Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Condition

I wrote this on October 9, 2003. Never got published, never got sent anywhere except to my friends. Real writers get to see their work in print. I'm just glad there's push-button publishing now. I'm too scared to pursue this dream of writing. Another Palanca deadline is fast approaching... Oh well, maybe before I die.

Guide question: What was the real condition that was behind the story?

The Condition
by Laura C.H. del Rosario

Puff, the magic dragon, living by the sea…”

As Arthur sipped his coffee, he had to endure once again his secretary’s taste in music. Quite advanced in age but still as efficient as she was when she first worked for Arthur’s father, Emily deserved her little pleasures in life, Arthur thought. At least she was not listening to the AM news this time, as the crackling and breaking sound of her favorite station sometimes caused him migraines.

He looked outside his office window along Ayala Ave. Protesters have lined the streets again and some cooperative buildings have been showering the business district with colorful confetti. He was not really aware what the demonstrations were for this time. The scene, however, reminded him of his early days as a student activist in the state university. Back then he never would have imagined he would become the youngest Senior Associate in one of the country’s top law firms. For three years in college, he preferred to get his education from the streets. Then his father died, leaving them in mountains of debt, and Arthur had to forego his principles and join the corporate world right after college.

His mother, a housewife up until her husband passed away, did not want Arthur to give up the family dream of him inheriting his father’s law practice. To please his mother and the late memory of his father, he struggled for five years as a working law student. Then he worked hard to support his only brother’s education. Arnold thus grew up idolizing Arthur and consulted him for his every decision.

A buzz from Emily snapped Arthur out of his reverie. “A visitor for you, APS. It’s Arnold.”

Speaking of the…Arthur thought, but before he could finish his sentence, the door to his office burst open and in tumbled Arnold, with two huge black bags strapped across his shoulders, arms outstretched and waiting for a big hug and shouting in a voice the whole office could hear, “Kuyaaaa!!!”

Although younger by eight years, Arnold towered over his brother. He did not have the firm muscles that Arthur achieved after years of discipline in the gym. Arnold loved food as much as he loved life, and it showed. If not for their strikingly similar handsome faces, no one would have guessed that the two men were even remotely related.

Arthur returned the hug but closed the door firmly to the curious glances from the secretaries of the other associate lawyers. They must be enjoying this rare display of affection, he said wryly to himself.

“O, how was Boracay?” Arthur asked. As a graduation present, he had arranged for a vacation for Arnold and his friends in a resort owned by one of his clients.

“Fantastic, Kuya!” came Arnold’s reply as he disentangled himself from his bags and helped himself to the nuts on Arthur’s coffee table. “We tried spear-fishing and I was addicted. Imagine I was able to wake upearly for five days after serious partying every night.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. You must be exhausted. How come you went straight to my office from the airport?” Arthur asked as he noticed how bright his brother’s Hawaiian polo and shorts looked against the dark wood paneling of his office. “Did you run out of money?”

“Kuya, hello! What do you think I am? Thinking of you? Change me. Ibahin mo ako!” Arnold laughed at the linear thinking of his brother. Boy, is he in for a surprise. “Dat’s not why I’m here. And I’m not telling you until you treat me to lunch. My only meal today has been junk
food given by the airline. I want sustenance! Outback tayo?” He asked hopefully, knowing that his Kuya could not say no to him.

Over at the restaurant from Down Under, Arthur could not wait for Arnold to say what he was supposed to say, but Arnold was taking his sweet time and was attacking his steak with gusto. “Arnold,” Arthur began, “I have a meeting in an hour. I would love to stay and listen to your stories but Ihave to—“

Before Arthur could finish his sentence, Arnold raised his right hand to signal he was going to say something, swallowed what he was chewing, gulped his iced tea, and said, “Ok, ok, I don’t want to kill you with the suspense. Gosh, bro, cut back on the caffeine, you might suffer a heart attack just like Daddy. Patience is a virtue, remember?”

“It is a virtue that I did not inherit. Now, will you tell me what’s up with you or shall I wait patiently for it later when I get home?” Arthur very rarely lost his temper on Arnold but he really had an important meeting that could not wait.

“Here’s the thing, Kuya. You’ve been to Boracay, right? Wait, don’t answer, I know you’re familiar with that beautiful island as your clients run a huge chunk of it. We-ell, then you must know of the breath-taking sunsets there, the kind that splashes across the sky with bursts of yellow and orange and reflects on the water like Swarovski crystals on a bridal gown…”

Arthur nodded his head with a puzzled expression on his face as, being a lawyer, he tried to figure out where his brother was taking this conversation.

“You know of the beauty of the Boracay nighttime sky, with the stars glittering and the laughter…”

“Arnold, you could write about the beauty of Boracay and I would be proud to endorse it to some publisher. But please can I go back to the office now?”

“What I’m trying to say is, Kuya, that spending a week in paradise with my friends, especially Nica, has reminded me of the important things in life. One night as I held hands with Nica on the fine white sandy shore of the beach, I could not help but be aware of how much I loved her and I told her so. She then gave me the most glowing smile I have ever seen and my heart stopped, Kuya. My heart took over my mind and before I knew it, I was asking her to marry me.”

“Without a ring???” Of the thousand and one thoughts that ran simultaneously through his head, that was the first thing that Arthur could blurt out.

“Well, what matters is that she said Yes! We’re getting married, Kuya! I promised to buy her a beautiful ring and to ask her parents for her hand in marriage, formally, when we get back to Manila. Oh, I’m so happy!!!”

“Arnold, Arnold, what are you telling me? You HAVE gone out of your mind. You are barely out of college and you promised me that you would consider going to law school. You’ve only known Nica, what, a few years—“

“Fourteen years, Kuya. Monica and I were childhood sweethearts.”

“What would Mama say?”

“I already called her in the US and she said she would send me money for the wedding and even look for sponsors from our relatives there to help me out. She’s being wonderful about this.”

“But you are too young! Marriage is not just about holding hands before glorious sunsets. It’s about commitment, about responsibility, which you could only prepare for by years of experience. It’s also a huge financial obligation that you have to save up for!”

“Is that why you’ve made Marianne wait all these years? You are still gaining experience and saving up?”

“Now don’t involve my life in this. This is about you and your mindless decision-making.”

Still smiling but obviously bent on making his point, Arnold looked his brother in the eye and said, “I have made up my mind and will patiently wait until you could accept my decision. Of all my job offers, I’ve decided to accept the bank management trainee position. I called them from Boracay to tell them that I will report for work on Monday. Take your time digesting this, Kuya. Nica is right now planning the details of our wedding and I believe Marianne has offered to help her with all the contacts she has made all these years in the weddings she has attended. You are the last to know because I believed you would not take this sitting down. You did not leave your seat while listening to me but you sure made known your strong objections. O, go to your meeting na. And thanks!”

Arthur realized he ran out of words. Things were moving and he was not consulted. He was simply being informed. His mother supported this! And Marianne? How come she did not mention anything the night before when they had dinner? He wanted to explode but knew he did not have the luxury to consider these things as Emily already texted him to remind him of the legal staff meeting.

He was distracted the whole afternoon. He texted Marianne “Why didn’t you tell me about Arnold and Nica???” but she did not respond.

He felt like the world had gone insane. Arnold was being reckless and the usually wise and sane women surrounding them were foolishly fanning the flames of his recklessness. He could not wait for the meeting to end so he could go to the gym and vent all his frustrations by lifting real weights.

Marianne arrived late for dinner; good thing Arthur did not have much of an appetite. The waiter must have passed by seven times before Marianne showed up. She told Arthur that she accompanied Nica to her couturier-best friend and they lost track of time while designing the gowns for the whole entourage.

“Oh, honey, Nica would make a lovely little bride!”

“Her parents don’t even know about it yet and you went shopping for gowns?” Arthur said, not bothering to hide his irritation.

“As a matter of fact, they do already. We’ll just have to schedule a pamanhikan, whenever you are available, to formalize everything. And we haven’t bought anything yet, we just brainstormed for possibilities. I am one of the bridesmaids!”

“This must be the fifth time that you would be a bridesmaid and you’re still excited about it?”

Marianne’s good humor dissipated at this last comment from Arthur. She expected to hear him rant about this but he was testier than she thought he would be.

“All right, Arturo, spill it. Which part of this whole grand plan don’t you approve of, exactly?”

“Why do I have to spell it out? Am I the only who has some sense left here? Does Arnold have a job?”

“He starts Monday.” Marianne supplied the answer Arthur predicted she would give.

“Does this lovely couple have any idea how much a wedding costs these days? Where does the groom expect to get the money to buy a diamond engagement ring? Where do they expect to live? Marianne, I’m surprised at you! The mere thought of what Arnold got himself into this time infuriates me.”

“You speak of Arnold as if he has not been the ideal student, son, brother and boyfriend he truly is. He graduated on top of his class so you would be proud of him. One day he grew up and you’re mad that he didn’t ask for your permission first?”

“Tell me why I should be happy about any of these.” Arthur lowered his voice as he massaged his aching temples.

“Honey, the kids are in love. What greater reason is there to get married? Nica is not pregnant, and if the possibility that she is ever crossed your mind, then you don’t know your brother at all. They are young and healthy; they could easily reach their dreams together if that’s what they want….”

“You said it, Ms. Witness. I nailed you right there. They… are… just…kids!” Arthur could feel his blood pressure shooting up. He downed a glass of water and took several deep breaths.

“Ang puso mo.” Marianne said, aware of the folly of pushing this conversation any further. But she had to.

“Arthur, nobody wants to go through with this without your blessing. But if you will be stubborn until the end, then we will be forced to arrange things without your knowledge. They only want a simple wedding. Oh, you should see them together now. They seem to be floating and not touching ground,” Marianne said with a dreamy, look, as if reminded of romantic moments from long ago.

“That’s because they are on Cloud Nine. I just know that when those feet land on solid ground, they would realize how right I am about this.”

“You haven’t given it much thought yet, hon.” Marianne touched Arthur’s hand that was resting on the table, hoping her suggestions would pass through the walls of reasoning he had built around him.

“I have given marriage much thought, honey.” Marianne’s lowered head shot up at this statement. She looked at Arthur’s eyes to confirm if what she thought he meant was correct. He just stared back at her.

“Then I suggest you allow your heart to speak to you this time. Love defies logic, that’s a rule. What the heart is capable of desiring, the mind is not always capable of accepting. Think about it tonight and tomorrow morning, I hope you would give us all the good news of your approval.”

Marianne brought her car so Arthur drove home alone. All this talk about love defying logic had him puzzled, coming from Marianne who had always seemed to him to be a reasonable woman. While they were in law school, he told her he could not make a commitment yet as he had to juggle work and studies at the same time. After graduation, several of their friends decided to tie the knot but Marianne agreed with him that they both needed to establish their careers first before venturing into greater responsibilities.

She had always supported his decisions. Born to a well-to-do family, Marianne is now handling their businesses full time, making full use of her business and law background. This woman of wisdom is now the number one champion of his brother, the Boracay beach lover. His headache was getting worse.

The relentless ringing of the telephone woke him up at 3:00 a.m. It was his mother, calling from overseas.

“Hijo, Arnold told me that you had lunch today. My baby is getting married!” Arthur wasn’t sure if she was crying or laughing. He sometimes could not tell from the sound of her voice.

Shaking all grogginess from his head, he replied, “Ma, he said you promised to send him the money for the wedding. That’s the beginning of a commitment from you to send him money for everything. Soon you’d be sending him money for appliances, for doctors’ fees, for diapers…”

“Oh my dear sensible child, you’re always thinking ahead. This time, though, I agree with you, BUT I look forward to having a son who needs to buy diapers, because that means I would have grandchildren before I die!”

Arthur was reminded again where Arnold got his flair for the dramatics. His mother had been badgering him into giving him “apos” ever since he passed the bar. She had previously bordered on the hysterical after Arthur’s younger cousin in the States gave birth to twins.

“You’ve always wanted me to go home, anak. Well one permanent reason for me to stay in the Philippines would be to take care of my grandchildren.”

“Ma, Ma, you are getting sidetracked when the main issue here is whether or not Arnold is ready for the responsibilities of marriage. In my well-considered opinion, he is not.”

“We are not in court so spare me your lawyer’s language. You’re sounding like your father again, bless his soul. I want you, my children to be happy. If Arnie wants to get married then let him do so. Nica is such a sweet child, I’m sure they would be happy together.”

“Dad knew he loved you for like a decade before he asked you to marry him. And you both came from a generation and a province where the marrying age was 16! Dad always said that a father should be a good provider…”

“You forget that he mortgaged our house and accepted too many pro bono cases in his lifetime that he left us with nothing in the end. I loved your father but maybe you are taking his lectures on responsibility the wrong way. He was a man whose heart was bigger than his pockets too, my son.”

“Then that’s all the more reason why I take my responsibilities more seriously and consistently!”

“And meanwhile Marianne’s body clock is ticking…”

“Here we go again. How many times have I told you that Marianne and I have an understanding about this…”

“Oh? When was the last time you seriously checked how she’s been doing? I phoned her a few weeks ago only to find out that she had been to the doctor. Her OB-GYN says that if she does not have a baby soon, she might not be able to bear children at all. It’s a complicated condition that I don’t expect you’d bother to attempt to understand.”

“Mama, I’m sure Marianne would have mentioned something to that effect to me.”

“Are you saying I’m lying? You take after your father, with your double meanings!” Now she seemed to be truly crying and Arthur felt worse than he did the whole day combined.

“Ma, please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I promise to talk to Marianne first thing tomorrow morning about this. Now I need to get some sleep as I have a hearing.”

“Ok go to sleep then. You tell Marianne to call me. And send Arnie my love.” She was sniffling as she put down the phone. Arthur wondered why he was the bad guy in all his recent conversations. He had trouble sleeping afterwards.

The judge was late and Arthur’s boss decided to make small talk while waiting for their case to be called. “Was that your younger brother who came to visit you yesterday? The secretaries said he looked just like your father.”

“Yes, DRC. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to introduce you. We were kind of in a rush. He had some news to tell me.”

“What news?” DRC, or Darwin R. Collado, asked conversationally. Lawyers were addressed by their initials in their firm.

“He said he proposed to his girlfriend after watching the sunset in Boracay,” Arthur replied in a tone of surrender. Contrary to Marianne’s prediction, sleep did not improve his attitude towards the impending wedding. Oh boy, have to call up Marianne…

“UUNAHAN KA PA?” DRC’s voice boomed and all the other lawyers waiting for the judge turned their heads to Arthur. DRC laughed but Arthur was stunned. What did his boss say? What was he pointing out?

“Well, not if I could help it, sir.”

“Ah, you mean you and Marianne are getting married first?” DRC was on a roll. The fact that he was Arthur’s supervising partner prevented him from punching his jolly face right then and there. Where was that confounded judge?

“No, sir, what I meant was I do not approve of the wedding. They are too young…”
Before Arthur could launch his marriage-is-a-huge-responsibility speech, he heard the bailiff say, “All rise.” The judge had arrived.

On their way back to the office, DRC let his driver go and rode with Arthur, obviously to have the last say in their conversation.

“Your brother looked pretty young to me indeed. You, on the other hand, are not getting any younger. What are you waiting for? You think Marianne has the patience of Job?" Arthur didn't like where this was leading but had no energy to say anything. "I want you to strive hard to be partner, but as a family man let me tell you that there is nothing more rewarding than having a warm kitchen to go home to after a full day’s work. There is nothing like the sound of your children greeting you as you open the door, clamoring for their pasalubong, to wipe away all tiredness. Go get married, son, and do it as soon as you can!”

DRC indeed had the last say in that conversation. Arthur was rendered speechless for the second straight day. He who had the highest scores in moot court could not summon a single word to express how he felt.

How did he feel? He wasn’t sure anymore. These past couple of days his priorities have been questioned. His lovedones were causing him emotional upheavals which he had always resisted, for he had always won every argument with them. Why were they ganging up on him now? He locked himself in his office that afternoon and did some soul-searching while staring outside his window.

After several hours, he saw the sun set on Makati. His mind made up, he apologized to Marianne through text and asked her to dinner again to make up for last night’s disaster. She replied that she was in a bridal fair with Nica and asked him to meet her there. Tired of losing his arguments, Arthur relented.

He found Marianne standing beside a display of a strapless bridal gown dotted with Swarovski crystals. She did not see him as she was concentrating on comparing two invitations she was holding. Her eyeglasses were perched on top of her nose and her hair needed combing.
But to him, she looked perfect, as gracious, generous and gregarious as she has always been.

He approached her quietly and continued staring at her until she acknowledged his presence. “How come, without looking up, you can always tell when I’m staring at you?” he asked her, probably influenced by the music from the strings quartet hired by the bridal fair.

“It’s because my heart can feel what my eyes do not see.” She replied with a smile, fixing her glasses and running her fingers through her hair self-consciously.

It was her standard reply to this question which he began asking her way back in law school, when he would waste precious study time just staring at her while she neatly classified her reviewers and labeled them with her multicolored pens.

“Where’s Nica?” He asked to break the silence.

“Her mother came to pick her up. She says hi and she’s hoping that you’re feeling better.”

“Actually, I’m feeling a bit better. What’s that you’re holding?”

“She couldn’t decide between these two invitation layouts and left it up to me.”

Putting his right hand on her shoulder, he guided her out of the bridal fair. “Let’s get you out of here before you have too many ideas of your own,” he said with a teasing smile that somehow did not merit an immediate retort from his girlfriend.

As they walked to their favorite restaurant, Arthur felt the cool November breeze. He looked up and saw the full moon, nature’s excuse for doing foolish things. He asked Marianne a question.

“If I give a conditional blessing to this wedding, would it be fair enough for everyone involved? I promise not to give all of you a hard time anymore, if my condition is met.”

“Atty. Salve, is this an attempt at a compromise? I cannot commit yet because I have to consult my clients first. You might impose an impossible condition...”

“It IS a very possible condition, I assure you, Atty. Cosco. It is one thing I am sure you would encourage your clients to accept as you have a personal stake in it, too.”

“I try to separate my personal life from my professional life, Atty. Salve." Marianne said, and then she stopped walking. "Arthur, I’m not good at surprises. What are you driving at?” Marianne asked but she was smiling, despite herself. She had no idea why but Arthur’s mood was infectious. She just knew that the man she loved with all her heart was up to something good.

“You see, I’ve given this some thought, but with wheels turning all around me I had very little time to go through my usual thinking processes. I followed your advice and listened to what my heart was telling me. Deep inside I want my brother to be happy, I want my mother to have grandkids, I want to support your career as a bridesmaid, BUT,” he added, knowing
Marianne wanted to interrupt him already, “I cannot just consent to this marriage absolutely. My stand is still that Arnold needs to work for at least a year and have decent savings of his own. More importantly, and this is THE condition that I know would be popularly accepted by everyone involved, I cannot allow my YOUNGER brother to get married ahead of me.”

The night air was stilled by this declaration.

“Arthur,” Marianne began, but Arthur interrupted him. “My younger brother Arnie claims that he is a patient man. All your arguments about love and logic told me that I am the one missing out on happiness because I have been putting it off for one reason after another. Then I conclude that Arnie could put off his wedding plans because there really is no urgency in their situation.”

“Is there an urgency in ours?” Marianne asked softly, afraid to say anything that would break the desirable course of their conversation.

“You know, honey, when you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right away!” He smiled innocently and paused, waiting for Marianne’s reaction which he was able to predict anyway.

Marianne’s eyes widened as she realized, “That’s not original! That’s a line from the movie When Harry Met Sally! Ar-thur!!!” She punched him, he ran, she followed, and then he stopped.

He got down on one knee. They were in front of their favorite restaurant already. The strings quartet, Were they from the bridal fair? Marianne wondered, was waiting for them and played as if on cue upon seeing Arthur getting down on one knee.

Marianne was out of breath, she wasn’t sure if it was because of the running.

Then Arthur spoke, “I bought this ring from my first salary, Mari-anne.” He called her Mari-anne when he wanted to emphasize something. This night the emphasis was on love.

Music, a full moon, and a diamond ring. Marianne’s heart seemed ready to burst, but she realized he hadn’t asked her the question yet —

“Mari-anne, honey, will you give me the honor of being my lawfully-wedded wife?”

Marianne stared at Arthur who still had one knee on the cobblestone road. She had a playful look in her eyes, then she said, “I’m not sure, Arthur. As you know, the Family Code states that ‘marriage is a special contract of permanent union…” but before she could finish her recitation of Article One of the Family Code, Arthur got up and kissed her. She laughingly broke away from him and said, “Ok, alright, before you give that ring to Arnold to give to Nica, my answer is, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!”

“Hey from what movie is that?”

“Honey, it’s from a book, not a movie.”

“But which one? I can’t remember!”

“Go ahead and think about it, hon. I have a phone call to make.”

She dialed a number on her cellphone and Arthur heard him say,

“Arnold? YES!!! IT WORKED!!! I’m wearing the ring now. It’s bigger than you described it to be. Is Nica with you? Hug her for me. Would you both be darlings and please call Mama in the States? Please tell her I’ve picked out her gown already….”

Arthur stared at Marianne in complete shock and amazement.

“Wh-what was that all about? Did you say ‘it worked???”

Smiling, Marianne responded, “Honey, this should teach the world never to underestimate the wisdom of a woman lawyer. Now let’s go in, I’m starving. I have to start my bridal diet tomorrow….”

-- The End --

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