shoulder of a Texas-big American, his glasses low on his wedgelike nose, reading Dale Carnegie in a pool of light. A snake-and-dagger tattoo slithers up his forearm.
Behind sits a spry, elderly Caucasian, his white hair, warmup jacket, and khakis rumpled in the fashion of intrepid Jesuits or vacationing pedophiles. To his side, a duet of tirelessly gossiping domestic helpers continue their ninehour run.
Their heads, wrapped in eyeshades that hold back their hair, peck at morsels of hyperbole, like pigeons at rice dropped on the pavement of park promenades every Sunday, day off to the maids who flock by the thousands in the big cities of the world. The jokes had always seemed forced, and I laughed because I yearned for a connection. By some accounts, they failed even in that. And suddenly they have six more.
Maybe the Filipino sounds in our English phrases, or the different ways we each looked like my father, reminded my grandparents too much of the life they had before the institution of martial law that drove Grapes from politics at the height of his career, that deprived Granma of her mahjong parties and battalion of maids, that turned them both into just another couple of doddering slant-eyed fools moving too slowly in the soup-cereal-baking aisle of Safeway.
I had just turned five when we six arrived. My grandparents tried their best, gave up the small home they had built, moved into an ugly McMansion, hired a nanny to help with us. As we all came to discover the limitations of assimilation, we grew closer as a family.
I remember one time, after school, Granma and I stopped at St. A man sat up suddenly in a pew and started shouting at us. I also remember, years later, us six kids with our grandparents in front of the TV. Dinner on the table had long gone cold as we watched images of Edsa Boulevard thronged with people in yellow T-shirts, praying and singing, nuns linking arms to stop armored personnel carriers, a young girl placing a flower in the rifle barrel of a soldier who was struggling not to smile.
Around me on the plane, I hear what she meant: the singsong of Ilonggo from the aisle seat nearby, the molasses accent reminding me of the way my grandmother said things. From farther down comes the clunking consonance of Ilocano by the lavatories, Bicolano by the bulkhead. Maybe these people are coming home to make a difference.
Maybe I can be like them. My seatmates glance at me as if I were a foreigner. I save my Tagalog words for the proper time, to surprise them with what we share. We are more real than that philosophical conceit of humanity as the milieu of light: we are the milieu of sweat.
Our industriousness, our inexpensiveness, two sides of our great national image. That image the tangible form of our communal desire for a better life. Someone kicks the back of my seat as a reminder to quit being so profound. When I tell the stewardess my meal choice, I feel my neighbor observing me from the corner of his eye. He chooses differently, oppositely. When our food is passed down and unwrapped, I immediately regret my beef and covet his chicken.
I slather my hands with alcohol disinfectant gel. My neighbor looks at me and smiles. I pass him my little bottle and he cleans his hands as well. Then he nonchalantly puts the bottle in his breast pocket.
We eat our rectangles of food as if our elbows are fused to our sides. I pretend to be deep in thought and stare into the darkened screen of the TV in front me. Interview his sister and aunt. Investigate those names found in his notes: Changco. Reverend Martin. Sift through the ashes of the bridges that he burned.
Reassemble his many lives. I know they will all jump, the plane still taxiing, to claim possessions from overhead compartments. I know a voice will reprimand them over the public address system and peeved stewardesses will swat at their upraised hands and shut the compartment doors. Always the same. Drinks on international flights, you see, are free. Thrilled like a child at having his own screen on the seat back in front of him, he forces himself to stay awake to catch up on the latest Keanu Reeves movie.
Again and again he pilgrimages to the rear galley, to avail himself of free ice cream bars and tiny bags of snacks. He turns on his overhead light, tentatively, worried it will glare and awaken his neighbors.
He reads the in-flight magazine. In an article about Bali, the photographs of Eurasian girls in day-glow bikinis lounging on white sand and triangular silk pillows excite him visibly, and he squirms beneath his seat belt and holds the magazine strategically, feeling as if he were thirteen and not twenty-six.
He looks around. He cranes his head to see her now. He thinks, Something about cabin pressure makes me horny. He blames the long-haul boredom. What if—he thinks—she feels the same as me? What if I just took her hand and brought her to the lavatory?
The worst she could do is say no. He looks over but cannot see her. He marvels at its rabbitlike beauty. Madison had manly feet. The way Madison held him when they made love often seemed his main purpose for sex. It was like hands slowly being washed in warm water—needful, complete, and it cleansed him of that one thing he kept secret from her. He rubs his stubbly chin, a silent-film villain deep in thought, and his watch reflects a locus of light that flies onto the walls, the seat backs, the faces of his slumbering seatmates.
He examines it in the light. His grandfather had given it to him on his twenty-first birthday. This was years after the whole family had returned to the Philippines, years after things had begun to curdle, years after his grandfather had returned to his politics and his women.
Stainless steel, pearlescent white face, Oyster Perpetual DateJust. His grandfather has one exactly like it. A dedication to his grandson was later engraved on the back, and because of that the boy has treasured it.
That and the savory memory of lost family dinners when the two would unclasp watches and trade and compare and marvel. The boy for so long now has passed his off as genuine that even he has forgotten and has allowed himself, along with everyone else, to be fooled. Reach for the stars! The window open, its panel swinging tauntingly. He crosses the room like a hungry tiger suddenly uncaged at lunchtime. He is swimming across the flooded street to a stranded flatbed truck.
Dominador fights desperately against the raging current, debris hitting him at nearly every armstroke. Antonio hears shouts of men from behind him, the clatter of their shoes running up the stairs, down the hall. The police! Antonio leaps out the window and into the flood. When he surfaces, he sees Dominador on the back of the truck, cutting the ropes of a tarp with his footlong switchblade knife.
Above Antonio, police crowd the window, aim their pistols at him. He dips below, swimming like a shark. In the murky water, their bullets cruise past him like torpedoes. He surfaces in time to see Dominador pushing a yellow-and-red Jet Ski off the truck.
Its engine roars like a grizzly and Dominador speeds away, weaving through the stranded cars and jeepneys. Antonio spots a second Jet Ski on the truck. He swims toward it. Bullets zip by. They make popping sounds into the water. Antonio pulls himself onto the truck. In a single motion he pushes the Jet Ski off and starts it. He speeds over the flood-water, the wind fresh on his face. Through foggy shop windows, panicked people watch the commotion. As Antonio blurs past, he gives them his most winning smile.
It kills me how these days everyone has clinical justification for their strangeness. My lolo was recently diagnosed with Freudian narcissism. He then had his secretary do research on the Net. Instead of finding all the bad in it, of course he saw only the good. So rather than baixar all the books about how the disorder can be overcome, and how they hurt the people around them, he bought The Victorious Narcissist—a book about the triumphant qualities of Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam, etc.
Hell, Grapes even bought a copy to give to President Estregan as a Christmas gift. To be angry implies you care. I just feel sorry for him. A self-fulfilling prophecy: try as he did, he was damned forever to be the tiny narcissus.
I never knew how to reply, so I smiled the smile of a shy child basking in attention. I was afraid to. He smelled of Old Spice and pipe tobacco, which, I realize now, are more of those comforting clichés. It became his pet name for me. We all had them, his private names that made us each his unique grandchild. I was afraid not to. Every night, under the covers, her foot would be pressed against mine.
The biggest sin a Pinoy can commit is arrogance. He should have ripped off from someone else. There is a time and place for everything, my dear old Crisp. Some posts from the message boards below: —Wat a twatface that Salvador is! Lets c wat his so-called The Bridges Ablaze has 2 say. More power to you, Marcel! Lop the head off that commie. But in fairness, do any of us have answers?
Check out the yellow armpit stains in his barong! My bf has stains like that. Should work gr8. Ur wlcm! See: en. His head is nodding, slumping away from me.
My little bottle of alcogel peeks from his breast pocket. My hand hovers to fish it out. I decide against it. Instead, I try to sleep. I try not to think of Madison. In the month before Crispin died, it got to a point that being with Madison was like walking naked around a cactus with your eyes closed.
She liked to alternate her homoerotic suspicions with accusations of literary mercenariness. As if real-life people were too nebulous, too private and unreal for us to understand.
We liked to believe there is an alternate world, a better world, populated entirely by characters created by the yearnings of humanity—governing and inspiring themselves with all the lucidity with which we rendered them. We posited such a world to be an afterlife for the monumentally great and flawed men and women of history, because Julius Caesar is as real to us as Holden Caulfield, Pol Pot is as alive as Judas Iscariot.
The debt inside ourselves, as we Filipinos say. My biography of Crispin will be an indictment of my country, of time, of our forgetful, self-centered humanity. Romantics are really only in love with themselves. Hand-painted canvas banners had been strung up at the gate.
Dozens of farmworkers lined the gravel drive, straw hats pressed solemnly against their chests as they craned their necks to glimpse the child through the windows of the silver Packard.
Some of them had undone their neckerchiefs and waved them like makeshift flags. The car pulled up to the two-story manor, and the household staff in their cream uniforms, lined up in order of importance from the mayordoma down to the stable boy, erupted in applause.
Leonora stepped out from the car, reached in to take Salvador from Ursie, and proudly showed him off. Pink cheeks were touched, the bridge of his nose pinched again and again, and his already thick head of fine blond hair caressed admiringly. They marveled at his hazel eyes.
An old four-by-five in sepia: in front of the Salvador ancestral home outside Bacolod. From left to right all squinting in the sun : Ursie, short and stout; reedlike Lena in her school uniform; tousled Narcisito holding his toy glider; Crispin, almost too big for his perambulator; the punctiliously attired Mortimer J.
Gladstone, their Bostonian tutor; in the background, walking beside the rosebushes, his face hidden in the shade of his straw hat, Yataro, the Japanese gardener. Cristobal, are you listening? He picks up his watch from the desk and looks at it. He tries to attach the chain but has a hard time.
After a few moments he gets it right and slips the watch into the pocket of his waistcoat. Yciar gets up from the bed. She picks up the silk robe off the floor and pulls it around her. Cristo watches her silhouetted against the thin, bright lines of sunlight coming through the shutters.
They look like gashes on her, on everything. She walks barefoot across the room and stands on his feet. She holds him around his waist. They waltz a few steps. Then when I transfer at Hong Kong.
And of course the minute I land at Manila. Not there. She studies his face and seems guilty. She looks down. When she looks up again she is smiling. She straightens his cravat. I know. You must rush home, to that hospital to care for your mother and sister.
Promise not to forget me. Being remembered is all anyone can ask from a lost love. Her voice is so gentle he can barely hear her. I take it from the seat pocket in front of me. He opens it and begins to leaf. Tsk-tsk, he says, shaking his head. He nudges my elbow off the armrest and points at a particular article. Two more suicide bombings, just this morning. This time down south, in Mindanao.
Six dead, twelve injured by the first blast, at a Lotto outlet in front of the city hall in General Santos City. Most were municipal employees wagering just-cashed salaries. No one has asserted responsibility. The bombings are assumed to be retaliation for the coalition-led invasion of Afghanistan, of which President Fernando Valdez Estregan has made us a part.
I look at my seatmate and shake my head at the article. Then I pretend to go to sleep. A minute later, I hear him chuckling. I peek with one eye. Even I was shocked by the not-guilty verdict received by the Filipino-Chinese couple, who killed their maid by forcing her to drink Clorox Spring Flowers bleach. The maid was minding their son when he drowned in the bathtub.
She had been busy textmessaging. I hate lowbrow tabloid junk. I only clicked on the link that once, because the family involved was named Changco. I thought they might have been related to Dingdong Changco, Jr. It turned out the family in the trial was of no relation. The couple claimed he took it; the judge denied acceptance. The Changcos threatened to sue. Investigators confirmed a withdrawal of two million pesos had been made by the couple, though not a centavo surfaced in the accounts of the judge.
Blogs poked fun at how Mr. Changco returned home to find their three prizewinning Chihuahuas beheaded in the living room of their gated home. In the past couple of weeks, the loveand-retribution story has turned Lakandula into an unwitting celebrity—as soon as the media learned that he had wooed his now dead beloved by writing songs for her and playing them on his guitar, he became a national heartthrob.
Photographs of him were bought by tabloids and pop magazines at exorbitant prices. My seatmate is looking at a photo of Lakandula as a construction worker in Saudi Arabia, shirtless and muscled, leaning against a front-end loader.
His smile is bright, his hard hat askew on his thick shock of black hair. Among them are slips of paper filled with jokes, some in my handwriting.
Crispin was obsessed with our oral traditions and doubly infatuated with translating Filipino humor into English.
For example, capturing how the deprecation is in actuality selfdeprecation. One from the rival De La Salle University. The three students spot a very pretty light-skinned girl. Each of the boys takes a turn at trying to woo her. Are you hungry at all?
Rain streaks sideways across the glass. Suddenly the plane dips. Our stomachs squeeze into our throats. Passengers squeal, straighten, clasp armrests tightly.
Many double-check their seat belts, more than a few pull out rosaries and begin moving their fingers in time with their lips. Its interior lights dim. Muzak standards are played from the PA system: a tinkling piano version of the theme from The Godfather. The only person unfazed is my seatmate, who pulls out my bottle of alcohol disinfectant, takes off his socks, and starts slathering his feet, holding the plastic bottle between his teeth as he gets between his toes with all the fingers of both hands.
He slurps to keep his saliva in. So much for my bottle of alcogel. The plane shakes violently again. I close my eyes. The Godfather tune makes me picture silk-socked mobsters skating lithely on mirrored ballroom floors. Liberace at his piano on a dais, watching expectantly for the imminent crash that would break everything into a million little pieces. Independence is bliss. It really is. I remember, though, when Madison and I decided to get our own place in Brooklyn—my first real taste of independence.
I remember when I called him in Manila to let him and Granma know my decision. But part of me was relieved that I had pulled it off so easily. Madison and I moved our stuff into our shitty little wonderful new place, and returning the U-Haul truck felt like I was navigating my new yacht to one of those all-inclusive island resorts with vacationing Pilates instructors in G-strings and a pool with a bar in the middle of it.
The next month, however, my grandparents arrived suddenly. Even I began to doubt myself. I thought, perhaps, my independence had earned their respect.
Then they asked to see me alone on their last night in New York; they were leaving for Tel Aviv the next day to see a man about some especially fertile chickens. Grapes stood by the table in their room at the Holiday Inn. The place made me sad, disgusted even.
Ever since I was little, he liked to remind me that his wealth came from knowing how to save. The shirt was inside out. Grapes turned around and sat down at the table. He placed his seven-day pillbox in front of him, opened it to Tuesday, and began taking out tablets and capsules and arranging them on the tabletop. They looked like candies. Granma sat in the corner, looking at her hands. Grapes sighed. It was a brutal, crushing sigh. You went to Columbia!
They should make you editor in chief. Do you want me to go with you to talk to them? I looked at the masthead. Are you editor? Brigid Hughes, managing editor. Is your name Brigid Hughes? Ben Ryder Howe, senior editor. Is your name Ben Ryder Howe? Oliver Broudy, senior editor. Is your name Oliver Broudy? George Plimpton, editor.
Is your name George Plimpton? Always the same, huh? Are you the janitor? She sat quietly in the corner of the room, looking at her fists. My own hands started to hurt and I realized I was clenching them so tightly that my nails almost broke the skin. When I spoke up, I could feel myself shaking. I steeled my voice. Why do you think the father figure is always you?
Stories your grandmother would like and can show off to her friends.
Her voice was surprisingly angry. You are always trying to shock. You have all this horrible stuff in your work. Not very Christian things. Not very patriotic. And you say things that are not yours to say. Right, Grapes? What do you know about owning responsibility? We helped you play mommy-daddy with that girl in university. What happened there? But of course we helped you. Because we love you. But how do you repay us? Listen to yourself. In what book did you read that baloney?
Out of all of you six. Well here I am. One of us six. But look at where it got you. I wanted to hurt him, but not that way.
Than your father did. We stewed in the silence of a stalemate neither of us expected. I looked at my grandfather for what I knew would be the last time. He looked old. I went out into the hall. Granma followed. She started pulling wadded hundred-dollar bills from her pockets and pushing them into my hands. I kept my fists closed. For me. I let her. I hugged her. Then I walked to the elevator.
I pressed the call button purposefully. We stood there.
Granma brought out a Kleenex packet and tried to open it. I pressed the button again. Granma hid her face in a tissue. Granma began to blow her nose. The elevator finally came.
I was grateful that it was empty. I turned to look through the closing doors, but my grandmother was gone. The elevator went down and down and down until it stopped.
The doors opened and I was faced with a group of guys who looked like Midwesterners in town for a wrestling competition. For good. In past times, I work very hard. I remit money for a long time. I will now change everything. The money in the middle slips out of the stack and bills shower into our laps. He laughs as we pick them up. I hand over what I collected. The bills smell like sweaty hands and baking bread. I feel unspeakably happy for him. And guilty for having resented him.
Now, for the future of my children, I come home. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is your apt introduction to my country. Your armpits drip sweat like a tap, though the sky is almost always white, the sun almost always hidden. On the street, taxis done up like carnivals will honk straight at you, their drivers accosting your bags as if intending to hold them ransom for a twenty-cent tip.
In their cabs—perfumed with three different fruit-scented air fresheners, pork cracklings, and spicy vinegar—they hospitably turn the air-con to arctic freezing and crank up the volume on their stereo just for you, so that the Bee Gees fly high-pitched and crystalline from the speakers by your ears. Soot-caked cops do their best to direct the beast that is our traffic, their ineffectual whistles exacerbating the chaos that is our order.
Let me welcome you to my first country, my Third World. At dusk, when no other humans were afoot, Lena, Narcisito, and I would creep slowly between the cages. There was the jaguar, with his immense paws. The pair of aardvarks, named for Saints Peter and Paul. The Palawan bearcat. The ring-tailed lemurs. The buff-faced gibbons. The Philippine monkey-eating eagle named Bonifacio.
And the baby giraffe, who died before he grew to his full height. On those Sundays when his family would host all the others or at least those in good grace , Tito Odyseo would sometimes release the gazelles, a fleet trio that ran without knowing the estate was a larger, inescapable cage, or ran because a dozen children gave chase, or ran for the opportunity and sheer love of running.
I remember how we took after them, for those very same reasons. If only someone had taken a picture of that last picnic, with the animals in the background and the family all present. That was the last time we were together, the last time our ancestral land was still ours, the last time the spirits were still present there in the shadows beneath the trees. When the war came, the animals were quickly stolen, one by one, by hungry farmworkers. Tito Odyseo was severely beaten one night when he fell asleep guarding the cages.
Suddenly the plane dips again, and his thoughts take on the tinge of desolation, as they do in such moments. He closes his eyes and tries not to pray. From above, the city is still beautiful. We pass over brown water off the coast, fish pens laid out in geometrical patterns, like a Mondrian viewed by someone color-blind.
Over the bay, the sunset is starting, the famous sunset, like none anywhere else. Skeptics attribute its colors to pollution. Connecting them, the grid and the superavenues—Edsa, Roxas, Aurora, Taft —countless overpasses built like Band-Aids, innumerable billboards, restaurants for every nationality and budget, huge shopping malls with Bulgari, Shoe Mart, Starbucks, Nike, you name it.
You want it, you can get it in Manila, in shops and tabloids, alleyways and boardrooms. Modern Manila. She who once was the Pearl of the Orient is now a worn dowager, complete with the hump, the bunions, the memories of the Charleston stepped to the imported and flawlessly imitated melodies of King Oliver, the caked-on makeup and the lipstick smeared in thick stripes beyond the thin, pursed lips. She, the trusting daughter of East and West, lay down and was de stroyed, her beauty carpet-bombed by her liberators, cautious of their own casualties, her ravishment making her kindred to Hiroshima, Stalingrad, Warsaw.
And yet, from the air you think her peaceful and unflustered. On the ground is a place tangled with good intentions and a tyrannical will to live.
Manila has changed much since. If you know where to look, this is the most exciting city in the world. The passengers clap. Our hero slows. Eagle-eyes search for Dominador. There he is! Antonio builds velocity, his black leather jacket flapping like a cape. He jerks his vehicle to the right, heading straight for a half-submerged car. The Jet Ski slides over its hood, up its windshield, and flies through the air, Antonio hunched over the handlebars. Man and machine arc higher and higher, the engine screaming like a banshee in heat.
The fleeing Dominador looks behind him, wideeyed and stupid-looking. The Jet Ski closes in. Antonio leaps over his handlebars, like a gazelle through the air, and tackles Dominador. They tumble together. Seat belts click, click, click. Passengers rush to the windows on the right. Two pillars of evil black smoke, clambering up in the distance, seem to hold the heavens up.
At their feet, fire. In a way, I wrote that part for him. He became more than the guy beside me with annoying manners. What I said that he said to me, I could see that in him. When he tried to strike up a conversation, I closed my eyes and pretended to be dreaming.
From this point on, I should promise to tell the truth. I even reached the point of being able to cuss in his company. The friendship started with me doing a profile on him for my class with Lis Harris. Crispin and I would sit stiffly formal, a tape recorder like a string of barbed wire between us, always at some coffee shop or restaurant. I finished the semester and turned in the profile. A couple of weeks after our last interview I was finally invited into his office for a cup of Lapsang souchong and some madeleines.
He was visibly more at ease now that he was no longer under scrutiny. His smile, I noticed, was unexpectedly shy. We sat and nibbled and talked about stuff. Books, probably. Crumbs clung to the front of his argyle sweater. When I saw him the next day they were still there. In the beginning I felt uncomfortable, the way one does when first spending time with the obviously lonely. Crispin was a fixture on the busy campus, and his solitude was as familiar to everyone as the bronze Alma Mater statue.
Every morning and afternoon he would lope up and down the steps between Butler Library and his office in Philosophy Hall—his countenance rueful, his attire that of a flaneur with tenure. He reminded me of the way a Tokyoite looks in a cowboy hat, though Crispin somehow almost succeeded with his affectation of brown tweeds and a wilting red fedora with a green feather in its band.
Always a variation of that outfit, no matter what the weather; always a notebook covered in orange suede tucked under his arm. During our interviews, however, he was lucid and confident.
I learned much from Crispin, though a lot of the things he went on about passed over my head. But he was one of those teachers who, by a kind of osmosis, helped you discover the quantity of areas in your life in which you are still so ignorant as not to have even considered forming a wrong opinion. In his mind, the trivial shared equal prestige with the academic, and his sudden flaring intensities, set off by a word, an image, a private thought, made his conversation unpredictable.
Listening, you lived vicariously within the corners of a kind of universal mind, the near and far reaches of the universe, the infinite expanses of the ages. All this over chipotle nachos before our cheese-burgers arrived.
His Comp Lit lectures, with students spilling out the doorway, were legendary for their gee-whiz fervor, violent digressions, miraculous convergences.
Yet he struck me as possessing the self-centeredness of the calcified lonesome. During our first casual conversations, he chose his words with caution. Only after a few meetings did his focus shift away from discussing himself. It bounded past, to another realm he found more familiar, the wondrous specifics of the great cosmologies. Then he would sit in silence, soaking it up.
Never did he ask how my weekend went. Rarely did he solicit my opinion, except perhaps to pass judgment on me. When Crispin went on and on, I would sometimes tune out, watching his hands gesticulate.
Each was scarred bizarrely. The tissue, the size of a dime, was raised and silky, right in the center on the front and back of each hand. Like stigmata. Such personal mysteries intrigued me. At such times, I studied Crispin out of the corner of my eye, hunched, tired, in his squeaking chair in a tiny office that smelled like a goat wearing expensive aftershave, and I wondered about the road that had taken him to this point. They drink and watch the Purefoods vs. The student from Ateneo regales them with his dream of being a Supreme Court judge.
A particularly skanky girl passes, wearing a micro-mini denim skirt, a halter that reveals her muffin-top belly, long straight hair to the small of her back, and those precarious Plexiglas stilettos popular with dancers of the exotic discipline. A veritable Whore of Babylon! What a puta! I heard the honking of a horn, the clicking of a turn signal. I wish you were here. You would have enjoyed it. It would have made your grandfather so happy. It keeps me awfully busy.
Which is good. Especially in this season, when everyone wants something from you. That will pass. Always suspecting him of being on the verge of declaring martial law. But their parliament of the streets is just mob rule. People like you. What can anyone do? You really think you can change the world? It would just be better.
I have to go before he sees me on the phone. What time is it there in New York? You better get to bed. He pushes Antonio off with his powerful arms. With a press of the button, the villain unsheathes his switchblade. Dominador sneers. Antonio smiles.
His opponent closes in, slicing the air between them. My flight to Bacolod leaves early tomorrow. The traffic was too heavy to venture farther. I sat in the back of a taxi as it inched along a cordon of traffic cones, across the broad highway from a wall of fire swallowing blocks of shanties. Black shades of men and their hulking machines moved and shimmered against the backdrop of wrestling yellows and reds and oranges.
In places, spires of brilliant blue leaped and twirled and fell and shifted colors. The taxi driver and I sat transfixed, our faces pressed to the warm windows. Let us hope, my friends, and let us pray, that the rains will aid the brave firefighters in their heroic task. What was it really that kept him from returning to Manila? I even asked him once, and he said living abroad was harder.
That it took more guts to be an international writer. But there was always a lack of conviction in his voice. A defensiveness.
Could it be that he had just grown too soft for a city such as this, a place possessed by a very different balance? Here, need blurs the line between good and bad, and a constant promise of random violence sticks like humidity down your back. Wholly different from the zeitgeist lining the Western world, with its own chaos given order by multitudes of films and television shows, explained into our communal understanding by op-ed pieces and panel discussions and the neatness of stories linked infinitely to each other online.
Eu nunca soube o quanto você queria Viver de novo com a inocência Como nos bons velhos tempos, nossos anos de glória Quando você ainda estava aqui.
E nós podemos fazer promessas Esqueça a maneira como vivemos Eu posso excitar sua alma Eu posso excitar sua alma. Nunca é tarde demais Nunca é tarde demais E podemos fugir E podemos fugir. E nós podemos fazer promessas Esqueça a maneira como vivemos Nunca é tarde demais Nunca é tarde demais.
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