Jukebox: A Short Novel By Jonathan Aquino (Part 6 of 7)
December 29 to January 4
The merry waters of Manila Bay are reflecting the moonlight like swimming fireflies. The lights on the distant ships seem to twinkle like the starry sky. The waves splashed on the giant rocks below Jo and Rico as they sat on the concrete promenade stretched along the length of Roxas Boulevard, eating peanuts and grilled corn on the cob.
"This is my favorite place in the world," Rico confided. "In our province, in Pampanga, there's nothing but rice fields."
"Our province is like this, beside the sea," said Jo. Quickly, she changed the subject. "How about you?" she teased. "Won't your girlfriend be mad you're with me?"
"I, ah," Rico stammered. "I don't have a girlfriend..."
"But I'm sure you've brought a lot of women here!" said Jo. For some reason, she doesn't want this to be true.
"Would you believe you're the only one?" said Rico. He took an lungfull of sea wind. "I go here when I want to think, when I want to hear my own thoughts." He laughed self consciously, knowing how silly he sounded.
Jo smiled. "I know what you mean," she told him, looking at the waters. "The city is so noisy, but here..." She shook her head. "Here," she continued, almost whispering, "you feel like you're so far away from your problems..."
Rico was looking at her intently. "You are so beautiful, Jo!" he said softly.
"Let's talk about something else," she laughed. “Where do you work?"
Rico gave an embarrassed laugh. "My, uh, uncle, doesn't want me to," he said with wounded pride.
"Why not?" That's most unusual, Jo thought. Still, she imagined, it would be fun to have an uncle like that.
"He doesn't even want me to leave the house," Rico shrugged in frustration.
"But he sent me to school," he added, trying to be fair. "I got a degree as a computer programmer but I can't use it! By the way, where do you live?" he segued.
"I dorm in Quiapo, in Hidalgo," Jo said. "Bedspace. I used to share a room with my cousin. She's the one who brought me to Manila. But her employer has moved to Davao, taking her with them. So there!"
"So we're both alone in the city!" he marveled.
"I thought you said you live with your uncle!" asked Jo.
"Oh, ah, well, that's different," replied Rico, more confused than her. "What I mean is..." He couldn't find the words but he got an idea. "Tell you what!" he said brightly, gathering their leftovers in a plastic bag. "Let's take a stroll and find something to eat!"
Jo laughed. "You're just evading the topic!" she said, taking his hand to get up. "Yeah, good idea," she agreed. "I miss the fresh air!"
"You know, Jo?" Rico said bashfully, as they started to walk. "I'm really happy now, here, being with you." He shook his head. "Most people," he went on, "they're so plastic and superficial!"
Jo looked at him. "I enjoy your company, Rico," she said. "I can't explain it," she continued, shrugging, "but I feel like I've known you for years!"
"You feel the same way, too?" he asked happily. "Oh, look!" he said excitedly, pointing. "Grilled squid!"
Jo laughed. "Yeah, come on, I haven't tasted that! Mmm! Smells wonderful!" Then she stopped, thunderstruck. "Oh, my God, Rico!"
"What is it, Jo?" asked Rico, alarmed.
"Don't tell me," she said, amazed, "you're hungry again?!"
They burst out laughing. A vendor standing beside them, holding dozens of colored balloons, smiled, finding them so cute, so full of life, and recalling his own wonderful teenage years.
Jo and Rico went out again a couple of days later. It happened again, and became frequent. Soon, they became inseparable. Because of Rico, Jo once again found happiness. One fine cloudy afternoon, on Jo's day-off, Rico cut classes.
"You're different today," Jo remarked as they walked in the bayside, caressed by the breeze.
"Why?" laughed Rico. "Have I grown gills?"
The seagulls were laughing, probably finding it funny.
"Rico," Jo rolled her eyes, "we've been together almost everyday for over a month! I know you, right? There's something bothering you!"
"Oh, it's nothing!" Rico stopped to pick a pebble and threw it out the sea.
"What do you mean, nothing?" asked Jo, standing beside him. "I can see it in your eyes!"
"You see...," Rico groped for words. "I had an argument with my uncle..."
"What happened?" asked Jo, worried.
"It's...complicated," Rico sighed. "Why is like that, Jo? If you don't like something in a person, you can say it in a decent way, can't you?" He shook his head. "And he's supposed to be an educated professional!" he went on cryptically, but the hurt was palpable. "You know what I can't understand? Why does he have to always bring back everything he has everything he has ever done for me?!"
"He's like that?" exclaimed Jo, outraged.
"I know I owe him a lot!" Rico continued, on the verge of crying. "But I feel so trapped, Jo! It's like, for the rest of my life, I'll be forced to be grateful for a debt I can never, ever, repay!" A tear fell, and wiped it away quickly, ashamed.
"Rico," said Jo hesitantly, "there are a lot of thing you haven't told me about, have you?"
Rico nodded miserably. "I need time, Jo," he said softly. "Someday, I'll tell you everything. I'm just...not ready yet..."
Jo put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it, trying to give some comfort.
"I don't know what I'll do without you, Jo!" He stopped and faced her, holding back the tears. "The only time I'm happy is when I'm with you!"
"Rico," she said, looking up at him. "Remember, I'm always here! If you a need a friend..."
Rico stopped and faced her. "Jo," he said, brushing her hair from her eyes. "I want you to be more than that..."
The Spanish ancestral house stood in eighteenth century majesty in Paco.
"Wow, they made it into a restaurant!" exclaimed Jo, impressed, as the waitress brought their kare kare, sinigang tuna, rice and drinks.
"That's why I brought you here," smiled Rico. "I knew you'd like it."
Jo was admiring the grand piano, antique furnishings, framed oil paintings of people long dead.
"Houses like these are becoming rare," said Rico, serving food into her plate. "Mostly, they're being torn down to create vacant lots. Anyway, as I was telling you, the owners inherited it from their grandfather’s dad, who was a Catalan. They made it into a restaurant because it's such a shame to just leave it empty and let it deteriorate. They don't want to live here because there's a ghost!"
"Don't tell me you believe in ghosts?" said Jo, laughing.
"I don't want to see one!" laughed Rico. "There's actually another reason why I brought you here," he continued, forking a piece of string beans. "But it belongs to another era!"
"Let me guess," said Jo. "The jukebox?"
"Yeah, weird isn't it?" laughed Rico as he stood up. "Wait," he said, digging into his pocket for a coin. "I want to play you something!"
Jo watched him went up to the jukebox, framed by the open capiz windows overlooking the cobbled courtyard, where a black 1957 Plymouth Fury was parked. The jukebox began to play the opening strains of Sa Mata Makikita.
Rico hurried to kneel beside her. "I don't know you to tell you, Jo," he said nervously. "So I have to say I love in a song!"
From the jukebox, Roel Cortez began to sing: "Kailangan pa bang ako ay tanungin? Kailangan pa bang sa 'yo ay bigkasin? Na mahal kita, at wala nang iba! Masdan mo't makikita, sa aking mga mata..."
"Oh, Ricardo!" Jo was laughing, not realizing she was also crying. "You should know by now! I love you too!"
The LRT roared past the large grilled window of the motel. The room boy has finished changing the bed sheet, and nodding at Rico without looking at him, went out and gently closed the door.
Rico locked it and turned down the lights. He went up to Jo, who was standing in the middle of the room, rubbing her arms.
"Rico," she said hesitantly. "I'm afraid..."
"There's nothing to be scared of, Jo," Rico assured her, cupping her face in his hands. "We love each other, don't we?"
"Yes, but..." Jo was shaking.
Rico kissed her, drowning out her protests, as another LRT train rumbled across the window.
They were sitting at the bayside again, this time at the strip at the back of the Folk Arts Theater. A psychedelic ice cream cart passed them, pushed by a vendor ringing his bell.
"I have something to give you, babe!" Rico smiled shyly, handing her a small folded piece of yellow pad paper.
"What is it?" asked Jo, delighted, fingering it lovingly.
"Open it," he smiled, a bit anxiously.
She carefully removed the scotch tape. "Oh my God, babe!" she gasped, taking out a thin gold necklace. "This is so beautiful!"
"Here, let me put it on you!" Rico unclasped the necklace.
Jo lifted her hair as he slipped it around her neck.
"There!" said Rico, pleased. "Perfect!"
"But," asked Jo, overwhelmed, looking down at the necklace, "isn't this expensive?"
"It belonged to Mama," Rico told her. "That's my only memory from her. I had it with me when I ran away to Manila."
"You ran away from home?" Jo said, not missing the parallels in their lives.
"Papa died when I was a baby," said Rico. "Then, when I was fourteen, Mama died too. I was the only child, there was nothing to keep me there, so I left!"
"Who did you go to in Manila?" Jo asked, looking at Rico as if seeing him for the first time.
"I didn't know a single soul!" laughed Rico. "I was sleeping in Luneta!" He looked at the necklace, brilliant in the sunlight. "I can't remember how many times I've taken that to pawnshops," he told her, smiling at the colorful memories of his boyhood adventures.
"Babe," said Jo, appalled. "I didn't realize you went through such..." Jo looked away. "Pain..."
"Change subject!" he said cheerfully. "I have good news, babe!" Rico told her excitedly.
"Me, too, babe!" she replied happily.
"Okay, you first!"
"No, you first!"
"Guess what?" smiled Rico. "I found a job in a fast food! Orientation is next week!" he proudly declared. “Tomorrow, I'll look for a room! We'll finally be together, babe!"
"Oh, babe, I'm so happy!" cried Jo. "Now it's my turn! I went to the health center yesterday..." She smiled, embarrassed. "You see, I missed my period..."
Rico was beside himself with exhilaration. "Babe!" he said, exultant, "You mean..."
Jo nodded with tears of joy. "I'm pregnant, babe!"
"Oh, babe!" he said, bursting with joy. "This is the best day of my life!"
Jo started to cry.
"Hey, babe, what's wrong?" Rico exclaimed, frightened out of his wits. "It might upset our baby!"
"I'm so happy, babe!" Jo sobbed. "I was afraid you'd leave me if--"
"Babe, babe!" smiled Rico, his eyes glistening with tears, cupping her face in his hands, their faces nearly touching, looking straight in her eyes. "You are my life! I swear to God, no matter what happens, I will never leave you! Only death take me away!"
"I love you, babe," Jo said quietly, caressing his face. "As long as I live..."
He stood on the rocks. "Hey!" he shouted at the top of voice. "I'm going to be a daddy!"
The crowd burst into applause.
"Yes!" Rico shouted triumphantly--then he fell on the water.
More people are clapping and whistling, gathering around, as Rico swam around in circles.
"Babe!" he was shouting. "Will you marry me?"
Everybody in the bayside was now standing in the promenade around them, cheering and going wild with excitement.
Jo was standing on a rock, crying, never in her dreams had she thought she would be happy like this.
"Yes, babe!" she cried as the crowd behind her thundered with cheers and applause. "I will marry you!"
Rico closed the door as the room boy left. He turned to Jo who was sitting on the bed. Behind her, framed by the large grilled windows, an LRT train roared as it swept past.
"First thing tomorrow," Rico said as he hunkered down in front of her, "I'm going to look for our own place."
"It doesn't matter where, babe," she told him, putting her arms around his neck, their foreheads touching. "As long as we're together!"
There was loud knock.
(To Be Continued Next week)
And he's black
"What does being black have to do with it!" he demands, challenging William Forrester (Sean Connery), the great writer in self-exile from the world
Unknown to them, or perhaps they are choosing to ignore it, the seed of their unlikely student-mentor relationship was starting to grow, blossoming into a friendship that would transform both their lives
"Nothing," says the living legend , who's only book, Avalon Landing, is considered as the greatest American novel of the 20th century. "But if you let me run you down with racist bullshit," he goes, issuing a challenge of his own, "then what does that make you?"
Then, like the true artist that he is, he saw through the layers of human nature, into the heart of that which gives life its very meaning:
"You don't know what to do with your life, do you?"
Still, Jamal returns to the apartment that William has never left for decades, with its window overlooking the basketball court where he and friends would play. The boy realizes that the old man is only baiting him; somewhere in William's words is worth a lesson that will serve him in good stead throughout his life.
"The question is," says the hermit, gruffly, but with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes, "how much bullshit would you put up with?"
"So you knew I'd come back?" asks Jamal, with an undefinable feeling, bordering on awe
"Yes," William says. "and I know you'll go to that school!"
Jamal got to Maillor Callow on a sort of basketball scholarship. He became close to Claire (Anna Pacquin), and with his writing, soon earned the admiration -- and eventual resentment borne of envy -- of his literature professor, Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) "He likes to hear himself talk," as Claire describes the professor
One of the most exhilirating cinematic experiences is the showdown between Jamal and Crawford -- all because of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Life doesn't always turn out the way it you thought it should, says Jamal, in a moment of existential reverie, marveling at the thousands of books in William's apartment.
The great writer, who has traveled farther in the journey called life, replies: "You need a book to tell you that?"
One of my favorite scenes is when Jamal took William to the Yankee Stadium. They were there, on the sacred grounds where the gods of baseball achieved their immortality. Slowly, the pain from William's past is eased by the presence of of one of the life's most valuable -- and one of the most rare -- gifts: a true friend
My brother and I, he begins, heart heavy with emotion, would watch every game. His brother left for the war, and, when he came back, he wasn't the same anymore
I love Sean Connery. One of the earliest movies I've seen as a kid was Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. I felt he was really special, from there to Highlander, to The Hunt For Red October, to The Medicine Man, to The Rock, to Entrapment, to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and to this one. He is actually one of the first people who I looked up to as a father figure, imagining that my real dad, if he was alive, would have been like him.
Jamal's dream is to be a great writer -- like William Forrester.
"How does it feel to write something like you did?"
"Perhaps, someday," says William, in an implied great belief in the young man's incredible talent, "you'll find out."
"You write from the heart," teaches William, banging on a vintage Underwood typewriter. The absolute best time in life, he declares, is reading your first draft
"Expressions is worth a thousand words." You can do all the thinking later
"Those who have gone before us," writes William Forrester in his Pulitzer Prizewinning landmark novel Avalon Landing, "cannot steady the unrest of those to follow..."
One of my most beloved movie scenes of all time is the ending, when the credits rolls up, the camera looking down from Forrester's window. A group of young men are playing basketball -- and the acoustic version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow and What A Wonderful World (Huggybear's favorite song of all time) is playing. This song always gladden my heart, reminding me that life, after all is said and done, is beautiful -- and it really is a wonderful world.
"Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high..."
"...and I think to myself: what a wonderful world...!"
From The Journal of Jonathan Aquino aka Huggybear
December 23, 2012
6:52 p.m., Sunday
I love the sense of renewal during New Year: there is that evanescent whiff of a new beginning. It seems my life is a series of chapters, having lived in various places, a book about a gypsy boy whose spirit has also passed from one lifetime to another for thousands of years
I still enjoy the season and the fireworks, with a heightened sense of gratitude of all my blessings with their mesmerizing array of appearances
But I also see New Year differently now. I follow my own agenda for change: I have clearly defined my goals: short-, medium- and long term ones. Crossing over to 2013 is just a passage in time. Some things remain, of course: I will carry Barry Manilow's It's Just Another New Year's Eve with me as I through the years that'll come and go
Inward moments and happy memories are too precious to be forgotten