IT WAS ONE OF THE MORE BEAUTIFUL AFTERNOONS IN MAY, the sky was bright and blue, the wind blew a cool gust, and the sun hid himself lazily behind the white cotton clouds. In one of the hundreds of Mini-Stop stores scattered all over the street corners of Ortigas, a boy and a girl were eating ice cream quite merrily. For a few licks they were blissfully unaware of the work pending at the office sixteen floors above them. Their afternoon ice cream session had become a regular ritual for the past several afternoons, he with his orange twin popsies, and she with her chocolate pinipig
crunch. It was the perfect balm for the merciless heat that had defined most of that summer, as well the staggering amount of work that the busy month had brought in.
In between slurps, the boy and the girl would usually talk about the previous night's episode of The O.C.
, or about the latest single by the band Orange and Lemons, or about any other arbitrary matter people usually brought up when they were eating ice cream on a sunny afternoon in the city. But their conversation this afternoon had taken a strange turn, when, out of the blue, the boy told the girl, “I know your secret. I know that you're really a princess.”
These words made the pinipig
crunch that she was eating almost fall out of her mouth. She is, by all accounts, a rather ordinary girl. She had gone to school, and she had crammed for a project or a midterm exam, and she had fallen in love, and she had gotten her heart broken a couple of times, just like any other girl had.
There was nothing special about it at all, and even though she had been quite a clever student, graduating with a degree in Computer Science, she ended up getting herself a rather ordinary job in one of those dime-a-dozen multinational IT companies in one of the towers in the heart of Pasig. She had a little bit of money saved up from the job, which paid her well enough, and she is a little bit more clever than the average, but then again there were other girls who were paid better, and who were more clever, and, to be sure, none of these things made her a princess.
In fact, her days were so ordinary that in her mind, they all bled into one another. Every morning she would come in to work to write technical documents, code and test software modifications to the company's flagship software products (depending on client specifications), and chat up colleagues from the company's operations in India, Canada, and America regarding technical matters. At the end of each day, she would walk lazily along the busy avenue to Megamall, then to the Ortigas MRT station for the train ride to Cubao, then to Gateway for another LRT ride, and then finally from the station to her Tita Linda’s Katipunan home, her mind so exhausted that her body felt the pain. At the end of each day, her hair would be a little disheveled, her forehead would be peppered with drops of sweat, and her glasses, which she would forget to take off in her absent-mindedness, would hang precariously over the bridge of her nose. While she did not exactly look like a pauper, there was certainly no mistaking her for a princess. She was just another little girl in the big city, one of the millions scattered all over the metropolis.
And yet, what was most shocking about what the boy said to the girl was that, since she was a little girl, in her heart, she believed that she really was a princess.
IT HAD BEEN QUITE AN ORDINARY CHAIN OF EVENTS that had caused the girl to develop her rather peculiar belief system. During Christmastime in 1991, a few weeks shy of her seventh birthday, her Papa had brought home a pair of tickets to the Manila premiere of the Disney animated feature Beauty and the Beast
at the then-newly-opened SM Megamall. They made the trip to Manila from their home in Taal, Batangas, as her Papa figured his little girl would love to see the cartoon movie on the silver screen.
While her Papa knew that she would like the picture, he had no idea how much impact the film would have on his little girl's young mind. For the next ninety minutes she was taken to a whole other world, a world full of songs and ball gowns and flowers and love-that-conquers-the-most-powerful-of-spells, and it was the sort of magical experience that had the ability to change a little girl's life forever.
The transformation had begun, and for the rest of the drive home her heart was glad and there was a song playing in her head. She was a princess who had just come from the most magical of journeys and who was now riding home beside her father, who at that time had no idea that, in the mind of his little girl, he had magically turned into a king, as it was only natural that the princess had a king for a father.
Her transformation became complete several weeks later on her seventh birthday. Her birthday fell on one of the first few days of the year, which was usually a terrible time for a little girl to have a birthday party. All her mates from school were still on Christmas break and were not all that eager to attend another girl's birthday party, seeing as they were only several days removed from the noche buena
and the Christmas morning gifts and the New Year's Eve fireworks and the media noche
. There just was no compelling need to go to a birthday party this soon, despite the allure of the spaghetti and the pork barbecue and the hotdog (with the marshmallow at the end of the stick) and the ice cream and the parlor games that were sure to be present at the party.
But her seventh birthday party was a monumental occasion, despite the fact that only five of her classmates had actually turned up for her party. It helped that each of those five classmates had brought a sibling or a cousin or a friend for the party. Since fifteen minutes were all it took for little children to become best of friends for at least the rest of an afternoon, her party turned out to be much fun.
Her Mama had dressed her up in a pretty blue gown for her party, and had placed upon her head a beautiful little tiara, just before she headed out of the house into the lawn to meet her guests. It was so pretty that when she looked at the mirror, she thought she looked like a real princess, and being a real princess was what she had been dreaming about ever since that night a few weeks before, when she had taken that magical journey with her Papa.
It did not take long for her to draw up in her head the history of her new tiara, about how it had lasted in her family for generations, and how it had been passed on to her Mama by her Mommy Lola, and to Mommy Lola by Mommy Lola's mother (and so on), and that she had actually been part of a long line of princesses, and that on this day, her seventh birthday, it was her turn to wear the tiara. It was only years later that she would find out that her Mama had bought the tiara for 150 pesos at a shop in Glorietta, which was then still called Quad, that had sold, among other things, materials for creating cross-stitch patterns. By then, it was too late, and her treasured little tiara had a warm home in a shoebox where she had kept her dearest possessions, which included letters from her best friend Li, graduation pictures from high school, and old scrapbooks, among other things. The tiara is still there in that shoebox today, and each time she looked at it, she was taken back to that afternoon all those years ago.
It was at that moment, at around three o'clock in the afternoon on her seventh birthday, that her secret life as a princess began.
GROWING UP AT HER FAMILY'S HILLSIDE HOME IN TAAL was certainly very convenient for anyone who ever wished to lead a double life as a princess. In her young eyes her family's little kingdom was already quite vast, and every afternoon, after finishing her lessons, she would take out and wear her tiara, and she would hop on her little pink bicycle. It was time for the princess to take a tour of her dominion.
The bicycle had been a Christmas present for her from her Daddy Lolo and her Mommy Lola. They thought that she would love the bicycle (and she did), as previously her favorite plaything had been a little Mercedes Benz soap cart, one with pedals like a bicycle and an actual steering wheel. She had loved her toy, but by then she had grown too big for it. A picture still exists of her, around four or five years old, posing beside her little car, wearing sunglasses and a nice red dress and with her legs crossed. The photo still provides her whole family with an endless source of amusement up until this very day. It would be fair to say that she had been on her way to becoming a model had princess-hood not beckoned.
During her afternoon bicycle tours, the trees in the garden would sing their little princess a song, with the lone acacia tree in the middle of the small field taking on lead vocal roles while the numerous coconut trees of different heights and ages would harmonize in the background. Soon enough, the flowers around her were able to overcome their shyness, and they would join in, and their songs were quite beautiful. Their music wasn't at all unlike a Brian Wilson melody (in fact, it sounded rather like the hit song Don’t Worry Baby
, now that she thought about it), and soon the princess found herself singing along. Every day, she cheerfully looked forward to her happy afternoon of songs.
At the end of the day, after helping her Mama set the table for dinner, she would sit on the porch looking at the sky while she waited for her Papa to come home from the office. On a clear moonless night, the stars in the heavens would tell her all sorts of funny stories, which made her laugh, and she too would tell them all about her day. The stars, however, did not seem to be so eager to laugh with and tell stories and listen to her whenever the moon was around.
The moon always looked beautiful, but also always looked lonely, and one night she decided to ask the moon about it. The moon had been shy, but pretty soon gathered enough courage to whisper her story to the princess. The moon was lonely because she was neither a star nor a planet, and just like every other girl in the world, was concerned because she did not think of herself as pretty enough. Just like any other princess would, she listened to the moon and gave her comfort, and soon enough they became close friends, whispering their dearest little secrets to each other.
All of this, of course, had to remain secret from her Mama and her Papa and her Mommy Lola and her Daddy Lolo and, of course, from her mates and teachers at school. Not telling anyone about her secret was easy enough, and it certainly gave her great comfort to be at school knowing that she is actually a princess even though no one else knew. So she worked hard at her lessons and behaved herself well in class and was always nice and polite and respectful to everyone, from the other pupils to her teachers and even to Manong Guard at the gate. It was behavior that was expected of a true princess, she thought, so it was behavior that she expected from herself. It came naturally enough for her, and during the rare occasion when she was tempted to behave in an unprincess-like manner, she reminded herself of these expectations, and she found comfort in the fact that she was indeed a true princess. Until this very day, in her rather ordinary job in the middle of the city, whenever she was tempted to act in an unprincess-like manner, all she had to do was to remind herself that she was a princess, and she found comfort in the thought.
But that time was still far away from her mind. She spent all her afternoons after school singing with the trees and the flowers, and her evenings looking at the sky and laughing with the stars and exchanging intimate whispers with the moon. It was a wonderful time to be a princess.
TIME PASSED BY SWIFTLY AND SOON SHE GREW OLDER. Her secret life as a princess did not interfere with her growth as a normal girl, except perhaps sometimes when she sang a little too hard during videoke parties with her mates from school, which ended up becoming one of her little quirks that her best friends loved about her. And then there was her almost abnormal desire for acquiring lots and lots of footwear, but then that would be something that seems to be quite true for most girls, whether they are princesses or not.
Soon enough, it was time for the princess to fall in love. Now, the biggest problem with princesses, from the beginning of the history of mankind, is that they always do an unbelievably terrible job at picking a boy with whom to fall in love. It is rather uncanny; princesses are mostly otherwise very clever, but a blind man would have a better chance of catching a fly with a pair of chopsticks than a princess would have of picking the right boy for whom to fall.
She had been no different, then, from any other princess, in that she did an unbelievably terrible job at picking the boy with whom she would fall in love.
The first time she got her heart broken was shortly after she had turned sixteen. She does not quite remember why or how, but she fell in love with a boy, and he broke her heart. She barely remembers how he looked, and how awful she felt, although she does remember that she felt so awful that it had taken the stars in the heavens several weeks before they were able to cheer her up and she was in the mood to hear their funny stories again.
The second time she got her heart broken was a couple of years later, when she had already left home to attend university. This boy was tall (even if he was a bit clumsy), handsome (even if he wore braces), clever (even if he was a bit of a nerd), and he even had a nice car (even if that really does not have anything to do with anything). He was charming, and he looked every bit the prince to her, and soon enough, with the help of some flowers and a song, he had her heart. He also had another girlfriend, and this time, when she got her heart broken, she could not find any comfort in the starless Manila sky. She had never been lonelier in her life.
But she possessed in her heart the strength every princess had (and perhaps, it was there because princesses did such a bad job picking boys to fall in love with in the first place. Soon she taught herself not to be lonely anymore. She grew older, and while the flowers and the trees stopped singing with her, and the stars in the night stopped telling her their funny stories, and the moon stopped with their gentle whispers, and she stopped believing (after getting her heart broken, twice) that a prince in a noble steed will come for her one day, she never stopped believing that she was really a princess.
And now, there was this boy who knew, and she had no idea what to make of it.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH A PRINCESS WAS NEVER PART OF THE PLAN. He was a boy with no money and a head full of dreams, and like most dreamy, penniless boys his age who worked in the city, his head was full of stories that he had made up for himself.
This one, he fancied his life to be some sort of teledrama, of which he is, of course, the star. And while he had never quite had any experience on the matter, he knew for certain that a princess would have no place on the little programme that was his life, and not even because he did not want her to be a part of it, because, well, it would certainly be nice to have a princess on the bill.
But while he was prone to daydreaming and to living in his own pretend world, he took pride in the fact that he was not, just yet, completely delusional. So even though he thought of his life as a television show (with him as the star), he knew that his was merely late morning/early afternoon fare, featuring recycled scripts and mediocre acting by B-list actors who were popular during the heyday of That's Entertainment
, shows whose main purpose is to entertain bored housewives and to annoy schoolchildren who had just come home from school expecting to find cartoons on the telly. It certainly wasn't one of those high-budget primetime productions that featured superheroes and enchanted creatures and the brightest names in the business.
Because of that, he figured, there was no way he could have a princess on his show. He was sure her talent fee would be high, much too high for his low-budget production, and he was not even sure that his programme is important enough that she would consider doing a guest stint. Besides, being a princess, she would probably have all these external commitments and engagements that made demands on her time, and because of that she would probably end up being late for the call times for his tapings, if she showed up at all, and, as he already had so many things to mind in his little production, that would be something he would rather not deal with.
Of course, he had welcomed the idea of a cameo, that is, if she were available. He knew that her involvement in the programme that was his life would be short-lived. It would perhaps begin with a “meet-cute”, which is that funny first meeting by the protagonists in your typical romantic comedy, and, after several episodes, end with a dramatic goodbye. He had even pictured, in his mind, his speech during the parting scene, where he would flutter his eyes about thirty times a minute before telling her, “I live in Pedro Gil, you live in Capitol Hills. Everyone knows who you are; my mother has trouble remembering my name.” He knew, of course, that this was not true; he did not live in Pedro Gil, but in Leveriza Street in Malate; and she really lived in E. Abada Street in Loyola Heights just outside Xavierville, and not in Capitol Hills; and his mother was not yet so senile that she had trouble remembering his name (although, whenever she calls him for dinner, she would usually rattle off the names of all his brothers and sisters before his name rolled off her tongue, but all mothers do that). Then again, he had never been the type to let reality get in the way of a good line in his head. It was his life (and his teledrama) anyway, and it was all that he had.
He knew that falling in love with a princess would not be a good idea, because again, even though he has no prior experience on the matter, he knew that falling in love with a princess would only leave him with a broken heart. This is just too bad, because he had already fallen in love with a princess, and there was nothing he could do about it anymore.
HE HAD FALLEN IN LOVE, ONCE BEFORE, and it had been a rather unpleasant experience for him. Everything started well enough; there was this beautiful girl, and he would spend each afternoon walking her home to her dormitory inside the university campus. On weekends, they would talk on the phone until the break of dawn, chattering endlessly about the previous night’s Bubble Gang sketches and debating whether it was Circus
that was the best Eraserheads album of all time.
(She contended that it was Circus
, since she thought that the third track on the album, Alapaap
, was the greatest song that the Eraserheads have ever written, while he was firm in his belief that Cutterpillow was better, since it featured front man Ely Buendia at the height of his songwriting powers and drummer Raimund Marasigan scratching the surface of his musical talent, which would make him one of the most influential musicians in the country long after the Eraserheads’ heyday.)
It may not seem like much, but for people who are in love, it does not get much better than talking about such trivial matters well into the wee hours of the morning.
But things did not work out, and it was on a rainy Saturday afternoon that she told him that she was not in love with him anymore. What happened then was something that happened with every boy who ever fell in love with a beautiful girl; he ended up getting his heart broken.
Now, broken hearts never really killed anybody, but they usually brought about something almost as tragic into the world: bad poetry. And the quality of his poetry was especially tragic, being a boy who spent most, if not all, of his afternoons in high school staying home and watching episodes of the teen programme TGIS
. And while liking the show was something that he would freely admit to anyone (since most people his age were fans of the show back then anyway, whether they admitted it or not), there was a much darker secret that he never really confessed to: he had always wanted to be like JM, Onemig Bondoc’s character on the show. In high school, he had even worn his hair like Onemig did on TGIS
This secret was almost as embarrassing as the actual quality of the poetry that he ended up writing while he was nursing his broken heart. He developed a habit of writing poems in university bluebooks with a black Pilot G-Tec C4 pen, because he rather liked the effect of the ink blotching on the cheap recycled paper of the blue books with his careless scribbles. He filled bluebook after bluebook with his rhymes, and by the time he was done nursing his broken heart, he had a collection of two hundred and thirty-four bluebooks full of bad poetry. Here is an example:
I hate being in love with you
because to you it’s no big deal
And I hate the fact that I’ve got no control
over the way that I feel
I hate you for being you
and for driving me insane
And I hate myself for holding on
to a love that’ll go in vain
HIS HEART WAS BROKEN SO BADLY THAT HIS EMOTIONS leapt out of his bluebooks and into his own pretend world. He spent nights imagining how things would be if he were really a star.
Like any other showbiz personality, it would only be normal for him, after getting his heart broken, to make the rounds on the weekend afternoon showbiz gossip shows, where he would be required to bare his soul to millions upon millions of people and to talk about each piece of his shattered heart while cheesy piano music played in the background, in exchange for a little exposure and some publicity for his own programme.
His first stop would be The Buzz
, where he would sit down for a live interview with Kris and Kuya Boy. He would be relieved that Cristy Fermin would not be joining them on the panel to ask him questions, because like every other person he knew, he found Cristy Fermin rather unpleasant (which made him wonder why she was on a television show in the first place).
Kuya Boy would start things off by asking him obvious and stupid questions: When did you break up? How long were you together? How does it feel? Were you really in love with her? Are you still in love with her?
He would answer as politely as he could: Two weeks ago, Tito Boy. A year and a half. It feels terrible. Yes, I was. Yes, I still am, but I know that it’s time to let go.
Then Kris would jump in with the more difficult questions. Kris would ask why him why they broke up (I guess we’ve grown apart over and we need to move on
), and what was it that he loved most about her (She had this feistiness about her… oh, and she bakes the best cakes
), and more personal and more probing questions that made his heart ache so badly that by the time he was done answering, he was on the verge of tears. And then Kris would let out an “Awww!” which was something that endeared her to half the audience who admired her heart-felt empathy for a broken-hearted boy, and which made the other half dislike her because they find the habit rather annoying.
After this, Kuya Boy would ask take out his magic mirror, which was always the part of the interview that he liked least because, well, there was nothing magical about it; there wasn’t even a mirror! But again he had to be polite and answer Kuya Boy’s questions, and he would find himself looking at the camera and telling his ex-girlfriend (and the rest of the country) how he wished her the best of luck and how he would always have a special place for her in his heart.
A few minutes later, he would receive a call on his cellular phone from the producer of S-Files
, where he would do a short interview to again talk about his broken heart. The interview would be less emotional, and there would be no magic mirrors involved, and the male host doing the interview would seem disinterested, and the interview would wrap up quickly because the show was running out of time and they still had to run a segment of Chona Chikadora
, which, frankly, viewers found much more interesting than his issues with his broken heart.
He would be scheduled to appear in another talk show, Startalk
, which would air the following Saturday, but the night before the show, he would receive a call from the show’s producer telling him that there would not be any time for him to appear on the show anymore. Apparently, Madame Auring had broken up with her lover slash driver Archie, with Madame Auring accusing Archie of infidelity. The people behind the show felt that this issue needed to be tackled on the show, leaving no time for his scheduled interview. He would not know how to react to this turn of events, or whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. But he would wish that things between Madame Auring and Archie would turn out better than they did for him.
Kundera, Diamond, and Chabon
I haven't read as much this past couple of months. First there were the holidays, and then there was my television in the room finally getting fixed (why read when you can watch girls jumping on trampolines
at 3 in the morning), and now, for the last two weeks, work's been quite hectic.
Over this span, I was able to read three books. Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting
was brilliant. I liked it much better that I did The Unbearable Lightness of Being
; it was more poignant, easier to digest, and in a way, funnier. Kundera talking of the frailty of human memory and of laughter beyond joking affected me much more than Being
What stuck with me most was his description of the divine origins of laughter. The devil originally expressed laughter in the face of God's work, about the whole pointlessness of it all. It was a contagious laughter, and the angel, not knowing what to do, decided to start laughter on his own to glorify God and His work.
Whereas the devil's laughter denoted the absurdity of things, the angel on the contrary meant to rejoice over how well ordered, wisely conceived, good, and meaningful everything here below was. Guns, Germs and Steel
Thus the angel and the devil faced each other and, mouths wide open, emitted nearly the same sounds, but each one's noise expressed the absolute opposite of the other's."
was a very interesting book, and I could see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. I even buy the theses he presents in the book, that man's story has been affected mostly by geographic circumstances.
Oddly enough, for a 500-page, there was little new information I read in the book that I didn't already know from watching National Geographic or from playing Sid Meier's Civilization
. I also had some qualms about Diamond's tendency for holding the reader's hand, constantly re-explaining concepts he had discussed previously in the book. But then again, I guess it helped make the book more accessible for readers who didn't necessarily watch National Geographic or play Civ.
The last book I read was Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
. I'd already read three of his books and I count him as one of my favorite authors, and this one certainly did not disappoint. It was awkward, flawed, deeply emotional, and brilliant, just as I suspect the author himself was at the time he wrote it.
In a piece for the New York Review of Books discussing the writing process for his first novel, Chabon talked about how he had been influenced by The Great Gatby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (an author to whom he had been compared quite favorably).
The Great Gatsby did what every necessary piece of fiction does as you pass through that fruitful phase of your writing life: made me want to do something just like it.
Chabon ended up writing something that should inspire people to want to do something like it. For a moment, I even thought of my old dreams about telling stories and writing books. Whatever the hell happened to that? I think it went away as soon as I turned on the television and saw girls jumping on trampolines.
Here's a list of what's on tap, books I own but haven't yet read:
A Pale View of the Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro
Echo - Francesca Lia Block
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
Waiting for the Barbarians - J.M. Coetzee
The Natural - Bernard Malamud
The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
The Life of an Amorous Man - Saikaku Ihara
Moneyball - Michael Lewis
The Once and Future King - T.H. White
Beloved - Toni Morrison
A Nietzsche Reader
McSweeney's Quarterly No.9