In line with a self-imposed observance of austerity these days, we’ve been avoiding keeping the driver beyond 8 p.m., and tonight was austerity night. For the last trip, Vergel would be dropped at the Peninsula for the launch, from 6 p.m., of the book “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir.”
I myself would be watching the proceedings on television; afterwards, we’d be walking to meet for dinner at Greenbelt.
I couldn’t catch his shadow on the screen, and my chances grew even slimmer as the night wore on and the ballroom got more packed. I began to feel consoled and relieved to not be invited, and not just for the discomfort of being sardined standing, but for the awkwardness and danger of being among the strangest bedfellows.
The speakers sounded as if they themselves had to explain their presence. Enrile’s son, Jackie, proceeded to say what you’d think could have gone without saying: His father had decided to write his story to set things straight—by his own light and from his own memory, of course.
From the family that owns the company publishing the book, ABS-CBN, its patriarch (obviously not a reigning one), Oscar Lopez, washed his hands of the deal and pointed to his nephew Gabby, son of his eldest, brother, the late Geny, imprisoned by Ferdinand Marcos’s martial-law regime of which Enrile was the chief enforcer.
Enrile himself shed tears recalling his illegitimate birth and impoverished childhood, a certainly dramatic counterpoint to his rise to, and self-perpetuation in, wealth and power.
President Noynoy, who stayed dutifully through the proceedings, granted Enrile his right to tell his story, groping around the noncommittal idea that “democracy would benefit from hearing all sides”—or something like that.
So long as biographies are commissioned, let alone written by the subjects themselves, as in Enrile’s case, they will only naturally come under a cloud.
Anyway, on a night of truces and concessions, Enrile’s wife Cristina left me baffled. She sang two curious songs to her 88-year-old husband. The first, “Carnaval,” in the original Portuguese, I associate with an old, dark, foreign movie of which it was the score: “Orpheus Descending [into Hell];” it’s English version is not so favorable, either: “A Day in the Life of a Fool.”
The next, sung with her daughter Katrina, concedes:
Soon you’d leave me
Off you would go in the mist of day
Never, never to know
How I loved you if I loved you.
Invited, surely, but neither to speak nor to sing, Imelda, the widow of the dictator Enrile served and broke with at the last moment, looked the sorriest.
Vergel texted me to get ready.
As I was crossing the third and final block to Greenbelt from home, the heel of my right shoe came off. Limping, I barely made it across. In the eyes of the pair of policemen on the corner, I must have looked like someone lost—a hobbling, giggling, senile senior. Under a street lamp, I texted my maid for another pair of shoes. I was beginning to feel this just wasn’t my night.
At dinner, Vergel told me more about the launch that made me feel decidedly better absent. The guests, he learned from one of the organizers, about doubled the number of the listed 450, over-loading everything, including the air-conditioner. He returned soaked.
The night young yet, Vergel suggested we walk around some more after dinner. We hadn’t gone off far when a Jack Jones or a Michael Bublé or some voice and song from our romantic past led us to the roofed terrace of Nuvo for coffee.
Not long watching and listening, I began to see a face from my youth—Vic Puyat, old neighbor and friend! This must be his and Nanette’s Michael, fulfilling, by Michael’s own account, a dream his own father had dreamt but been prevented from pursuing by parents who more or less had charted the course of their own children’s lives.
Not that he had the same dream, but somehow Vergel identified. His own son, Paolo, chucked business and economics for singing for a living, and has been at it happily and profitably all these 10 years. He felt a father’s pride listening tonight to Vic’s Michael.
In the middle of his second set, Michael sang George Canseco’s “Ikaw,” a favorite of mine, capping our night and erasing all the dark and awkward puzzlement Cristina inspired with her own songs to Johnny.
Indeed, what had started out to be not my night became a night to remember.