It was to be a short Sunday lunch celebrating a very special birthday. And although I had been informed well ahead of time, true to form I got the time wrong and was proffering regrets to the celebrant.
And wisely, he was having none of it.
"It's Sunday. There's no traffic. Everyone will be here. Kaya mo pang humabol."
Out of a sense of worn duty and out of excuses, I swiftly got ready and flew my little car out to the cozy little venue, which, as promised, was easy to find.
It had been raining when I left and so I swept into the restaurant in a dark overcoat, beret, and sunglasses, feeling for all intents and purposes like Maleficent about to bestow unwanted blessings upon the beige-and-pastel-draped customers dining therein.
The difference was I was invited to this particular feast.
I recognized D's silhouette immediately, even with his back turned to me as he laid waste to the buffet spread along with another silhouette I quickly identified : his new gal pal whatshername.
The usher, however, informed me that our party was seated upstairs, and so that's where I went first.
Never fear, rudeboy c'est la!
The eternally-youthful James was the first familiar face I saw, and he beamed like a supernova upon seeing me. His long-term lover, Joey, was seated across, engrossed in his iPad.
"So," I asked. "When will you become Chief Justice, so that we might finally disregard the law with impunity?"
The self-effacing James giggled; embarrassed, as usual, with any reference to how well he's done in government.
"No, really, how've you been?" I pressed.
"Well, heto," he relented. "I'm having a difficult time going up and down the stairs na."
"Eh? I thought you still played badminton and tennis ?"
"Yes, but you know...bumabata tayo," he smiled, with a resigned look on his face.
"Well, seeing as how you're in the hallowed halls of justice, you should just have muscular convicts bear you into your chambers on a golden litter while you wear an off-shoulder toga like Louie Cruz and nibble on grapes."
"The Chief Justice will say 'Remove him at once!" he grinned.
"Eh, it's not like the Judiciary is a bastion of decency."
"Well, it's not as bad as the Senate."
"Kaya nga. So think about it, James. You. In a toga. On a litter borne by muscle men. Nibbling grapes as you condemn plagiarizing Senators to a gladiatorial combat to the death with disgruntled bloggers."
"After all," I finished "What are we in powdered form?"
I sipped some water as I watched James' eyes twinkle.
I'm not the devil's advocate for nothing.
Tita Tita, the most colorful and glamorous aunt I've ever known and den mother to us all, shortly made her regal appearance, with her ever-loving consort Tito Charlie at her side. Any remaining negative feelings I had about being at this gathering instantly dissipated in the presence of her radiance.
She seemed pleasantly surprised to see me, confirming my suspicions that I'd been making myself socially scarce one time too many. Birthday Boy and Gal Pal still hadn't returned from the buffet table downstairs, and so Tita Tita held court in the meantime.
"You're looking good!" she gushed as we made our beso-besos. "You seem to be maturing well."
She was quick as ever and instantly read the panicked look that swept my face, for she followed up her remark by hinting that I seemed to have made peace with certain chronic issues that had plagued my relationships.
"We must sit down and have wine sometime, tita," I replied. "LOTS of wine."
I learned that she had been sick of late and was saddened to hear of it. She had always been an energetic, vibrant woman, and while nothing about her - sitting at the table, laughing in dulcet tones and carrying on - seemed feeble or infirm, I still felt the unwelcome reminder that time, after a certain point, was not going to be on anyone's side.
Alas, even the most famous of queens
cannot stem time nor tide.
The Birthday Boy and Gal Pal presently appeared, laden with the remains of dead animals on fine china. His giggling gaggle of young adult nieces were gathered on the left side of the long table, while the antediluvians like ourselves were relegated to fossilize on the right.
D. is a good five years older than I and yet, thanks to good genes, looks nothing like his age. He smiled widely upon seeing that his nagging had made sure I made it it to his fete. A smile so wide it revealed the presence of braces which, in all the long time we had known each other, I'd never seen him wear.
I did a spit-take at what was probably just one of his many birthday gifts to himself, the other being his upcoming trip to the U.S.
Tita Tita beat me to the punch. "Are you wearing BRACES?" she asked incredulously.
"They're for therapeutic purposes," he grinned sheepishly.
I merely made the Frynotsureif.jpg face and decided, out of politesse if not disgust at this blatant expression of vanity, to excuse myself from the table and partake of the feast.
You probably think this meme is about you.
I invited James to come along with me and get some food. He agreed but sighed again about the unwelcome onset of his arthritis.
I looked askance at him until Tita Tita chimed in that "Ay, your Tito's also having a hard time na rin navigating the stairs."
Upon our return, D., never one to be outdone, shared with us his complaints of plantar fasciitis.
"Don't your feet hurt when you walk?" he asked me, not so much out of concern for my well-being, but more of fishing for sympathy and some company in misery.
"I don't wear heels, so, no," came my reply, which had Joey dissolving into a hysterical snickering fit so bad I waited for bulalo to shoot out of his nose.
"Surely you must have some kind of joint issues," came Gal Pal to D.'s rescue.
"Oh, we've had joint issues, I assure you," I thought to myself. "Just not the kind you're thinking of."
But for conversation's sake, I had to admit that the index finger of my left hand would never again bend at the middle knuckle after I seemed to have broken it against a wall. It's a strange injury; had I really broken it, the finger would've swelled. But there was never any swelling - just a finger that's basically frozen in place at the middle joint.
Now if only I had broken the middle finger, instead.
I got a bone to pick with you.
I hate casual revelations like these that verify that my friends - and by extension, I - are getting on in terms of age. Like any young man, I believed myself not only immortal, but eternally youthful, as well.
Time, of course, has other ideas, and marches steadfastly on. If only it didn't march all over my face.
On the other hand, James, like D., looks nothing like his age, and he's a good five years older than D. Again, a lucky mixture of genetics and a good disposition must work wonders, for his lover Joey - who had been an insanely jealous and petulant young man ten years James' junior - can look older than he does, depending on the light and the current mood of the day. James, in contrast, is as baby-faced as ever.
Of course I, being a ray of sunshine and a bundle of rainbows and joy, don't look like a baby.
I look like a fetus.
That old black magic, that fetal attraction.
And speaking of fetuses...
Lisa - whom I had last seen years and years back - was also there, with...what's this ? A five-year-old baby girl? And no spouse in sight, either. When did this happen? Who is that child? What sorcery is this?
My eyebrows reached so high my eyeballs basically popped out of my head and rolled downstairs toward the buffet table.
Lisa just smiled and said "Didn't D. tell you anything about where she came from?"
"I already know where babies come from," I replied as I fished my eyeballs out of the ginataan. " My question is: where did this particular magical girl come from? And don't answer 'From my womb.'"
Lisa laughed that girly Assumptionista laugh of hers and waved me off.
"Ay, I'll just make kuwento next time," as she spirited Magical Girl away to the restroom.
And then some primal part of my lizard brain reminded me that at one point, Lisa had been Wiccan, and supposedly had such potential that she once recited an incantation and lightning promptly struck their backyard.
And like a wise man, I stepped away from this strange brew.
N-Nani desu ka?! Nanoha?!?
Speaking of restroom. As I was admiring the restaurant's inner courtyard (adjacent to the restrooms) and wondering what interior decorating ideas - if not pieces of the decor itself- I could steal, Lu came by, en route to the loo.
Lu to the loo.
When she emerged, I was still inspecting the courtyard. Lu smiled and I asked her if she was accompanying D. to the States.
"I wanted to, but no, my passport's at the embassy, eh."
"My passport's at the embassy."
"So you are going?"
"Oh. For how long?"
"I'm moving to Canada, moving in with my parents." she smiled sweetly. "That's my retirement."
And fuck me for expecting people to stay forever.
I'd known Lu for as long as I'd known D. She had been his Girl Friday, then his best friend and business partner, and for the longest time I thought she was deeply in love with him. But despite what 9gag might tell you, friendzones are more cruel to women than men. And through the years I had witnessed Lu enter and leave relationships with none ever blossoming into something permanent.
The only one that ever endured was the professional and platonic relationship she had with D.
I had been hoping the two would just marry and be done with it, even if he was gay and she was now technically incapable of bearing children thanks to an emergency hysterectomy some years back.
Even though I had seen Lu less and even less over the years, the news of her leaving still saddened me.
My anchors are unmooring.
Or maybe that's because I need no more anchors, being forever ensnared in the Sargasso of my indecisions.
No stranger tides. No tides at all.
The reservation was only good for an hour as the venue seemed to be much in demand. But of course, being Filipino we showed no intentions of leaving even a half-hour after the official end of our little gathering.
I saw the maitre d' whispering to Lu, and being pretty sure it wasn't sweet nothings going into her ear, I got up and started the round of picture takings.
The rest of the party got the cue and after group permutations that would put wedding entourages to shame, we were ready to leave.
Despite myself, I wished we could've stayed together longer.
But that's how I am these late days with my friends.
Our meetings are few and over too soon.
Besides, I had my mother's birthday celebration to catch, and that was a world away.
Far, far away.
Are we there yet?