By Romeo Morales
I’VE BEEN longing to see Popoy again. I guess after all those years of waiting and hoping, I would never see my friend anymore.
Unknown to some of our classmates and batch mates, Ernesto Valencia or Popoy for short and I had been close friends. During our high school days, we frequented the long stretch of road of Rizal Avenue together with the barkadas like the late Benjamin Ng, Bobby Karunungan, and others whenever we had the time, enjoying the one-after-another department stores, the traffic, and the crowd that made the historic place lively and fun to be there. Sometimes, when my late father was around the vicinity of Rizal Avenue, I would bring Popoy and those who were with us to where my father was, who would treat us to a lunch or snack in one of the restaurants in the area. There were times when Popoy would come to my place in Aurora Boulevard near La Loma, for a short stay, to chat or anything that we can do for that matter. On other times, I would do the same with him, he would bring me to their house to have lunch or dinner with his family. He showed me what books he read and shared with me how he always made it to the top of our class. He said during our first year in high school, he would already be reading the textbooks of the second year, which her sisters were using then. He was always one step ahead of us, he confided.
Like easy-going students of our time, we would always go to the Luneta Park after classes to play or to while out time away. There were occasions, Manny Villarba would be with us or it would be the late Alex Ongtong, Ben, and/or Bobby. If my mind doesn’t fail me, Salvador “Buddy” Villanueva and others would also join us. Other batch mates, whose names escape me at the moment, I knew have also joined us. Sometimes, our group would be so big that we would have a great time walking all together from the Arellano High School to our playground at the Luneta Park. We would play around the Rizal monument, running here and there, jumping up and down the 3-4 foot wall fence surrounding the monument or under the shade of the National Library building. When night fell, we would all go home dirtied and soaked-wet in perspiration from playing non-stop.
Since I used to live near the North Cemetery, one time Popoy and I decided to stay there for awhile. We entered mausoleums that were left opened, sat on tombs or on benches in the cemetery. As it was, the cemetery was pretty much very serene and quiet. It is a nice place to be when you wanted to be alone, maybe to watch people come and go, a funeral procession, or watch people who makes a living in the cemetery. He told me it was there where he reviewed for examinations. Popoy’s family had also lived near the cemetery. As soon as the place became dark and bats started hovering above us that was when we decided it was time to go home. Since then, whenever I had exams to take and like Popoy had been doing, I also went to the cemetery to review.
Popoy was the most intelligent classmate I would say I ever had. He was also sadly the most misunderstood classmate I had ever known. I remembered when he had a fight with Ernesto Cunanan in our Physics class, it was as if Hell broke loose. The scuffle almost made our classroom topsy-turvy, breaking one of the microscopes in the process. We all ended up paying for the replacement of the microscope. At another unfortunate incident, he had a misunderstanding with Rosauro Cayetano, who was taller, bigger and heavier than him, that when their verbal quarrel exploded, Rosauro, in a sudden burst of anger lifted him up like a piece of shit, ready to discard from the second floor of the building to the ground of the quadrangle. Had it not been for the presence of cooler heads that intervened and prevailed, Popoy would have been a dead meat. And yet, those hand-wrangling fights were surely part of our growing up.
Some of our classmates found Popoy difficult to deal with. Even our teachers had the same problem with him. And yet, those very same people were the ones, who tried to understand him. He would not attend our class for days and when he came back to represent our school in writing contests, he excelled, he won. We rejoiced with him whenever he brought home the bacon from any competitions. He was like a problem child or a prodigal one but I’m pretty sure he was not. He was a very nice person and a great friend to be with, once people got to know him better.
When we left our school—Arellano High School—in search of our own place under the sun, I would learn Popoy would be deeply involved with student activism. I was not surprise though, for I found myself in the same boat with him although in different waters. I thought being on the same side of the fence with him, we would see each other more often but we never did. If ever we did, it was only a meeting by chance and that chance was not even enough to talk. As we both moved on separate ways, I would read his byline with the Daily Express for a column he wrote. Mine would also appear with the People’s Journal either for a news story or a piece of an article I submitted. I thought, maybe writing for the national papers our paths would somehow cross again. It never happened.
Then I would learn he had migrated to Australia while I, to the United States. Somehow the longing to see or to keep in touch with him didn’t leave me at all; only I could not fathom by what manner it would happen since we were already miles and miles apart.
The unexpected came. He passed away. I would never see Popoy no more. However, there is a place I know we could still meet. Of course, that would depend on the One above us. And when that happens, I’m pretty sure it would be a happy meeting between classmate and friend…and again.
I miss you Popoy. In fact, I had been missing you for a long time now.