WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Color me Quink. By Gail Ilagan

“I don’t know what it’s called.” Nor did I really care. It was a beautiful flower. That’s all that mattered.

“It used to be white,” Ting said. “They dipped the petals in Quink to make it come out like that.”

I had to smile at that one. Quink made me remember my sainted grandfather. All the time I knew him, he was a bent white-haired old man, his torso ravaged with surgery scars from colon cancer. All day long he’d pore over legal documents while Radyo Bombo blared in the background. He was Smith Corona, fountain pen, and Quink.

I consider it my loss that he never shared his life story with me. It was always about the present for Poppa. He was a quiet man. He let Bombo blare on so he wouldn’t have to break the silence himself. His was the kind of silence that characterizes those who have been scarred.

He’s dead now. Died the year after I ran away to get married. I can’t say I disappointed him overmuch. He’d preferred me married to my man. He’d told me as much.

God bless you, Poppa. You were right. Tito isn’t Bombo Radyo, Smith Corona, fountain pen, and Quink, but he makes me a good husband. Like Friday night, for example, hubby didn’t even question why I was carting a purple blossom as I dragged him along to cheer for Aliah on pageant night for Mutya ng Dabaw.

Purple like my lighter. Purple like the tassels on Poppa’s Masonic apron. Purple like Quink.

Ting remembers Quink. What’s more, Ting remembers how something white would come out purple when you dunk it in Quink.

“I’m sixty. I turned sixty last June. I’ll be sixty-one next birthday,” he said.

I smiled at that one, too. Ting still knows how to count the years. There must be a point to the telling.

I was fly on the wall at his book launch in UP Anda. We were sitting in a circle as the sun came down. He quietly told us he’s not done telling stories yet. Ah, there’s the point.

An hour later found hubby and me next door at the upper left balcony of the CAP Auditorium waiting for Mutya ng Dabaw pageant night to begin. Never ones to engage each other in a shouting match, we sat companionably holding hands as the sound system cycled through the opening credits again and again. I carefully set the purple flower aside and opened Ting’s book. On cue, hubby also picked up the copy I got for his mom.

“What page are you on?” hubby said near my ear as he caught me wiping away sudden tears.

“Page 85,” I mouthed, pointing to the last two paragraphs. The tears had caught me by surprise, like an unexpected blow to the midsection.

Ting writes like a man. I seldom expect raw emotion to come out from a masculine economy of words.

Yeah, right.

Page 85 essays the title of the book. I should have known the significance had more than its share of heartbreak. Ting Tiongco is a dangerous man. He made me cry.

“Surgeons Don’t Cry, not Surgeons Do Not Cry. That’s how to say it,” mused hubby as he absently squeezed my hand, his eyes still on the book.

“Whatever. I’m not a surgeon.”

I am a wife who holds hands with my husband. I could sit like this forever.
For a sixty-year-old, Ting remembers in vivid detail things that happened while I was just being born. In Surgeons Do Not Cry, he takes his reader through ten memorable years of his life in the UP-PGH. UP is publishing Ting’s PGH reminiscence to mark the UP centennial.

The Philippine General Hospital, as UP’s teaching hospital, is a legend that makes or breaks doctors. Nobody ever walks away from the PGH unscarred by the experience. But as they say, what won’t kill you would make you evolve. Ting’s book tells us how the institution changed this wrss-wrss blue knight into a fired up iskolar ng bayan, and how he in turn wrought his name in the annals of UP-PGH history.

The purple blossom that I snitched from the floral arrangement at Ting’s book launch was showing signs of wilting by the time we got home. Liane pushed its stalk into garden clay and poured a glass of water into the earthen dish. I left my daughter’s handiwork on the kitchen counter and went to bed with Ting’s book. In the morning, the flower was again in full bloom.

“Hey, Quink,” I greeted it as I sat down for coffee.

It reminded me of countless iskolar ng bayan like Ting Tiongco – those who stayed to serve the people and who, by the choices they made, showed that they are of the people, for the people. They’re really low maintenance like Quink. They wilt sometimes, but they recover soon enough, ready and raring to do what they do best. They’d probably be kicking and screaming when comes the time to quit.

And boy, can they tell a story. Especially when they’re sixty going on sixty-one and they realize they’re not yet done. (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 gail@mindanews.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says).