Qwertyman for Monday, September 19, 2022
JHUN-JHUN COULD barely contain himself as he stepped into the house dangling a pair of shiny keys before him. His mother looked at him; his father saw the keys. Either way, his entrance spelled trouble. They saw him for just once or twice a month at most since he moved out to a rented studio in Taguig—to experience, he announced, independent living, now that he had reached the ripe old age of twenty-three.
“Independence,” of course, had a tiny asterisk attached to it, which was the rent paid by his parents for the place, which he promised to assume as soon as he received his promotion to unit manager. That was three years ago. He had spent his bonuses on furnishing the pad with a La-Z-Boy, a 66-inch TV, bladeless fans, air purifiers, and such other man-cave must-haves as a revolving liquor dispenser and a vintage Star Wars poster.
“To what do we owe this visit?” said his mom in her nervous, high-pitched voice. She was going to day “the pleasure of” but decided not to lie.
“Didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you hear me coming?” Jhun-Jhun said, still jingling his keys.
“I thought I heard the garbage truck arrive,” said his dad. “Yesterday it came too early and we missed it, and now it’s almost an hour late—”
“No, Dad—you mean you heard the honking? That was no garbage truck, that was me! I was trying to get your attention!”
“You’ve been doing that, son, since you were born. What honking? Did you ask your cab driver to honk so we’d go out and pay your fare?”
“Oh, no, no, no cab driver! That was me—in my car. I wanted to show you my new car! Look, Mom, Dad—it’s out there—right in front of our gate!”
More out of fear than anything, the parents rushed to the window, and saw a shiny new car in a migraine-inducing electric blue on the street.
“Isn’t it lovely? It’s called the Riva Riviera, a 2.0-liter crossover with Bluetooth, USB, rear parking sensors, etc. And the best part of it is—you won’t believe this, Dad, Mom—I got it because, well, because your son is now a unit manager! Finally! You’ll be so proud!”
“You got a promotion—and they gave you a car? Why—congratulations, son, I’m so proud of you!” His mother sighed in relief, and he opened his arms wide to hug her.
“No kidding!” said the disbelieving dad.
“Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad!” Then he stepped back a bit and added, “Well, they didn’t really give it to me—I mean, I earned it, I’m earning it, I’ll pay for it—over the next five years—”
“What, you bought a new car on an installment plan? Will your raise even cover the monthly payments?” His dad was turning red in the face, but his mom was turning white.
“It will! I mean—I expect another promotion in one, two years, and by the time the 60 months are over, who knows, I might even be an assistant VP!”
“But what do you need a new car for—or even an old one? You live three blocks away from your office in that expensive condo that your mother and I are paying for, which brings up the question, weren’t you supposed to pay for your place when you got a raise?”
“But, Dad—it’s not like I’m going to be in that studio forever—or that job—I mean, it’s a dynamic, disruptive world we’re living in, I could be assigned to Makati or Vertis North, who knows? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything when I become AVP. I’ll get electric wheelchairs for both of you, take you out to an all-you-can-eat lunch on weekends, bring you to the seawall so we can watch the sunset together—”
“I don’t want to watch the sunset, with you or with—with Juan Ponce Enrile! I’m only 56, and I’m still working like hell because instead of you contributing to the family budget, we have to contribute to yours!”
“Dad, stop it! You know I get seizures when you scream at me like that. The last time this happened, I was in the hospital for ten days—”
His mother covered her face with her hands, like she was about to cry, and Jhun-Jhun held her to console her. “Don’t cry, Mom! I’ll be all right—”
“I hope you will be, son, because we had to sell my bridal jewelry to pay for that hospital stay!”
“Have you registered your car?”
“The dealer will, soon. Why?”
His dad smirked triumphantly. “Better give them back those keys. There’s a new law that says ‘no garage, no car.’ You don’t have parking space in your condo. So where will your Revo—”
“It’s not a Revo, Dad, it’s a Riva!”
“Where will your Rover sleep? Any vehicle left on the street will be towed away on sight!”
Jhun-Jhun looked at his car, gleaming in the sunlight just outside the gate. Inside the gate, in the old driveway, was the fifteen-year-old sedan his dad had used to bring him to school, and which he still drove to work. “Well, I’m thinking—maybe I could park it here? In our driveway?”
“What? There’s space for only one car, and it’s taken.”
“Wait,” said his mother, touching his arm. “If you park your car here, does that mean you’ll come home? I’ve kept your old room exactly as you left it, you know? Oh, I’ve prayed every night for your return! And imagine the money we could save by not having to pay your rent!”
“Wait!” said his dad. “And where’s my car supposed to go?”
“Oh, let’s think about that some other time!” his wife said, shushing him. “You can give it to Torio in the province, he can use it for buying chicken feed and bringing the fryers to market. And Jhun-Jhun can drive you to work and pick you up in the afternoons, just like you used to do for him when he was a little boy. What’s important is, we can be one loving family again, together, forever—ohhh, I never thought I would live to see this day!”
Father and son looked askance at each other, like something had gone terribly wrong. Mother’s eyes had settled on the Virgin Mary at her altar.
A heavy thud and the crunch of metal broke the spell, followed by a loud horn. They rushed to the window. The garbage truck had arrived and had smashed into the Riva’s rear. Jhun-Jhun felt faint, and the keys fell out of his hand, but nobody heard the noise they made when they hit the floor.
I’m so happy, I’m sad.
Thinking of Michael Franks.
Storytelling, like this one, will never run out of style or steam: there’s always this clamor kid in anyone (aged five to a-hundred-and-five), who’d beg of grandpa to “tell us another one!” Or to “sing us another one!” (Yeah, Cris, above, beat me to the perfect Franks allusion. : )
(September 2022: Southern Spring, Northern Autumn)
Like life, happiness
Is a choice. You may have got
All ingredients of
Its recipe; but
When you fail to choose to be
Happy, then you’re not!
Like death, happiness
Goes a great equalizer:
What does the Musk wealth
Matter, when you are
Not happy—when that other
Our sun shines hotter now in gray;
My minding and yet mindful muse
Mourns Queen Liz on her London news
In Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.”
TF Badilla, September 2022