Its early morning for malling—though I’m not really fond of malls—yet I sat outside Jollibee’s bench oblivious of the people passing by. My book preoccupied me so amidst of the cacophony created by the students who lined outside and the waiter who kept on giving me the look as if telling me to get lost my equanimity prevailed.
Truth is I am not going inside the mall, not even to the bookstore. However, the mall is the rendezvous point. And I was early!
It was around 11 am when I met them (so much for the 7 am agreement). Elsa, Monette, Ize, and Jeff were all there. We were all in high spirits. Our laughter echoed in the restaurant and exchanged hilarious comments about each other and how we were different back then. But why we decided to meet up is no laughing matter. If we were all fooling around it is only to cloak the graveness of what is at hand.
We are going to visit Ria, one of our batch mates who is in a serious medical condition. When I heard of it I was ambivalent. I don’t know whether to believe, and yet at the same time I felt a deep sympathy for her. We were all in our mid 20’s and it would be an unthinkable probability of accumulating such disease. No one could believe it, it was surreal. No one wanted to, mostly, perhaps not even Ria herself.
She has cancer of the breast. It was an irony because she is an epitome of goodness. She didn’t smoke. Never drank alcoholic beverages (or maybe just a little). She was always calm and smiling. And all of us wished it was all a case of misdiagnosis.
We were welcomed at the patio of the house; it’s an old gazebo-like architectural piece resembling simplicity of the provincial life yet more spacious than those in the metro providing a hint of grandeur. A woman in red wearing a floral bandana received us. My friends hugged the woman, I was nonchalant both because I don’t know who it was and I don’t want to give of the vibes of pseudo-closeness. When she spoke her tone reminded me of the person that we’re visiting. There was a log in my mind trying to corroborate my memory and the woman. Then as the mental log drizzled I realized, as I look at the woman, it was her—Ria!
I haven’t noticed her for a while. Her body changed. She lost her long black hair, even her eyebrows were gone. She lost weight, though not that much. There were blisters on her skin that she said was the effect of the intravenous medication. Cancer has indeed invaded her body.
As we were expected for lunch, we were urged to go to the dining area were a sumptuous feast was served. So we ate. It was luscious especially the morcon and the macapuno that we downed almost instantly.
We joked around and often found ourselves giggling no matter how lame the jokes are. Recollections of our collegiate days brought a joyous nostalgia in the conversation. There were moments of breathless silence that seems to be a conscious effort on everyone to censor every word so as not to tamper the joviality at the table.
It was Jeff who I believed who grew serious with the conversation asking questions about Ria’s condition with great concern, casualness, and dexterity of his verbal censorship. Our colleague answered in all sincerity and it sounded without a tinge of emotion, like a daily banter.
After a while, we were served the specialty of the house—kapeng barako(a name given to a strong coffee). It is contained on a large green thermos. The coffee is already made. No need for cream or sugar. All one is required is to chug it in. In spite of the name given to the coffee I found it light, sweet and refreshing. It’s more like of a soft tea. I think I had 8 cups at the least. I swore I’ll be back someday for more.
Our visit to Amadeo, to Ria is somewhat analogous to the coffee we just drank. The coffee even though it was named and affixed with the label barako, which is supposed to be strong and bitter it proved to be rather different. It was the reverse. Here, I pictured a depressed sullen colleague who needs comforting. However, no matter how I groped for a consoling word and an empathic statement it seems that she doesn’t need it. She was strong.
Her strength showed me that amidst of the struggles that she is undergoing right now a display of beauty put me into contemplation. However, it is not in the physical sense. It was something way beyond that. Her splendor was more on her impeccable grace and her strong character than of the physical elegance that we immediately notice or often look for. It was a certain feeling that emanated in me, it was a radiance filled with peace. Maybe the cancer has struck her body but not her spirit.
I remembered the saying, “beauty is but skin deep.” And now I realized what it truly meant. Our visit gave me a fortunate chance to ponder on the true gist of this quotation. Truly, we cannot control how we look, perhaps with cosmetics and the potent power of artificiality we could. We could straighten our curly hair. We could lighten our dark skin. We could choose an angle for our noses. Implant whatever is lacking, or remove whatever is bulging. Yet we cannot fake the beauty that emanate deep within. It will remain unshaken amidst of disease or disfigurement. It cannot be counterfeited nor implanted more so purchase it.
And I wonder how many of us are physically able yet decrepit inside, whose will are impeded and rusting. People who deter and plot instead of serve as light. People on some instance lived on excessive vanity and looked down on others because of their features. That might be going too far though, it wouldn’t be for all. But here is a verity her beauty will serve a light so that few blind men could see—as I too saw.
Here, I witnessed a beauty far beyond the skin.
Copyright Benjamin Ryan Raneses, III 2010©