Monday, September 25, 2006

Stories for Jolo

THAT your nickname is short for “Jose Lorenzo” is one of two things I remember about the day I’ll always think of as your father’s second birthday.

The other thing I won’t forget is your crying.

Since December when you first played with my boys, I keep a mental picture of your smiling face. It is a gift you share with your father, the grace of making friends.

Jocel also had another talent: telling stories. It is perhaps the reason why I, a complete stranger, visited him many times in his light-flooded room. There were some mornings when his eyes told me he was coming from a long way, that he was being kept back by something we, the living, dread because we understand it so little.

But even at his weakest, your father proved to be a warrior. And for such a man, for the love he felt for life—and his life was you, your Nanay Maita and sister Nica—it was my honor to wait.

In that lit-up room of his, I waited and Jocel never disappointed. His stories were wonderful. He took me to Inopacan and Trento, places I’ve never been to. He told me about the trees you planted, the fishes with strange names that your mother was forever asking about but was hesitant to eat.

That is why, on the afternoon your family released white balloons and you cried, I asked your father in my heart to tell you where all balloons go when they are released from earth.

Lighter than balloons and so traveling faster were your father’s stories. But like all gifted weavers of tales, he always left loose ends, perhaps to be knotted to another strand for another story for another day.

Fortunately, I like chasing the ends of unfinished accounts. I learned from your Papa Teoy that his fourth child was the first one born in the coastal village of Inopacan, Leyte.

Did you know how your grandmother’s hometown got its name? In the days of old, this village was spared from pirate attacks because of two protectors. The first one was a dragon-sized snake that destroyed the pankos (boats) before the pirates could even land.

When this legendary snake died in the western caves known as the Bay-sa-has (home of the snake), another hero took its place. This new protector was named Inong. He could run so fast and jump so high, the people thought he was flying. Because of these powers, he came to be known as “Inong Pak-an (the man with wings). This was how Inopacan got its name.

My Internet source calls this a legend, but I am not so sure. Before you were born, your tatay courted your nanay for 10 years. The only break-up they had was when he returned to Inopacan to heed his uncle-priest’s request to help the coastal families ravaged by loansharks.

Without any seed money but bolstered by the belief of a few fishermen, your father organized an association that raised thousands of savings in less than a year. When the people had freed themselves from their oppressors, Jocel went back to your nanay and later you were born. Some legends hold some truth.

Last year, when your father was very sick, your younger sister Nica drew a picture of you and your father in the middle of the sea. Towering over your small boat were gigantic waves.

When your Auntie Jo-Ann asked what could be done for the helpless boat, Nica thought it over and then drew wings on the passengers’ backs.

You are both your father’s children. To create stories and reinvent, to make and keep friends, to correct injustice, to love and be loved well—in human terms, your father spent a mere 40 years.

He chose though to live a life that matters. Let it comfort you, child, that some truths are disguised as legends, too.

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