05 May 2014

Jolly A

A friend of mine died a few days ago. Let’s call him A. The last time I saw him alive was November in Bangkok. He already had cancer then. Just as I was coming up to his hotel room to give him a copy of the final season of Breaking Bad, A’s wife met me at the lobby to say that something had come up, and could I help wheel him to the emergency room? Bumrungrad was literally across the road, on Sukhumvit Soi 3—a five-minute walk, max; A had in fact chosen the hotel precisely for its proximity to the hospital. But so many times I’d seen him clench his teeth in pain when the chair did so much as protrude slightly or hit a pebble. With calamitous nerves I agreed to take him, only to have his niece—plucky blue-eyed Tiffany—volunteer and take the handle.

A was sixty-four. His body was cremated yesterday at a Thai Buddhist temple. He was from Swaffham, in the English county of Norfolk. Sometime in the late eighties he founded a perfume company and, with it, achieved success at a level that I hadn’t even been aware of until now, when stories of a life are being told, when memories of a man are being remembered through tears; A would certainly have been the last to brag. Anyway, six or seven years ago he moved to the Philippines and met a young woman whose delicate beauty deceives: she happens to be one of the strongest I know. They got married in 2010 in Dumaguete before moving to Davao City, close to a thousand miles south of Manila, in a quiet little village called Morningside Heights. A, who called me “Migsy Boy,” always offered to put me up whenever I visited. He loved slices of dalandan with his sangria and was the one who introduced me to French pastis. In summer days when the heat grew extra prickly he brought out the extra fan and placed it in my room, or insisted that we watch some TV. “What the fuck are you doing in there anyway?” he would say in the crunchiest way possible. “Come out of your fucking sauna and sit with me for a while.”

I came to find the owner of this mouth endearing. A was in fact quite jolly, and in the short time—too short!—that I knew him he looked after me like a father would a son, never mind that his style of taking to and caring for people was laced with profanity and guarded to the point of often going unnoticed. But A must have known me better than he had let on, which I began to suspect when he once joked that I seemed “intelligent but too unstable.” Plans to get together again were made when two years ago he and his wife moved to a southern coastal province in Vietnam called Nha Trang, but the diagnosis kind of put all of that on hold. The cancer progressed very quickly, and by the time I finally saw A in Thailand (they had come to take advantage of the excellent facilities in Bangkok) the doctors had already prescribed morphine pills.

There’s a saying somewhere about how friends are the family you choose. In this sense A was part of my small family, so it is with deep sadness that I pray for the soul of this good fellow to rest in peace.