Monday, November 27, 2006

The end

A PAGE I found the other day reminded me of a short story I glimpsed and then lost.

I remember Jorge Luis Borges penned the tale. But I don’t remember its title or the collection it came out in.

In the bookstore, I had been indulging in my usual pastime of scanning first pages. I devised this test to pretend that I am more restrained than I am, that I am immune to the blandishments of the cover, the blurbs, the smell and feel of unopened pages.

Dazed and near-blind from the book-covers crowding around the periphery of my vision, I was midway down the first page of Borges’ tale when I realized that a man was talking about a book hidden in the heart of a warren of rooms.

But before I could turn the page to know why the book was important or what happened to his search, my eye was caught by an alien craft resembling a power drill with rows of teeth that illustrated a sci-fi title by Philip Dick.

So I reached out for Dick and, applying the rule of reading only first pages, got lost in the future.

When I returned days later to the bookstore, I had forgotten about Borges’ tale about a man in search of a book.

I remembered only when I discovered a torn page of a pocket-sized dictionary left on the floor of my classroom the other day.

The dirty sheet contained page 15 (from all to allright) and page 16 (from all-round to alter).

Underneath the dusty outlines of countless shoeprints, I could read other words: alleluia (joyous exclamation in praise of God) and almoner (one who distributes alms).

Would the dictionary owner come back in search of the missing page? I looked at the r, g, a, e, b and z obscured by half-moons of dirt and an outbreak of creases, and slipped the page in my notebook.

Borges’ tale of a man driven by a book that’s just beyond his reach is tantalizing precisely because desire is such an endangered thing these days.

It was my former student Vera who taught me that you could download from the Internet classics that belong to the public domain. Family and friends who lurk in the infinite reaches of the Net, as well as the book havens of the West, offer their belief in technology and the market economy to find even titles that are out of print or, as my cousin Ito in New Jersey sniffs, are titles “hardly any human being I know reads.”

I wonder though if Borges’ searcher of a book looked forward to its finding.

When the search yields fruit, what does a searcher do after devoting hours, years or an age living so intimately with the elusive?

Of the celebrated Pacquiao-Morales match, I saw only glimpses but one sight was enough. In the last round, Morales ends up again on the floor after being felled by the Filipino’s lightning fists.

The man from Tijuana has a look in his eyes. Those eyes see beyond the moment, the ring, the exploding crowd.

What these eyes see perhaps is the setting of the man’s next fight, some dusty corner in his hometown, watched by a few old men who remember the days when a youth was just earning the spurs to be called El Terible.

It is the look of someone whose search has come to an end.

Borges, blind but canny spell-weaver of Argentina, would have known the effect of a discarded page retrieved and hidden in a notebook filled with notes on writing.

Even if he wrote a different end to his short story of a man in search of a book, Borges must have seen how a man driven mad by an illusion is less piteous than one deprived of his search. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 26, 2006

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