I skipped law class that day, September 8, 1992. I was already in my second year in law, and I couldn't quite fit in a crop of rabid and ambitious group of future lawyers. A friend who was teaching in the Ateneo College told me NVM came back to teach creative writing that year, and mentioned that he'd be happy to see his former students and find out where they were.
I was in NVM's class in creative writing first semester of 1989. The year after, he returned to Berkeley, California. He wrote that he was guest-editing the literary section of Katipunan, a Filipino newsmagazine in his place, and asked if he could publish one of my stories, "Ayos!". Well, of course, certainly I wrote back. Then, he sent me the published copy and the 50 US$, the highest amount anybody ever paid me for non-legal writing. I lost track of him after, until a classmate from that class in 1989 told me NVM was around, and was asking for his former students.
I arrived early for his class, and told his students it was his birthday. The students didn't know, and were quite surprised. "Idiots!" I told myself. And then NVM arrived. He was in his usual sandals and cane get up. White hair, dark polo and ever the ubiquitous smile -- the master story-teller and teacher looked happy to report for work on his 77th birthday. We greeted him, I gave him a handshake. He recognized me, and asked what I was doing. I told him I was in law school. I asked him how he was, he said he was great, the brain surgery worked fine. And then I sat in his class just like the old days.
After class, I walked with him from Berchman's Hall to the Admin Building where we waited for his ride. I got my copy of his then latest work, "Kalutang: A Filipino in the World". I told him I was amused at his story about seeing the Philippine flag in a European embassy with the red up, only to find out it was the Filipino employees' signal that the laundrywoman would come that day. He chuckled. He then got my copy
and signed it, "Para sa isang kadiwa". My heart got tickled pink.
I read somewhere he attended two years of law school, and asked him about it. He appeared to regret that chapter of his life, and mentioned that his professor sold them copies of the Philippine Reports so his teacher could have money to fend for his querida.
When his ride came, he asked me, 'Marvin, why don't you come over for dinner? I still have some food from last night's party." I graciously accepted the offer.
When we got to their home in UP Village, we were met by his wife, Narita. He told Narita, I was from Mindoro and I attended his creative writing class a few years back in the Ateneo.
We had dinner of hot kaldereta and boiled rice. I met her daughter who was also teaching at the UP. After dinner, we went back to their living room. The couple sat beside each other as NVM opened a bottle of wine cooler, and poured us a glassful each.
I told them I saw NVM's early poems in Jimmy Abad's "Man of Earth" anthology of Filipino poetry. And we recalled the lines of NVM's poem about the circus juggler, whose daggers pricked the heart of his Antonietta. We had a hearty laugh after. I was looking at Narita and I felt like she really enjoyed that poem of his. I asked NVM why he stopped writing poetry, he said he didn't because his stories were poems. Narita sneered at him, as if saying, "Ang yabang mo naman."
Soon, Robbie Laurel arrived. I knew Robbie from college, but he was two years ahead of me. Robbie, whose pen name was "R. Kwan Laurel", was not writing anymore at that time. We asked each other how it has been. Robbie said he was working for a bank.
NVM said he had some money to buy a car and asked Robbie what model could he recommend. Robbie said a KIA Pride would be alright for them since they would just be going around he city. As Robbie explained his case for a KIA, NVM was listening intently, caressing his chin, just like when a student was reading fiction in class. Then, NVM stood and yelled at his granddaughters, "Did you hear that girls? It's ok to get a KIA."
We talked a few minutes more, and then it was time to say goodbye. I shook their hands, NVM and Narita, a happy couple aging with grace. I greeted him again and thanked him for the dinner and the autograph. I hitched a ride with Robbie on my way home.
Thereafter, NVM would finally be awarded the National Artist Award for his writing. I've been collecting his books, some of which have been re-issued for new readers. And everytime I read him, I always remember what he said. He never stopped writing poetry, for his stories are poems.