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A chance encounter with Abé

By Carolina S. Malay Published Apr 18, 2022 6:25 am

I was standing in front of the Supreme Court building on Taft Avenue, which I shouldn’t have been doing because in the underground, you’re careful to avoid being conspicuous. Or at least, if it’s an expanse of white wall that you have to stand alone in front of, you should do it closer to a huge tree.

The huge tree was in fact there because the LRT hadn’t been built yet, and that section of Taft still looked residually distingué. It was rush hour, traffic was slow, and the cab drivers were being difficult.

Waving tentatively at every one of them, I was relieved when one taxi did stop a few meters away, and a man stepped onto the sidewalk. But he left the cab door open, and hurriedly approached. His gait was familiar; rather stiff, the head bent a bit forward (his lower back must have been aching, just like mine does now upon rising from a sitting position).

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said in English. “Do I know you?”

I was thrilled but apprehensive. I hadn’t seen Abé for more than 10 years, not since I quit my job at Taliba to join the revolutionary underground months before martial law was declared.

That was a “radical rupture” to which I had been led by my growing political involvement, which I knew he approved of. Aware of his associations with the regime, I had never tried to contact him.

Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz

But I couldn’t risk compounding a mistake, and I guess Abé himself realized how vulnerable we were, conducting an impromptu reunion right there on an exposed spot at rush hour. So we agreed to meet later that day, at the Dulcinea coffee shop near the Rizal Theater in Makati.

There was a kind of guilty pleasure in sitting there, sassily baiting a gentleman friend in a Makati coffee shop.

I remember greedily awaiting my order — a roast beef Français that would tantalize my memory from time to time over the past 10 years.

I behaved badly with Abé that time. I recounted how I had run into a painting exhibit at the Broadway Centrum some time before, and paid close attention to some of his canvases displayed there. “You really must work on your anatomy,” I said. “Oh!” he replied. “I’ve been told it’s my strong point.” Then he asked if I had noticed one frame showing a view of Manila Bay from the Cultural Center.

“Did you see the squatter shanties I put in there?” It was an unobtrusive comment, a record of something that had been on his mind, not meant to disturb.

Getting that anatomy thing off my chest was strangely liberating. I didn’t think I was ever going to see Abé again. Besides, there was a kind of guilty pleasure in sitting there, sassily baiting a gentleman friend in a Makati coffee shop, risking the reprobation of my comrades if they ever found out.

Abé, unperturbed as always, didn’t seem to take offense. He told me stories from the anti-Japanese resistance in Pampanga, among them something about his father and the Hukbalahap that made an impression on me at the time (but I forget now how it went). I told him about some unusual foods I had eaten in the wild. And because it wasn’t the time and place to dawdle, we took leave of one another, businesslike, after I had made arrangements for him to donate his Olivetti portable to the revolution.