Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Basketball and Henpecked Husbands.

I have always had an aversion for Basketball. You  see, I  almost  broke  my  arm  and  my  skull due to the sport.

When I was a kid, I played it with my friends in a school intramurals and when the dunk of my life was about to unfold before everyone’s eyes, someone hit me while on air and I went down arm first, arching the impact on the concrete floor. That was all I remember. When I regained consciousness, I was in the hospital.

When I was on vacation, we held this game in my camp – the usual thing our company had been sponsoring since time immemorial. The main objective was on recreation and entertainment being workers encamped in the middle of the desert in this part of Saudi Arabia. I was one of the selected table officials to handle the timer and so, even if it was against my will, I volunteered just so the damn game could proceed.

The game was on its second half when a glitch occurred: I forgot to turn on the timer. My eyes were transfixed on the mating cats at the end of the court and my mind was busy concentrating on the very important question of how could cats mate with their ferocious meowing and fighting?

When the referee inquired shouting me of the remaining time left, I was doused with cold water and I suddenly knew I was still in Saudi with that damn basketball. So, I frightfully shouted what was registered in the timer, "Eighteen minutes and fifty seconds!"

"What?!" the referee's eyes bulged in disbelief.

Yeah, they were playing like a whole two hours already and all I could say was that they had not even consumed one-tenth of the second-half game time. But still I could see the enjoyment on the faces of the players that their saliva seemed to dangle from their mouths. And that was even when they were already dehydrated and their bodies were limping just running aimlessly back-and-forth the court.

With due respect to basketball fanatics, I really couldn't understand how in the world these people love the game. I told my fellow table officials that I didn't find any sense of appreciation for the sport that I would rather go watch cats in the act of mating or offer anyone for free my expertise of planting "kamote" in my backyard.

"Shut up! You're just a complete loser!" they answered ignoring me as if I did not exist and their eyes swelled totally hooked up to the scampering players. No one was there to support me of my theory: that basketball drives everyone nuts!

"What? And I was now a loser? God! This basketball syndrome must have it on them already and the two segments of their brains now reversed functions!" But, of course I did not say that for fear of my butt getting kicked.

I don't know why the players have to run back-and-forth the court going after that stupid ball, and why they have to shoot it into the ring with the other busy guys desperately extending their arms either to snatch the ball or shield the ball holder from shooting. And this, some players were just actually running to-and-fro the court pretending they held the ball or at least could touch it! I didn't know if the game included mascots in the line-up or decoys, or people just relishing their freedom to run or to show off their highest jumps.

Yeah, some players just chase other players there without even touching the ball until their eyes become bloodshot, their tongues suspend from their mouths, and their lungs frantically gasp for air.

And I saw other players too assigned to polish their team's bench with their butts and at the end of the game they receive equal prize with those who almost died with dehydration and twisted spine. Why don't they just assign a ball to a team, let the players line up to shoot the ball one by one into the ring? That should be easy!

And this: what is a basket doing with a ball? I tried to find out how come this game called basketball when I could see no basket ever carried by any player. It's weird. If it could be basket-papaya, basket-apple, basket-fish, or basket-tomatoes, you can easily find the connection.

But, basketball for a ball... what is it? Ok, unless the players carry with them a basket while they play this game, it could fill up the missing link. Just imagine a player dribbling the ball in his right hand while an empty basket dangles under his left arm. That could be cool and, of course, could justify its name.

Anyway, I read from an encyclopedia that this game started with a name like box-ball or something. But as I was not totally convinced with the story so I embarked on making my own personal theory and research.

I think it started when sometime in 1891 a housewife tried to purchase a pumpkin from the market called "Nepa-Q-Mart"(?). But the pumpkin she brought was bigger than her basket; so when she went back home, she held the basket in her left hand while her right hand rolled the pumpkin.

Annoyed by what happened, she called her henpecked husband to test how he would manage to insert the huge pumpkin into the small basket. You know the style of domineering wives whenever they have a problem they cannot solve? They let their henpecked husbands do the job so that when the poor husbands fail to solve the puzzle, these abusive wives beat them.

So she ordered him to go to the market with only enough money to buy one big pumpkin. Of course, the husband could not place the pumpkin inside the basket so like what happened to the wife, the husband dangled the basket in his left arm while his right hand rolled the pumpkin. But later, the husband found out he could dribble the pumpkin too, and so he kept dribbling it until midway into his house, the pumpkin disintegrated before his startled eyes.

Cowering in fear, the husband hung the basket onto a tree as he figured out what to do with the smashed pumpkin. Suddenly he thought that even if the pumpkin was smashed, his wife could still use it. So he tossed the pieces into the basket until some other sympathetic men helped him do the "tossing". (By the way these men already had their organization at that time they called LHH – Liberation of Henpecked Husbands).

When the husband arrived home, his wife was amazed at how clever he was that she didn’t have to cut the pumpkin anymore!

It ended up that the wife was happy.

So every time the husband buys a pumpkin, he would dribble it home as a small basket dangles under his other arm until the pumpkin disintegrates. Then, the husband and his friends would play pumpkin-shooting into the basket.

In the beginning, it was just called "basket-pumpkin" until they changed the pumpkin into a ball and the basket, a ring which is now called "basketball".

So, that's how Basketball came to be; a sport accidentally invented by a henpecked husband and originally played by the LHH (not really by PBA).

So then, I solved a piece of the puzzle with this sport everyone go nuts about. (And I hope that some award-giving body will recognize me for this breakthrough)

But now, there’s another question which needs to be solve – again. Why until now, didn't they change the word basket to "ring" to make it a "ringball? Ah, well, that could be my next research.

And, by the way, if anyone would like to disprove my theory of the “basket-pumpkin”, here is my advice: Forget it. You are wasting your time on this nonsense.

Tsinelas

“Tsinelas”

Tawagin nyo lang ako sa pangalang Nestor. Dalawampung taong gulang at panganay sa walong magkakapatid na apat na lalaki at apat na babae. Simula noong mamatay ang tatay, ako na ang katuwang ng nanay sa paghahanap-buhay. Kung anu-anong trabaho ang pinasukan – kargador, pangongopra, pagiging laborer – lahat na mabibigat na trabaho. Kaya sa katawan ko bakat ang epekto sa hirap na mga gawain: matipunong dibdib at malalaking mga braso at hita. At sa tindig na 5’10, tangos ng ilong, at sabi nila, nangungusap na mga mata, di hamak na may maipagmamalaki din naman.

Iyan ang sabi lalo na ng mga babae. Pero, di ko na binigyang pansin pa ang mga ito. Para sa akin, ang mahalaga ay ang perang kikitain sa araw-araw at ang pagkaing mailalatag sa mesa. Di kagaya ng ibang kabataan na kapag nagkapera ayun, nasa inuman na, sa barkada, o sa pagdi-date. Pero ako, kapag may kaunting bakanteng oras, nagpapahinga lang sa bahay. Trabaho, trabaho, at trabaho pa. Iyan ang routine na nakasanayan ko. Noong mamatay kasi ang tatay, inihabilin nyang huwag pabayaan ang mga kapatid. Kaya sa edad kong iyon, kahit girlfriend, hindi pa ako nakaranas. At kahit may mga pagkakataong tinatanong ko sa sarili kung ano ang pakiramdam ng isang may kasintahan, hindi rin sumagi sa isip na maghahanap ako nito.

Noong makaipon ako ng kaunting halaga, nag-downpayment at hinulog-hulugan ko ang isang potpot, isang de-padyak na tricycle. Kahit may mga de-motor na tricycle na sa bayan namin, marami pa rin kasing commuters ang naghahanap nito dahil sa mura lang ang pamasahe dito. Kaya ito din iyong naisipan kong hanapbuhay. Maigi kasi kapag sarili kong sasakyan ang minamaneho dahil kontrolado ang sariling oras. Kahit may kabigatan pa ring trabaho ito ngunit kahit papaano naman, pag-aari ko at walang gastos sa gasolina. Sa kabila nito, hindi ko pa rin pinapabayaan ang pagsa-sideline sa pag-aakyat ng nyog, pangongopra, o paglalaborer. Halos araw at gabi akong nagtatrabaho, walang oras upang mag-isip para sa sariling luho o kaligayahan. Minsan naitatanong ko sa sarili kung normal pa ba ang takbo ng buhay ko. Pakiramdam ko kasi, wala akong sariling mundo, walang karapatang mag-enjoy sa buhay.

Araw iyon ng pagda-drive ko ng potpot. Mag-aalas-10 na ng umaga at tila napakadumal ng pasahero. Wala kasing pasok ang paaralan sa araw na iyon kaya wala din ang mga estudyante kong suki. Naisipan kong umuwi muna upang magmeryenda. Noong mapadaan ako sa harap ng isang bagong tayo pa lang at magarang bahay. Nakatayo lang ang babae doon, tila may hinihintay. Sa tingin ko, nasa edad 25 ito, mahaba ang buhok na halatang kinulayan; maputi, maganda, at higit sa lahat maganda ang katawan. Tiningnan ko sya. Ang pagkakaalam ko, ang tipo nya ay hindi sasakay sa isang potpot. Napatingin lang ako sa kanya dahil nagandahan ako sa kanya. Ngunit noong makalampas na ako ng bahagya at nilingon ko ulet, di ko inaasahang kakawayan niya ako.

Agad-agad din akong bumalik at pumara sa harap niya. Noong makasakay na, umarangkada na ako at dahil wala namang sinabi, tinumbok ko na lang ang bayan.

“A… e, san ko po kayo ihatid ma’am?” tanong ko noong makarating na kami ng bayan.

Tumingin lang sya sa akin, ngumiti tila nalito kung anong isasagot. “A… ano nga pala ang pangalan mo?”

“Nestor po ma’am. San po tayo?” tanong ko ulet.

“Tawagin mo na nga lang akong Jenny, di naman magkalayo ang agwat natin eh. Ganito nalang, Nestor, magkano ba ang kinikita ng isang potpot driver sa isang araw?”

Dahil sa pagkalito sa isinagot niya, ipinarada ko muna ang potpot sa gilid ng kalsada “Depende po iyan ma’am. May 300, may 200, at kung mamalasin di pa nakakaabot sa 50.”

“Ah… kung ganoon, bibigyan kita ng 400 at arkilahan ko itong potpot at serbisyo mo ng isang araw – ngayon na. Libre kain, at kung saan man ako magpunta sa araw na ito, nandoon ka rin, bodyguard. At wala pa iyan… kapag nag-enjoy ako sa iyo, mas malaki ang tip na ibibigay ko.”

Napakamot ako sa ulo, inisip iyong salitang mag-enjoy siya sa akin. Malaswa kasi ang dating noon sa utak ko. May mga pagkakataon kasing may mga baklang sumasakay sa akin at nagpaparamdam; ang iba ay nanliligaw pero di ko pinatulan. Kaya naisip ko na baka sex ang ibig nyang sabihin. Pag nagkataon, siguradong lagpak ako dahil sa wala pa nga akong karanasan.

“Eh, iyon pong mag-enjoy kayo sa akin… ano po ba iyon?” Di ko rin napigilan ang magtanong.

Napangiti sya. “E, di kapag napasaya mo ako sa mga kwentuhan naten, sa pagsama mo sa akin sa araw na ito. Basta… Sobrang lungkot ko kasi, Nestor.” Ang pag explain nya. “Atsaka, Jen na nga lang ang tawag mo sa akin at huwag mo na akong po-poin eh! Kakainis ka.” Biro nya. “O Ano, deal na ba?”

“A, e… sige po, este, Jen pala! Pero, kailangan ko pa bang magbihis? Dyahe itong suot ko eh, naka-shorts lang at tagpi-tagpi pa siya.”

“S-sige, pero rugged lang din dahil di naman party ang pupuntahan natin. Iikot-ikot lang tayo sa plaza, sa shrine, mamayang hapon sa beach…”

At sumaglit nga muna kami ni Jenny sa bahay ko. Ipinarada ko ang potpot sa harap at habang hinintay nya ako sa potpot, dali-dali naman akong naligo at nagpalit ng damit. Kahit naka-tsinelas lang, faded straight-cut maong naman ang suot kong pantalon, body-fit na puting t-shirt ang pang-itaas, bakat na bakat ang matipunong dibdib at maskuladong mga braso. Syempre, arugang-aruga din ang buhok na nilagyan pa ng langis. Pakiramdam ko noon lang ako sumigla ng ganoon, at ewan, di ko rin alam kung bakit masigasig akong magpa-pansin.

“Hayup ang porma! Poging-pogi!” sambit ni Jenny noong bumalik na ako sa potpot ko, kitang-kita sa mga mata nya ang paghanga.

“Hehe. Syempre, ang ganda-ganda yata ng amo ko!” sagot ko naman sa papuri nya.

“Hmmm! Bolero ka din pala!” sabay tawa. “Alam mo, Nestor, aayusan ka lang ng konti, tatalunin mo sa ganda ng porma at hitsura ang mga artista at modelo d’yan! Wala sila sa iyo eh, sa ganda ng tindig, katawan, mukha, wow! Napakaswerte ng girlfriend mo. At sigurado ako, proud na proud sya sa iyo.”

Nginitian ko na lang sya. Bulong ko na lang sa sarili, “Sana nga. At sana din meron …” at umarangkada na ako, di ko na sinagot pa ang sinabi nyang iyon.

“O, diretso tayo sa may floating barbecue-restaurant ha? Kain muna tayo” sabi ni Jenny.

“Simula na ba ng libre kain ko?” Ang naitanong ko, sabay tawa. Ewan ko din ba, pakiramdam ko napakagaan ng loob ko sa kanya, at ang saya-saya ko sa mga oras na iyon.

“Oo naman! Ikaw pa.” sagot nya, habang tumatawa.

Pangalawang beses ko palang makapasok sa restaurant na iyon. Ang una ay noong binyagan ng anak ng amo kong may-ari ng nyogang tinatrabaho ko. Nguint hindi ko na-enjoy iyon dahil sa ang mga kasama namin ay may kaya ding mga kaibigan ng amo ko. At hindi na nasundn pa iyon. Mahal kasi ang mga pagkain dito. Ang restaurant ay nakalutang sa dagat, presko ang hangin, at napakapayapa ng ambiance lalo na kapag ibinaling mo ang mga mata sa nakapaligid na dagat. At ang pinakagusto ko sa lahat, parang nasa bahay lang ako kumakain dahil sa kamayan. Di lang iyan, napakasarap pati ng barbecue nila na syang binabalik-balikan ng mga tao. Karamihan sa mga suki ng restaurant na iyon ay may mga kaya din; iyong iba ay mga dayong turista. Sa sandaling iyon, pakiramdam ko, isa din ako sa mga may kayang kustomer. “Ganito pala ang buhay mayaman. Nae-enjoy ang sarap ng hangin, ng pagkain, walang pressure… masaya” bulong ko sa sarili.

Noong matapos kaming kumain, dumeretso kami sa plaza, at pagkatapos, sa shrine. Matagal na daw kasing hindi nabisita ni Jenny ang mga lugar na iyon simula noong mapunta sya ng Japan. May mga magagandang ala-ala daw kasi ang mga lugar na iyon sa kanya at gusto nyang sariwain ang mga iyon.

Alas kwatro na ng hapon noong marating namin ang beach resort. Iyon na raw ang pinaka huling lugar na pupuntahan namin. Hindi ko alam, pero ang totoo, may lungkot akong nadarama. Marahil ay dahil nabaitan ako sa kanya, naligayahan sa pagsama sa kanya. Marahil din ay nanghihinayang ako na baka iyon na ang huling pagkikita namin, at malapit nang matapos iyon. Tila may bahagi sa akin na sumisigaw na sana ay huwag munang matapos ang araw. Ewan, marahil ay natakot lang din ako na matatapos na ang pagpapakasarap ko at babalik na naman sa nakababagot na buhay, ang pagpapakahirap at ang pagbabanat ng buto.

Kumuha sya ng isang cottage para sa amin at nag-order ng pagkain at isang case ng beer. “M-mauubos ba natin iyan Jen?” Tanong ko, di makapaniwala sa dami niyang inorder.

“Kaya natin iyan, paunti-unti lang, paglipas ng oras, di na natin mamalayan ubos na pala iyan”, sagot naman nya.

Nag-inuman kami. Medyo tumalab na ng kaunti ang nainum namin noong naging seryoso na ang usapan.

“O nga pala. Bakit pala naisipan mong dito tayo mag-eestambay?”

“Isa kasi ito sa mga lugar na sobrang na-miss ko. Dito nangyari ang pinakamasayang ala-ala ko at ng boyfriend ko. Dito nagsimula ang pagmamahalan namin, at dito ko rin isinuko sa kanya ang pagkababae ko… Alam mo, ang saya-saya ko sa mga araw na iyon. Akala ko, hindi na matatapos ang lahat” sabi nyang kitang-kita ko ang pamumuo ng mga luha sa mata nya. Ramdam ko ang matinding kalungkutan at pangungulila nya.

“E… nasaan na ba ang boyfriend mo ngayon?”

“Wala na sya, nag-asawa na. Hiniwalayan nya ako noong magpunta akong Japan at nalaman nya na nakipag-live-in ako sa isang matandang hapon. Hindi daw nya masikmura ang naging karanasan ko. Noong magkita kami, nakita ko ang asawa nya at ang kalagayan nila. Kapos sa pera ngunit naiinggit pa rin ako dahil dama ko ang pagmamahalan at kaligayahan nila na…” huminto siya ng sandali at pinahid ang mga luha sa pisngi “…kabaligtaran naman sa kalagayan ko. May pera nga ako ngunit may malaking kulang naman; may kung anong hinahanap-hanap na hindi ko matagpu-tagpuan.”

Hindi ko lubos maunawaan ang naramdaman sa narinig, di alam kung paano ibsan ang naramdaman niyang kalungkutan. “E… ba’t ka pala napadpad ng Japan?” ang tanong ko na lang.

“Tulad mo, mahirap din lang kami. Nag-iisa lang akong anak at noong mamatay ang mga magulang ko, may nag-alok sa akin na magtrabaho ng Japan bilang entertainer. Nakapasok naman ako at iyon...”

Sa narinig, di ko maiwasang ikumpara ang sariling kalagayan na halos magpakamatay na sa hirap ng trabaho makamit lang ang kapiranggot na pera. Ang kaibahan lang ay hindi ko minsan inisip na gamitin ang katawan upang aangat ang kalagayan. “E… hanggang ngayon ba ay nagja-japan ka pa rin?”

“Hindi na. Ayoko nang bumalik pa doon. Bago mamatay ang ka-live-in kong hapon, pinatayuan niya ako ng bahay, iyon iyong kung saan kita pinara kanina? Nakapagpundar din ako ng maliit na parlor, nakabili ng palayan, isang sasakyan... Tama na iyon. Dito na ako sa atin.”

“Iyan naman pala eh… At least nagbagong-buhay ka na.”

“Halika, may ipapakita ako sa iyo” tumayo sya at hinawakan ang kamay ko, hinila patungo sa isang malaking puno ng kahoy na di kalayuan sa cottage. Umupo sya at hinukay ang parte sa may gilid ng puno hanggang sa umusli ang isang pirasong lumang tsinelas.

“Ano iyan?” Tanong ko, nalilito sa nakita.

“Ang puno ng kahoy na ito ay tinatawag naming ‘Denjen’ pinagdugtong na mga panaglan namin ng boyfriend ko. Dennis ang pangalan nya. Nagsumpaan kami na dito namin ilalagay ang tig-iisang kapareha ng tsinelas namin, kaliwang tsinelas sa kanya at kanan naman ang sa akin. Tingnan mo, tanging ang kanan nalang ang natira…” sabay hugot noon at pinagmasdan itong maigi. “Tila wala pa ring nagbago sa tsinelas ko…” dugtong nya.

Maya-maya, ibinaun nya muli ito sa buhangin.

“E nasan na iyong tsinelas ng boyfriend mo?”

“Noong maghiwalay kami, itinapon ko na ito sa dagat. Binigyang-laya, pinakawalan… Ewan kung saan na sya napadpad. Ang alam ko lang, masaya na sya…”

“Hindi ka pa ba nakalimot?”

Binitiwan nya ang malalim na buntong-hininga. “Gusto kong tanggapin pero nandito pa rin ang sakit eh. Pero sabi rin nila na tuluyan ko raw malimutan si Dennis kapag may nahanap na akong isang taong papalit sa kanya dito sa puso ko; ang taong… maglagay din ng isang tsinelas nya sa ilalim ng punong ito.”

Hindi na ako nakakibo. Kahit hindi ko pa naranasan ang umibig, ramdam sa puso ko ang lungkot na bumalot sa kanya.

“Huwag na nga nating pag-usapan iyan. Sobrang seryoso naman.” Ang bigla niyang paglihis sa usapan noong mapansing tinablan din ako sa malungkot niyang kwento. “Hoy! Nand’yan ka pa ba?” tanong nya.

“A, e… oo naman. Ano nga pala ulet iyong sinabi mo?”

“Hindi ka pala nakinig eh! Kakainis. Gwapo ka sana kaso bingi nga lang! Hmpt!”

“Hehehe! Ano nga iyon ulet Jen?” tanong ko, sabay lapit ng mukha ko sa mukha nya pagparamdam na gwapo nga ako.

“Oo na. Bingi ka! Wala na akong sinabi” ang sagot naman nyang tila nagmamaktol.

“Ay... pikon! Pikon! HAHAHAHAHA! Pikon!” pang-iinis ko na may pa-kanta kanta pa.

“Sige, kanta ka pa d’yan. Inisin mo pa ako at maligo ka ng buhangin, sige” pananakot nya.

“Pikon! Pikon!” ang lalo ko pang pang-inis, sabay hubad ng T-shirt at takbong palayo, inihagis iyon sa harapan ng cottage.

Sinugod nya ako. Nagbatuhan kami ng buhangin, naghabulan, tawanan hanggang sa mapagod at magkatabing nahiga sa buhanginan, kapos ang paghinga. Natahimik kaming pareho ng mga ilang minuto hanggang muling nag-kwentuhan at nauwi ang usapan sa girlfriend at sex.

“Na-experience mo na bang makipag-sex, Nestor?” tanong nya.

Feeling ko pulang-pula ang pisngi ko at tila nanlamig ang buo kong katawan sa di inaasahang tanong. Sa buong buhay ko, noon ko lang narinig ang tanong na iyon at sa isaang babae pa. “E…”

“Huwag ka nang mahiya. Ok lang sa akin. Natural lang na pinag-uusapan iyan sa mga kagaya nating nasa tamang edad na.”

“E…”

“Ano?” pangungulit niya.

“H-hindi pa eh. Ni hindi pa nga ako nakaranas ng girlfriend? Kahit halik di ko pa naranasan.”

“Talaga? Pero hindi ka naman bakla!”

“Hindi ah!” ang mabilis kong depensa. “Heto bang katawan na ito ay bakla?” sabay unat ng mga braso ko at ipinamukha iyon sa kanya.

Ewan kung ano ang pumasok sa isip nya at bigla nalang syang sumigaw. “Virgin ka pa? Hahaha! Hoy mga kapitbahay, virgin pa si Nes-uhhmmmp!”

Hindi nya na naituloy pa ang pagbigkas sa pangalan ko gawa ng bigla kong pagtakip sa bibig at pagdagan sa katawan nya sa sobrang hiyang naramdaman ko. Ini-lock ko din ang mga hita ko sa mga hita nya. Hindi siya makapalag.

Nasa ganoong ayos kami noong marahil ay dala ng matinding pagkapahiya sa pagkalalaki ko at pumasok na rin sa isip ang tanong nya sa akin tungkol sa sex, ang nasambit ko na lang ay, “Virgin pa nga ako at wala pang karanasan sa kahit paghalik. Pero kapag tinanggal ko ang kamay na to sa bibig mo at sisigaw ka pa rin, hahalikan na kita sa bibig kung iyan ang gusto mo upang mag-enjoy ka sa akin!”

Napansin ko na lang na bigla syang natulala. Hindi sya kumilos at kitang-kita ko ang galit sa mukha nya. Pumalag sya at walang imik na tumayo, patakbong tinungo ang cottage at naupo sa may hagdan.

Sumunod ako at naupo din sa tabi nya. “Jenny! Pasensya na! Patawarin mo ako Jenny! Di ko sinadyang saktan ka!” pagmamakaawang sabi ko.

“Hindi naman iyon Nestor e. Ang gusto ko lang sabihin na itong pagpapasama ko sa iyo ay hindi dahil sa may masama akong balak. Nag-japayuki man ako pero hindi ako ganyan ka cheap! Hindi ako nakikipaghalikan sa kung sinu-sino. Ang gusto ko lang ay mag-enjoy, ma experience ang mga bagay-bagay na hindi ko na-experience habang nasa abroad ako, at maibsan ang nadaramang sakit dito sa puso ko, kaya ako nagpasama sa iyo. Kung gusto ko ng sex, marami d’yan... at kung gusto mo ng pera, di mo kailangang gawin ang isang bagay na ayaw mo. Sabihin mo lang..” pag-explain nyang halos tutulo na ang luha.

“Jen, wala iyan sa isip ko, maniwala ka... Talagang biro ko lang iyon. Oo, aaminin ko na kaninang umaga noong nakipag-deal ka pa sakin, nag-isip ako nang masama sa bonus na sinabi mo. Ngunit noong magkasama na tayo, nagkwentuhan, nagbiruan, naramdaman ko ang sarap nang pakiramdam na merong taong pumapansin, nagmamalasakit, nakikipagkaibigan, at nagtiwala sa akin. Ngayon ko lang naranasan ang may nagbigay-halaga sa akin, Jenny... sa kabila ng pagiging ganito ko – na mahirap, driver lang ng potpot, walang pinag-aralan, ngunit tanggap ang pagiging ako. Hindi pinag-uusapan ang pera dito, kahit hindi mo ako bayaran sa potpot ko o sa oras ko, masaya na ako dahil nakilala ko ang isang babaeng katulad mo at naging kaibigan. Simula pa noong maliit ako, puro na lang kahirapan ang naranasan ko. Wala nga akong natatandaang masasayang alala. Kaya noong mag-kwento ka noong masasaya mong karanasan sa lugar na to, tahimik lang ako, nag-iisip dahil nainggit ako sa iyo. At nahiling ko sa sarili na sana mayroon din akong maging masayang alaala, at sana dito iyon... kasama ka.” paliwanag kong ramdam ang pagtagos ng luha. “Jen, simula noong maliit pa lang ako, nasasabak na ako sa mabibigat na trabaho... noong mamatay ang tatay ko, ako na ang bumubuhay sa pamilya ko. Wala na akong iniisip kundi problema sa pamilya, kapatid, at nalimutan ko na may sarili din pala akong buhay... at sa araw na to, naranasan ko ang madama ang sariling buhay na iyon, at napakasaya ko. Ramdam ko ang pagbigay halaga ng isang tao sakin, at ikaw ang tao na iyon... Pero kung hindi mo ako mapatawad, wala akong magawa.” At tuluyan na akong humagulgol na parang batang musmus.

Napaiyak na rin si Jenny. Niyakap niya ako, hinaplos ang likod at ulo. Niyakap ko din sya... “Pasensya ka na sa nasabi ko, sorry Nestor... So friends ulit?”

Nag-kamay kami, nagtawanan at nagpahid ng mga luha namin. “Para tayong mga baliw neto!” ang sabi ko habang tumayo at hinawakan ang isang kamay nya upang alalayan syang tumayo.

Maya-maya, umurder pa ulit sya ng kalahating case ng beer at nagkwentuhan ulit kami. Medyo lasing na kami noong bumalik na naman ang topic sa karanasan sa sex.

“Totoong wala ka pang karanasan, Nestor?

“Di ka ba naniniwala?”

“Kasi, sa gwapo mong iyan... kahit sa bakla, wala kang experience?”

“Meron ding mga nagparamdam. Kaso, ayokong pumatol. Ayaw ko kasing gumawa ng ganoon ng dahil sa pera. Kung gawin ko man, iyan ay dahil gusto ko, gusto ko iyong tao, at walang perang pinag-usapan. Sa tatay ko natututunan ang paninindigan. Hindi daw lahat ng bagay ay nadadaan sa pera. At ang pera ay pinaghirapan. Kaya noong sinabi mo na sabihin ko lang kung gusto ko ng pera, nasaktan ako. Parang sobrang napakaliit ng pagtingin mo sa pagkatao ko. Pero naiintindihan kita... Iba-iba naman kasi ang pananaw natin sa buhay” sabi ko.

“Sorry din sa nasabi ko ha? Ngayon ko lang na-realize na masakit pala talaga iyong nasabi ko.”

“Wala na sa akin iyon, Jenny... kalimutan na natin un. Ibang topic, please?” pabiro kong sabi.

“OK... balik na lang tayo sa sex story. Huwag kang magalit sa tanong na to, ha?”

“OK, shoot!”

“Ano ba ang type mo sa isang babae?”

Napangiti ako, halos hindi makasagot. “A… di ko alam e. Siguro, maganda, mabait. Pero sa tingin ko, kahit sino basta kapag nand’yan sya, titibok-tibok ang puso ko sa sobrang galak, hihinto ang galaw ng mundo at takbo ng oras… Higit sa lahat, dapat sya ang unang makahalikan ko, ang una kong makaniig.”

“Ganoon? Corny naman!” Ang sabi nyang sabay tawa. Napahinto sya ng sandali at nagsalita, may bahid nang lungkot ang mukha. “Ako ba, sa tingin mo mahirap mahalin?”

Tila may sibat na tumama sa puso ko sa tanong nyang iyon. Marahil ay awa, di ko lang alam. Tiningnan ko sya. “Sa ganda mong iyan…”

“Syempre, m-marumi ako… marami nang mga lalaki ang dumaan sa akin.”

“Pero di ba nagbago kana?”

Tumango lang sya, nahihiya.

Hindi na ako kumibo, binitiwan ang isang titig na puno ng pang-unawa. At ewan ko ba kung ano din ang sumagi sa isip ko noong bigla ko nalang nasabin sa kanyang, “Gusto ulitin natin iyong ginawa ko kanina sa iyo kung saan dinaganan kita at noong sisigaw ka na sanang virgin pa ako, tinakpan ko ang bibig mo at sinabing hahalikan kita kung sisigaw ka pa rin?”

Natawa siyang bigla. “Gusto mo, sige…”

Humiga sya sa papag at habang dinaganan ko sya at nagtagpo ang aming mga tingin, napangiti sya at sumigaw, “Mga kapitbahay, virgin pa si Nestor! Mga kapitbahay, virgin pa si Nestor!”

Tinitigan ko lang sya, hinayaang sumigaw nang sumigaw habang pinagmasdan ko naman ang mga malilit na detalye sa kanyang mukha, ang mga matang nangungusap, ang mga mapuputi at pangtay na mga ngipin, ang mga mapupulang labing nanghahalina.

Napahinto din sya sa kasisigaw noong mapansing wala akong reaksiyon at nanatiling nakatitig ako sa mukha nya. Tinitigan din nya ako. Nagkasalubong ang mga titig namin. Ngunit noong bigla kong binitiwan ang isang ngiti, sumigaw na naman sya, “Mga kapitbahay, virgin pa si Nes-ummmpppttttt!”

Di niya na ma-kumpletong bigkasin ang pangalan ko. Di ko napigilang ilapat ang mga labi ko sa mga labi nya. Ginantihan nya ang mga halik ko. Mapusok, nag-aalab ang mga damdamin. Pakiwari koy tumibok-tibok ang puso ko sa sobrang galak. At tila huminto ang galaw ng mundo at ang takbo ng oras… at tuluyan na rin naming inalis ang mga natitirang saplot ng aming mga katawan. Sa pagkakataong iyon, nangyari sa amin ang hindi ko inaasahang una kong karanasan.

Noong matapos na naming maipalabas ang bugso ng aming damdamin at humupa na ang init ng aming katawan, “Nestor, meron ka na ring ala-alang hindi mo malilimutan sa lugar na to, na babalik-balikan mo.”

“Alam ko, Jenny, alam ko. At isang napakagandang ala-alang hinding-hindi ko malimutan sa tanang buhay ko. At alam mo, may isang pinaka-importanteng tao na bigla na lang sumulpot sa buhay ko at nagpaligaya sa akin na syang pinaka-sentro sa napakagandang alaala na iyan...”

"Talaga? Sino?" tanong nyang pabiro, nag-iinosentehan.

Tinitigan ko sya at binitiwan ang nakakalokong ngiti. "Gusto mo halikan kita uli sa bibig?"

"Sisigaw muna ako na 'virgin ka pa...'" loko nya.

"Sorry, hindi na po ako virgin." sabay kindat.

"Hoy! Mga kapitbahay! Hindi na virgin si Nes – ummmppppphhhtttt!

Mag-aalauna na ng madaling araw noong inihatid ko na si Jenny sa bahay nya. Noong papadyakan ko na ang potpot at aarangkada na, may napansin sya. “Hey! Bakit iisa nalang iyang tsinelas mo? Nasaan na ang kaliwang kapares niyan?”

Ngumiti na lang ako. “Kilala mo si Nesjen?”

Nag-isip sya, nalito. “Nesjen? Sino iyon?”

“Iyong malaking puno malapit sa cottage na inarkila natin kanina?”

“B-bakit Nesjen? At anong kinalaman noon sa tsinelas mo?”

“Ibinaon ko na siya doon. Para may kasama na ang kanang tsinelas mo, at di na mag-iisa.” Ang casual kong pagkasabi habang sinimulang ko nang pumadyak.

Hindi sya sumagot.

“Ey… nand’yan ka pa ba?” tanong ko.

Wala pa ring sagot.

Noong silipin ko siya sa loob ng potpot, nakita kong pinapahid nya ang mga luhang dumadaloy sa pisngi niya. At alam ko, iyon ay mga luha ng kaligayahan…

(End)

I'm Still Lucky

Few years ago, I was told by my doctor that I have a meniere’s disease. Sabi ng mga doctor, wala daw lunas ito at ang tanging magagawa lang nila ay ang pagbibigay sa akin ng mga palliatives o mga gamot na magpa-overcome sa kain sa tindi ng atake. Para bang ayan, kinakain na ng virus ang laman ko, at upang di ko masyadong maramdaman ang sakit, bibigyan nila ako ng pampa-relieve. Bale, kahit nauubos na ang laman ko sa kakain ng virus (kung virus man ito – at hindi rin nila alam), hayan, kaya ko pa rin ang sakit.

In the beginning, I thought I could just make fun of my ailment dahil at that time, hindi pa sya masyadong umaatake and if there were attacks, they were slight, few, and far between. May isang beses nun inatake ako habang nagbabad sa internet. In a split second, umikot ang paligid. I thought the whole building collapsed. Only to find out na sa isip ko lang pala ang lahat nung pilaligiran na ako ng mga tao sa internet cafĂ©, lahat sila ay nagtaka dahil bilang narinig nila ang malakas na “Blaggg!” at nakabulagta na lang ako sa sahig, nagkalat ang ininum kong pepsi, keyboard, mouse at rack ng computer keyboard. Buti, hindi nauntog ang ulo ko at that time. Pagkatapos nun, parang wala lang nangyari. Although there were intermittent attacks, these were not very nasty at nagagawa ko pa rin ang mga normal at professional kong gawain.

However, just lately, mejo lumala na sya at halos araw-araw na ang atake. Pagkabukas na pagkabukas ko pa lang ng computer, kaagad I can feel that my surrounding spins. Iikot talaga. What I do is go to the clinic and lie down for about an hour. Hirap akong makagawa sa simpleng trabaho. Lalo pag grabe ang atake, talagang hindi ma-identify ng utak ko kung nasaan ang ibaba o itaas na direksyon at kapag igalaw ko ang ulo ko, parang inihagis ito di alam kung anong parte ang babagsak sa lupa o kung saang direksyon ang lupa at saan ang itaas. Kasabay naman dito ang sobrang pagsusuka, dahil sa hilo at ang panghihina. Pakiwari ko pag inaatake na ako ay mas gugustuhin ko pang mamatay na. And this type of severe attack lasts from at least an hour to about 10 hours.

Minsan may isang beses ding inatake ako, nakaupo lang ako sa opisina ko nung biglang umikot ang paligid. Napakabilis na tila sumakay ako sa isang octopus ride. Ang ginawa ko, niyakap ko ang lamesa ko sabay sigaw sa pangalan ng kasama ko sa office. Mabilisan din lang, wala pang 10 seconds. Ngunti kung nagkataong nasa tubig ako, o sa mataas na lugar, baka may paglalagyan ako.

Ang pinakamatindi kong atake ay nung magbisekleta, one month into my vacation just this year (death anniversary pa naman ng nanay ko). Mabilis pa naman ang takbo ko gawa ng may hinahabol. Akala ko kasi, kaya ko. Ngunit nung malapit ko ng marating ang accommodation, biglang nagdilim ang paligid ko at ang sunod kong natandaan ay ang pag-akay sa akin ng dalawa kong kasamahan papasok ng kwarto. Dun ko na rin naramdaman ang sakit ng kaliwa kong kamay kapag iginalaw ko ito. Tumama pala ito sa bakal na poste sa may parking area namin. Kaagad, pina xray and it revealed the broken left shoulder bone. Buti nalang hindi ulo ko ang tumama. Sa lakas ng impact, siguradong may crack iyon. Tila gumuho ang mundo ko sa pangyayaring iyon. Yun bang feeling na sobrang awa mo sa sarili; na worthless na ang lahat; na sira na ang buhay at mga pangarap mo; iyon na ang katapusan ng aking pagtatrabaho abroad…

Sobrang hirap ang naranasan ko nung time na iyon. Ngunit nagpumilit pa rin akong magtrabaho dahil sa gusto ko pang i-enjoy ang buhay, na ipakita ang katatagan sa mga taong nagmamahal at umaasa sa akin, na kaya ko pang magtrabaho. Kahit na ang simlpeng bagay ng pag suot ng damit, ng medyas, ng pagsintas ng sapatos, ang pagpunta ng CR ay napakalaking sakripisyo para sa akin. At ang pinakamasakit sa lahat, ay yun bang feeling na tila nag-iisa ka lang - at nasa malayong lugar pa, napakabata mo pa, ang buong mundo ay nasa harapan mo lang na kaya mong kamtin ito… atsaka kung kailan pa nangyari ang lahat.

Pag nag-iisa, umiiyak ako. Oo, di ko ikinahiyang aminin ito. Sa labas, nakikita ng mga kasamahan kong ngumingiti ako, ginagawang biro ang lahat ng nangyari sa akin. Ngunit kapag nag-iisa nalang sa kwarto,  di nila alam umiiyak, humahagulgol ako…

Ang isa lang sigurong positive aa nangyaring ito sa akin ay ang pagiging close ko sa creator ko. Yun bang feeling ng hopelessness at dahil wala ka ng magawa pa, ipagpaubaya mo nalang ang lahat sa kanya…

At nalampasan ko din ang parting iyon. Ngunit nanjan pa rin ang sakit at takot na baka biglain na naman ako ano mang oras.

Just this afternoon, nung magbukas ako ng email, heto ang nabasa ko sa isang kaibigang madre:

“Thank you very much for your greetings during the Feast of St. Francis.  How are you?  Hope you are getting better. Sorry I was not able to respond to your email immediately.  I'm not so well Kuya.  My heart is sooo heavy. It is a family problem. But I know God is always with us.  My mother got an accident in the market, after attending Mass last Sept. 28.  She did not notice there was a hole.  She fell and dropped. Her shoulders are badly damage, the left side cracked.  She can hardly move her two arms. I was there for 1week. She can't sleep because of the pain and her kidney problem is compounding to her problems too.  Almost every hour I assist her up to go the bathroom. The most painful I experienced was the day when my superior called me.  It was time for me to go back to the convent.  I fed my mother and she asked me, “When you leave who will feed me?”  Ohhh Kuya my heart was crushed.  But I just told her that my cousin will come. I left her in our dining table and went out bringing my bag waiting for the bus going to the convent.  Not knowingly she tried to follow me and then she fell again down our staircase.  It added to her pain.  But in spite in her situation she told me “Go on, attend to your obligations in the convent; God will help me”.  That gave me strength.  Even though it is too hard for me to leave but I had to… I'm sorry my I poured out to you.”

My tears rolled down upon reading her email. I knew how her mom went through. But there’s one lesson I learned. She was strong in saying “Go on, attend to your obligations in the convent; God will help me”.

Para akong binuhusan ng malamig na tubig. Naisip ko na kung kaya ng inay ng aking kaibigan na magpakatatag sa kabila ng kanyang edad at karamdaman, siguro naman, mas kaya ko.

Salamat sa email ng kaibigan ko. Ang inay niya ay isang inspirasyon...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blonde And Blue Eyes (By: Patricia Evangelista)

(I find this article really inspiring so I thought of posting it here in my journal for all OFW’s to relate. This was the winning piece delivered by Ms. Patricia Evangelista, a 19-year- old Mass Com sophomore of UP-Diliman during the 2004 International Public Speaking competition conducted by the English Speaking Union (ESU) in London.)


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BLONDE AND BLUE EYES
By: Patricia Evangelista

When I was little, I wanted what many Filipino children all over the country wanted. I wanted to be blond, blue-eyed, and white.

I thought -- if I just wished hard enough and was good enough, I'd wake upon Christmas morning with snow outside my window and freckles across my nose!

More than four centuries under western domination does that to you. I have sixteen cousins. In a couple of years, there will just be five of us left in the Philippines, the rest will have gone abroad in search of "greener pastures." It's not just an anomaly; it's a trend; the Filipino diaspora. Today, about eight million Filipinos are scattered around the world.

There are those who disapprove of Filipinos who choose to leave. I used to. Maybe this is a natural reaction of someone who was left behind, smiling for family pictures that get emptier with each succeeding year. Desertion, I called it. My country is a land that has perpetually fought for the freedom to be itself. Our heroes offered their lives in the struggle against the Spanish, the Japanese, the Americans. To pack up and deny that identity is tantamount to spitting on that sacrifice.

Or is it? I don't think so, not anymore. True, there is no denying this phenomenon, aided by the fact that what was once the other side of the world is now a twelve-hour plane ride away. But this is a borderless world, where no individual can claim to be purely from where he is now. My mother is of Chinese descent, my father is a quarter Spanish, and I call myself a pure Filipino-a hybrid of sorts resulting from a combination of cultures.

Each square mile anywhere in the world is made up of people of different ethnicities, with national identities and individual personalities. Because of this, each square mile is already a microcosm of the world. In as much as this blessed spot that is England is the world, so is my neighborhood back home.

Seen this way! The Filipino Diaspora, or any sort of dispersal of populations, is not as ominous as so many claim. It must be understood. I come from a Third World country, one that is still trying mightily to get back on its feet after many years of dictatorship. But we shall make it, given more time, especially now, when we have thousands of eager young minds who graduate from college every year. They have skills. They need jobs. We cannot absorb them all.

A borderless world presents a bigger opportunity, yet one that is not so much abandonment but an extension of identity. Even as we take, we give back. We are the 40,000 skilled nurses who support the UK's National Health Service. We are the quarter-of-a-million seafarers manning most of the world's commercial ships. We are your software engineers in Ireland, your construction workers in the Middle East, your doctors and caregivers in North America, and, your musical artists in London's West End.

Nationalism isn't bound by time or place. People from other nations migrate to create new nations, yet still remain essentially who they are. British society is itself an example of a multi-cultural nation, a melting pot of races, religions, arts and cultures. We are, indeed, in a borderless world!

Leaving sometimes isn't a matter of choice. It's coming back that is. The Hobbits of the shire travelled all over Middle-Earth, but they chose to come home, richer in every sense of the word. We call people like these balikbayans or the 'returnees' -- those who followed their dream, yet choose to return and share their mature talents and good fortune.

In a few years, I may take advantage of whatever opportunities come my way. But I will come home. A borderless world doesn't preclude the idea of a home. I'm a Filipino, and I'll always be one. It isn't about just geography; it isn't about boundaries. It's about giving back to the country that shaped me.

And that's going to be more important to me than seeing snow outside my windows on a bright Christmas morning.

Mabuhay and Thank you.

To Dream Once More

I’ve always thought that life is full of dreams
And I’m a dreamer, spinning dreams of dreams
In every journey when I shall stumble, fall
I’d always wake up and shall start it all.

I dream that I shall reach a place so far away
To search for destiny and to find my way
My feet may fall down, but my hopes are high
My strength may falter, but I shall try and try.

And in that place where dreamers dream to seek
I’ll find the way and climb the highest peak
Though the way is long and the peak, too tall
But my will is strong, and I shall pass them all.

If in this journey, I’ll grieve with every parting
If I alone shall bear the pains of my own making
If I must cross the seas to find a better future
Then let me suffer on that distant shore.

And on my shores across the hundred-seas
My love shall sing me weeping melodies
I’ll cry a tear, but let my heart bleed deeply
Just give me sorrow, or give me my destiny.

And when this dream shall lead my life in vain
I’ll find the way and set it out again
But when in death, I’ll find the way no more
Then I shall wake up, and start to dream once more!

Jake

When I was twelve years old, I used to visit a rice paddy a few meters away from our house. The paddy, measuring like 150 square meters, was situated at the foot of a hill which teemed with wild plants. I liked the place so much because on its edge, the big trees provided cool shades and refreshing air, not to mention the wild fruits like guavas and papayas ready for grabs. Nearby, a small fresh-water creek provided for an added touch of communing with nature if not an invitation for a swim. On the hill, I could see the bird’s-eye view of my entire village, a place of just around thirty families where everyone knows everybody, even the names of our neighbors’ pet dogs and cats.

The paddy was under the charge of Jake, a boy of my age. He was much bigger, with a body so firm and a skin as brown as the mud he assiduously tilled. His arms were strong and in his eyes reflected the physical hardships he passed through all those years of his life. Jake was the fourth child of five brothers and four sisters; the eldest being fifteen, the next, fourteen, then thirteen, and so on – maybe a gap of a year in succession. Their family was big, noisy, even messy one. And even if there were many of them to share with whatever little was there in the family, I liked their set-up; unlike my family which was lonely and boring. I mean, probably because being the youngest kid, the next sibling closest to me was ten years older. So, that at my age of twelve, both my sisters and an only brother had their own separate families to look after. I was like an only child, left alone in the house most of the time when my parents would work in the farm.

My friendship with Jake was actually born out of accident, or shall I say, divine providence. I didn’t really know Jake that much. But one Saturday noon while I was taking a dip at the creek, something happened. I thought the water was shallow. It was too late when I realized it was deep enough to drown me. The water sucked me down and things happened so quickly. I tried hard to wriggle forcefully my hands and feet to lift myself up the surface and shout for help. But nobody seemed around. As I engulfed more and more water, I resigned myself to death. Suddenly, someone pulled my hair up and dragged me to the edge of the creek. It was Jake. He laid me on my back and pressed my belly hard. As I coughed the water out of me, he laughed in delight as I joined him laugh in all frightfulness.

“So, you don’t know how to swim, huh?”  he asked still laughing like nothing serious had happened.

“No.  Maybe, I’ll learn later.” I answered sheepishly.  “Thank you for saving me.”

“No sweat! If you like, I’ll teach you how to swim.”

“You will? Yes, I like that!” I answered excitedly.

That was the beginning of our close friendship and my fondness to visit the paddy. Jake had saved my life and I owed him later another thing – learning how to swim. I became close to his family too. It was with Jake and his brothers that I experienced real brother stuffs – companionship, friendship, to play games, to talk to, to have amicable fights, fun, even crazy things like real brothers do. For me, theirs was a great and happy family.  I mean, except for one thing – their parents reared them with utmost discipline, especially their father who at times become irritable and would punish them even for simple childish mistakes. Every time a crime was committed, expect that a sentence by hanging under a tree branch, or flogging, or a combination of both be served to its full extent.

Jake’s father worked as a seaman of an inter-island ship. I didn’t exactly know what his job was but I remember seeing him in picture with those bulging muscles carrying two men on his shoulders. He was a big, strong man, an expert in Arnis and Martial Arts. Once a year, he would spend his one-month vacation with his family. When that comes, everyone becomes well-behaved and everything should be in proper order. Or else…

I remember a time when Jake’s older brother did not come home immediately on his way from an errand. His father tied his legs after a couple of painful lashings; hang him upside down by the branch of a tree. And as if it was not enough, a smoke was induced to billow up the dangling offender as his father’s voice thundered in anger. His ordeal lasted for two hours and nobody among his brothers dared rescue him lest they could suffer the same fate. It was one awesome punishment. But eventually, I became used to that sight. It was one thing which made me thankful of my parents. With my father, I remember to have received only one but blistering lashing. That was when I slept overnight in a friend’s house without permission. With my mother, a few “blah-blah-blahs” and a promise not to do it again would already do.

Jake and I went to the same school. Though I belong to a different section, we both go together before and after class. I was a small kid at my age, but I was never afraid to be bullied by the bigger classmates because there was Jake to defend me in any trouble. Jake was one of the tough guys in school and everybody respected his stature. Being his best friend, I earned a little of that respect too. In return, I would help him out in class assignments, and tutoring. I can say that there was a symbiosis. He was like a big brother who would come to my rescue anytime. We shared so many things from foodstuffs, playthings, to whatever there was to share. And our favorite hang-out was the paddy. Every afternoon after school we would go there to play, catch fish, have a swimming match at the creek, or just talk about anything. And our favorite topic - plans and dreams.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” He would ask.

“I want to enter the seminary and become a religious person.”

“Why?”

“Because when I die, I want to go to heaven.”

“Ah… a saint!  Hahaha!” He would laugh as if there was something unusual with my answer.

“How about you?”

“Me? I want to be a seaman like my father. I like the seas, the ship, and I want to travel around the world!” He would shout his answer as if he were very optimistic about the future. “When that time comes, I’ll give you a free ride on my ship. Of course, I need you to pray for my safe journey… Father!” He would add teasing me with a big grin on his face.

One day, Jake was absent in class. When I visited him after school, I found him hanging upside down under the tree of execution nearby their house. My heart throbbed so fast.  I sensed something was wrong.

“I woke up late for school and couldn’t rise up because I felt sick. My father got furious he thought I was making up a story. He forced me to weed out on the paddy. I couldn’t work for long under the scorching sun and I took a rest. He caught me…” Jake narrated in an agonizing voice. His skin was badly bruised as a result of hard caning but he never cried. He had accepted the judgment in total righteousness. I could feel he was very sick. His vigorous expressions were gone and on his pale face reflected the pain and exhaustion of the punishment. An hour later, he was released. I helped him struggle into the house, laid him on the bare wooden floor as I sat beside him. We talked about what had happened in school, the activities, and other things.

“Tomorrow when you’ll be fine, I’d like to have a swimming match with you. Maybe this time, it will be my turn to win.” I challenged to give him a boost.

“Deal! And I’ll prove you’ll never – ever win,” he teased me. “Remember, I’m a seaman,” as he exhaustedly extended his hand to lock his index finger with mine in our unique fraternal handshake. There was a faint smile. I could see the excruciating pain on his face.

“Okay. Let’s see it tomorrow!”

The following day, Jake was again absent. I thought he was still sick so I hurried to his house after class. I was surprised to find people preparing something I couldn’t imagine. As I approached the house, an eerie feeling crept over me.

“Junior! Junior! Your best friend…!” Jake’s eldest sister Selena approached me sobbing, almost choking for the next words to say.

“Why? What happened?” I demanded.

“He didn’t wake up early this morning so my father forced him to open his eyes. But he wasn’t breathing anymore!”

It seemed like a thunderbolt had hit me and everything blacked out. The next thing I remember was in front of Jake, carefully laid on the bed. He seemed like he was only sleeping. I couldn’t believe that only the day before, he was talking to me about the many things he wanted to do. But at that time, he was in total silence.

“I thought we will go swimming today and I will defeat you!” I shouted on top of my lungs as I hugged and shook his cold body like a helpless wailing child. “I thought you would be a seaman and you will give me a free ride on your ship!” But Jake never heard me anymore.

Nobody in our village really questioned the reason behind Jake’s death. All we knew was that he died of sickness. Of course, there were many who believed it was more; only, no one was brave enough to intrude into the affairs of Jake’s family. But for me, whatever the reason was, I had lost a brother, a best friend, and a hero.

Now, twenty years later, I never made it to be a religious person as Jake had known I dreamed to be. He didn’t live to see how my life had changed when I left the seminary. When I visited the paddy again, there was no more trace of the old place where Jake and I used to play, or share our childishness. The place which used to teem with green surge of rice and lush vegetation of wild fruits and groves had now become a pavement of a housing subdivision, a testament to the changing faces of time. I searched for the creek where Jake had saved me and where our friendship had started, but it too had lost its life. Like Jake, they all had vanished in sight. I know I will never come to see the paddy again. But as long as I live, Jake and his memories will continue to live on...