Able to Exhale

Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White in Peter Jac...

Image via Wikipedia

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :

IT’S debatable, but for Pinoy fortysomethings like us, jogging is truly a low-cost, high benefit activity. It’s not very demanding timewise, you literally run on your own pace, and if you stay with the program, you acquire or regain a fitness that takes years off your birth certificate.

[NOte : We distinguish from and avoid the word running as the latter connotes discipline, devotion and intensity that are alien to our species, homo sapiens sarapus matulogus umagus, native to Philippine concrete jungles and smokey mountains.]

It’s better said than done, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and all that, but it takes all our middle-ager’s energy to fight gravity, Wellington’s biting wind, chemically induced post-night shift wakefulness, and lastly but not the leastly, prematurely aging joints and knees when we go jogging towards a new day.

We were planning to catch a few zzz’s after coming home from night shift, but there persisted the danger of sleeping straight through the day and waking up just before another night of work.

Grimly, there was a good chance we wouldn’t have many more jogging opportunities like this, between the greenest valleys and the bluest seas we’ve ever seen, breathing the coldest, purest air that sprayed our windpipe, and smiling among the friendliest and most down-to-earth First Worlders we’ve known. [Not that we’ve known many.]

So we abruptly found ourselves from the bedroom to jogging on the footpath, and who should we see but a wrinkly, long-haired wizard lookalike on the side of the road, smoking a long-stemmed pipe and chewing lemon drops.

Don’t know if it was the adrenaline rush created by the cold, cold morning air, but the old man reminded us both of Gandalf the White and Albus Dumbledore.

We lost no time, between gasping for air, asking is there a work permit in my future? From his deepest pockets he fished out what at first glance appeared to be green and red playing cards, but on closer inspection were actually Pinoy passports. He shuffled and snapped them around his gnarly hands, and looked through them without opening them, if you could imagine such a thing.

He whispered hollowly: steady work and years of plenty come for these souls… but not for you, dawn jogger… Not yet. And with flowing robes and all, he jogged away into the obscure foggy distance before we could ask how so many passports came into his possession, or even how he could jog so fast in his strange garb.

We gave up on the encounter with Gandalf/Dumbledore and resumed our normal route, which was around the block, and soon jogging astride us was a fellow busybody, clad in No Fear shorts, Darlington socks and prominent headband. He smelled of Alaxan Gel, and we think he was humming a Dan Hill tune (for the Gen Xers, he popularized Sometimes When We Touch & a few other Mellow Touch classics).

Surely, this couldn’t be…? For some reason we asked him the first question that popped into our mind, without the usual niceties of an unexpected meet-and-greet with a world-famous kabayan.

Muole ba ko bay? Not that he would know.

Dili, he countered right back. Daghan ka pa agian ug tabangan.

We knew he was a boxer for the ages, but was he psychic as well? We had places to go and promises to keep, and the best way to do this was to stay in NZ. How could he know that? Well, after Gandalf/Dumbledore, we were ready for anything, and sure enough, our temp co-jogger zipped past us in his knee-lengths and warmups, and scooted to the nearest gym.

[By the way, we were already feeling funny about this jog, Inception style, because as far as we could remember we don’t speak a word of Visayan, and besides, we’ve never met a Filipino on the jogging path, much less a superduper famous one.]

A combination of disorientedness, starstruckness and lightheadedness (remember, we just came off eight hours of night shift) convinced us to call it a day, despite having gone around the block only a couple of times, and we were on our way back inside when we saw an Asian couple doing a lively walk just a few meters ahead of us.

It can’t be, we said.

The heights and body shapes were unmistakeable, and yet they should’ve been thousands of kilometers away.

( Are those two Mom and Dad ??? )

Sure enough, we caught up with them and unsurprisingly (both are devoted walkers) they paid us no mind, despite the fact that they hadn’t seen their prodigal prince for almost a year now.

Fighting for their attention (especially among four bros) was nothing new to us, so we just got into their faces, and unsurprisingly broke into the inevitable topic, without even kissing their hands.

Mom, Dad, I’m in a dream aren’t I? (without missing a beat) Are you coming to take me home? (still between breaths) Are you mad because I can’t stay here much longer?

That last one hurt a bit, ‘cuz they supported our decision and the residual consequences all the way. Without looking at us, Mom answered in short bursts, partly in Bicolano (which she almost never does) and mostly in Taglish.

Hi, Noel. For sure, you’re not in OUR dream, so we must be in yours. Dai ka pa ma-uli. And your dad and I will ALWAYS support you, kahit anong mangyare, as long as you listen to God and do the right thing.

We were about to ask, but what’s the right thing? And how come you can walk faster than I can run? when we caught Dad murmuring something unintelligible, with a curious accent which we later realized was Kiwi English. (He hates even listening to that.)

What is it Dad? we asked, regardless of the fact that whatever he said would be pointless, dream to diba? (How clueless we were.) He looked like he was doing some reading from some remote location, and relaying the text to me :

We have endorsed your passport with a work permit… (which) allows you to work in New Zealand in the occupation and workplace specified on the permit. The permit does not entitle you to remain permanently in New Zealand… if you wish to travel overseas and return to work in New Zealand, you mush apply for a work visa before you leave.”

Time to wake up, son.

** ** ** ** **

I sat up bolt upright, my eyes confronting the rays of the 9:00 midmorning sun. I had unconsciously kicked aside the blanket, the precious Wellington summer was imminent.

I had been asleep less than 45 minutes.

Out of my bedroom window I chanced to see the rickety mailbox hold something thick and bulky, and even though I could not make out the postmark, I was fairly sure the sender was Immigration New Zealand. The package could not but be heavy with news and anticipation, such heaviness threatening to pull the package down from the mailbox and straight into the footpath below.

I ran.

Thanks for reading !


7 thoughts on “Able to Exhale

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