Saturday, December 17, 2016


I WILL always think of this time as the Year of Walter.

He is a marmalade cat that adopted our college.

Perhaps, because our building has laboratories for dissections, any cat that strayed in our part of the campus avoided close contact, eyeing humans from a safe distance.

Not Walter. My first encounter with him was set, typically, on Walter’s terms. A mewling outside the newsroom interrupted my lecture.

I hastily opened the door, thinking a cat may have its tail trapped in the door.

The cat tilted up its broad, well-stroked supercilious face, obviously pleased I responded correctly to its summons.

Walter began to weave a sinuous dance, drawing figure eights in and out of my legs before sauntering inside the room, tickled orange to have the students pay more attention to his Fred Astaire number than they had given to my impassioned discussion on creative nonfiction.

Such a shameless creature was bound to steal not just attention but affection. When His Orangeness tours the corridors, the students stroke, feed, and even include him in their study sessions.

During an art exhibit, I watched, more avidly than I wanted, the bright tip of an orange tail trace the edge of the table where the guest of honor was seated with university officials.

The tail tip was as inexorable as a shark fin sliding through the sea like a scythe. I was wondering how the august, immaculately groomed guest of honor would respond to Walter’s Fred Astaire moves when the tail suddenly disappeared.

The young handsome son of one of the exhibiting artists carried away Walter, looking purrfectly smug. To a Cat, being a Cat is the only rationale for existence. Magnanimity to humans is a feline concession.

I must admit, though, that Walter gives more than he takes. When I stay late in campus, I sometimes look for Walter to give him dinner scraps. A nocturnal hunter, he is rarely in his usual perch.

On these evening walks, I discover, instead of Walter, the passion of a solitary group of students rehearsing for a class project. I have time to gaze at the gallery paintings I am too distracted to notice in the day. I smell the quiet of the night; I listen to a pensive moon, waxing with the unattainable.

If Walter comes, I hear first the red bell and see the red collar emerge from the surrounding dark.

Given by an admirer, the red collar and bell show up starkly against the ginger of his coat. When Walter was first seen wearing this, his fandom was disappointed. To know Walter is to want to do things for him.

Like give him names. The orange tabby goes by many monikers, given by different persons and groups. “Walter” was given by a young teacher named Reginald Michael Quirong.

I wonder what Reggie would have thought about belling Walter. Before Reggie passed away unexpectedly, he and fellow teachers planned to bring cat food for Walter. I doubted that would diminish the cat’s overweening drive to court and collect admirers.

Unlike Walter, I can be petty about the impermanence of affection. I gnash at the inconstancy of felines and humans. With Reggie away, there is no one with whom I can go over the minutiae of Walter’s perambulations, the complacent curl those saffron paws have on human affections.

On evenings Walter deigns to share the remains of my dinner, he first does his Fred Astaire routine around my legs. I wish you could hear the sound his bell makes, Reg.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 18, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, December 10, 2016


CHRISTMAS happens every year. Its rituals, though, are far from predictable.

On a recent trip to Manila, I got caught for three hours in the pre-midnight rush hour.

So after unearthing a sugar-free wad of gum in the black hole of my tote, I settled back, attuned my ears to the barker announcing bus stops, and gazed at the Edsa billboards flashing past.

Alas, instead of gift ideas, I found guilt instead. Twenty-seven days before Christmas and I didn’t even have a matchbox to wrap.

Part of the stress brought on by the season is the competitiveness. I have friends who bought gifts for this year by raiding last year’s post-Christmas sales. Not only does this friend keep a color-coded, handwritten journal tracking past presents to avoid repeating a gift, he claims to have recycled everything he has given, past, present and future.

In the midst of these fantastic creatures, I am the perfect anomaly.

I planted pepper seeds, planning a potted gift for an uncle who loves to cook the fiery dishes of his childhood. The pods turned out sweet.

I took a short cut with potted plants sold in a bazaar. The purple chili hanging from the branches looked like miniature bells but would ripen, assured the seller, into habaneros, hottest of the hot.

I went home before the ripening. A few days before my uncle’s 75th, anticipating a harvest of pepper to break the Scoville heat index, I called and learned the habaneros gave up the ghost.

Similar trials and failures won’t change my mind that the secret of giving is in the planning. Anticipating the birth of our firstborn, I started to embroider a piece of cloth he would someday roll on and play before he learned to crawl and then toddle.

Our older son is 23 now. The three small blossoms I satin-stitched in a corner of what should have been his blankie may find more appreciation in a future granddaughter. Who said I didn’t plan?

Yet, more than the ability to see the future, giving asks that we pay attention to what’s here and now. Married friends of ours gathered this insight from online shopping.

Wife bought a pair of stonewashed denims from her favorite shopping website. She surprised her husband and to please her, he wore the pants to Misa del Gallo and then Noche Buena with their families.

When we anticipate one feast after another, we know we are better off with an old worn comfortable pair of pants—perhaps a little loose around the waist—than with a strange stiff pair, styled for someone younger and trimmer than the person we have been married to all these years.

Our “kumpare” was glad to get out of that pair before his blood circulation was cut off and the holidays turned tragic.

We think giving is easier when we know the recipient. Knowing is nothing compared to observing and verifying.

Trying to buy a belt online for the husband, I realized I didn’t know the size of his waistline anymore.

When the belt was delivered, the husband couldn’t still use it. It was too wide to go through his belt hoops.

The husband wondered if I harbored a secret passion for Elvis “The Pelvis” Presley, and I learned never to take for granted men’s fashion.

May this year’s giving make us wiser than we are.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 11, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”