REMINISCING A FRIEND
REMINISCING A FRIEND
Romy Chavez is not a name one can associate with familiarity or anything that has to do with heroism. He is a nondescript. One who can be passed on and ignored even. He never had a record shattering moment neither he exhibited anything extraordinary. He played on the safe side with no, if at all, minimal risk to encounter. There were times when I would goad him, that is, expose him to danger, something that could pronounce glory for him in the final count. No way. He would rather recoil and stay back. It was never his cup of tea. He would rather run away with a penny than drag a duffle bag full of dough. He would rather see an action flick than go through the motion.
Yet Romy joined me for action. He knew that I am into dangerous liaison. He knew that I court danger, not once in a while, but very often. Yet he enjoyed the “fun run.” He would rather witness mayhem like in his job as prison guard. While in the prison service, he would watch at close range how prisoners hack each other to death. He would come in as soon as the horror is through.
No, he will never find any occasion during turbulent years in prison as an opportunity to shine. He would rather be around those who make things happen. It is in playing as witness that he rejoiced. It is in his character as viewer that he finds his comfort zone. He would rather be an onlooker, a historian so to speak, than be someone shaping an event. If an event has changed and he happens to be within the scene, lucky for him. If not, it is also fine luck. His being a survivor means staying away from the fray. After all, story tellers are the toast of the town while the hero recuperates from his wounds. He would rather maintain a pantheon, small as it was, than a monument.
As Romy gets the amusing part of valor, he would exercise his mental mode for analysis. It is not after all fatal to challenge the gods like how I would do it. For him, imitating me is already half being an action star, if not a star in his mind. He lived as a shadowy figure behind me for 17 years. From the time he reported for duty to me in 1995 and as soon as he filed his retirement in 2002, he never faltered in reporting to me ever since. He wanted to see me play with threats and perilous situations. Once in a while, he would dabble with menacing conditions but this he merely wanted to have a hand if only to gain a specific part in the over-all picture of risk and hazard. After each intimidating mission, we would find each other relishing each scene and laughing at those incongruities we have committed.
Romy succeeded in replicating even my mannerisms. Discussing with him is like myself looking and talking at the mirror. My voice, my usual smoker’s cough, my giggle and even my punch lines were literally lifted. He was really a character. Someone hard to dismiss. Somebody one cannot just drop in a corner. Everyday, he would be up and about and already beside me. I have to read a lot of books so that I could share something new to him. He was like a cotton, very absorbent and always had a fresh outlook in learning. He would even accompany me and try to learn as many principles even if it means that he stays overnight. He wanted to feel how it was to be knowledgeable. Outside of my sphere, bearing some few insights he took note from our conversation, he would exude superiority among a few of his friends, impose whatever he had learned, even if it irked those around him. There were those that would respect him for his wits, others would be turned off for being such a snobbish.
Early in his career in prison, a few years before he would join my team, he was an indulgent worker and audacious entrepreneur to gain something for his growing family. Until one day, he was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes. His weight and body mass were reduced and he became withdrawn and indifferent. That would also be a time when his peers would suspect him as a whistleblower and a spy. Worst, his diabetic weight loss was even viewed as a result of drug abuse. As a consequence, he was listed among those confirmed scallywags in the organization. That was the time when he would approach me to be assisted. I was sent to a remote prison in Palawan and it was there that he was to be banished along with several notorious prison personnel. Since he was indorsed by a friend, at that time, he was a non-entity to me yet; I adopted him as one of my assistants. From that time on, he would never leave my trail. He would plead to be a part of my retinue. He would volunteer to be my gofer, even if at times, I never had any inclination of having anyone around me. I worked alone and I was effective that way. I never tried to get anyone involved in any of my silent drills. During day time I am an assiduous prison officer, in the afternoon a quintessential scholar and at night, a stalker for justice. He would only see two thirds of my personality and he was already drawn to my itinerary. But he had some suspicions. Yet he never dared to probe deeper knowing that danger lurked at those dark moments.
He could not fathom my principles. He knew that in handling prison, I had great moments to earn and save. He knew that my power was enough to accumulate material benefits. Yet staying close to me was a period of struggle. He thought that there were people who were only trying to fool me. That I was always at the short end of every transaction. He volunteered that if one day I would be given a command assignment, at that time I was always in the freezer for distancing from administrators who are corrupt, he would personally run the business for me and save so much. He intends to budget anything saved so that when the time comes for another bout of being floated, we would have the funds to live by.
That day would come. And more. I was again conscripted to trouble shoot a prison facility. He knew that the opportunity has arrived. He pleaded to join me in the mission. I consented. Thereupon, on his insistence, I would allow him to take a glimpse of my entire life as administrator, scholar and equalizer. For him it was an enjoyable trip. It was an adventure of a lifetime. Finally, he would be able to see up close how I manage my time, how I deal and negotiate, how I think and solve problems. For him it was having a total education. But he was nonetheless holding much caution at a time when I have thrown all caution to the wind. He would still reserve the same outlook of staying at the sidelines, sitting on the fence rather than participating actively in the fray. While he was learning something for application, he would rather not stretch his luck and would rather perform as cheer leader. He would be contented with morsels than having a chunk. He would be relishing moments thought of as stories rather live at the fulcrum of real and live action. He was like riding on a plane where half of his body is dangling outside. The plane may crash and he had the chance to jump out if that happens. He never wanted to place all his eggs in one basket. He was that ever careful with himself, even to the point of being careless in the process.
He stayed beside me for 17 years, more than my loved ones in a career that requires me to move from one station to another. I would leave my family and proceed to where I was assigned to fulfil an organizational responsibility. I could only hear my family through telephone and luckily at this time, through the medium of texting and skyping. Not for Romy. He was there wherever I am. Romy knew that he can do everything he wants including the commission of boo-boos since I am ultra patient even when it comes to error. I never raised my voice nor scolded anyone. Invectives are only heard during an orgy of laughter. He would rather spend his time around my sphere, work and earn on the side beside according to him, pick up some thoughts and contribute to his wits.
All through out, he was therefore a constant buddy. In a span for almost two decades where I saw my career at times on a high point but usually bordering on the low point, he would be there. Not necessarily to render succour but most especially to spend time in a grand manner. Grand in the sense that he was learning a lot of principles derive from a crisis. And most of the time, I was always on that state. He probably, and this he would always admit, would be given a share because whenever there is difficulty, I found myself earning something.
Where I was down, he was there. Not to lift me up but to witness how I try to rebound. And rebound I always do in an amusing manner. Amusing from my standpoint. Generating laughter from the antics of those who failed to pin me down. He would share the same feeling of confidence and would even internalize it as if he underwent the same process. Back in his place, in the comfort of his family, he would regale of tales on how we defeated the dragon, so to speak. He would act victoriously as if he was the one who slew a monster. After a few hours, he would be back where I am. For him, to join me was doing his family a great favour. He would not be a party to deduct food from the table since he was always out with me.
But the years are claiming his strength. He was already 68 years old. Anyone at that age should never even challenge the gods of luck. He was on borrowed time already. Those on the active side have a lifespan of 65 and here he was pushing the limits of his luck. He never tone down his activities which were mostly very physical. I even would require him extra duties that would push further his strength and strong he really was. I could not even cope on the way he spends the day, the fact that I am a decade younger and stronger than him.
He would commit himself with more concerns, more responsibilities. Greater tasks than he had before. He knew that there was only a few years which he could spend an active lifestyle, he would rather compress everything at the moment. He regretted those moments when he left my camp because of homesickness. That time I recalled him, he would never falter, he would never go back unless he is full, unless he has succeeded on what he intends to accumulate.
That day would never come. He was a soldier who never retreated from the battlefield notwithstanding the odds, notwithstanding the fact that his strength is fading due to age. And true enough, like a soldier, he died with his boots on. He may have died a broken man. He may have died of ailments, which he would complain as he was already experiencing once in a while. He may have died of depression. He may have died a lonely man. But no. He was up and about, competing and geared towards defeating failure. He was there within my sphere but he made some improvements. He wanted to short cut a process. In so doing, in cutting corners to win his war, he was mortally wounded in an accident. He never recovered but in his mind, he was winning.
At his death bed, I ignored the figure of the man I called my closest friend. I do not want to see the body of a slain soldier, my soldier. I want to preserve in my mind the living friend that he truly is. I never attended his wake nor witnessed his burial. For me, he is still alive.