HOW ODD THAT I would think of the title automatically immediately after an erstwhile wake-up thought. How sad that I am sensitized only because of pondering my brother’s possible prognosis.
He is our father’s favorite. The latter would repeatedly hammer in our ear that he had character. Not that we minded. He was the youngest and the favoritism is understandable because he is his junior, at a time of an acceptance that his economic wherewithal could no longer afford another son (he’s sired three along with raising our half-brother Eddie). “Character” was obviously to bolster his youngest son’s then incipient puberty, formation for which he hardly had time for, cooped up in a bread-winning responsibility. It was not only par for the course but necessary. My Dad was a thinking man, maybe not too astute to have aspired for get-rich-quick schemes (from the Treasury bureau to an overseas employment office, he defied all temptations to make a fast buck) but he knew when to stop asking God and acting on his own behalf. In our neighborhood of bourgeois wage-earners, noveau riche pretenders and small-time mafiosi, what didn’t fit into the categories was treated with disdain, if not indifference. And after Sunny was born, providence fortuitously elevated him (from stevedore to security guard to records officer) to a glorified administrative position which gave his ambitious wife sufficient delusion to rub obsequious elbows with church matrons whose saccharine friendliness afforded them cheap access to her splendid seamstressing. Our half-brother’s work industry fed her socializing and no one among the three of us average youth, in an average environment with scarce paragons to attract our attention, let alone ambition, knew better to abort. We didn’t even know our ignorance was the formative scourge of the middle-income poor. Yet my father decided his principles made him a different pauper. He bought books on sale and insisted we perused them, to no avail. Our half-brother managed to finish a two-year bookkeeping course through innate frugality and sheer industry because he did not really agree that books would give him stones to step on in his strides towards average success. Yet he held his foster father in high esteem and put up with Mom’s perceived luxuries and lessened her gripes with Dad’s tight (because spare) purse strings so it was a bearable coexistence. I really believed Kuya (said with stress because my being older than the two hid snugly in his shadow; I called them all Utol to cut across age and authority) matured fast enough because of our economic situation (greatly helped by his being of Northern extract, which he lived out faithfully, and innate knack for numbers). Our mother’s lament came from that maturity because, she thought, her dependence on his monthly stipend drove him to marry early. On the whole, we were happy that he chose a woman from our social pale because he didn’t have to make major adjustments. His marriage, however, drastically put enmity between our parents. My mother’s grief grew as her dressmaking demands justified them; our father could have been a saint had he chosen the third order before Kuya flew the coop. Sadly, there wasn’t meant an ordination of any order for anyone of us, in our averageness.
From his childhood appellation “Nonoy,” (a generic Bicol term for a younger brother or male, as gender-contrary to “Nene”), Sunny aptly chose his adult nickname. He sings as well as he plucks a mean guitar and, no modesty here, can croon Malayo pa ang Umaga like he was the original. “Prospero” is the manacle our father left him with but, over time, and inspired by a curiosity in poetry, accepted the moniker largely because of Shakespeare. He wasn’t treated seriously besides even when dishing out songs to enliven casual libations because of his habit of bastardizing the lyrics when the quirky mood hits him, which is often. His senior-prophesied character would emerge when he discovered a professional penchant for basketball and echoed the rudiments of the game to young boys drawn to his honed skill and believable, because earnest, tutorial. Long before lodi was coined, its inverse was already attributed to him. It is significant that I skip mention of Steve, the brother between us, to make Sunny shine solo. I will surely treat the other with equal import at an essentially later instance but I mean to highlight Sunny’s sun while his subject shines. While I’m here as witness.
He had his share of setbacks, too grim to go back to and so regrettable to waste words on. Suffice it to say that he rose above the rubble, so to speak, and is able to make me think of how he did it. Now that I have come to terms with his falls, and rise in a singular stroke, I will essay his character the way our father believed he had it, and pray our father smiles where he is as I praise his junior Prospero, from my senior perspective. (He is 9 years younger.)
I cannot recall where his inferiority complex started. I can only be dismayed that, given his natural musicality and skill in basketball, he would of a sudden shrink away from or outside of his comfort zones. His weird anecdotes attest to his getting lost: in an elevator, he’d imagine giggling girls laughing at and about him; he’s reluctant to enter buildings that dwarf his size and sensibilities; he avoids conversations with dressed-up folks (as a rule, he only warms to one-on-ones with the hoi polloi); he’d rather stay out of the shopping stall than pretend to window-shop (he senses the sales clerk knows is why she follows). At worst, he brings out the best in him when prodded with a little liquor, which almost always ends up in big disgrace, but I will indulge less in this. His strings of setbacks notwithstanding, he transformed himself from loser to winner, while I was too busy mending fences to notice.
Even when he was preparing for employment in Taiwan (through compassionate strings I pulled), his libating would not abate so that a week before his flight, he fell into a gutter which was thankfully shallow as to cause injury or jeopardize his chance at an overseas job. In Taichung, his propensity for impressing his coworkers created an antagonism which ratio put him in a minority. Because he and our father were namesakes, he bragged to his minor acquaintances a business card that had his senior’s name. It marked the transition of his fellow workers’ attitude from antipathy to animosity. But he was unmoved. He thought he could charm them with his guitar-plucking and singing, which fortunately no one among them could match, let alone top, so further fanned his bluster. The tense coexistence reached a climax when one of the hostile honchos hid his guitar and Sunny didn’t find the joke funny. Even when I paid him a visit and bought his dormmates drinks, I felt the undercurrent of their resentment. They were civil to me but could not shroud their visible smirks every time he would crack jokes that sounded stale, even to me. Long story short, it got physical and, while his neutral fans egged him to not take the taunts sitting down (they were eagerly anticipating a diversion from their cooped-up factory ennui), they were also rallying behind his heckler to keep it up. My poor brother, least discerning and most affected, was the last to know. He learned humility the hard way, never mind if his antagonists applauded his exit from overseas factory work and their world. I felt relief and never missed the anxiety his precarious stint preoccupied me.
Back to the present and his impoverished brother Steve’s earth, the latter didn’t tell him what the doctor feared he might have, colon cancer, so we kept it to ourselves (while I silently prayed for a miracle on his behalf). From their hand-to-mouth existence, and dole-outs from sympathetic neighbors who manage to scrape from their deprivation help for their mutual poverty, he was able to secure meds from the barangay health center.
When he was robust and strong, and ill health hardly manifested in his regular hoop exercise, he paid no mind to his bad habits, foremost of which was drinking. I was younger then, too, and put up with his liaison with liquor, when moderation would abandon me and throw caution aside. From Quezon City, I’d occasionally visit them in Laguna to shoot the breeze and savor the bottle. My rare visits aside, he went about his daily routine. He and Steve were bachelors advancing towards age; I had a family to keep me together, they only had each other. It is not rare when I think of them and the inevitable and end up on my knees. In circumstances that only seem dire when you pursue what is to ensue, there is great comfort in prayer. And when I pray for them, I use the resource up to the last little drop. After a while, the return overwhelms. My knees would find further surrender in tears.
As reckonings go, his past caught up with him. His ulcers started to bleed and bother. His ball-playing dwindled and the guitar gathered dust instead of decibels. I could not shell out anything from an emaciated pocket. What I had an abundance of, I freely, totally gave. Even during my family’s easy living, I never bothered my wife and sons with help for my siblings. My wife, shocked to be get wind of his condition, found it in her financial fix to spare a little for her brother-in-law; my eldest Alex put in his share. Aes is unemployed and does his best to keep his uncle’s morale lifted.
Sunny did not know what he was not supposed to. No one had the guts to tell him for reasons as pathetic as they were personal. We did not have the means to get him treatment, we respected one another’s withholding alarming information. My last private resort – prayer – was a source of strength but I doubted if Steve or my family would join me if I insisted on begging for a miracle for Sunny. There are desperations that defy the staunchest testimonial of healing.
The surprise is that Sunny, as unsuspecting as he is, may have cut his visits to us drastically short and sudden but keeps in touch with Aes and is the one boosting my son’s morale, ironically turning the secret table around. Strangely, however, he sent me a cryptic message which was creepier than causing concern. He said, “I’m very careful now in taking anything orally, be it medicine or vitamins, except Vitamin C (the creepy part). It’s complicated (heavier hint) and somehow not in harmony with my metabolism. I’ve gone on a strict diet (if Steve’s monthly five-thousand-peso pension can be called easy) including everything that is forbidden, be it food or drink (he underscored this). With God’s clearings (he could”ve used another apter word, couldn’t he?), I’ll be able to hack it. For many weeks now, I haven’t had an attack of ulcers or uric acid. Has Aes no cell phone anymore? Tell him I said ‘Hi.’How are you? I love you all!”
Sometimes, I tell myself that God will understand if I don’t include him anymore as a petition in my vespers (sort of a given perpetual plea), that He knows how things are. I have him in my heart all the time is why. But I believe, deeper there, I should keep vigil until the reassurance manifests itself, like the miracle of my asthma banished sixty-nine summers ago, and a string of others after it (including a bleeding that one petition to Padre Pio perished), because God is good. And Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Saints Jude, the Capuchin from Pietrelcina and Teresa of Calcutta are all the time backing up His benediction. Amen.