I had a feeling that it was him.
We were on official travel to Manila when I had a chance of seeing him (?) afternoon of August 2, Tuesday, at the SM North while I and my office mates were sauntering around the mall. I had a wonderful chance to see the man in person for I am just a few steps away from his wheel chair. He had a lady companion that isn’t familiar and for sure she’s not a celebrity. When I saw him, I felt something jolted my inner self that no words and all the sciences I’ve learned from college can explain. It was something that my sanity cannot comprehend even as I write this. I felt something left my soul unsettled. I do not know if I was more than just star struck or something. Eros S. Atalia once wrote in Ligo na U, Lapit na Me that, “Totoo pala na kulang ang salita para sa lahat ng nararamdaman.”
My hunch is always accurate and I trusted it very much when I was younger than today. I am fully aware that I possess a wonderful gift of recognizing a face but I never tested it recently. Maybe I am just so happy to know that my idol journalist is still alive. Even if I just mistook that guy in a wheelchair for my favorite columnist it doesn’t matter. It’s a very exceptional “private” memory I do not want to share to my companions that day. I do mind his physical and mental health and the medical conditions he is into so I did not approach the man to ask if he indeed was him. To see him alive, if it was really him, is enough for me. Personally for me, that meeting (of eyes) was far more memorable than the official business meeting we had with a certain high government official that day.
For around 5 seconds or more our eyes met though I didn’t stop walking, not uttering a single word or letting even a little smile going out of my lips. I can still see from his eyes his usual traits in that swift encounter: his guts and bravery. I am just one of his readers and I do not personally know him. It was September 2014 when his column stopped appearing in his newspaper. Browsing the net is even proved futile to find out something new about him or have an update on what happened to him or to know his present condition. Some people say that he is still in a coma or already is dead after suffering from a stroke that year. No fresh report on his whereabouts or whatsoever. No obituary was written about him either. The widely-read broadsheet where he last worked simply stated that he is on medical leave. Whatever, it is lovely to see great people still having a life worth living and fighting whether it was really him or not. That gave me enough reason to re-read my clippings from his column during his heydays that I kept for so many years when internet is just a thing of the future.
Perhaps, just like the other followers of his column and books, I terribly missed his writings. More so today that extra-judicial killings are constantly thumping the headlines, the move to change the charter towards federalism, among other issues and questions unfolded by the new administration under an equally new populist president. This eminent journalist influenced me in many aspects since time in immemorial mainly his argumentations and reasoning while striking his pen. He is the king of opinions in my opinion.
Though he looked so skinny today (judging from his television appearances that I’ve seen in the past) and perhaps most of the time he is nailed to his wheelchair, he is radiating with greatness. The man at the mall may not be him but I had a feeling that it was him. I recognized him instantly for with his shoulder-length silvery hair, his moustache, his tinny goatee and most especially, his very familiar spectacles. I will not tell you who he is for I am afraid that my once reliable hunch has already taken by age and the one I saw was not him. Therein goes the rub.
After that momentary meeting of our eyes I was heading towards the mall’s exit door so I minded my steps briefly and when I looked at him again from behind my back, he was still looking at me. No expression whatsoever from his face until he disappeared from my vantage point.
Maybe the man that I saw, if it was really him, knew that I recognized him. Or perhaps the man I saw was just somebody who was annoyed by my muted, mistaken curiosity…
(Photo: Independent Birmingham)