WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: A Cinderella story

Night of 27 September though, I posed for the camera. Not just once, but twice. The first time was with the most powerful person on Philippine soil. The second was with a sociological phenomenon who kept calling me "Sister". Both shots were taken at an Iftar reception held that night at the US Ambassador's residence in Forbes Park .

Cinderella at the ball. And I got to bring my Prince Charming, too.

Much to hubby's consternation, someone RSVP'd for him even before he knew the invitation extended to him. In any case, he was in the neighborhood on business. Did not take him two shakes to get into a suit. Hubby is like take out food that way. He's always ready to go for me.

I won't even ask how I got in the list. I know at least one person who wants me to prove I can at least be open to the opportunity to be reeducated about Americans. This person has faith in my capacity to be less harsh and more understanding when I bash Americans, and maybe all it needs is for me to see other kinds of Americans. Well, gee, perhaps I had been hanging out with the wrong crowd – let's see: accused rapists, marauders, rabid gamers, and oh don't forget all the unsavory characters that figured in Philippine colonial history.  To be fair, there's also sweet, brilliant, and level-headed Aliah in my senior psychology class and troubled Bob Elsey whose dark humor extends to predicting his own death by an ingrown toenail.

Getting that invitation gave me pause to think twice. It's not everyday that one gets an invitation from the US Ambassador. Attending diplomatic receptions is not something normal people do. Okay, then. Not normal sounds like fun. I could take the day off. I, who unfailingly report to work even when I'm bleeding to close to death, am taking the day off.

So I hopped on the plane with just my toothbrush, texting a friend my flight details. Two hours later, I was met at the airport exit by a uniformed security detail and whisked off to a sumptuous lunch at a clubhouse in a military camp. Sorry, tight schedule. The boys couldn't leave camp. Not while their boss was awaiting word from the Appointment Committee. So, if Mohammed can't go to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed instead.

Two hours at it, and I got to be considerably brighter on my favorite subjects: Soldier boys and Mindanao. I said my goodbyes as news of positive word from the CA got people ready to do other things. Then I hopped on my carriage to pick up fairy dust and a trinket box for the night. Somewhere at the back of my mind, the thought of this being like old times beckoned.

Big Sister was running an event at Rockwell. I felt like a spy on a mission as the package she carried exchanged hands. Hi and bye. Ten seconds. And back on my carriage. It was time to check out the digs.

Dusit. I can't afford this on my pay. Hubby had thoughtfully hung up my suit in the closet. Until I heard about hubby travelling on business to where I was going, I had plans of changing togs in a restaurant restroom or someplace like that. The planning had not extended to what I'd do with my toothbrush and my travel clothes. I surely could not be carting a laundry bag to a diplomatic reception. Anyway, thank God I did not have to worry about that anymore.

As always, Big Sister is a gem. Her package contained two evening bags and cosmetics. Trinket boxes and fairy dust. Take your pick.

Hubby comes in from Bulacan and soon it was time to go.

We got there ten minutes ahead of the protocol officer. No choice but to take in the sights on the streets of probably the only neighborhood in the Philippines where the crime rate is zero. Oh look, I remember that acacia. I used to bike hereabouts every time I came to visit the cousins at Lawton years and years ago. Avenue. All these big houses and tall walls. I'd often wondered whether the people inside were happy, or if they ever stepped outside their gates. Did they get to know this acacia as intimately as I did?

I had fun at the reception. The first person we met right after we got our nametags was an impish Bob Barnes, so like the playful Bob Barnes I'd come to know through his emails over the years. So, okay, there is a real Bob Barnes and he introduced me to the ambassador. He even endorsed my book. Most of it anyway.

It was pretty much like a formal dance for a couple of hours more, as people milled and shuffled about, changing partners and practicing the fine art of meet and greet. I picked the ambassador's charming speech for the direction of the spin. Every now and then I'd point out hubby details about social physics, crowd counting, and demographic assay. The local crowd checked out with the geography of Mindanao that was getting US aid. I could have lectured some more but it was hubby's turn to lecture me on protocol.

See, I didn't know there was a limit to how much quizzing the consular staff should be made to take on the subject of their host country and its people. Okay, bite my tongue. Move on. See that guy over there trying to catch the eye of person you're talking to? Watch the head. Aw, it's not my fault someone tagged me "professor".

Downtime. I'm gonna sit with this DND guy. He's gonna tell me he's a retired

general, PMA Class early 70s, he served in Mindanao, was probably there during the 2000 all-out-war offensives, though he'd be quick to say his unit was only engaged in securing Davao from being dragged into the melee. Oh, and wanna bet what he has to say about Kumander Parago? I win that round. Ha!

So finally, I decided to politely buttonhole the ambassador for a picture. I found her in the dining room, right next to this miniature imitation of a terra cotta warrior. She graciously assents to be my righthand woman. Kidding. She has her arm around me. I wouldn't dare put mine around her. Touch is a power thing. Who touches who where? Social physics again.

A kid comes up to me. He's one of Myra Medina's wards, an intern at the House of Representatives. There were about a dozen of them there that night. Hubby wanted to take his picture to show Myra. "Wait," I said, as I dragged the kid over to Robin Padilla.

"Sister," says the sociological phenomenon in warm welcome. "Of course, sister." Obligingly, he puts his arms to draw the kid and me close to fit the frame. He's not eating tonight despite the inviting spread.

But oh, I tire soon enough of getting my mug shot taken. Enough lessons in social physics. I was ready to walk. So was hubby. But the impish Bob Barnes was nowhere in sight.

I got some shuteye before my carriage and uniformed footmen came to bring me to the airport. I've had more turbulent rides in my life, so I slept through it. I learned later that mine was the last flight allowed out of Manila that day. Hubby was not so lucky. He got stuck when all flights got cancelled. There he was on the sidewalk dodging falling billboards and vans turning turtle on the streets while I was safely down south being summarily ignored yet again by my class of forty.

Eleven were doing math assignments, eight were talking to their seatmates, eight were listening to their seatmates, three kept leaving the room without so much as by your leave, four were surreptitiously reading marketing textbooks, and six were in various stages of sleep. Beautiful youth of the Philippines. There's Jaq and Gus and a whole host of bluebirds. Lucifer, too.

Yeah, there's that other life I could have had. But when the bell tolled midnight, this Cinderella was coming home.

Seems like I never left.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)

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