Friday, November 10, 2006

Untold Pinoy Story No. 1

The Heart of the Matter
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It was meant to be just one of those late afternoon trips to National Bookstore in Rizal Avenue hoping for a great book find. I was browsing through the books on sale which were piled up on a big table on the second floor. I was alone for sometime until the corner of my eye caught a shadow beside me. I didn’t look but I figured that it was a man. He spoke to himself.

It was here yesterday”, said the voice.

I didn’t take the bait. I just ignored him. Having grown up in a small town, I was always reminded to be wary of strangers. Downtown Manila was full of crooks, my folks would always say.

The man continued shoving the books, painstakingly peering at the bottom of the pile.

I wanted to avoid him so I decided to browse through the regularly-priced books while waiting for the man to leave. As I started to move away, I looked up. I was astonished. I’ve seen that man before. I couldn’t believe it. Was that really him?

Only a few years ago, I dragged my sister to Fort Santiago to watch a stage play. But more than the thrill of watching a stage play directed by Lino Brocka and starring Lolita Rodriguez, Charito Solis and Philip Salvador in the flesh (so close that you could literally touch them), was the chance to see what many considered as the greatest Filipino stage play ever written. The play’s author did not even finish high school but he was regarded as the greatest Filipino writer in English. I have seen the English play’s film version but I had been dreaming of seeing it on stage even if it had been translated to Pilipino.

My sister and I waited long hours on the concrete bench outside the open-air Rajah Sulayman Theatre. Before the play started, Lino Brocka graciously signed my copy of the play’s program with these Latin words: Contra Mundum!

But when I saw the play’s author, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I did not pass the opportunity to request for a photograph with him. As I pulled out my old reliable vintage 50s Kodak camera with rotating flashbulbs, some clueless kibitzers wondered who that man was. I was the only one who gave him that kind of attention. Upon my request, he quietly signed my copy of the book of his play. Ever since I read his story about a woman who looked at the mirror to see her future husband, I had been hooked into his works. I bought all his books: novels, stage plays, reportage, poems, children’s stories. He had always been someone bigger than life to me.

That afternoon at National Bookstore, I stood catatonic halfway through the shelves of regularly-priced books as I came to the realization that the man standing before me looked like the author of the stage play which I saw with my sister at Rajah Sulayman Theatre a few years ago. I was speechless for a moment. Then, I summoned all my guts and asked him if he was the man I thought he was.

Yes”, said the man, barely looking at me as he continued rummaging through the books.

Which book are you looking for?”, I asked, still in awe of his magnificent presence.

The Heart of the Matter. I saw it here yesterday”, this time with warmth in his voice.

My eyes joined his search for the book. No one spoke a word.

After a fruitless search, he slowly moved away from the table and headed for the stairs. I looked up. He stopped and grabbed the stair’s balustrade, then smiled at me. He raised his right arm and motioned it in the act of drinking. I couldn’t believe it. This man whom I adore so much was inviting me for a drink. And we only met today! He doesn’t even know my name.

I was very na├»ve and afraid at that time. It was getting dark outside. Besides, I haven’t tasted beer in my life. I would not be able to hide the stench of beer when I get home. I politely shook my head. He was gone in an instant.

After a year, I saw a copy of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter at National Bookstore. It was on sale again. I immediately bought the only remaining copy.

Later, I saw the man again in Rizal Avenue. But I didn’t have the guts to approach him. He was walking briskly with a young boy in school uniform. His nephew, I surmised.

To this day, I couldn’t help but wonder what could have happened had I joined him for a drink that late afternoon. Who knows? He could have shared with me his writing secrets and I would have been a celebrated writer by now. Or perhaps, things could have turned out differently. The elusive and unpredictable writer that he was, he once took a cab all the way from Manila to Baguio.

But I have to admit that I feel a sense of regret at having passed up that rare opportunity of sharing a bottle of beer with a national treasure who remains on top of my list of writing inspirations: Nick Joaquin.
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And you know the rest of his story.
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Image from amazongroup.com
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Next: Musical Chairs in High Places

24 comments:

Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

WOW. NICE BLOG...

WALA PA ATA BLOGS SINA FR. ALEJO AT FR. CRUZ. WILL NOTIFY YOU KUNG MERON.

GOD BLESS.

JEFF,SJ

Nick said...

Thanks, Bro. Jeff.

wendell said...

f. sionil jose organized a small party for nick joaquin in late 2003. the party was meant for nick to meet younger generations of filipino writers. nick arrived. but he left immediately. i didn't know anyone, he said. but nick was gracious to have a photograph take with the young writers that night. months after, he passed away. i was in canberra and i was unable to say goodbye. thanks for your recollections. nick joaquin is divine, indeed.

take care,

w.

Nick said...

Thank you Wendell for sharing your Nick Joaquin story here. We'll never have someone like him again.

AJ said...

Hi Nick!
I found your blog through a link from my friend's page. And man was I hooked on it! Great stories and uber-great writing style! Oh, the subtle clues and the interesting linked-up stories!

I'll link you up! :)

Nick said...

Hey AJ.
Thanks for dropping by my blog.
And thanks also for the kind words.

diorelle said...

hi! i love your blog! can i link you up?

wow nick joaquin!!! i totally guessed it right away when you said, he's the best filipino writer in english, coz he just is! oh how i wish i could have met him too! still consider yourself lucky. :)

anyway, keep on writing!

Nick said...

Hey Diorelle.
Yes, please link me up.
I was indeed lucky to have a met him. But my story would have been much more interesting had I joined him for a bottle of beer.
Thanks for your interest in my stories.

Anonymous said...

when i was young, my family usually hears mass at 6 am. all those sundays all those years in church, there was this man beside me (as in an arm length) who always eat storck , probably to soothe his throat, who greets me during the giving of the sign of peace, who sings with all confidence and just like us, doesn't sit with the congregation even if there were still vacant seats. after mass, i still follow him with my gaze as he buys his newspapers and greets a fat lady he knows. it was only years after, when i was in high school, when i learned that he is the national artist himself, the great Nick Joaquin. and to know that we live just a stone's throw away from his residence makes me feel lucky indeed. And boy! I know how much he loved beer, just like Edgar Allan Poe. Too bad you were not a beer drinker then. You must have more stories to tell and blogs to write.

mausqi@yahoo.com

Nick said...

Hey Mausqi.
That's a nice story. And I like the way you told it. Thanks for sharing your story. You're indeed lucky to have resided near his place.
Yes, just like Edgar Allan Poe, he was more creative with a bottle of beer while writing.
Thanks for dropping by.

bebe ann said...

hi! po,
ang kulay ng buhay nio,,, after reading your post...isang malaking Ay Sayang naman!...at parang gusto kong maiyak....

bebe-ann

Nick said...

Hey Bebe-Ann.
Yes, my first bottle of beer could have been more memorable.
Thanks for reading my first story.
And thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

I saw him only during social events...makwento, maingay, masaya. Sayang nga...wala na siya. There'd be none of those noisy beer-driven kwentuhans anymore. And no, I am not a writer...kamag-anak ko lang ang nasa field na iyan, sabit lang ako minsan.

Chuva said...

Hello there! Your blog entries were sent to me in email form. I didn't know of its origin but I thought that the stories were pretty cool, so I posted them on my blog. Little did I know that one of your visitors recognized my entries and advised me to give credit to you. I explained my little knowledge of its origin. The visitor gladly provided the link, so I have linked you up.

This is such a great blog. Thanks and keep writing!!

daisy lyn said...

Hi Nick!

Your untold pinoy stories were emailed to me by a friend and I enjoyed reading them immensely. So much so that I did a search on google and was directed to your blog site. I am so impressed by your writing style. You should do a compilation of these stories and have them published in a book.

Please do not stop writing. I will be avidly waiting for your next stories.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

and now i found the reincarnation of the great NICK JOAQUIN! even before reading this entry about NICK JOAQUIN, i see in your writings the artistry, the genre, caliber of the national artist...not to mention your pseudonym (if it is). Please don't stop writing nick, and one day, i hope i would not commit the same mistake and regret for the rest of my life passing up a little "beer" session with YOU. theo

alia said...

i admire that man. the way you told it, how you were awestruck in the beginning... the name i actually first thought of was nick joaquin. and i actually had no idea he was the one you talked about unot until the end. hehe.

Nick said...

Hey Anonymous.
You're lucky to have attended those literary functions with him.
I'm sure that the literary world misses him.
I wish that you revealed the name of your writer relative.
Thanks for dropping by.

-----------------------------------
Hey Chuva.
Thanks for your kind words.
Please express my thanks to your blog visitor who suggested that you acknowledge your source and pointed you to my blog.(Or better still, I would appreciate if you would let me know his/her name so that I could personally thank him/her.) Thanks also for your acknowledgment.
Thanks for dropping by.

----------------------------------
Hey Daisy Lyn.
Thanks for the kind words.
I'm glad that you found my blog.
If I publish these stories into a book, would you buy it?
Watch out for my next story.
Thanks for dropping by.

----------------------------------
Hey Theo.
Thanks for your kind words. I don't think I deserve all those adjectives. I don't even think that I write well.
Nick Joaquin is one of the greatest Filipino writers and we will not see another one like him.
Thanks for dropping by.

-----------------------------------
Hey Alia.
I also admire the man.
There's many of us who admire him and his works.
Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

nick,

nick joaquin is the greatest Filipino witer of all time. magalit na ang magagalit.

jack

Anonymous said...

so nick, you are obviously a die-hard nick joaquin fan? is that why that is your nom de plume?

he's really good. hope he's still around.


mike

Anonymous said...

hey nick,

am also a fan of nick joaquin. have read all his books.

i like best his quartet of the tiger moon. was there in edsa and the he told the story is exactly the way it happened. a gifted writer, really.

following his footsteps?

ems

Julius said...

The Woman with Two Navels is the only Nick Joaquin book i read. Had difficulty with his English though, he had this Spanish tone which, well, made the style a little unique as I am used to the contemporary English writing style. Couldn't believe he never finished school, the clever writer that he is.

a s p a s i a said...

half-way through this entry, I knew it was Nick Joaquin! ... i love him and Carlos Bolosan .. great story!

tine said...

nick joaquin! i got it when you mention the girl who looked at the mirror to see her future husband- may day eve. =)