Romance chooses no occasion—especially not for us old fogies. We neither wait for it nor worry about it; it happens when it happens.
In fact, this Valentine’s Day we had resigned ourselves, quite happily, to waking up with my five-year-old granddaughter Mona asleep between us.
She had no classes the next day and had stayed with us all Valentine’s eve, making love bracelets for her three favorite fairy-tale princesses from a do-it-yourself kit, a pasalubong from an uncle just back from a business trip in Singapore. But she was not staying longer; her dad was collecting her to give us, I suspected, some Valentine space.
I awaken to cellphone beeping alerting me to greetings from my usual texters, some short and simple, others long and poetic.
I have made the earliest available beauty-parlor appointment to get out of the way of the hordes of young’uns with real Valentine dates. And I think it’s sweet of Vergel to accompany me to the parlor and stay, even if no masseur is available so early.
He’s happy to sit beside me with a book to read over complimentary coffee and cookies. In less than half an hour, Greg has performed his miracle of turning limp hair into an impressive bouffant for the Jessica Sanchez show tonight, a surprise Valentine treat from Vergel’s paper.
It’s now my turn to accompany him to the music store. He bypasses the stacks on sale and picks out, decisively, a regular-priced Andrea Bocelli. He’s committing an infraction against our rule of buying only things on sale, but I make no fuss, little suspecting that Andrea will have an unscheduled role to play for the day that will make the acquisition a heavenly bargain at P500.
All coiffed now, I put on a little makeup and wear something with touches of red, as my mom would have liked, for a Valentine afternoon visit to their common niche with Dad at Santuario de San Antonio, in the Forbes Park parish. Again Vergel comes along unbidden.
Mom had a special thing about Valentine’s, as she did about almost all occasions, opening herself to even more hurts because of her semi-estranged relationship with Dad.
For his part, Dad, perhaps out of a sense of guilt, perhaps in his own strange way of loving, spoiled her with grand gifts that came in small packages, a ritual that, being so, did not really surprise. But if forgiveness had a price, he paid it habitually.
To the conjugal niche that has brought them finally inseparably together, I’m bringing a seasonal change of blooms. For Mom, the silk kind she was partial to; I’m replacing the Christmas poinsettias with Valentine’s red roses. For Dad, who disdained artificial flowers, a mint-colored cattleya with touches of amethyst at its heart, mom’s birthstone, and mine, too. A gift from a neighbor for my birthday and coincidental book launch, the cattleya has remained as fresh as the day it came, the week before.
Among the family niches of the Roces-Prietos in the same cove, I notice the birthday of a younger cousin, Feb. 16, 1956. I smile in sweet memory of his handsome face and gentle ways, and I decide to include him in my request for masses. He would have been only 56.
In the hurried ride to catch Jessica Sanchez, we are kept calm by the polished, yet natural tenor of Andrea Bocelli. We arrive with little time for anything but a quick sandwich dinner and a shared espresso.
Dying for dessert, I keep eyeing the Dairy Queen vendor going up and down the center aisle of the Araneta Coliseum, as if sensing my longing for a Butterfinger blizzard. But with my sugar police beside me, fat chance.
Once on stage Jessica keeps my mind off the sweet stuff, and when she belts out my favorite “Ikaw,” by Willy Cruz, I’m on my feet, and with moistened eyes I turn to Vergel to give him a loving look of thanks, convinced that, with his special powers, he planned it all!
On our way out the Dairy Queen stand beckons. “Look, it’s still open!”
Well, my police is indisputably firm: He throws at me a running account of my sugar intake for the day! How sweet, nevertheless.
Homebound, Bocelli rides with us again, and we are this time inspired to sing along. Vergel is second-voicing, sometimes jazzing things up and scatting, lost in his own arrangements, endangering my own precarious hold on the melody.
Once in a while I feel emboldened to go for broke and join Andrea at the top of his range, definitely beyond my own. Mercifully, no sound comes out, and nothing is missed.
Suddenly we are hushed upon hearing a piece of wordless heaven, defying sing-along: Chris Botti, himself a Bocelli on the trumpet, puts a final punctuation to the song.
Once home, hunger pangs set in, and we search for safe fruit. The pineapple in the fridge has turned to wine and a mushy, wrinkled kaimito is all Vergel can scrounge up. I settle for cornflakes and milk, but worry about the state of Vergel’s kaimito.
“’Di pa ba bulok yan?”
“Hindi pa, kaya nga nagmamadali akong kainin na e.”
Is this any hint at the state of our romance—romance that arrives unpackaged, unwrapped, indeed unplanned, something for us to help ourselves to, to grab at, while we still can? Then, we’ve got ourselves an exciting new challenge!