December 02, 2016

The Beast & Other Stories

The Beast & Other Stories


Image result for The BeastIn my senior years in law school, an old friend, Aziz Mustafa called me up and inquired if I needed a job. The offer was like that of Marlon Brando's, it was hard to refuse. Working for a foreign-funded institution is like a baptism of fire, threading another dimension of existence. My hands were so full I choke on paperwork virtually. There is this braggadocio in me that always get me into the prying pan. I never learned it seemed. Serving the second half of my presidency, tackling the end years of my law school, and eating up paper at work—all of them almost at the same time—stretched me up like a rubber band in order to clip bundles and bundles of papers. I was always up and about, always on the run it seemed. If I find myself sitting in a corner at that time, that would have been a minor miracle. Even at home, I would take work and finish it there because there was a time that regular office time could not accommodate them. There was madness in activity, so much activity it seemed that you could imagine me like a crazy wheel rolling and rolling until nothing is there to roll for. My nerves were full but it did not snapped because somehow, I felt at ease with furious activity that inactivity was then a hellish idea. I bet when the juices gets going, work becomes more and more palatable.


The money was so good that I stayed in my job even if I had consequently has to take the bar examinations to gain my lawyering license. And besides I was married already then.

I did not last in my work. There was a parting that was both hurtful but at the same time relieving. For almost two years, office work had gotten so flat that with more personnel coming, the load got lighter and lighter until there is nothing more to do except watch for the clock's small hand to approach five o' clock. And the days grew longer that we always joke around that somehow there must be some fantasy company we could work in that every day was salary day. At the beginning of the day, we wished it were already twilight. At the beginning of the month, we would wish it were nearly halfway through. At least not all of us felt that way. Or perhaps some were just not as honest about being disturbed of the almost fatal routinariness of day jobs, especially government jobs.

But work is work and a job is a job. Without it, there is no sense that you find yourself suddenly idle and not earning the usual things. Besides, who could go against that unwritten rule where it seems that humans were created merely for the purpose of growing up until you could work and then die? There were times when I was too uncomfortably busy that I used to daydream how my world could be so wonderful if I could spend every day of my life just sitting around in front of my computer and make that proverbial "great Filipino novel" and watch over my kids when I am not scribbling anything. Alas, writing a novel was so much easier to imagine than do. It was like putting up a rocket ship or assembling a nuclear bomb. I tried to make some upstarts but nothing came about not until years later.

Delusion I had hoped then could propel me towards success in literature. I had believed that my intellect was adequate to harbor such ambition, sadly, intellect and grammatical skills were not enough to get me going towards endless and lonely nights by myself, writing and imagining, the sort fiction demands. I had fully realized then that there is more to me that writing demands, something ethereal and incorporeal, one that could not be seen; some call it inspiration and it was inspiration that I lacked then.

I tried giving life to an otherworldly tale of two-lovers separated by time. I called it "Black Sea, Dark Night", the way old writers thought of fancy but concise titles like "My Brother, The Executioner" of F.Sionil Jose or "The Joy Luck Club" of Amy Tan. More of it, it was a title that came to my mind whenever I pondered upon the darkness of depression. I had learned so well that writing from the heart is the sole highway towards affective writing and I could not be genuine I would not find no parallel in my life to the things I write. It was about Peter, an adolescent struggling with the same depression problems I had who suddenly saw a creature of the night, a vision of an old man with a decrepit hat. The spirit would talk to him and proposed that he do some favor for a task only he could do. Peter would not know how to tackle this quandary at first for no one would believe his tales, when almost everyone he knows he had this mental or behavioral problems; until someone did and the story goes on and on until the final journey into the spirit world and back and the final task accomplished to appeased the spirit. What task was this did not materialized in the story, I could not even invent one until now that it is such of essence that a spirit would go to the extent of contacting a half-deranged boy. Although the tale would take me into the ancient warrior days of Zamboanga, towards the colonial days of Spanish Conquistadors, it stopped when the tribal chieftain was about to declare war upon the much stronger Spanish soldiers and I left it at that. Until now, Black Sea, dark Night is still yearning for its ending but you would learn later on why It remains eating dust somewhere in one of my attaché cases.

Stephen King might have invaded the crevices of my veins that I had this inclination to write about the things that feeds our fears. There is something delicious in testing the limits of our nerves. The more we fear the more we scurry for the mysterious. Like eating pepper; the more it stings the more we crave.

I remember that before there was "Black Sea, Dark Night", I had this short story, again with a fancy title. I called it "The Southbound City of Iceberg", a tale of an imaginary beast lounging beneath the city under ways, in sewages and giant canals, pulling down each victim one after another, one by one that as the disappearances became more frequent, the "beast" would go on a very lengthy guilt-trip. What if men finally knew about his existence? And although it was merely a beast it had the proper intelligence to regulate its mayhem. It ended just that way, although every possible circumstances was scrutinized by the "beast", to the worse where mankind would pour all its resources, the fighter planes of America, the satellites of China, the tanks of Great Britain—all at once coming to the city of Zamboanga hunting for its own mischief and blasting it towards perdition, turning into pulp or pulverized like crisp biscuits.

The "beast" would stare upward the sky and got disturbed by the moving starlights that it did not suspected at once to be man-made, until later on it surmised that men had invented eyes in the sky in order to hunt it. It had surmised that before, man had no such equipments to search for misfits of nature now it has meteor-like gadgets to roam the sky as searchlights. The "beast" was an ancient creature that slumbered for thousand of years, only to wake up to a cacophony of downtown lights, rock music, honking jitneys and television. The world was never the same it had determined. Even at night, the streets were brimming with clarity making its haunting all the more difficult.

And yet, despite this difficulty, the thirst for flesh and blood was overpowering that day in and day out, it would peer from the dark crevices of the street, in some isolated nook or corner of the city, finding out if it could be lucky at any time, that someone had drunken too much or got too much honked by drugs in the head, to walk alone by some abandoned alleyways, and then go for the kill. It could get luckier it thought, if some lovers who lacked patience would abuse the darkness of bushes and wayward trees, to do the unthinkable, where the beast could go for a double kill.

As days went by, newspapers started to report these mysterious disappearances and so the "beast" finally went into the guilt tripping I mentioned earlier. Men are now more sensitive to this untoward incidence, that every crime has its record and every sin has its public board. The "beast" hated the modern man all the more. It had delusions of murdering the city inhabitants all at once, wrecking havoc like a crazy evil god, flooding the ground with flood. Luckily for the city, it inhibited itself. Thanks to the things it sees on television. Those weapons of the modern man were so different than those it had seen before—those spears and daggers—even those catapults were no matches.

It ended when it decided not to devour as much in order that it would not be indicted by man that in my fantastic mind, the "beast" is still out there, pulling down its victim one by one.

The "beast" story was somewhat lyrical and honest. It was then the first and only tale that I had completed. It was flowing since it was all about my struggle against "Satan", that beast of a menace that keeps pulling down young men and women, leading them into some dirty and stinking abysses of life, and never to get out again.

I simply lost my manuscript that was why it did not go all the way to the papers.

But material things are not to be fret up, especially when these things could be created. If I lost it, I thought I would just make another one then. A better one, it must be.

This better one did not materialize and the tale of that doggone "beast" is like a lost child whom I wish to be reunited in the future.

Oh, I lied about completing just a single work. Remember the dream of the pond? The moment I woke up from that dream, I could not stop the itch to write and document it for I had no such other dream that could be so vivid at that. I remember so well the caking red clay to where the dancing old woman floated above. Even the color of the dewy water was stained like rust in my mind that every time I think about it, I could feel the sharp and crispy coolness it brought my skin. I documented every moment, every emotion and every color of the environment. The sky was red, bleeding towards horizon and the air was heavy and so still, and that my breathing was the only sound I heard most of the time. In fact there was that conversations with the other two men present that I forgot to mention. As I came out from the water, I remember being a little aghast at the interferences of the men who looked like me.

"Why don't you leave me alone", I almost shouted at their faces.

"You could not go deeper. You would not be able to come out", one of them said, with a worried look in his face that tells some grave worry or concern.

I looked at them and hissed and I almost sneered. What could have gotten in their heads that they burden themselves the issue of my well-being? These were very particular dialogues and emotions that I have captured in writing "The Pond" then. I remember how surreal was the world that I painted in that story, responsibly truthful to the happenstance in my dream of the pond.

Then perhaps by now we recognize that my dreams, my memories and my fiction had a heavy thread on them; all are surreal. Perhaps, we could add my life to that.

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October 04, 2016

The Accidental Politician

The Accidental Politician

Law school was both a destiny and a curse. The first appreciable words I heard from my father was "you would be a lawyer when you grow up" and stuck to my mind like mildew on wet rock. If he were a warlock, it would have been the curse from Gods. But since he was not, then it must have been destiny.

The minute I stepped into the halls of the University, there was a realization that every other hour I have spent in classrooms were for the sole purpose of this endeavor, to learn and argue for somebody else's tragedy. Sighing as if a great thorn in my heart had been plucked out and yet sighing, or rather yawning that the specter of boring classrooms would still be there to haunt me. It had become the wildest of my ambition to finally find myself free of blackboards and teachers mimicking textbooks. And in my first year of law school, my patience was gravely questioned; my discipline doubted thinking it would be another four years of classrooms.

To make matters worse, my law years overlapped with Satan's wrathful stranglehold on me, stifling my attention rules and procedures as the scourge of depression sent my emotions into ecstasy, and then sadness, then everything in between. Again, I merely traipse along periodic examinations and semestral breaks and along summers and make-up classes and completion tests. The years in the University would have been mostly plain and sordid, until I got myself entangled in student politics.

I was riding the seaside highway towards school while heavy in my mind was whether to skip the class or not. My decision to attendance led to a lengthy conversation with a classmate that was himself harboring a hard decision to make, that is, whether to run for another term as President or not.

"This is a good proposition," he said. Teng Catong is a miniature national politician who takes his politics so seriously that it pores out of his skin. Elections were his staple, the lifeblood that makes his spirit rise and gain him some shine in his face. If orations were an Olympic sport, he would have represented Philippines.

"Any good proposition is good to hear," I said, pinching in some bravado, upon speaking to one who is full of politics.

"I am sure you could do it," he sort of whispered to me and that was the time I realized that this may be something beyond jest. I felt some sinister.

" If I can do it, then I will do it," I answered with bated breath, somehow recognizing that the proposition would demand so much from me. I thought perhaps this was a business proposition and he needed some capital, which I do not have really.

" We need you run as President for our party" he muttered casually, psychologically assuring me that it would not be so much of a big deal.

I regretted my bravado soon after and smiled so hard I thought I would laugh. He must have been joking I reckoned then and my mind rushed for excuses.

"I do not have the resources"

"We have the resources"

"I won't win. I have no previous reputation."

"You will win."

The following day, I submitted my application with the dean of student Affairs and rode the campaign trail thinking I was merely in a movie and everything was merely an acting job. And most of it were actually acting job for someone who does not have much time in the past speaking in front of crowds. I would scurry to imagine Jose Rizal or Ninoy Aquino. If I had then the proper equipment, I would have studied their movements and actuations every time I prepare to speak, like basketball coaches do. In my mind was a playground, and I was the master of my speech, the director of that movie. I became Gandhi and then Marcos then Pilate, sometimes all of them at the same time. "Lend me your ears.." were words I learned in school; "bring me your votes" was the phrase I learned in the field of political battle.

When the counting came in, the lights went out and Teng was almost shouting at me to make the rounds and guard every vote. He was holding his personal tally sheet as sweat poured all over him. He shouted like he was my master and I was merely a confidant. I did not say anything although I wanted to appease him that losing would not be the end of the world for me. It was then I realized that my defeat would be the world falling down on him. It was much of his election as mine. When the smoke got cleared and every bullet was shot and every cannon fired, I got away with the most minimum of votes and worry overcame me rather than elation. But it was a show all along until the very end that I jumped as Teng and my other teammates hugged to the air. I smiled but did not laugh.

Running for the topmost student post was one thing and winning was another. It was purely bravado that got me embroiled in such very alien endeavor. I would not worry much anyway for winning is not one of my expectation. You see I was a complete nobody then. I had not anticipated governing that my losing would just be another day for me. But I won and worried so much about governing.

The summer after such election, I fell into an abyss and that made everything worse. I have to deal with a major depression while preparing for my reign as the University president.

Depression is like water. You could not get hold of it. You grasped it into your hands and they just melts away. It is also like upon a darkened room that the darkness would be so unkind that you would not know where the chairs and tables are, not even the way out. I bet our soul is like a ship and mine was the Titanic. I hit an iceberg and got sunk into the deepest of the icy Atlantic water. There, in the most desolated of the ocean's bed, nothing lives except some freak creature, staring at you every now and then. The coolness of the water would not support any moss, not even some anemones. I remember again that dream of mine where I repeatedly dived into a pond, where I dove deeper and deeper and had no such temerity to rise up again. My anxieties had gotten so worse that to compare me to a shipwreck was an understatement. Depression was like that, you have worries and could not point out to the source of these worries and you end up just letting go of any resistance and wallow in sadness and general bowing gait that paints the darkness of my life then.

I carried on with routines of governing when there is not much to govern except that you are being expected to make something move and live, like a magician. Student politics is not similar to the usual politics we have where everywhere and everything calls for action and work, work and more work. In that set-up, you have to create work it seems not so unlike of milking a male cow. So I had concerts and essay writing contests and everything in between. If history truly judges the rein of student presidents, then I must have not deserved a single jottings or a blot of ink in the history books.

(An excerpt from my autobiography "A Prophet's Life".)
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January 28, 2016

The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist


            What do we mean by producing fruits from our repentance? To produce fruits from our repentance is the condition attached to the rewards of forgiveness that the angels have brought with them and this condition must be fulfilled.

            To produce fruits from our repentance is an edict of replacing what we had taken, of returning what we had borrowed, and putting back into the condition in the past of a thing or persons ruined and defiled by us to the extent of the condition taking place before our particular misdeeds had caused such ruin and injury. What is broken should be unbroken. A thief should give back the money he stole, and the fornicator should live a life of total devotion to the edicts of God, evading fully even the mere thought of lust and temptation. It is also to ensure our soul by giving back more than we had taken that for instance, if you stole a car, you must give back the amount of the car you stole and more in addition. That is to ensure the acceptance of your repentance.

            There is also another way of producing fruits from our repentance of countless sins throughout our lifetime, those that we could not trace anymore, for as we say to be human in a world despoiled of strong faith, is to have committed countless sins that are so countless that we lose count of them. This mode of repayment is the cultivation of your hearts by helping others to be uplifted from a life of hardship and misery. That is the power of the rewards of repentance. In the interest of everlasting peace and harmony among brethren, producing fruits from your repentance could be fitting in this manner. You shall be forgiven but only if you repent immediately and produce fruits from your repentance, in order to make a complete turnaround and turn away from a life of sin and falsity, to accept God fully and follow His edicts and judgments from then on.

            This convenient mode of producing fruits from our repentance however, should not in no way be abused for even a minute abuse of these would mean eternal damnation in hellfire so that it is still a primary edict that what you steal you must return, whom you abused must be disabused, whom you killed must be recompensed and what is broken must be unbroken.

            Indeed, even as we do not have to produce fruits from our repentance, the most beautiful manner of cultivating our hearts is by helping others get back on their feet, to uplift the condition of the poorest of the poor, those unfortunate brothers and sisters of ours who live in the slums and giant piles of garbage, living in ultimate squalor, endangering not only their lives but the lives of their children and their olds.

            One might argue that the idea of sharing that I am strongly professing would only promote and cradle a lazy society, establishing a welfare system for slothful and laggard people, a system where people depend on others instead of their own capability to survive and rise above poverty. There is nothing farther from the truth. Let us realize that the condition of poverty is never intentional anywhere in the world for no man chose to become miserable and it is not the desire of any man to suffer poverty.

            Even the richest nation in the world has a welfare system for the poor, in fact the wealthier the nations become, and the stronger their welfare systems are.

            Everybody wants to work and scurry for their own daily bread. Nobody desires to live the desperation of a beggar’s life. Man is by nature proud and dignified even from birth. If we think this way, it would be easier for us to accept the role of the brother’s keeper, to share whenever possible and whenever necessary.

            Poverty is an existence brought about by factors that are mostly beyond the control of any man like the lack of opportunity in a master-and-slave society, where the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. These factors are independent of the poor man’s will. A master-and-slave society would always put him down, like a drowning man caught in the middle of a storm that even as he is able to swim, the giant waves would be too much for him to handle.
            In a society where opportunities are limited to some sectors, where monopolies abound and cartels persist unhindered; both in business and labor, as well as in the possession of arable lands, the drowning man is an everyday reality.

            Most rich people gained wealth by simply having the right opportunities at the right time. There are gains in wealth achieved by men who simply had the knowledge or initiative to recognize the key to gaining wealth and affluence. But in many societies however, not everyone has the opportunities and initiative because man and society as a whole is not made of intelligent people all, there would always be the less capable so that in a society where the only strong survive, the drowning man is indeed a pitiful reality. Now we ask ourselves as we encounter the everyday drowning man, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  “What good does it do a man to have faith and yet he has no works?” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being alone.” [6]

            Let me tell you a story from my childhood. When I was still a child, I was living with my grandfather instead of my parents, compelled by circumstances the moment my first brother was born. My father then was working as a postman whose compensation was perhaps insufficient to make ends meet so my mother needed the assistance of my grandparents. Or was it maybe perhaps my mother had difficulty looking up for two sons while my father was always away. I could not surmise enough upon these particular conditions that happened so long ago in the past, when I still had a juvenile consciousness.

            My grandfather then, Hadji Unih Bandaying, was a grower of coconut trees where through his labor and persistence, the land he tilled had carried two generations of our family. He had also been a Muslim preacher that we call as imam. The coconut plantation that he had tilled was not very substantial that he oversaw it all by himself in order to save on labor expenses. Every three months or so, he would go to the farm to make some work, mostly to clear unwanted bush growths and to repair some fences and then to oversee harvest time. The farm was located relatively far from the city that in fact he had to travel by sea to reach the place. I had grown so emotionally attached to my grandfather that I would insist on going with him whenever he leaves for the farm and he would take me despite his firm opposition to the idea. In one of those memorable travels---a journey where I could usually be closer to the natural grandeur of the rustic countryside, to smell the healthy soil and to witness radiant sunrises not easily found anywhere---I am particular to an incident that has been etched in my mind since it happened, an event that was not so commonplace that it somehow taught me my first lessons in the humanity of man and in the power of sharing.

             This particular childhood memory however, would not bring us to the seminal beauty of the farmlands. It all happened in the ship that my grandfather and I were to embark for our trip to the island of Suba-Nipa. As usual, we went early long before the scheduled departure and we spent hours waiting for the boat to depart from its docking.wards its point of destination, most of the passengers were already on board.  As it was usual, the passengers were busy arranging their baggage and some took their meals packed in plastic canisters and banana leaves.

            I could always feel a sort of exhilaration whenever we had the island travel. There is always that shared excitement of a group of people leaving for the same destination, crossing waters on a long trip and spending the night adrift the sea together, to be one in purpose and destiny, at least for that moment, with a certain rising in everyone’s spirit.

            I gazed towards the wooden plank where people traverses in order to reach the ship from the docking, silently observing the flow of people and the kind of camaraderie they had, when I noticed a fat man wearing unruly and discordant clothes. His shirt was dirty white and over-sized even for his wide body. It was not a dirty cloth but it was sort of disconcerting to the eye, declaring that the fat man had not much choice for wardrobe. He was carrying a fading small black bag and in his hands was a “Tasbi”, the Muslim version of the rosary beads, declaring to the passers-by that he was a Muslim. And as the man drew closer to us, I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that he was a foreigner with a middle-eastern look, wearing a lengthened beard on his face, and his skin was white as any white man’s skin. He was conversing to every man as he walks past the passageways, gradually towards the direction of where I was situated. He did go closer and closer to where I was seating, until I finally realized that he was begging for money. It was indeed a surprise that a foreigner was on the streets of our country begging for coins, speaking in straight English. What really takes me out of my wits is the fact that aside from his features, he seems to be so unlike other beggars. He spoke as if he was making a contract with each man he approaches, making a business engagement, with full dignity and pride, as if he just decided not to be ashamed altogether despite the desperation of beggary. I was drawn to this fact so keenly that I observed more closely his actions and words. As he approached each man he would greet “Assalamulaykum” and went on to state, “You know I am Amir, a Pakistani.  Do you have one peso? Just one Peso my brother.”   He kept on repeating and reasserting that he needs a peso from each man. He would continue saying “You see, if you give me just one peso, it would help me buy a plane ticket back to Pakistan where my family lives. If many brothers would give me one peso each, that would help me so much.”

            He was sort of making a contract to each and every one that he had approach, without any hint of shame in his face but pure humility, to declare to each and every one he met that the consideration for giving a peso for each and every one of us was the altruistic feeling of enlightenment that one feels after helping a less fortunate person while his cause and consideration is to enable him to escape that particular desperation---a contract indeed with minds meeting somewhere in the middle of understanding. And because of his foreign look and the way he talks, some of the passengers got so interested in him that they inquired into his person and his other conditions in life. One passenger, an acquaintance of my grandfather who I remember to be Hadji Ahmad, inquired so much about him and conversed to him as if the Pakistani was a long lost friend.  As the two men talked, many others circled around the Pakistani, curious still about the foreigner. The “accidental tourist” relayed rather deliberately (while I was listening nearby) that he was a tourist on a business trip and looking for opportunities in the selling of carpets and other goods from Pakistan. While he was billeted in one of the hotels in the city many months ago, he was robbed of almost all his belongings including his money. He was so careless he admitted to the crowd, but he did not expect so much to be put in such a quandary. Luckily he said, a friend he had known while staying here allowed him to live in their humble house in a nearby slum where poor Muslims lived, until the time that he could find a way to solve his problem of being stranded in a foreign land.  The friend of his was not affluent so he is not much of help in getting him back home to Pakistan. So he thought of a plan to help himself and this was by reaching out towards his brothers for assistance, to go to the streets to solicit for money. He said that if twenty thousand persons of Zamboanga City would give just one peso each, which is not, as he often declared, so much to ask for from each person, it would enable him to buy his plane tickets all the way to Pakistan. Many inquired upon him why he did not ask the help of the government or the rich Muslims, maybe they were willing to help. Or why did he not seek assistance from his consulate. He just stated that walking the streets was the only way he thought of since their consulate is in faraway Manila and there was no assurance that they would give such assistance.  He could have gone to Manila to pursue assistance from the Pakistani embassy but felt more secure here in Zamboanga City than in Manila because of a friend that could help him survive from day to day and survival was foremost among his concerns.

            The crowd felt so sympathetic to the Pakistani’s flight that everyone including my grandfather fished for more money to assist the hapless Pakistani. The man was misty eyed all along. The crowd became so involved with Amir’s flight that in fact the Pakistani went with our trip upon the invitation of Hadji Ahmad.

            What happened finally to the Pakistani is now beyond me, whether or not he was able to get that fare fee back to his homeland is not a memory to me anymore. But one thing I was sure of that day, that all of us in that particular trip felt enriched by an unusual event that had somehow opened us to a reality where men could be generous without limit, that all of us shared the experience of sharing and the enlightenment it brought forth. At the least of it all, it made me realize what a good feeling it is to share and help others to get back at their feet by the meager amount of a peso or two.

            The story of the “accidental tourist” made me realizes that a man might beg but at the same time retain a certain honor; an amount of dignity that could be had when one still has faith in the basic goodness of man. It was not easy for him to walk the street for money for you could see the Pakistani to be holding something heavy inside him, swallowing so much pride and dignity that he was misty eyed whenever he approached each man to solicit for a peso. A stain of embarrassment perhaps, for his helpless condition was somehow patent in how his voice would crack at times, as if losing composure and determination to go forward like a boxer about to raise his hands in surrender after a frenetic pounding of punches. Yet, he decided to roll with the punches and held in his heart the belief that men are still good and are still brothers’ keepers.

             The Pakistani was making a legitimate contract with each and every one of us and if we recognized this as legitimate, then he did not have to be teary eyed at all. For a meager some from each one of us, he could be back to his homeland and at the same time for a meager sum, we could be enriched by our humanity by assisting others whose plight has turned from bad to worse, conditions brought about mostly by causes not completely of their own liking. For certain, Amir had not intended himself to be robbed in our country. And definitely, he did not desire to walk the streets begging for money.

            There is a feeling of enlightenment whenever we share genuinely. That feeling is unexplainable in concrete terms except that it is the desire of God, the Great Divine, and divinity is at the same time unexplainable in concrete terms. This is the enlightenment we gain in engaging in such form of “contract”, an enlightenment to the fact that indeed we could still be our brother’s keeper.
            In the present world we live in, there are many of those who desire to make the legitimate contract of “the accidental tourist”. To be poor was never the intendment of the unfortunate among us for poverty is not a condition desirable. The beggar with limbs injured makes a contract to us every day. “Look at me,” they say, “I was unfortunate to lose my limbs that I am incapable of work anymore but with a meager amount, you could help me extend my sojourn here on Earth as you also had the privileged of sojourning in this beautiful world full of water and air and sunrise and misty mornings, of radiant trees and blossoming flowers, a world so full of colors and vibrancy.”

            With the meager amount, you could make a man’s life much more sufferable and on the other hand such form of giving will further enrich our spiritual life as Jesus Christ had imparted in his teachings and as Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had commanded and as Moses had declared. “Love thy neighbor” Moses declared. The produce of our repentance may also appear in other forms such as assisting a dying man on the ground, a poor cousin seeking harbor after a long journey, a desperate neighbor soliciting loan for a crying infant, a friend in dire straits, a hungry child on the streets.

            It should be a gain of principled men to create a world where everyone is brothers and sisters all, regardless of gender and creed or race and nationality. Conflict is of no benefit to anyone and violence is a stain to peace and harmony. We should carry our brothers and sisters like we carry our own children.

            For certain, this is not an edict to let your persons be abused by those who misrepresent their incapacities, for even our own children we castigate when they overdo the limit of our patience and harbor. It is in our hearts that we are able to know when to give a helping hand or when to shy away from those who take advantage of generosities.

            If we ever doubt our propensity for sharing, we should always remember Amir, the Pakistani, the accidental tourist who makes a contract to us in order to uplift himself from an unfortunate situation not of his liking and intensions.

            But you may ask: “Is it an obligation for us to share our blessings? If that is the case, what is the limit then?” This must be the question of any rich man. “In my hurried life as a big banker or as an investment broker, or in my occupation as president of a multinational company, I simply have no time for the works of a Good Samaritan, for I have to work and feed my family and look out for myself and my family. This is the life I live in” and this must be the thought of any rich man.

            To think, how does helping others become an obligation when we only have to live our own lives first and foremost? To this I say sharing is never in the form of an obligation, as we understand the word “obligation” today, for it is blind faith to have a sack of money and go to the streets to look for beggars and poor people just in order to distribute such money---while there is no genuine intention to share. Are we buying faith?

            Generosity could not be faked and sharing should always be genuine. If it were genuine, there would be no question as to how much to give or when to offer a helping hand. It becomes automatic and spontaneous to the man of great heart.

            Sharing is a consequence of our humanity, of us being human beings. When we have already reach the point that we fail to feel sympathy for the misfortunes of others, then we must have reached a point where some parts of our hearts have already been closed through numbing indifference of the suffering around us. Where we could care no more in a world of a dog-eat-dog existence, a fast and furious way of life where only the strong survive and the weak wither. Where being strong is sometimes to have the strength to kiss the foot of other men in order to gain richness.

            Charity is never an obligation but a consequence of our humanity.

            For if there are two man walking an isolated street of the city, one is a rich man who is busy with his work and occupation, in order to generate more wealth for himself or in order to further his ambition of reaching a higher position. And then there was the other man who is merely a laborer with merely enough wealth for his subsistence. And in that isolated street, an old man with a wooden cane lie on the ground, half-conscious and fallen from tiredness and hunger, clearly unable to stand up as general weakness had encroached upon his body. The rich man would pass along the street and come upon the sight of the fallen man. He would take immediate cognizance of course of the tragedy of the fallen man but he has a meeting to attend and time is of the essence. He could not pass this business deal. He would walk ahead and disregard the silent appeal of the fallen man.

            Then the laborer would walk along the same area of the streets and come upon the sight of the fallen man and surely he would recognize the pain of the fallen man, for him himself have been hungry and tired before. Seeing this tragedy, he would approach slowly and enquire if the man is still breathing, and if he is still, he would fish for some coins for the man’s sustenance or he would even buy the bread himself from a nearby bakery, and bring some water.

            In the instance above related, who is the man of great faith? Who is more human and has more humanity? To be sure the laborer had encountered no law or ordinance that makes it an “obligation” to assist a fallen man. The rich man would not have committed any illegal act by disregarding the appeal of a hungry man. But is providing a helping hand an obligation?
            The man of great faith would not even have to ponder upon the obligation of a helping hand for it comes to him naturally. The man of lesser faith also has no pondering upon the obligation of a helping hand because sharing is in fact not an issue to him anymore for he even does not reach the point where he would ponder upon the nature of this act.

            This only we must realize God is like a father who has many children. If some of his children were more benefited and became wealthy while others languish in misfortune, to be sure he would appeal upon his wealthier children to assist their suffering brothers and sisters, for the suffering of the children is also the suffering of the father.

            And all the fruits of this earth were meant for everyone to share, so that everyone will eat. How come there are many still that have no food on their table?

            If it comes to you that in your own self, there is doubt as to the genuineness of your faith---I shall point you to the right way, in order that you would be cleansed by the discomfort of this uncertainty. And this “right way” is by being men for others. There is nothing more that would endear you to the Lord God than by being a Good Samaritan.

            If it comes to you that you already doubt yourself if you ever shall enter the Kingdom of God or not---I shall show you the way. Live your lives as if to live is living not only for yourselves, but also living lives for others. And surely you will not be lost. For certain, there must be some other ways, but this is the clearest path to the destination that the Lord had promised us.
            Even when many of us are the most steadfast of a hunter, not all of us could be good hunters. The children, the women and the old are not good hunters.

            Let us all hunt in packs like many ancient people do. If a people would hunt as a pack, it is a people who shall have no hungry brother or sister left out in the cold. A people who hunt in packs looks out more for the weakest member---the children, the women and the old---those who could not join the able men on their hunting trips.

            But when we became individualistic by nature, many would be left out in the cold, especially in a dog-eat-dog existence we have today.

            “What does faith do to you if many lie naked in the streets?”

            “Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”[7]



From my book "The Night of Angels".



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January 19, 2016

THE ROSE BUD c.1994

THE ROSE BUD c.1994











Set your fodder widest
Like an ocean of yellow poppy field,
On an orange farm
That once ruled
The mazes of my dreams.

Here I stand,
A smirking child
Lost in the underground caves
Where I set my Indian soul free
Always upon your magnificence.

You offer me your oriental meal
Flavored with salted tenderness,
Laced with diamonds of
Hopes and promises.

When you tamed a whispering storm,
The moon was a scarlet fire.
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November 01, 2015

Into the Great Wide Open

Into the Great Wide Open

When finally I was of school age, my mother got me back and started living away from my grandfather. It was hard at times to be away from my grandfather since I got so used to be with him. The giddiness and wonderment of childhood might have staid off these longings for my grandfather that I easily readjusted to newer surroundings. When I was with him, I played with my cousins, when I was with my mother I played with my sister and two brothers. Children always play it seems. They were built and created for to play and nothing more that games was like a narcotic to every child's longing and impartibility. Old habits did not die down that in the afternoon, on Saturdays and Sundays, I would earnestly find some solitary moments and played with "unreal" friends. I would climb trees alone and fish with a crude hook and line equipment in a nearby pond. My mother was living in the house of our grandaunt, Hadja Saniya, and it was an old house with a colonial built. In that place, there was some woods full of banana trees and a guava tree in the midst of it, near the pond were tadpoles litter it to the hilt.

The guava tree gave me a view from above and I had always liked the air up there. I would climb it and stayed up there for hours that I could not almost feel the afternoon passing by until twilight comes and all the children were up playing hide-and-seek or cherry base, a game where one would guard a post in order that the others would not take and conquer it by surprise and win the game.

One day while darkness crept slowly into the night, I was in a hide-and-seek game when suddenly, as I looked into the area full of banana trees, while hiding from my seeker, I noticed a little distortion in the trunks of the banana trees, and as I stared lengthily towards the woods, I noticed that a group of persons were looking at me. Some were standing while a couple was sitting in a kneeling position. They were all staring at me. They looked unusual that they had skin gleaming like bronze and their body sizes were relatively small like children's body and yet their faces looked old. I should have been scared and immediately run away but they seem to have put me in a trance that fear was absent in me at that moment. I remember it now so vividly, as I try to recollect these past events. I could even describe to you how one is put in a trance. As I looked at them, my head felt a gentle swelling, painless and smooth, as if the rest of me disappeared, except my head and my feet did not feel the ground. Again, my surroundings became yellow and everything seemed to glow despite the lateness of the day. My sight became sharper and I could hear my heart pounding and my body seemed ethereal like I was a spirit floating above ground. The one person sitting kept on signaling to me that I should approached them, because perhaps of the trance that I was put in, I headed towards the woods slowly, into the thick groupings of banana trees. As I pierced through the woods, the surroundings became brighter and ahead of me was a pathway in the forest, and I could see many of them at each side of the pathway, hanging from trees and huge stones. They all held palm leaves in their hands and shook it that collectively they made a swooshing sound that is gentle to the ear. Nobody spoke to me and nobody touched me. After a few meters of going forward, I stopped abruptly without deciding on my own, and turned back and into the games that I was playing with the other kids. It was a transition so smooth that I could say that time stood still and the event suddenly disappeared from my mind, never able to tell it to any of my friends or to my mother about the particular strange occurrence. It was only later on in life, that the memory kept coming back every time I walked into some woods with the same landscape and contour, feeling déjà vu every time, and vividly recalling details of such event. It must have been a dream. It must have been not. But dreams I could really recall to be dreams no matter how vivid they were and the forest incident was never a dream. In fact I had a dream once, about three years ago that was so vivid and yet I fully recognized it as merely a dream, not a memory of past events. In that particular dream, there was also a pond. I found myself in the middle of a wasteland, with red cracking clay all over, up to where my sight could reach. And then there was the pond that was unusually situated near a sloping hill and the air was yellowish and the sky a bit red, bleeding into many hues and concentration of red. There were no trees or a single bush in the arid ground except for a leafless tree protruding at one side of the shore of the pond and the wind was very still and motionless and the only sound I heard was the poundings of my heart. If you could perhaps imagine Mars and its landscape, that was how the dream looked and felt like.

The pond was of fair size in a shape that is almost perfectly circle. It was a small pond indeed with a radius not more than ten meters. I climbed the barren tree and sat there looking into the water, undecided about my next move. I could see the water inviting me to jump, almost feeling the coolness that it harbored; the dewy color of the water was refreshing to the sight. There was some life in the pond that I felt it could talk and communicate as if it was a creature on its own, with a head and a torso, and the tentacles of an ancient mollusk. I stood up from one of the tree's branches and dived into the water. The splashing sound it made as I entered the water reverberated throughout the heavy air that I could hear it rumbling even while I was deep into the water. Such sound made me reckoned that the pond was deep, so deep in fact that I kept going further and further into the water and I could not see ground. As I went deeper, there was exaltation inside me, a sudden gush of joy that became more and more prevalent as I dived deeper and deeper. But even as I go further into the water, I could find no end, as if it was a bottomless pit. I was insisting to lunge deeper when suddenly I felt a hand grabbed my body and pulled me towards the surface. When I reached the surface of the water I realized that I could not swim that the man who grabbed me had to help me reach the shore. There were actually two men that helped me get out of the water, as I lay there gasping in the banks. I examined the two men and observed them carefully and to my amazement, they both looked like me. They were my twins if only in that particular dream.

I sat there at the pond's shore while the two men stayed in the water, so expert in their swimming prowess that you could not tell from the surface if they are really moving their hands and feet to wade above the waters. That was the time that I saw this vision of an old person who looked like an old woman in a very long white dress. She looked so old that I had initially thought of her to be a ghost but despite such apprehensions, I could not move and continued to stare at the apparition. She approached me slowly as she floated through the wind, her feet entirely above the ground. As much as I thought that she was approaching me, as much farther she had become. It was completely a distortion of physics and of sight. She moved away from me, hovering towards the top of the nearby hill. A smile was pasted on her crinkled face that somehow I felt reassured that she meant no harm. She pointed towards the tree and through my mind, she instructed me to dive once more into the water. And so I recreated my previous dive and the sudden gush of happy emotion was there again as well as the temptation to go deeper and deeper. To seek the ultimate depth, the bottomless pit. The water offered such narcotic feeling that the two men had to grab me and pull me up before I go so much deeper and became lost into such very fearful depth. Every time I reach the shore, I dived again and then dived again until I was able to swim on my own, having gained the patience not to go deeper into the water.

And the dream went into a blur. The last recoverable image I have got of that dream was the old woman dancing atop the hill, while floating, and swaying her arms sideways and roundabout, as if ordering the wind and all the elements to move, and the air moved. In fact the entire atmosphere was in a whirl.

If dreams could be so vivid, nothing could top that particular dream where even when years had already passed, I could still remember the details, and the minutest of emotions that I felt. It was one of those dreams that once I woke up, I had the feeling that I had been transported from one place towards another instead of the general feeling of waking up.

Of dreams and of past memories therefore I have a healthy recognition and have reasonable distinction.

It was also in my Hadja Saniya's front yard that I also had another experience of trance. Again, we were playing a catch-me-if-you-can as twilight was already heavy into the night that it was only the full moon in the sky that gave us sufficient illumination. When the moon was full, us children would play into the night and it was sort of a ritual for us every time the moon appeared at its fullest. Before night came, the older children would inform all of us that the moon would appear in the night so we had to prepare for the night games. They say the night was full of monsters and ghosts but when the moon was full, even the olds would be in the yards to enjoy the mystic of a moonlit night.

The extra playing time we've got made us giddy and a little bit livelier. Every one seemed to laugh and snitched, until we were all laughing incessantly as we go running in a circle continuously and I started to hear laughing voices not of my friends but of some other persons'—old persons'. I stopped moving while the others kept running in circles, and the laughing voices faded as if I became suddenly deaf. And I stood there petrified and my body moved independently of my will until I was positioned apart from my playmates and gazed towards a guava tree whose leaves was crumbled due to the coolness of the night. The night became a little bit darker and my friends disappeared into a blur, as if I was the only person on earth that night. There was a red flickering light in the middle of the guava tree. The spark of light flickered so slowly as if someone was blowing it again and again. I squinted my eyes and I saw a figure of a huge man with the head of a horse, and the flickering light was at the end of what looked like a huge cigar. I could see figures in shadow because the tree was just about twenty meters away from where I was standing. The figure then changed into the figure of an elephant. After a few moments, I saw the shaped of a whale, then a horse head again, then of a monkey. The shape kept on changing and changing. The occurrence took about nearly an hour but when it ended my friends was still running in circles. I felt a sudden loneliness that I started to cry for no reason at all. I saw my mother coming after me and asked what was wrong with me. The other kids said that we were just playing. My crying caused the disruption of our over extended play into the night. Somehow, I could not remember telling my mother or anyone about the strange figures I have seen. Funnier still, when the day after came, nobody mentioned to me that I acted queerly by just standing there and crying so suddenly. Just like those other strange memories, I always failed to tell anyone for reason that is perhaps beyond careful remembrance. It may be perhaps the feeling I had then, even up to now, that no one would believe some queer stories anyway that it was not worth telling in the first place. Such memories faded in my head as the years went by, to recur as deja vu in later years.

All these experiences had one major tread that are similar to all and that is the feeling of entering into another dimension, penetrating an invisible wall that divides this world from some other parallel existence. I have a great feeling that those events were planned by some supernatural beings, as a way of introducing their presence here on our material world, to declare that they are here.


2.1.

Hadja Saniya was unlike other elders we had. The more she got older, the sharper she had become. She had been tending a store and kids like us could not touch the goods as easily, in order to put some candies into our pockets without paying for it. All day long she played solitaire and was all too engrossed in it. I have learned one lesson or two about playing cards from her. At age six, I was already crazy about solitaire. At age nine, I was already gambling with the older cousins and uncles, playing poker and baccarat.

She never spoke much but she was always ready with the broom every time we did some mischief in the house, even those malefaction we did outside whenever news of such reach the house. One afternoon, words got to her that we took some bits of pork meat from some neighbors grilling a whole swine. I did not have so much beating from anyone as much as I had from her. That was my first religious lessons. Moslems do not eat pork she screamed and gnashed and from then on, I never touched the meat for a long, long time.

Her house would have been so grand when it was newly built as if centuries ago. While I was scrubbing the floor and wiping the dusts from furnitures, I imagine it to be a classic house made of wood, somehow Spanish in architecture but always remind me of American houses that I often see in the movies, just like the one in American Psycho. Her husband died years back that we did not really saw him alive but his picture hanging in the living room reminded me about how handsome he might have been, a man pure in Middle Eastern blood, leaning to the Turkish rather than Arab. He might have been a cinch with the ladies in his younger days. I imagined their stories of adornment. Perhaps, he was a handsome young man then, setting eye upon a fair Samal lad, and some other girls. He must have been a rich man to put up such a house. In Moslem wedding engagements, at least to those who were prosperous, all the matters are never settled in one sitting, at least not in one grand ceremony, merely climaxing upon such explosion of merriment and celebration. There would be the engagement procedures where the family of the male would bring all kinds of sweets and delicacies wrapped in colorful packages. In recent times, they used colorful cellophanes and Japanese paper when in the past they have to make use of carefully garnished garments and expensive silk from china. The china man brought these things and porcelains in exchange for the gold of the local tribesmen. There must have been a lot of gold vein in the area of Zamboanga that there were old pictures of Samal tribesmen flashing those teeth that glitter even if the photograph were in fading black and white.

Imagine yourself in a stock exchange as quoted prices flew by here and there and you would be able to feel how the parties negotiate for the amount of dowries to be taken by the family of the would-be bride. The spokesman for the male party would offer all the things that were superfluous like four heads of cow or a pocketful of pearls and morsels of gold. The father of the bride-to-be would of course negotiate for a better deal until the two parties meet at one delta of understanding. About a year after the agreement, the wedding ceremony would take place and in those olden days, it would last almost a week of merry making and festivity. The gongs would reverberate throughout, day and night, insistent and almost to the point of annoyance to the neighborhood. The best dancers would be invited to take turns, as the bride and groom are kept apart until the last day of the ceremony. There was the persevering smell of rice cakes and pastries made of mustard and egg, the kind that I always look for whenever I am in such activity, identifying the area of the kitchen as early as possible and then reconnoitering the area like a vulture. I usually fill my stomach with a lot of native coffee as the supply was bottomless and unending and every adult would took notice that such young child would spoil himself with nerve wracking amount of coffee.

Even in her fading years, Hadja Saniya looked fair that there was no doubt that she had deserved such grand wedding from the "Turkish" suitor.

Years after, the house of Hadja Saniya was graying and the paint on the walls subsided that there was an apparent darkness everywhere. When night comes, the darkness is more pronounced as silence complements the general dimness. The smell of old wood always lay heavy upon my nose that every smell of wood reminds me of the house. Dirt stuck to the decades old walls invites me always to stare at them and I reckoned then that the dark stains on them formed the shapes of men and other unlikely beings. The house was alive I thought then and it breathes into our lives every moment we happened to be there. In the night, these shadows become sharper that I thought I saw the shade of an old woman always while the lights are out and I lay there trying to find sleep, turning in my bed while cuddled inside heavy fabric, sweating profusely from fear of shadows.

I would sweat so heavily from warmth as I resisted the terrifying shadows of an old woman sitting just at the foot of my bed. There were times that the fear ate so much into me that I screamed and cried in the middle of the night. My father thought I was just missing my grandfather that at midnight, they would deliver me to my Uncle Mameng's house nearly ten kilometers away.

Of course, I would have to be back with my mother when school finally opened. The shadows finally came at lesser frequency and besides sleeping together with my brothers kept me somewhat reassured. If that old woman would strangle me, at least I would not be the only one to be strangled.

I could not tell if those shadows were really ghosts or spirits but I felt so sure that they breathe a life and they were unmistakably the shape of human beings.

My real sighting of a ghost came years later when I was just about ten or eleven years old. I could remember some particulars as I relate this to you now. It was near midnight, on one weekend, when most of the members of our household stayed wide awake to watch a television special; it was a late night movie if I am not mistaken.

Usually when the night comes, I had felt dutiful always to check the back door if they were safely locked and shut tightly. That night, before I sat to watch the show, I reconnoitered the kitchen and locked the door after reassuring that every chore in the kitchen has been done. As the show started, I felt a strong urge to relieve myself that I headed for the comfort room, situated just to the left of the kitchen. As I turned towards the direction of the kitchen, I saw a figure of a woman in white gown, with her hair down to her knees, walked pass the hall leading to the kitchen.

" Is someone still in the kitchen?" I asked.

"Everyone is here. Why?" quipped my Aunt Coney.

"I just saw a woman in white walked by in the kitchen hall!" I exclaimed.

"Do not kid us like that." She warned.

"Really. I did saw a woman"

We all stared at each other and after a moment, we all scurried for the main bedroom. Every one was blaming me for playing some wicked game on them and I kept on denying them.

"It must be your imagination." they all indicted me.

Half an hour later, we were back in front of the television while I was feeling so sick already from fear. I had no choice but to join them in the living room otherwise I would be alone in the room.

While the television was glaring, a sudden wind blew forcefully from the window and rain poured instantaneously as rumbling thunder shook the house. It was just another bad weather, as we disregarded the weather's tumult and stay stuck to the television show. Perhaps the wind was so whipping that small bits of stones were thrown at our direction, entering thru the window.

"Damn it. Someone is throwing stones at us," Coney said and we all peered into the window to investigate the malefactor and we find exactly nobody outside as more bits of stone came at us. The sound of thunder became extremely forceful that the lights went out. By this time, I could already feel the fear that had enveloped not only me, but also the rest of them; fear has a smell I realized that moment. In the middle of the living room, a small whirlwind was lifting the small stones towards the ceiling in a circular motion and while the stones circled above ground, the wind suddenly stopped and the bits of stone fell simultaneously to the ground. We all screamed and run to the bedroom.

It was strange that the day after, no matter how patently strange the experience we had the night before, everyone was merely jesting about it while Hadja Saniya simply dismissed it as the playful imagination of our minds, us who were still tender in the head. She was deep in slumber when the strange happenstance occurred. Even those who were present in that strange occurrence simply forgot about it, never mentioning it again. My Aunt Coney just did not talk about it. My brothers Nasrullah and Akmad and my sister Rimaisa just went to the yards and play the usual games, as if nothing happened. If I remember well, my cousin Nimfa and Mernisa was present then and similarly, they never took it so seriously despite the common terror we had felt that night. Where in contrast, that unusual night were etched forever in my mind.

The eldest who was there was Aunt Coney. I had expected her to convince the others that some spirits really played fun on us but she acted as if the strange night was merely a usual occurrence, and did go on with the ordinary chores, as if nothing happened, as if she was expecting such things to happen ordinarily. After that night in fact, she had slowly gained isolation from the rest of us, at least it was how I have observed her to be. She would walk along and would give me that iniquitous stare that I felt somehow uncomfortable that she had suddenly become so mindful of my presence that she would shout at me easily if for example I happened to touch the expensive jar in the living room.

I reckoned that she had blamed me for that strange occurrence in that one strange night.
(from my autobiography "A Prophet's Life")
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October 13, 2015

Constellation

Constellation

Substantial cognizance if I only have,
Of the house where you once forgot your name,
Intentionally, maliciously or otherwise,
I would have spared no minutes nor seconds
In order to stand before you and beside you,
And thereupon render my pleadings and other inquests,
Of which you were certain already even from the beginning
And which is a mystery no more.

I would have scoured the Earth from all ends,
Towards the East and the West, the North and the South;
Into the darkest and narrowest of caverns and underground cages,
Where fiery serpents slitter and savage beasts dwell,
Into every territories of water, into the graying Lake of Lochness,
Even into the bottomless pit of the Marianas.

I shall leave no earth unbounded and unsurveyed,
Untravelled and untresspassed, and no atmosphere unstained
By the heaviness of my desire.

Be informed finally my dear
That I have even summoned all the winged horses in the heavens
So that I may reach the farthest constellations,
To the very end where these stellar bodies remain
Unnamed and unseen even by the scooping eyes of men.

Thereupon, I shall vest title to these constellations
With names I could merely infer
By the deepness of your eyes.
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April 30, 2015

A Letter to Elise

A Letter to Elise

Not only in these moments that I have pondered the possibility of writing a long overdue requiem for an old friend that had already gone to the netherworld, but also in many other instances before. Maybe I just hadn’t had the time before or maybe the time wasn’t just right. And so now I shall speak of him in the best of manners and as far as my remembrances of him could take.

Aziz Vernon Mustapha was closer to me as a brother than as a friend. I met him during our first years in Ateneo de Zamboanga, in a time and place that was etched in my mind like mildew on a rock. He was sweating so furiously one sunny afternoon when he appeared out of nowhere and suddenly sat beside me without any prelude in a Religion 101 class that we had both attended. He kept on scrubbing the area around the back of his neck with a handy towel and that made me a little uneasy. It was the first week of school that year and I panned around the entire length of the room for any familiar faces, as well as amiable countenances that I could be comfortable with, those that I could possibly associate with later on. I did not find one familiar soul and most of them looked grim and sordid. Anyone sitting for a Religion class in Adez has exactly nothing to be cheerful for and everything to grieve. The words coming out of the religion teacher’s mouth can border from the murderously boring towards the unforgivably commonplace. I am now a strong advocate of religion and I assure you that religion is not such a dreary subject to brood over. Do not get me wrong on this. It is just that when we were so young and adventurous then, the matters of faith took a major backseat from our thoughts and attention, and became farthest from the pyramid of our wants and desires.

I attempted at a conversation with Aziz by asking: “What’s that CD about?”

Aziz handed me the square object that he was holding tightly in his hands like a precious ancient artifact (he held it so tightly as I have observed then) and I found out for myself that it was a recording of live performances by the Filipino new wave band “The Dawn”.

I said: “I like their songs and Jett Pangan was sublime in ‘Enveloped Ideas’; or something to that effect.
Aziz nodded and never spoke a single word to me up to that moment. I had rescinded my forward engagements towards him because of his seeming nonchalance. Sheik Bagis, the religion teacher that was in front of us called my attention and told me to shut up and be attentive. I did not notice the classes were about to start that I felt a little sore from embarrassment for the first time ever. I am not kidding. I was such a diligent student for most of my high school years that until that moment, my attention inside a classroom had not been questioned and called for. I never minded this discomfort so much and began to keep quiet and pretended to listen to what the teacher was reading from a fading textbook. Sheik Bagis knew me fairly well since he had also been one of my teachers in high school. He proctored us in SRA. I am never sure now what the exact denotation of the acronym SRA but Standard Reading Activity seems to be the approximate term.

Later that week, I was sitting with my Tau Gamma fraternity brods in the bench near the Ateneo Chapel when John Suico, a classmate from high school walked towards my direction. I stood up to meet him and gave him a hug. He was with Aziz. It was so long ago that we have been together so I asked where he had been?

“I was in Davao” John said. “ Our family had some business there you know.” He continued.

“How about you? I heard you were in Silliman with Tony?” John asked me.

I narrated to him how I spent one whole year in Silliman but found some difficulties there that I had to come back again to Ateneo and take up accountancy. John explained to me that he had likewise met Aziz just recently. “Pics, this is Vernon”. Pics was my nickname while Vernon is the name John use to refer to Aziz. I said, “I know him. We’re in the same class in religion”.

John had apparently got to know about Aziz in the orientation seminar given that year for incoming freshmen and transferees. I forgot the orientation schedule that if I remember too well, I might have been flying kites that day somewhere in the vicinity of the rice field just adjacent to our neighborhood.

I had surmised then that Aziz was a man of few words when during our initial encounters, he seem to have not spoken to me even a single word. But later, as our friendship blossomed, he had become the most gregarious among the three of us.

One afternoon, on a break from that arduous Citizen Military Training we usually had in college, we were munching on fried bananas when John noticed something. “What’s that smell?” he asked and we all look around for the possible source of the unwelcome scent. “ I do not smell anything.” I answered back. “It’s your shoes Pics. Your socks are dirty”. I protested that observation from John and I said that it was only in his mind. But I must have been guilty that one afternoon for I remember not a few times did I resorted to wearing socks that wasn’t fully dried up. I was not a sock person back then when I was in college. Usually, whenever Sundays were near approaching, it was usually the night before that I usually remember that I had to wear socks for the CMT drills the following day. I had to scurry up and wash some socks that I almost always left dirty and unattended in some dark corner of our house. Bad habits that I had then you might say but in college, I never really wore those big and heavy shoes that called for the wearing of socks, like the way those humongous basketball rubber shoes many wore during those years when Michael Jordan was the god of many gangly youths. All my loafers then were topsiders and some look like kung-fu shoes. I like those kinds of shoes better since they were so windy and my feet felt breezy in them all the time and I never had to wear socks often. Besides, you won’t have to go through the usually lengthy ceremony of tying up laces that big shoes demand. You can just pick up those topsiders and slip them into your feet and up you go in a jiffy.
John and Aziz both laughed citing my smelly socks but I just disregarded them. As the three of us were heading downtown, after that afternoon’s CMT session, I uttered to them while my eyebrows were furrowed from deep thought, a suggestion that could make our associations more rewarding and productive. I said, “You know what, ‘Dirty Socks’ seems to be a good name for a band”. Right up to that moment, we were really dreaming of forming a rock band and we were so serious about it that we have made acquaintances with some Ateneans who were already playing in one. They both agreed to this band moniker but later on, we had to change it to “Dirty Sox” to make it sound spikier.

We had a friend named Stephen then and he was already in a band. In fact, he was the bandleader of a band that played heavy metal music by Metallica and Iron Maiden. That time, if a band could play “Enter Sandman” with silkiness and spontaneity, that band is popular as hell. Every time Stephen and his band mates were rehearsing in Stephen’s house, we would be present just watching them and learning the craft from a distance. We all knew how to play the guitar but we were not so refined in that field that we had to observe how others did it. I had to learn how to play drums myself because John had wanted so much to be the lead guitarist and Aziz coveted the role of the bass player like he was yearning for a woman. Being unassuming that I was then, I agreed to beat the drums for them even when I had no professional training whatsoever in that field. Aziz had good things to say about my voice though. According to him, my voice was both full and raspy and among the three of us, I had the finest voice. So I had asked both of them that perhaps I could be the lead singer. They both answered yes to this particular intimation. But I eventually asked them about how I could be the singer of the band when at the same time I had to be the drummer? John said almost in a whisper, “Pics, if Phil Collins could both play the drums and sing the lead vocals for Genesis, I can see no reason why you could not do it.” I did not know how to react at first to this particular opinion of John but to be sure I was elated with the comparison to Phil Collins so I agreed to be both the singer and the drummer. In my lone moments after that, I had felt so confused and challenged thinking what great trouble I had found myself agreeing to become both the drummer and the singer. I reckoned that it would demand from me too much exertion for having to do two tasks at the same time. Yet, I let pass those doubtfulness and decided for myself that from then on, I should face the challenge of becoming the Phil Collins of the Philippines.

When Stephen bandmates quitted on him one by one, we tried applying as his new band mates but he would not take any of us. He said our skill was still far from performance level. We said we could try harder in practice and play all the songs he want us to carry out but he would not let up. We were so disappointed with Stephen that we made jokes about him when he wasn’t around and laugh so hard on them. John said that at first Stephen had a complete band made of four individuals like U2. Then when a bandmate said quits, they became a trio like The Police. Then after another band mate left the band, they became a duo like Tears For Fears or Wham. Then Stephen became alone and became George Michael singing “Careless Whisper” like a cross-dresser in the middle of Plaza Pershing. We laughed so hard to this humorous crack at Stephen for being an inconsiderate fool, I mean friend. Even when all his band mates had quitted on him, he remains unwelcoming to our propositions of becoming his new bandmates.

I remember that I wasn’t only the singer and the drummer for “The Dirty Sox”, but I was also its main songwriter. Our first original composition was a song called “Sitting On My Backseat”. Part of the song’s lyrics goes this way on a D-G-C-G chord progression.

STANZA

D G C , G
Sitting on my back seat.

D G C, G
Playing with my yo-yo.

D G C, G
Waiting for the sundown.

D G C, G
Looking for a showdown.

CHORUS

F G C, G
Sitting on the back seat with the radio on.

F G C,G
Sitting on the back seat with the radio on.

F G C,G
Sitting on the back seat with the radio on.

F G D,G
And it feels like sunshine.

F G D,G
And it feels like moonshine.

Forgive the simplicity of the lyrics but that was how crude my writings back then, right about the time when I was still a college freshman. Aziz queried me about the meaning of the song’s lyrics and what the hell I was doing sitting on my backseat. He said that maybe I should change some wordings of the song to give it more sense. I refused to be edited and I said the person in the song is sitting in the backseat of a car listening to the radio and that he enjoyed that activity so much that it felt like a good sunshine on an ultra-cool afternoon for him—pure and simple. John on the other hand praised this eponymous composition of mine that he compared it to the Clash punk classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. It was so simple John added and the chord progression was so strong and very rock-oriented that according to him, the intro for the song “Sitting On My Backseat” reminded him of the fierce guitar in the intro part of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”.

John, Aziz and I were never really able to fully form our band called “The Dirty Sox”. We did not have the right amount of money to buy ourselves a complete set of instruments. With some savings, we were able to acquire a second hand bass guitar but that was all what we have gotten then. Usually, we just end up popping out in some other band’s practice sessions and when that band was resting for a while, we hopped in and play some number, hoping to hone our skills all the more. Most of those who were already in a regular band were mostly acquaintances from high school that they are just real kind to allow us to just appear in their rehearsals and made use of their instruments while they take some brief recesses. It was sort of a trade-off. I was already a writer then for the Beacon Newsmagazine, the official publication of the Ateneo de Zamboanga and I had featured those bands in some articles, or made some mentions about them. Perhaps, they decided that they could make use of some music journalist hanging around their necks.

John was already back in Davao when finally, me and Aziz were already able to form a band with a complete set of musical instruments. We were already working in the same government agency by then, earning quite contently and being able to buy those costly musical apparatus. Except for the drum set which would have cost us a fortune if we have gotten them. One of our officemate turned out to be a hobbyist of drums and he had a drum set he kept at home although he wasn’t in any band at all.

But without John, the camaraderie was never the same and the magic of three or four people longing for each other’s musical support, the kind that band mates usually have, was not present at all. And besides, we could not pour so much of our time into the band since both me and Aziz held crucial positions in our office—positions that demanded more attention than we were willing to give. I was the legal assistant reviewing piles and piles of project applications, examining each time if each folder was complete in its legal requirements while he was the procuring officer that took care of the adequacy of supplies and materials.

Farouq, the designated drummer, always had some excuse tacked under his belt. He had to bring his kids to the mall every time whenever weekend came and Schulk, our supposedly other member playing rhythm guitar was a computer programmer that always had some clients calling him on his ever-ringing bulky Motorola. After a while, we stopped pursuing the dream of forming a band as newer realities set in like being married and having children, being so busy taking care of them when the night came. Aside from that, work in the office had become so demanding that soon our rehearsals became so infrequent until there was none at all.
When our employment contracts were ended by the agency we were working for, I went into dried fish business with some capital from Aziz but the endeavor never really took off until I decided to take the bar examinations for the first time. While, we were still in the agency, a few months before our work ended there, Aziz was rushed to the hospital one morning as he suddenly lost consciousness while he was preparing to go to work, and needed blood transfusion so direly that I had to assist his brother in finding the proper blood source. I received the call while I was doing some task in the office and without asking permission from my boss, I headed for the door. While I was in the tricycle on my way to the hospital, my mind whirled like a train, asking what perhaps was Aziz’s malady that he needed to have blood transfusion.

I found out later, as I arrived at the hospital panting and perspiration was all over me, that he needed to be operated on in order to take away the kidneys that had failed him. I saw how his feet become so bloated as he lay there in bed. He was conscious and he told me, “Pics, why of all people this has to happen to me? My son is still young. Take care of my son if the worst comes.” I consoled him that everything will be all right and that he should not speak words like that. I wanted to cry thinking how in his most difficult times, Aziz thought of nothing except his son Jakob, my godson.

For two years, Aziz had to go through a laborious process called dialysis and his medicines was too costly that his parents struggled to maintain them and he needed them in such great volume that the boxes in the back of their house were stacked so high towards the ceiling.

While he struggled through nearly three years of painful medication, I could not remember him cry or looked so grim even once, the way sick people do. He was even extra cheerful in some moments like nothing was wrong at all. Perhaps, he was just hiding from me the many fears that he had to struggle against or maybe he was just all too positive that someday, his discomfort would someday vanish like a smoke in the wind. So every now and then, we still go about like nothing happened and I was relieved to see him up and about again. We played guitars while sipping some warm coffee while at times we go downtown and watch people pass by while inside the mall and talked on almost everything there is to talk about and also about the friends we had, some that were present still and those who aren’t anymore. Aziz had a way with conversation that when I was with him, there was no moment when we ran out of something to say or mean. I am naturally an introspective individual that I usually do not speak much but Aziz could always find something to say or utter.
Then came a time when his phone calls to me became infrequent, and since I was also struggling with some of my life’s own hurdles then, like failing the bar, an unstable business, joblessness, and other similar concerns, my visit to him also became infrequent that the distance between each visit to him could go for an extended period of a month or two. In the last six months of Aziz in this material world, I have observed quite well how his health deteriorated so quickly that the last time I saw him, he had became reed thin and he was struggling to carry himself—he had to walk with a cane in hand.

That fateful night when Aziz mom informed me by phone that finally Aziz had finally succumb to the illness that had longed bothered him, I sat by the stairway and tried to absorb the news with all my mind’s might and resolve. It was near midnight already and all I could hear was the songs of crickets in the shadowy bushes nearby. I kept telling myself that it was the moment that I had feared and yet at the same time it was also the moment that I saw coming. I convinced myself that Aziz should be better situated there in the afterlife, in the loving arms of the Lord, than be here and suffer that highly debilitating and often-cruel disease.
The following afternoon, we buried the remains of my friend in a seaside cemetery over a brimming sun that slowly descended on the horizon. The sky was clear and cloudless that day. I had seen the sky clearly that one fateful day and the sea was calm as a windless night. I had reckoned that it was a beautiful day for him to go away. I heard his father pronounced to the Lord his own pleadings as Aziz was gradually laid down to the ground. “That is my son, my Lord! That is my son that is being buried there!” Aziz’s father was saying those words as tears rolled down from his swollen eyes. I was not able to hold back some my own tears that I had to wipe them to look like I had not cried at all.

You could say that I had prepared myself for his passing that when his passing finally came, I had not been overtaken by so much grief and sorrow. But once, a few weeks after his death, while I was strumming a song titled “A Letter To Elise”, I wasn’t able to hold back tears that just flowed from my eyes automatically like a river that was dammed for too long and finally let gone by the opening of floodgates, as the song reminded me of him and I cried like a child and cried so hard that I wished he was still alive and walking like the man that I knew him to be and be there to receive my calls whenever I dial his numbers. But he wasn’t there already.

Aziz was more than a friend to me in more ways than one. When we were together, there was never a dull moment. We could just stroll along the side streets of downtown Zamboanga and sipped some cappuccino in a nearby donut store and our afternoon easily becomes delightful and full of joy. We usually talk about music and our favorite TV show “Friends” and we would laugh so hard recalling the many antics of Joey, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Peevee and Rachel. At other times, we just strum along an acoustic guitar and sang the song of our lives even in moments when the strings were not fine-tuned and our voices could not hit the nicer notes.

As I turn back time and reminisce the days that we both had, I am continually reminded of one of his favorite songs from his favorite band “The Cure” entitled “A Letter To Elise” and the song goes:

And every time I try I try to pick it up like falling sand.
As fast as I pick it up, it runs away through my clutching hands.
And there is nothing else I can really do.
There’s nothing else I can really do, at all….

It is not that there was nothing else I could do for him or could have done for him. It is only that I had to be brave for him in many times in the past so that he could be brave for his own self. I never really knew if he needed my urging for him to face courageously his own challenges while he suffered through that malady but in my mind, he had always appeared stronger than what could be expected from a person in his situation. I always thought that I should have visited him more during his last remaining days but I wasn’t there at his side as much as I would like to. And now I continually pray for him and plead to the Lord that his soul be taken into the great harbor of salvation. I believe that when the time comes, Aziz will be alive again in the company of angels and the Almighty who is in Heaven.

(A post from 2003)
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April 09, 2015

The Commander & I

The Commander & I

Yesterday, we celebrated Yuri’s second birthday at the old but still chic Country Chicken Restaurant near the famous Pasonanca Park. The place hosted a-many events for our family primarily because it gave us the best deal we could ever get in town; affordability, the food is great and the place is just so wide that parents could just leave their kids running around without having to worry about passing cars or unworldly strangers prowling around. We had a grand time and the party was lively enough even though it was on a strictly family and close friends basis. I’ll put some pictures here in the coming days if they come soon.

As it was always it had seemed, like mostly what happens, like in the years that passed, Yuri’s birthday was celebrated not on the very day he was born due to scheduling factors. If the day falls on a working day, we have to move it to a weekend date in order that the invited guests may be able come. So much fuzz ain’t it? Ha.ha.ha. I would laugh at myself thinking that in the generation of my kids, this sort of events took us into a lot concerns like the place where to celebrate, how much to spend, and who’s to invite and who’s to come. When I was a kid, our aunts or older cousins would just bake us some chiffon cake (at times without icings anymore) and some Chinese pansit and family-size Coca-Colas and then we neighborhood kids would just troop down to the table, and munch like we never eaten for the longest days. “Take a shower!” said my older cousin Minda as I head home from a torrid afternoon playing session, “ and eat” she would continue, “it’s your birthday today”. Without further adieu and introduction, we just sang happy birthdays and blew candles and ate cakes without icings on them and then we go back to playing like nothing happened. In some birthdays then, when person like Aunt Minda were gone, (she is now in Seattle working as a nurse), and nobody really cared whose birthday is it anyway, I just collect all my friends into our backyard and announce to them that it was my birthday and since it was my birthday, I am giving them one cheese curls one by one. Some would jump would glee while some of ‘em complain what a cheapskate I was. “It’s your birthday and all we get is this cheese curls?” I just said something like (my memory now a little feint) all of you are lucky because it is my favorite cheese curls (the one with a mouse posing as a cowboy and a gun on the package) and usually I informed them, I just kept them to myself in our bedroom and eat them alone. Now shut up all of you and let’s continue to cook the maya bird we just slingered earlier. They taste just like chickens, these birds, you know. When we were lucky in some days, we would cook a dove felled from a neighbor’s birdcages.

We would fish also in nearby ponds and tried to cook our catch in those younger days. The first time we cooked a Martiniko, the taste was just so bad that we puked it out. Despite knowing that we could exactly do nothing with our catch except to stare at it until it dies inside tin cans that we used as makeshift aquariums, we still continue to fish. I bet that’s why fishing is such a major pastime for grown up men in the States because it was just a lot of fun fishing. American men love to fish although most of ‘em need not fish no more to have food on their table.

So in the afternoons, we spend hours after hours sitting by the pond, talking of dreams when we grow up, and of rocketships and satellites in the sky, and aliens and kapres, and boats, while we wait for some fish to pull on our baits. Boats seem to be the favorite topic back then, although I ain’t particular why this was so. Perhaps as kids, we all want to sail into the unknown and see if the people and kids at the other side of the world looks and talks like us or dress like we do and have the same kind of food in their tummies. We had a neighborly friend named Dodong. He was not a regular in our group because of a very strict and recluse of a father. He was kinda weird and stupid that when his around, some of my friends would do some tricks on him when like one day a friend named Michael taught him how to use the sling by pointing it the other way around. And so a fairly size stone struck his forehead and he cried of course, running to his father. I was so worried about that particular incident happened so way back in the past that I could not forget it even up to know. One of the reasons why it stuck in my head is perhaps not mainly because of how tragic it was but it was more to the amazing discovery then of how stupid some kids like Dodong was. At first, I was just relaxing a bit and assume that Dodong was just playing dumb and would not really slinger himself on the face with the sling pointing at himself. But he did for goodness sake. He just pulled the rubber and hit himself. I got scared and felt a little guilty as a conspirator that I could not look him in the eye for days and years to come.

One particular memory is still about the hapless and clueless Dodong. One day he just got brave enough to escape in the afternoon when he thought his daddy wasn’t around the whole afternoon. So he came with us to go fish in a nearby pond. But alas, his father arrived home and immediately came looking for him. He said he was just fishing but his father said what could he do with the fish he caught? His daddy just went nuts and asked for our day’s catch—a milk can full of Martinikos. And for fear, we just gave the whole of them fish to Dodong’s Dad. We got worried about what might happened to our friend and as kids we always like to see some spanking of some other kids. But I believe that day that we were just concerned over Dodong so we followed him and his dad without getting noticed. From a place unknown to Dodong and his father, we sneak and see for ourselves if he would get the major spanking that we foresaw. But he didn’t. What happened was queer enough that it was for the books. Dodong’s father cooked the whole batch of the highly insipid Martinikos in just plain boiling water outside their yard, as if he knew that we were watching them and was warning as of dire consequences. And then he made Dodong eat all the boiled fish. Jesus, it was so achingly awful to see Dodong gobbled all the fish while his tears was running down from his eyes like a flood. Dodong did not play with us ever again even when he did grow up into a young man. By the way, Michael is now in Los Angeles as an emigrant. He sent pictures the last time and we could not believe he drives a red car that looked like a Lamborghini—but I believe he got it from some second hand store.

Back to the present. And so Tony, Russell and Sheva were with me yesterday with their kids celebrating Yuri’s grand day out. We made some discussion on the formation of our organization and when Evelyn finally sat down on our table, we mulled over the possibility of tapping resources from the health sector like doctors and nurses willing to assist us in medical missions in the future. Already, even while our constitution and by-laws are yet to be instituted, we had invites from TESDA for a livelihood seminar in Basilan. And by early January, we are heading to Sibuco for a reconnoitering activity, introducing ourselves to our pilot area and see for ourselves the geographical, societal, and economical make up of the locality. (See the proposed logo for PPRO below)

Some active juices came rushing from my head as Tony narrated the coming itineraries for it reminded of days when I was the President of the student council in the Western Mindanao State University. It was sort of this kind of activities we pursued in those days. We travel and inspect places. We sat in many sessions of trainings and seminars. We met a lot of people. We create and initiate activities out of nothing. When I run for the presidency, my slogan was “ we can make things happen”, and although not much happening in my own term (in a year, the time is so short for a student regime), still my rendezvous as a student leader made me realize that with perseverance and a lot of talking to lots of people and going to a lot of places can make materialize anything that you have in mind. I remember this particular project that I had in school, a mural painting contest that I mulled over with a battalion commander of a Marines infantry based in Jolo at that time. He was so young and a friend of my law classmate Arlene Pelaez, already an attorney now. I went ahead with all the nitty-gritty works—scheduling, planning the opening and closing programs, approaching city councilors as guest speakers, soliciting for sponsorship funds for trophies and free paint, seeking permission from University President Eldigario Gonzales, (we had to negotiate for a particular schedule ‘no, I am not here at this date’, ‘oh, you must see the vice-president for something about this’, ‘ no program for this date, the gymnasium is in use’)—and everything came to place except that when the contest day came so nearly approaching, the said Marines battalion commander wasn’t around no more. He had insisted on providing the paint and the judges. So I got worried but did not stop at worrying. I went to the Southern Command camp where the Marines were based and was informed that the commander was in Jolo. I requested to have some contact with him. The few soldiers in their barracks lugging around like tired horses, said he was in the middle of combat embarking on a major assault on the Abu Sayyaf. I was disheartened and went home thinking, there would be no time to cover up for the task of looking for judges and sponsors for the paints, in so short a time remaining. So the next day, I went back to the barracks and insisted that I talked to the commander. I said there must be some way of communicating to him. You are the military; you must have all the gadgets. And surely enough they have the gadgets. So we called him on the kind of enormous phone kit that we see on some soldiers awkwardly lugging at their back when they are in the heat of battle. The phone was like no phone at all. It felt and sounded like a SMW radio receiver but it did work through crackling voices and interrupted conversation. As if there was a miracle, the commander said that he is heading to Zamboanga the soonest possible time after he asked permission from his higher-ups. And so the project pushed through in grand colors and it was the first time I spoke in front of TV as the ABS-CBN local news program gave a live on-sight interview of the commander and me. Now I remember that he wasn’t really a commander but I get use to call him that in the few days we were together and I forgot his name now. He could not have been a commander for he was so young and very young looking at that. He was then a lieutenant leading a unit of Marines. Maybe he was just an infantry leader. I just do not have the proper coinage for these military hierarchies as of this moment.

(A re-post from 2004)
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