25 April 2012


I can time Kester, the boy is so regular. His Nintento Game Boy and an odd assortment of school things in his hands, he comes in the house, unafraid of the dogs, to pretend to listen to my mother, his tutor, as she teaches him the basics. Algebra, verbs and nouns and predicates, the Blessed Sacraments, the priest as an instrument of Jesus Christ in confession, that sort of thing. Kester has big, sad eyes, and cute beads of sweat under his nose, where soft hairs will soon grow, in five, six, seven years, once puberty sets on.

But where was he last week? Nowhere to be seen. Yet he didn't go anywhere. It was the haphazardness, or the bad health, of our own household that won Kester temporary freedom. My father had shingles. My sister Lourdes had chicken pox. My younger brother Josemaria had a sort of attack Sunday inside the church, then discovered at the checkup that he had an abnormally slow heartbeat. At about the same time, all coincidentally, of course, the miraculous ministry of Father Fernando Suarez, a sort of healing priest, arrived in Manila. His pre-Lent carnivale drew mother, grandmother, early-rising aunties, and over a thousand others to a healing mass at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City. It was later reported in the papers that the profundity of the religious experience was marred by fainting people and profiteering.

Once upon a time I was Kester’s age. I played and prayed. I attended novenas and joined processions, and rubbed my chest with blessed oils. I looked up at a helicopter in the Manila sky, flying over Luneta Park. Pope John Paul II was here now, said the people beside us on the grass, pulling themselves up. This was World Youth Day. Mother herself seemed about to burst; what a way for the pope, after all, to arrive. We couldn't really see without binoculars, but I, too, in the intensity of the moment, was prepared to weep for joy. The helicopter landed behind the park's Quirino Grandstand and from it emerged the caricatured ears of President Ramos.

Once upon a time I had a tutor, too—a kind of after-school governess. Her name was Miss Lyn, Miss Lyn with the fair and naturally powdery skin. I used to dread her arrival, because it meant having to face the piano. It was so embarrassing, because even then I had sweaty palms, and had to wipe the wet dirt that they made off the keys. Did you practice any since our last session? she would ask, in the same manner that mother asks Kester questions: with gathered eyebrows and a tone pregnant with disapproval, that just knew that the answer they were looking for was not the answer they were going to get. Well, you can't expect us now to move past the opening until after summer. “Für Elise” was so hard, especially for a beginner, but I knew that to have rebelled and sought refuge in my first-generation Game Boy was out of the question. Besides, Super Mario never interested me, and Miss Lyn would have frowned if it did. 

Lucky Kester. He finally showed up today and was, as usual, absorbed in the kaleidoscopic blocks of his Nintendo world. Big eyes, sweat under the nose, and—what's this?—no black Ash Wednesday cross on his forehead. I wanted to find out if he'd washed it off. But I didn't ask. Instead I pinched his ears because that means we are friends, and he can watch YouTube videos on my laptop once he finishes his homework.

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