Saturday, December 22, 2007


LAST night, I woke up with a start. My phone chimed. Someone sent a message, asking where he could find a certain magazine in Cebu.

I squinted at the clock; it was going to be midnight in a couple of minutes.

I did not know the message sender. Was he a he or a she? Was it a work acquaintance whose number I had not saved in my mobile phonebook? I thought of the notebook where I jot down my contacts, except, at near midnight, the world of work is so distant, exactly dead in the middle of the other side of a black hole.

Who could be in extremis at this time of the night for a mere sheaf of glossy paper and photos?

But remembering that these sheets once carried multi-awarded investigative reports urged me to sit up on the bench, where I had fallen asleep after coming home late.

Belatedly, I realized I could have just imagined my phone’s chime and was actually long asleep when the message was sent. I checked and found out that the message was received near 9 p.m.

Instead of reassuring though, the knowledge unsettled me. What if this person was a visitor on a rare trip to Cebu, and, just a few minutes before mall closing time, he or she was desperately trying to find a particular magazine issue before his or her flight, a future trip to Cebu as unimaginable as world peace?

One is made porous by one’s obsessions. Belatedly, too, I realized I was reacting as if I were not the recipient but the message sender, as if it was I about to depart, empty-handed; I, sleepless and waiting for a stranger to advise a way out of the quandary of being separated and isolated from that which is sought.

Although this requires several paragraphs to describe, in real time, there was only a short interval between my waking and sitting up on the bench, and keying in my replies.

Several messages later, my phone was silent again. I had explained to the stranger that the magazine had gone online for some time, but it was reportedly printing out a special yearender issue. I ran over the gamut of possibilities, from conducting a needle-in-the-haystack check of bookstores and magazine vendors located in malls to, as a last resort, emailing the magazine’s editor in chief in Manila for local outlets of distribution.

As we changed roles—my message sender turned recipient while I switched from the stunned-awake to search strategist and mapmaker—I was no closer to understanding the search as when I was first quizzed about the whereabouts of the magazine.

Reconnoitering many personalities on assignment or even for personal curiosity, I realize that, at the level of human intimacy, touching base requires one to only listen, not probe with a lot of bristling questions.

Why did the search preoccupy the stranger? So what if it did? Technology now makes it possible for us to connect one point to another. I hope the stranger eventually finds an issue of the magazine, just as I hope the resurrected magazine finds readers worth the courage and commitment of putting out stories exposing the pathologies of our national dementia.

But sleepless at past midnight, I was in no mood for imagining webs. Any preschooler can draw a line to connect points.

Feeling a familiar parchedness, I reached for a nearby pile and pulled out a book. When wide awake past bedtime, read the questions to sleep. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 9, 2007 issue

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