Tuesday, July 12, 2011

eulogy for a friend

When I asked Ali about his skin cancer before the start of Cez's church wedding, he spoke lightly of it. It was as if he just contracted the flu. He said he would be starting chemotherapy sessions the month after that. I was not sure if he noticed it but I was worried, terribly worried. But the way he spoke about the matter somehow assured me that things would be all right, as things are wont to do whenever we over-worry about them. Our conversation was cut short because he had to take pictures of the wedding (he was the official photographer) and I had to play the piano for the wedding march. That was six months ago. I just learned thirty minutes ago that he would be buried this coming Thursday.

I was probably the very first person from his high school batchmates to have learned of his condition because his mom had informed my sister about it in December. It came as a shock, and, somehow, I got the impression that it was not something to be divulged, not right away.

However, I felt that this was something my high school friends should know, too. So, after having whored before Ali’s camera the whole night at the wedding, I told some of them about it. They had the right to know. And, I thought, should the inevitable happen, they would have had time to cherish the person while he was still alive. The inevitable did happen. And all we can cherish now are memories.

Years ago, when dreams still ran high and science investigatory projects were considered the pinnacle of our achievements, Ali was a constant companion. Not a lot of people may know it but we did become quite close especially during the last year of high school. We used to hang out a lot, together with Bonny. He used to go to our house, and, sitting side by side on the piano bench, we would play Blue Moon in four different variations—jazz, classical, pop, and just plain funky. He played primero and I secondo. He marveled at how effortlessly I would shift from classical to jazz in one bar. But when he himself learned the trick of musical improvisation, he got so adept at it he started doing it with practically every pop song.

After I had taught him the rudiments of reading notes, he got to play slightly more difficult pieces. He was a fast learner and his interest in the instrument never waned. Later on, he got good enough to play regularly in his church, Iglesia ni Cristo.

“Improvisation is not allowed there,” he told me once, after playing in church. “You have to strictly follow the music sheet.”

I don’t want to take the credit, though. I merely showed him the door and he entered it with gusto, like most of the other things he engaged in—photography being one of them.

At a time when text messaging was still unheard of, we would spend hours on the telephone mostly talking about his exploits with girls or those he merely fancied. There were instances when I actually fell asleep and he would wake me up by pressing a button on the phone, which made my earwax shoot out of my eardrums, that jerk!

During those phone calls, too, he got to bare his dreams, which, unfortunately, I don’t remember anymore. Only the more lurid parts of the conversations got stuck in my mind, as these regular talks were always punctuated with laughter, jokes, and general rubbish. Suffice it to say that I got the privilege of knowing the other side of him. He was always seen as a class clown with a big nose, someone who didn’t seem to take things seriously, who always made fun of things and found something funny in anything. In our regular phone calls, I realized that he was dead serious about many things in life.

Whenever we would visit Bonny, we would deliberately pause at his gate (even if it was wide open) and call Bonny’s name out loud in a sing-song manner, he doing the base part and I the tenor part. It was one of those things we did to amuse—or annoy, depending on the case—Bonny.

At Bonny’s place, we used to watch the 10th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables. He loved the musical so much that he read the thick, unabridged English translation of Victor Hugo’s original. He lent me this book and, somehow, I never got to finish reading it, preferring the abridged, simplified French version. This dilapidated book is still in my shelf at home.

His sister being a ballerina, he was able to procure complimentary tickets for me and Bonny for a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines with none other than prima ballerina Lisa Macuja playing the lead. It was the very first ballet I had ever seen.

We shared a passion for music. The Phantom of the Opera, of course, was our favorite musical during that time because we had to do our own version of it for a school competition. I played the title role and he was one of the unforgettable, nameless extras trying to look good in the background. We fabulously lost the competition to a group that lip-synched the whole thing.

We used to sing Tong Tong tong pakitong kitong to the tune of Phantom of the Opera; again, he did the base part, I the tenor. We would sing it whenever we were bored. Or just to annoy whoever was within earshot.

He told me once that whenever he would hear Think of Me, he imagined his future wife to be that girl, to have that pristine voice singing with yearning and longing. I have yet to hear Maria Mariquit sing to know if, indeed, she sounds like Sarah Brightman. But even if she doesn’t, I’m sure Ali saw in her much more than what a fictional Christine Daeé can ever offer. And I have yet to see Karl Matthew, his baby who will never know how fun a dad Ali could have been.

Ten months ago, when Ali took touching pictures of my father’s funeral, I had no inkling that he would follow suit. Ten months ago, too, his mom told me how happy Ali had been when he got his new car. “He was like a boy,” she said. And in many ways, that’s how I, his high school classmate and friend, would remember him, like a boy with a happy heart and a big nose.

Life has a way of playing jokes on us. Or should I say, ‘improvising’ at the last minute. The joker sometimes leaves earlier, making the hall silent, desolate. The jests, the antics, the fun, however, would never ever die. They will linger as long as we need them.

Goodbye, Ali. It had been one hell of a ride.

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At 10:45 PM, Anonymous bing said...

this is so touching i nearly cried.

i have a friend who has lymphoma. he had underwent two chemos already.

life can really put a joke on us sometimes. or maybe, it is not a joke after all.

you are one talented person, slim whale. just like Ali. must be the reason you go well together.

he may never know this eulogy but i know if he does, he'll be happy.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Manech said...

I'm glad Bing already made a comment. I find it difficult to think; I'm welling up.

Both of you are lucky to have found each other.


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