|6 A Pain In My Head
In another letter, one reader of mine told me so
bluntly to this effect (my kind words, not his): You eat well of the chicken and lamb
of Jeddah and you write about your depressed Mindanao or your bleeding Bosnia. You receive
your money from an American company - or at least, nearly half-American company, since the
larger part of it is Saudi and you lambaste the Americans for their capitalism.
Isn't that hypocritical of you?
He was of course a friend who liked to
engage in debates way back in college. He was one of those who kept on telling me,
You're different, You're different from the other Moros, while all the time I was not
sure whether I should take that as a compliment or an insult. He was, in short, a member
of the intelligentsia, a conscience, a pain in my head. I vaguely remember responding to
his nasty letter by telling him to buy himself a PC and a laser printer and we can have a
face-off and a shoot-out of sorts in one of the hotel ballrooms in Manila. I figured, if
he was true to his radical past, he would not step into any hotel lobby anyway.
In college, when one time I used the pen
name Isnani to join a UP English Club Literary Contest, I had told this friend a story
about Isnani, another Moro. Isnani was my nemesis in high school for a while. He was a
soft-spoken lad just like me, a little taller than me, and was as bit as shy as myself. He
came from one of the inland barrios of Sulu. His parents were farmers and Isnani himself
tended the cattle and fowl in their farm during weekends.
I envied Isnani for one thing in
particular: he had the pleasure of harmoniously living with mother hens and chicks and
eggs. His school shirts were not always as white or as finely pressed as mine though.
He was a brilliant student, and during the
end of each grading period, both our names would grab the top positions of the honors
list, sometimes his name first, sometimes mine.
When at the start of our third year term
in high school I did not see him in class, I felt relieved for one day. The next day,
another brilliant Moro told me that Isnani died from gunshot wounds last summer while
taking his cows to graze in the field. He was, the story goes, carrying a rifle with him
at the time when some unknown assailant decided to grab the rifle and rustled the cattle
To this day, somehow, I still think of
Isnani as happily feeding his farm chickens and harvesting the eggs or leading his cows to
pasture against the pinkish-yellow landscape of dawn.
"Isnani is my nom de plume,"
I remember telling my college friend then, "not because I need to hide behind another
name but because I am no different from the many fallen and falling Isnanis out there in
the seas and mountains of Sulu & Mindanao."
My college friend just looked at me
quizzically for a moment, and then went back to reading the Collegian newsletter with its
fighting words: Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?
I was later to challenge him into this laser printer shoot-out because my story about
Isnani did not seem to register correctly in his head after all these years.
But such are the travails and dangers of
publishing something like BUGS & BYTES. Like Bill Clinton, you think
people will simply ignore you until one day you find out the windows and doors are all
agape all the while. Then you get to feel that some people are watching you more than they
should, half-expecting you to go run out naked or lock yourself up in the closet. Or live
up to your words.
Sometimes, nothing happens. Sometimes,