Monday last week, driving around with no purpose, I slipped just any CD into the car stereo and Sarah Brightman’s and Jose Carreras’s voices came out singing Amigos Para Siempre. I thought, my dying friend Alvin Capino must die in our company and kept thinking it as I played the song over and over again. Wednesday, my good friend Chavit Singson asked me to fly with him to Macau on Friday for the Donaire fight. Sure, why not; I can slip off to Hong Kong for a little shopping; but I packed a small bag for the trip without conviction. Thursday I went to Alvin’s house for a small celebration of his wife’s birth. I texted begging off going to Macau. I had a sad but not bad feeling. Before the night was over, Alvin was in our arms. I told our friends, “We will sing after my eulogy which follows:”
Anybody can be a journalist. The best have no degree in the field. To be a journalist, all you need is to write and get published. Anybody can comment; in fact everybody does; face to face or on Facebook and Twitter; that doesn’t make us journalists. Get published; get sued; that’s journalism; along with clarity of expression; coherence even when wrong; sincerity even in error; fairness even in a rage, provided the reason for the rage is spelled out. And of course regularity of appearance and punctuality of submission; whether you feel like writing that day or feel anything at all about what you must write.
A writer is like an automatic. Flick off the safety; pull the trigger; escaping gas from the bullet before it slams the next round in. But take your finger off the trigger before the clip runs out; good writing holds back. Alvin Capino never wrote to excess or beat a dead horse.
But the outstanding mark of authenticity is the longevity of a writing career; or radio career for that matter. Alvin Capino was writing when I was in the Palace in 1986; never stopped writing since. It wasn’t a hobby; it was more than a job; it was the writer in Alvin breathing.
When he stopped writing a month ago, it was the end. Earlier, he had stopped coming to the station; that was the first sign.
Not because radio was also his life; though if he thought it a life, he certainly didn’t do it for money. But once he took it up, he never put it down; even when he was bone-tired, he dragged himself to the studio.
When he quit radio, love and honor dictated we all quit. Sure we still had lots of goodwill on air. But what’s goodwill among friends? Alvin was Karambola; he was the main event; we were the undercards; he recruited us; his was the loudest voice; we couldn’t be depended on to show up; he was always there. I suspect he mimicked our voices to fill up the empty air.
But it was only when he formally quit his newspaper that we knew the end was near.
A writer who gives up writing has given up on living. Sometimes there is good reason to do that. Four operations, each yielding a tumor bigger than the last until it was the size of a football, is a good reason to just wait for the end. But Alvin did not wait idly. He arranged his affairs so that his wife would be provided for. He told her not a week ago in a fading voice, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world.” A few hours before he passed, he asked his wife for a hug. And as he held her in arms he whispered in her ear, “I love you very, very much.” As a declaration made in consciousness of impending death, with no time left to confess, its veracity is legally established. He loved his children and would have given his life for them. Proud of what they did; who they were.
Oh, and he gave his wife verbal instructions to give generous legacies to the household help—a million here, a million there which Eva hasn’t found the money to honor his request.
It appears now that he knew what Jesus said no one knows: the hour. Alvin knew the day and the hour. We believe that now. Out of the blue, invitations went out but only to us and to Juanita Tan, no truer friend can anyone have—invitations to his wife’s birthday. It was always his proud delight to celebrate it.
We all turned up, sat around the dining table waiting for him to wake up; eating up the food laid out; no manners as usual; and finally, at the sign he was awake and was prepared to receive us, we trooped to his sick room.
We immediately started arguing loudly about politics. Then with the usual diplomatic tack, we asked, “Are you already on morphine?”
“No,” he said, “and when I am, I won’t share it with you; it will all be for me.”
After a little more of that from us Alvin said, “Gentlemen, I hope you don’t mind but I have to take my leave. Go and eat.”
Half an hour later, I left for home but the rest stayed on. They were still there when he started to take his leave in earnest. He struggled but quietly. His friends fell on their knees around the bed. Then he cried out suddenly, “Jesus, catch me, do not let me fall through your hands.” His words came out loud and clear. He snatched a big rosary that was by the bed and put it around his neck. Then he lay back down and died exactly as he had so fervently hoped when his wife got cancer. He would say, “I hope die ahead; I cannot live without her.”
I had no sooner gotten home than the phone rang; they wanted me back. It was nightfall and my chopper pilot refused to take off. I took the car instead. When I saw him, Alvin was wrapped in a winding sheet; actually it was the blanket he had pushed away when we came in earlier; and with which he covered himself again when he told to us to scram so he could take a nap. His cheeks were cool to the touch. I couldn’t find his hands to hold them. I don’t know whose idea it was to hide them. I knelt and rested my head on his arm and thinking, “I wonder why, there has to come a time, when we must say goodbye; and yet we’re alive only when we are together.”
I got up and held his face in my hands and kissed his brow. If I had kissed him earlier he would have boxed me. There are times when we can take liberties with those we love. This was one of them.
I left the room; of course with my composure intact until Eva came and whispered to me, “He wants you to say his eulogy.” I did not take that very well.
He wasn’t the only thing that died in that room; when we left that evening after he was taken away, we were walking caskets: the boys who shouted on radio in the morning; talked passed each other; cussed; ignored our guests; displayed our breathtaking smarts and encyclopedic knowledge; and, from time to time, were pulled down to earth by Alvin, especially when I went off the deep-end defending the administration from itself.
We are bereft but not completely. Dong, Dodo, Ed, Boying, Sonny in soul, and Jonathan in intention because he is always late if not absent like now; and I, from time to time by phone to save on gas, sometimes forgetting I am still on air telling my yaya, “Three pancakes; wag mo lang ipakita kay Ma’am.” The same amigos para siempre.
Amis sempre means we always will be friends, through the summer that is passing; in the rain starting to fall; through the gray November in our souls and the winter ice piercing our hearts; yet also on to Spring which cannot be forestalled—amigos para siempre. Hasta las vista amigo. Say hi to Sonny (Escudero); tell him his wife misses him so could he please pull her toe tonight. We’ll be together again; only not just yet.
I folded my paper and nodded to my friends to join me at the choir. We never sang more beautifully or at least with more feeling, even if each one in his own key.
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