Shortly after the New Year, I bumped into a long lost fellow John Bengan at the SM lobby when the mall was about to close and I was already rushing on my way to the door. I heard someone called out my name and when I saw (with delight!) it was John, my first question was, "Did you go to Ava's wedding?"
He shook his head and threw me one of those morose looks that only John can do. "I was alone, I was looking for you," he said. "But I told her I can't come."
I told John that I did not make it. That it was impossible for me to make it. "I wasn't able to tell her," I said, my shoulders slumped. "I was looking for you, too," I blurted out guiltily because I knew that if I really wanted to look for John, I could just have taken a ride to Mintal and ask for him inside the UP Mindanao campus where he is teaching; and knowing too, that if John really wanted to look for me, he could just have gone out of his campus to look for me downtown, where I'd surely be roaming the dirty streets of Davao, scavenging for news.
Back in the summer of 2003, John and I were fellows to the Iligan national writers' workshop, where we met Ava and three others from Luzon and six others from the Visayas and Mindanao. One has to go through a writers' workshop before one can understand how the bond among the fellows develops, but until now, I continued to be amazed by how easily we took to each other after the bloody whipping each of us got from all the writer panelists in that workshop. Of course, we had a hell of an adventure in some waterfall in the outskirts of Iligan but we also enjoyed exploring each other's mind inside our room, we didn't feel it necessary to go out and have a drink.
I could not forget how Ava and I had taken that elevator up to the third? fourth?? floor of Iligan city's Elenita Inn on our last night there. Our works were the last one to be read by the panel (which included the lovable but highly critical Chari Lucero and the equally critical Leoncio Deriada), who were about to make their judgment on our stories.
Inside the elevator I told Ava the sickening feeling we both feel at that moment was the same one you get when you're about to give birth to your second child. You already know how intense the labor and suffering that awaits you for the night, you wish you could run away and get out of there, but how can you get that child out of your body? Then, I heard Ava's thoughts echoing my own. "Why am I made to suffer for attempting to write fiction?" But we went through the ordeals of that passage rite and in my case, did not regret it a little bit.