Alfred “Krip” Yuson and Gemino “Jimmy” Abad joined Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas and Cesar Ruiz “Sawi” Aquino in the third and final week of the workshop. Uneasiness was conspicuous in the air, not entirely due to the presence of the panelists with such pedigree, but also perhaps to the fact that it was Monday, just a few more bouts of literary criticism before the Gala Night.
(fourth of eight parts)
The Alumni Homecoming for the fiftieth anniversary of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop officially started. I even felt in the way the acacia waved their branches. In the evening, there was this fellowship dinner in the CBA Gardens of the university to welcome the workshop alumni, and I finally got to put faces on the words I had read in books, in magazines, in newspapers, and even seen only on television. There was Joel Toledo, Douglas Candano, Peachy Paderna (whose real name I dare anyone to find out), Ceres Abanil, Gilbert Tan, and my batch mate Noelle Leslie dela Cruz, among others. Singaporean writer Kirpal Singh also arrived that night; he would be joining the week’s workshop panelists.
Being the second to “reappear” among the alumni for this gathering (poet Nerisa del Carmen Guevara arrived in Dumaguete a week or so earlier), I had expected a bigger number of returnees. But then again, this was only the first night of this week. I was sure the rest would come in droves in the next few days. After the mandatory group shots, I switched on my Groupee Mode, pulled the books I religiously toted around in my bag, and approached one author after the other for their signatures. Yes, this was one aspect of me being devoted to the craft.
And then it was twelve o’clock. It was Marius Monsanto’s birthday, a fellow of this year’s batch. He is a co-fellow of mine in another workshop, and though the numbers of his age have changed, the crazy fire is still in him, present and burning like the hot mess of his hair. He is crazy that way.
We specially waited for the moment to arrive right after the dinner in the city. And when it struck, there was no ringing of a bell from a distant tower, no long sirens, and no howling dogs, but there was a splash of cold water on his temples. We sang the birthday song. This was his baptism of fire, but since literal flames and the night’s round of alcohol seemed to be a bad idea, the resident jester Jepoy Javier doused him with a bottle of water instead. I thought it was an appropriate surprise gift. The mother of all Philippine writing workshops was born right beside the sea after all.