Because we were used to be close friends and many people knew about it, it is inevitable that they will ask me Al's whereabouts whenever and wherever I see them. Even in social media, like facebook, our mutual friends would message me, "me balita ka ba kay Al?"
It's been about three years now after we parted ways. One article in this blog talked about Al whom I knew and befriended since our grade school. Since we were the only effeminate (though we kept ourselves in the closet then; hiding in the closet was because being gay in remote provinces like ours was believed to be demonic and thus tabooed) boys then, so we understood each other. Our friendship became stronger when we each had jobs. We party together along with some other friends, gays or girls behaving like gays mostly, all the time until I landed a job in Metro Manila. Years later he stayed in my place while hunting for work. Then later after having found and resigned from various jobs, he asked my help to venture into local manpower or recruitment agency for him to manage. And in two year's time, he ran off with my money and the business was shutdown. We have not spoken or met since then. I heard news from time to time about him; the latest was that he went home to our hometown few days before I visited home too. That was July 2012.
It was Windrow, another mutual friend whom we used to hangout with during our days in Surigao working, who asked the question this time. Despite the fact that he well knew about what went between Al and I, he posed the question. And later I found out that it was intended to open the subject. "I spoke to his parents," he added before I can answer the question. "Ma'am" was the courtesy added, our version of calling each other considering that we all have experienced to be a teacher or College instructor, in fact.
"Ow! So anong tsismis ngayon?" I took the turn to ask.
"Nagwork daw siya sa call center."
This is actually good news. Al has studied college in the same school where I graduated my BS Accountancy and had a 5-year stint as a Business college instructor (3 years fulltime, 2 years parttime). But he was not able to graduate for some reason I only heard about and I took it as a hearsay, gossip, backbite or make believe. That he was running from debts he owed from anybody, that he sold items or personal properties which aren't his, that he misappropriated the money given by his parents which was supposedly for his tuition fees.
These issues had died a natural death few years later and he returned to Surigao. That was when he and Windrow became friends. To my surprise, he was hired by AMA Computer College in Surigao as Physical Education teacher. I knew that he's an undergrad in Education and then we discovered that he faked somebody else's transcript of records in order to get in. In fact, Window was the endorser and his reference.
"Tagalog na call center?" Pun intended. We both knew that Al is bad in English, much less speaking the language. Throwing mud to each other’s reputation is our way of expressing love and friendship; laughing at each other's delinquencies or weaknesses.
Window did not take my bait and forewent my punchline. "But then Victor mentioned that Al dropped by your store," he said. I corrected him that it was my store no more. Victor is another mutual friend and one of my closest, whom I knew in college. I also invested in a Refreshment or Food and Snacks store around the school belt in Surigao city and let Victor manage it. It operated for a few years at a loss (that’s what he kept on reporting) and with huge debts. Then I decided to take my share (not actually not the whole share, not even the recovery of the capital) out. Up until now, he still holds the stores operation and I am glad for that. At least he still has something to do after being forced to resign by the company he worked with. "Yan ang hindi ko lubos maintindihan. Sabi ni Victor galing ng Saudi si Al. Habang sabi ng parents niya sa Manila lang daw. Call center." he added.
"So, you drop by Victor's store?" I reconfirmed.
"No, si Al daw. Yan ang chika ni Victor nung bumisita siya sa bahay ko. Then the following day, pumunta ako sa lugar nina Al kaya nakausap ko nanay niya. Di ko na alam kung ano ang totoo, alin ang tama."
"At mayaman na ba sila?" I threw another sarcastic enquiry. I heard from one of Al's neighbors informing that his parents' house is undergoing renovation. That coincided with the time Al ran off with my money from the manpower business.
"Na-surprise talaga ako, Ma'am, kasi ganun pa rin ang hitsura ng bahay nila," told Windrow. I remembered visiting Al's residence many times before. If it looked the same as old, then the concrete flooring is untiled (some section are earth actually), the tin roofing is rusty and about tp fall off, and the wooden walls is slowly decaying (thanks to termites). That led me to question the integrity of the news that reached me. That reminded me of how I shrugged off Al's excuse when I interrogated him about the money lost. He reasoned he was robbed during one payday we made. Maybe this story is true then. But it took him long enough to make up that excuse which render it irrelevant and thereby appeared an alibi.
"So Ma'am di na talaga nagpakita si Al sa ‘yo?" asked Windrow. "'Cause it seems na wala ka ng update sa kanya." Good observation! Well, I find it easy and cool. Their absence won't remind me of how they abused my generosity, how they devalued my help to give them employment, for them to have work under no one's command and or supervision. I addressed this reflection to both Victor and Al. "How about Victor?” Windrow added. It was as if he heard my thoughts. “Kasi when I ask him about your partnership, sabi niya ikaw daw ang tatanungin ko.”
"No comment." I snapped. "All I can say is that I am blessed because I am graciously surviving." I did not know if the message is clear or this sentence is grammatically correct.
"I respect both answers, Ma'am. Naitanong ko lang dahil may investment kasing involved, di ba? Gusto ko lang maintindihan... Pero batid ko naman talagang hindi maayos ang pag-manage ni Victor sa store niyo." Windrow explained.
I started to heat up. I can't help but declared, "They both betray my trust and hence my friendship."
"That's the most painful effect, losing a friend that we think is genuine and worth for keeps."
"I used to choose my friends over my family because I have been living my beautiful life with gay friends. I chose these two because I considered them my sisters, real sisters, but they failed to impress me and even cheated me." We were inseparable, the three of us then, before Windrow came to Surigao. We were so close that even our parents knew each other.
"Well no regrets, Ma'am. Somehow, I succeeded keeping Victor stay in Surigao to care for nanay until her passing." When I was given part-time loads to teach in business colleges in Surigao City, I spent my overnights in Victor’s. And I pity Nanay, his mother, who despite her old age still cook suman (sort of rice cake rolled and wrapped in banana leaves) and sell them in the nearby public market’s sidewalk. Hoisting the whole bunch and basket of suman really feel heavy and only Victor can do that for her. His siblings, a brother and a sister who are all married, are residing reasonably far from the city. During the times that Victor was considering looking for jobs in Manila, I intercepted him and decided instead to put up a store in the city for him to manage; purportedly for him to stay in Surigao and remain at his mother’s side.
"I succeeded helping Al graduate in college," I continued. I am not entirely convinced he indeed graduated BS in Secondary Education, major in Physical Education, from the Rizal Technological University (RTU) in Mandaluyong City. But I claimed it to be my investment as well. When the local manpower agency I invested and he managed was still operational, Al enrolled in RTU. He told me he would love to complete his college degree while doing our business. Before I discovered that the business coffer is empty, he was then preparing for his graduation. I heard about his series of rehearsals for the graduation rites, that his Aunt, his father’s sister who resides in Quezon City, will be assisting him, and that the graduation will be held in the Philippine International Convention Center. Before and after that supposedly momentous event in his renewed life, I have not seen any toga, I have not seen any photographs taken from that occasion, I have not seen a diploma. Nothing in his facebook page will tell you about his graduating in college. All I knew was that he really went to college.
“What a sad experience! From there, you have to learn to move on and unleash your unwanted ill feelings for a friend who betrayed your trust and confidence,” advised Windrow.
“I believe God won’t be angry if I won’t reconnect to them.”
“For you to be happy again in another dimensions of friendship, “he explained, “I don't mean for you to reconnect. What is important is learn from within to forgive.”
“I have nothing to forgive, though. I have no one to forgive because nobody asks for one.”
“Even though they don’t ask, just forgive it from within your heart.”
“My heart is always red, so full of love. I have no hang-ups. I don’t have excess baggage.” I am doing great! I have work and money! I seemed to be robbed by them both but I survived the robbery and recovered. I am still standing and holding my heads high. “I have loved them dearly when they were once in my life,” I told Windrow. “And now that they're no longer with me, they’re no longer trustworthy, so then I have nothing for them.”
“I really cannot define how deep your friendship was and your intimacy as real sisters because you were old friends before I arrived.”
“I knew who they are and how ugly were their pasts and their personalities. But I have embraced them fully and unconditionally despite that. And sadly, even I was a victim of their ugliness.” I may describe things in general perspective but Windrow understood what I meant. Basically because he was also a victim of Al’s deceitfulness. “I thought I was exempted,” I concluded. So was he, I believe.
“Despite my bad experience with Al, still I was hoping he will change.” I took it that he has forgiven Al. Obviously, yes, because they still see and talk after that. And he wanted me to do the same.
“He won’t!” I snapped one more time. “There was this police blotter before during our college days. He embezzled and sold a personal property of somebody else, which he only borrowed. And then he was subjected to this barangay dispute committee hearing for misappropriating a cash collection of a direct selling company, which he also posed as an agent,” I told Windrow. This is the time of reckoning, recounting Al’s trespasses.
“Then he had misrepresentation to AMA Computer College,” Windrow responded. His turn to tell the tale. “Despite that, Sir Jun and I still accommodated him and gave him work in the TESDA office to give him another chance. But then again he manipulated the research’s test results. Then even during his stint as DJ in Malimono’s FM station, the owner has claimed that Al has misused the company’s motorcycle. I was informed that he made it his personal service vehicle.”
“Remember, he even cheated his parents. He misappropriated their monies which were supposed to be payment for his tuition fees. So I don’t wonder why he cheated you.” There was overpricing made by Al about Windrow’s apartment. He relayed that Al has added about 50 thousand pesos on top of the unit selling price. Windrow’s sister, Wheerani, was so mad to Al, declaring that she was so right to distrust him.
“Parang naka-pito na si bakla. Seven grave sins ba ito?” I joked. “Baka pusa itong si Al, meron siyang many chances… Don’t tell me he has nine chances to make mistakes; nine times of swindling?” And we shared a laughed, sending each other smileys.
“Wag naman sana… I wish them well though,” popped Windrow’s message. That includes Al and Victor.
“Exactly! Me, too.”