Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wizened Old Man

Another "raw" excerpt from the The Adventures of the Dragonfly Eaters...

TATA BALAS, the resident Wiseman of Basag always had a ready answer for everything and anything- from the inherent wisdom of the kabad-kabad (electric fan) to the winning potential of every fighting cock.

Thus, cockfighting aficionados, which are plenty in that community by the sea, sought his advice for free; by merely looking at and counting the scales on the chicken’s legs, he could distinguish a winning breed from a lousy one. His winning percentage, though, is another story for he was always partial to the Manok ni San Pedro. But call it divine intervention or what, the white chosen ones always end up as “burugsukan” - losers, in the hack fight.

Still many cock-suckers (no pun intended) came to him for advice. And he did his role of fortune telling with relish and gusto. His expertise, though, is not only confined to the cock at hand. In fact, you can ask him anything and everything under the sun provided you pay him with a shot of his favorite drink, the stainless alcoholic Ginebra or his alternative Ursus (a Chinese, anise- flavored dark drink) or on worst occasions, a stick of cheap Rosalina filter-less cigarette will suffice.

Most often than not, his nutshell will be cracked with just one shot and he will literally go nuts! The devil in the drink will take over his system and in a few seconds, you can be sure that all hell will break loose. He will be transformed from a quiet man into a hilarious, wise-cracking, curse-spitting son of a gun to the amusement of everyone except of course Lola Elang, his second wife who will now be left with the thankless task of trying to contain a mad man.

He was a typical Basagan and a practical man; he was once a guerrilla who fought the Japanese hand-to-hand but chose to serve in the Philippine Constabulary after the war. Despite the prodding of his contemporaries, he refused to file for claims with the US Army. He always reasoned out that he fought the invaders not for anybody but for the love of his country, a principle that at first made him taken for a fool by his peers and family, but in the end they respected his hard to understand stand on the matter.

He served the Constabulary with distinction for another ten years or so until he retired from the service with just his small bungalow and a meager pension to show. But he was never bitter of his fortune for he was always a proud and honest man.

Money is not an issue to him for he would always blurt out “wacha money anyway?“ to anybody who would care to hear every time he was intoxicated to which Lola Elang would retort in her customary high- pitched voice, “Yeah right, you only got that damn old khakis of yours in your sorry dark skinny brown ass! You even have forgotten the feel of the handsome face of your beloved Quezon in your dirty hands, you old fool!” in obvious contempt for his flawed principle on money. In return, he would admonish her in his usual baritone, “ssshh, you better shut your filthy mouth up or else I will not sleep with you tonight! Bear in mind, it’s your loss not mine!” followed by his trademark scowl on his leathery weather-beaten face and the sweetest toothless smile one can ever see in one’s lifetime.

One summer day, in one of his drunken stupor, he interrupted our game of marbles as he gathered us under the shade of the old Tamarind tree near the riverbank where he regaled us about his daring exploits during the war.

He even told us his best kept secret, the secret of his surviving unscathed the horrors of battle in the dangerous grounds of Bataan. He confessed that he would catch and eat dragonflies during the lull. He believed that the unknown nutrients in them have given him an edge during those hard times, nourished his body and improved his immune system. He claimed that he survived the war with not a single bout of dysentery, malaria or beri-beri that wrecked havoc to the health of friends and foes alike.

We listened to his tales in obvious deference to his age and condition but took his story with a grain of salt nevertheless. He was not oblivious to this as he expressed that it is up to us to believe him or not as he took a final swig of his favorite ginebra straight from the bottle and simply walked away.

A few days later, he quietly passed away in his sleep.

He was 82.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Out of the night...

been lazy for eons now. too rotten to write. blame it on the winter blues. but spring is on the horizon. the fields will be green and full of blooms soon...

The late Sir Alan Arthur Bates, CBE reciting one of my favorite poems-- William Ernest Henley's Invictus in this old UBS commercial reignited my appreciation of the beauty of the spoken word.

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