Day 39: my kingdom come part two


One thing about NORMAN:  he is always clean and organized.

To which I am NOT being a magnet to mess and sloth.  I hire a cleaning lady once a week to sort out my mayhem.  I do not iron my clothes.  There is always that laundry shop across the street who did my laundry for past five years.  I also hate folding my clothes.  I wait for the cleaning lady to do that for me.  There are simply many things that I can do and things that I can’t.  Norman, on other hand is a walking obsessive-compulsive.  He does color coordination, daily grooming and take long showers.  He does his hair two days before coming to work or to a party.  He is so pristine that in the first few years of our friendship, it took great courage for me to show my penchant for disarray.  He called me Ya-Ya for being birdbrained and having an unkempt lifestyle spending more time mussing and reading than putting together my mishmash surroundings.

Whenever I am in Baler for a quick holiday, I am always surrounded by cleanliness.  Elena, Norman’s mother, is a paragon of immaculateness – definitely a hereditary case of next of kin.  Mael, Norman’s brother, is a doctor.  YOU HAVE NO IDEA how irritatingly spotless the whole family is.

You see, Norman and I are so different.  We also grew up differently.  As I child, I had to adapt everywhere my parents to every new place my parents brought me.  Being the first born, before my parents decided to build a home in Zambales, I was dragged along as we jamboreed everywhere;  Leyte, Mandaluyong, Ilocos Sur and then back to Mandaluyong.  Norman grew up in Baler, ate his sumans (sweet rice) at Lukso Lukso and played with American soldiers who were once stationed in the military barracks.  When I started reading my Choose Your Own Adventure books, Norman voraciously read his father’s Reader’s Digest collection and learned English by syllabicating words from their cluster of medical books.  I was a pale virgin back in high school with my aversion to sunlight and sex while Norman had it going, simultaneously swimming in the ocean and experimenting sex with both sexes.  In college, I was a long-haired bohemian who finally came out of the closet and covetous of Byron and the classical writers as Norman took up Nursing but starved on fashion designing to which he is very good at.

Norman got married and had a boy he named Guilliano and later left the Philippines to make a living in Saudi Arabia.  I detested working after college and wrote incessantly until my second year out of it, synchronously pushing Big Macs at McDonald’s and later sold amenity cards at Bayview Park Hotel. And then one day, my mother told me to do something different, so, I decided to leave the Philippines and went to Saudi Arabia to be a restaurant manager.  Eventually, Norman’s marriage did not work out and he decided he liked men better.  And I, well I, went in and out relationships and documented all of them secretly.  Fuck those bastards!

When Norman and I crossed paths in 1998, I never thought we’d be best friends as we both did not like each other.  He did not like my flaky humanitarianism and I flinched with his cold arrogance.  Little did we know, deep inside, we were noiselessly adoring each other’s  heterogeneity.  One day, Norman came to the restaurant I was managing, sat there and had a chat with me.  Before I knew it, he stayed with me until my shift ended, had 45 cups of coffee and afterwards, we went to his quaint place and talked until the wee hours of the morning.

We eventually discovered along way that both of us are Madonna fans, we enjoy shopping for clothes and both have foot fetishes.

In more ways than one, that was the beginning of our self-indulgent kingdom.  A prepossessing sphere we nurnured through the years living in iron-fisted Saudi Arabia with its multitude of juxtaposed challenges and foreordained temptations.  Somehow, it protected us.  What Norman and I had in Saudi Arabia was more than friendship in a sense.  It was fraternization.

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Back in Baler, last April, I was able to recollect my life after living in Dubai for five years.  As usual, it became the  gateway to my inner peace.  I spent a lot of time sitting alone at Bay’s Inn, looking at the sunset and chatting with its very empathic local people.  Like the crepusular light of the Baler sunset, the people are the nicest in the whole world.   If there is even more beautiful than the town’s wild waterfalls, raging seawater and fairy-infested mountains, it is the people.  It is probably the way the water and earth interlaced with their daily lives that their every move, utterance and dusky smile breathed new life into my acquired coldness living in cities for a very long time. And they are all verbal and  intimate.  Balerians can condense their entire life in 10 minutes to strangers like me.  Well, I myself is a talker, so I gathered a lot of cryptic and scandalous accounts to my name during these brief holidays.  I loved it.

I particularly like the Balerian language.  I called it language because although it stemmed in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, their speech and tone is clustered with territorial rural legends.  I must mention the heedfulness of the language because if one would say, “Go to the water and dive,” ,  a Balerian would assert, ” Walk to the water, tap it lightly to give respect to the ocean and dive.”

One day, Norman and I hired a tricycle driver to drive us to the Aniao islets, capriciously called Lukso Lukso as you literally have to skip, hop and leap through its  sea rocks to get there.  Anyway, we had the entire tricycle for a mere 200 pesos for half a day.  This guy, gracious and typically verbal told me that I should remove my slippers when I start climbing up the huge rocks.  I disagreed.  I mean what would I do if my soft feet stepped on something like . . . broken glass?  I stubbornly kept my slippers on as I climbed up to the peak that took me a hundred years to do while Norman and the rest was already getting down having spent an hour on top before I even reached half of my virtual rock climbing.  And then it happened.  My slippers got caught somewhere and plummeted to the bottomless ocean.  When I reached the top, tricycle driver/guru told me, “Sabi ko na ba sa iyo, ay.  Makinig ka kasi sa mga taga dito.  Wala nito sa Maynila.  Buti nga di ikaw ang nahulog, ay.” referring to my adamant stupidity.  That I should have listened to him because he knew better and he saw it coming.  He was right after all.  Why did I have to contest with someone who clearly knew his own kingdom?

I walked back that day like Cinderella half wishing for his Prince Charming to appear the next day at the hotel.  Didn’t happen.  And my left foot soared to a grim perfection.

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The biggest Banyan tree in Asia is in Aurora Province.  Banyan is actually called Balete in the Philippines.  It is of the fig family of trees, known for its hallowed reputation and as host to goblins and the very popular white ladies.  The seeds of the fig germinate and send down roots towards the ground, enveloping part of the host tree or building structure with their roots, thus, giving them the casual name of strangler fig.  Older balete trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots which grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.

The first time I went to Baler, Norman and I braved the summer rain and went there. I was so excited to actually see the biggest balete tree in the whole of Asia.  It should be around a hundred years old too.  I also heard that twenty people can form a circle around it.  It must be that big.  And it was!

The truck split into a man-sized portal going inside the tree.  Yes, inside.  I went there, goosebumps and all, and saw myself inside a cave.  It did not feel like being inside a tree at all.  Moreover, it stank of oldened souls, of children’s souls, trapped inside of it.  I was carrying with me my supot of Cheese Curls and 2 tetra packs of Zesto juice.  I looked up and saw a hint of light coming from the brown timber of the tree’s roof.  It was both spine-chilling and wavering at the same time.  I knelt down on the bed of damp leaves, placed my foodies on the ground and thanked the unseen (but so felt) fairies looking at me with guileful eyes.  I said in prayer, “Thank you for bringing me here.  I am honored to be in your presence.  Bless me.  Bless me.  Bless me with your capability to remove my heartache.  Bless me to see myself some more.  Bless me to see something NEW all over again.”

I left my Zesto and Cheese Curls as an offering inside the tree.  When I got out, the rain was gone and Norman was busy taking pictures.  And then out of nowhere, a galaxy of tiny yellow butterflies came out of the Balete’s mouth and went into my direction and scampered off to somewhere nowhere.  I was stunned.  I could not even speak.  My heart told me I just got a response from whoever was living inside that tree.  Little did I know, it was actually my good self telling me that I will be alright after that.  That I will see something that is beyond me.  Unexpectedly.

Three weeks later, I was sitting at a café, with my friend Wendra, in Bangkok, telling her the Balete story.  I lived in Thailand for three months and soon after that, I came to Dubai.

This entry is for Norman Gil Cautivar.  Happy Birthday.

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