May 4, 2004

Always the image of a pork butcher's broad knife that quickly and with mechanical regularity chops into me from the side and cuts off very thin slices which fly off almost like shavings because of the speed of the action.

Franz Kafka
Diary entry
May 4, 1913

The Legend of the Living Wanton

Some documents mark this as NJ's birthday. Last Thursday, while my friend peed, she received this text message:

Patay n si NJ. Malapit n ang panahon natin! Bwahahaha.

At around 11am, she showed me her phone. Had I come upon this message somewhen and somewhere else, I would have just sat and waited for confirmation. Somebody would text me about it, sooner or later. I would think upon its consequences while waiting. A message like this would come fifteen minutes later.

Hey jst gt word dat NJ jst died, and m suposed 2 take up hs MayDayEve story tmrw. He's d last of d gudole guys of phil lit. Itaas m0 pare ko?

I wasn't somewhen or somewhere else. I couldn't wait it out. It was eleven o'clock Thursday in Baguio, and we just concluded our second morning session. FJ and CB just headed the discussion of short story in English. OD, the director, sat in attendance. I felt the need to confirm the news right then and there. I asked across the table where my other friends sat, hoping to know if they got the same message. The question came through in hushed tones with the name mouthed. Their incredulity got the better of them, and they asked loudly, still a bit luckily, without mentioning him. At that point, CB silenced us with a finger to his mouth. With another gesture, he detained us.

FJ walked his old man's way and pace, with cane and attendant. OD closed the door behind him. She said CB had some words for us, but FJ could not hear these words. They were just too close. CB gave us the confirmation. Then we all shared one of the most pregnant silences I've ever known. Some eyes grew misty; everybody had them to themselves, sightlessly digesting the moment and the gravity.

We went up to our rooms and wondered how it was broken to FJ. We would later learn that his wife told him at around the same time we wondered. Definitely though, I said I was glad we sang ourselves hoarse the day before. We couldn't do anything now but share some uneasy, too well-chosen jokes.

We concluded the week the next day. FJ began the day with a few words on NJ, how he was always drinking but was never drunk; how he was a Filipino through and through; how he had an acquired distaste for the elite; and how he would turn in his grave if he knew that his grave was in Forbes. He left after that morning's session.

CB and OD took us to a thanksgiving dinner that evening. In the fellows' response, I quoted something said about how we came late in the scene. I touched upon our belatedness, how it bothered, awed, and maybe intimidated us to the point of paralysis. I told everyone that the highest point of the week happened on Thursday, miles away from Baguio. It was a absence so powerful that it was a presence. Very amateurishly, I asked for it to mean something. It was a gap so great that we could never fill it, I said. Yet we cannot risk not trying.

These words never sat well with me after that. The applause never drowned it. I asked my closest friend there, a man of thirty. His assurances were diluted in a substance I could not articulate. Here in the days and miles after, I accept in horror that the message I delivered was no different from the first message I received.

Patay n si NJ. Malapit n ang panahon natin! Bwahahaha.

The fiction of the documents must hold some truth or must've generated something of the sort since 1917. Happy Birthday, Nick Joaquin.

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