Once Upon A Time In Manila

Saturday Stories
July 15, 2017


"She came to me. She said, 'Anna,' just like that. I said 'Why?' 'How are you?' I said, 'Fine.' But what I was thinking, what I really wanted to say was, 'Mother, your breasts are sagging now. Your face is already wrinkled. I bet your lover is not fucking you anymore.' She tried to give me money. I refused. I showed her my bag. 'Look,' I told her,' I have a lot.' Then I tried to give her some, but she also refused. 'We both have a lot of money,' she said. Then she cried. Me, I never did. I don't want to cry. I don't want her to see me cry."

I couldn't pinpoint any predominant emotion among the mix in me when I watched Mel Chionglo's Lagarista again recently. Lagarista is about a young man named Gregory (Piolo Pascual) who lives in the same house where I used to, a mansion built during the Spanish era in the 18th century in Quiapo at the heart of Manila. Gregory's work is taking film reels to different movie theaters. This was in the nineties when films are still projected.

Gregory's girlfriend Anna (Janna Victoria) reminds of me of my own girlfriend during that time who also worked in a bar. His grandfather Paking (Koko Trinidad) reminds me so much of my late foster father. The scene where grandpa Paking dies as he walks towards the screen is so heartbreaking to me in a very personal way.

Gregory's closest friends are Jimmy (Pen Medina), a projectionist who wants to believe that her wife loves him; and Osang (Cherry Pie Picache), a waitress who wants to believe that her lover will still return.

I can relate to that. Most of my friends are older than me because I've always felt drawn to them. Most of them are gone now, and I feel it's a great privilege to have become a part of their lives.

I remember Bulaklak, the Chinese diner where Osang works. I remember Times, the iconic movie theater where Gregory would deliver the reels, locking his bike on the accordion gate.

If you're standing at the entrance, you will see Quiapo Church across the road, with all those vendors selling herbs at the sidewalk. On your left is a small street with a police station and the Bahay Nakpil Museum. On your right, you will see the footbridge that leads to Raon, the street famous for electronic equipments and musical instruments where Anna buys karaoke CDs of Japanese songs for her customers.

I've written a story set in the same place during that time. It was a sort of stream of consciousness meta-noir about a teenage boy who was struggling with existential angst because he had seen too much of the dark side of humanity.

I used a typewriter and sent the manuscript to the Philippine Free Press via postal mail. Then a few days later, bam! The iconic magazine announced its closure. I won't be able to recreate it even if I wanted to, and I don't want to. There are many things I've said there that I don't want to say again.

I'm not even sure how I feel as I write this. I'll always cherish that chapter in my life, with all its parallels with the movie, but I have moved on a long time ago. It was my coming of age and the end of an era. I remember the story, but I don't remember the feeling anymore.

Photo courtesy of YouTube.com