“Who ordered this?” I ask the waiter.
“Manny,” my wife says, “we did. Your usual favorite, you just told me.”
“This is not my usual favorite.”
Every Saturday my wife and I would have breakfast here in Tower Diner which serves my favorite breakfast. It’s our weekly “rite”: My wife would order for me. I’d say “my usual favorite” and she’d point at the item in the menu--veggie egg white omellette--and show it to the waiter.
This morning, however, the waiter served me Mediterranean egg white omellette.
Before I could utter another word, my wife says: “Don’t let this unmake your day. We can exchange plates or share.”
I keep quiet and start eating. “This is not bad at all.”
My wife gives me that “told ya” look.
“In fact,” I continue, “this tastes better than my usual favorite.”
Not getting what you wanted but getting something a lot better does indeed teach you a lot of things.
Many years ago when I was still a student in Manila, my schedule included traveling to Naga and back to Manila. Sometimes I would tag along with my father who was working in Manila. Each time I was with my Dad, we would drop by his brother’s house in Calauag, Quezon province. We’d have lunch and rest awhile before proceeding on our trip.
His brother Zacharias was a medical doctor who had a small clinic in that town. The brothers were specially close. Tio Kare saved my father’s life during the war when the Japanese left my father dead with a bullet on his right chest. Tio Kare, only a medical intern then when the war broke out, carried the seemingly lifeless body of my father and under cover of night took him all the way to their camp on the slopes of Tankongvaca Mountain, where he revived him in the army makeshift hospital. Both brothers never fail to narrate this each time they’d talk to us.
When I started working, my responsibilities changed, I saw less and less of Tio Kare. But he’d write to us often.
In one of those letters he enclosed the picture of a little boy. Tio Kare was childless, so we wondered who this boy was. His name was Andres, he wrote. He was found outside the clinic’s main door. He had tried--and failed--to find out who the mother was. The neighbors said they saw a “hostess” who worked in the local nightclub place the baby there. Others said a beggar put him there.
So he adopted the boy.
What was interesting about the picture was the way his adopted papa attired him: as a medical doctor in a doctor’s gown with stethoscope and all, “examining” a “patient” (doll). Immediately we knew Tio Kare’s plans for the boy.
Several years pass by, when I happened to ride in my father’s car when we chanced to drop by Calauag. Tio Kare was not home, so we looked for Andres. He was outside in the barn, said the house-help.
I saw a slim young man of medium height suddenly appearing from the back of the farmhouse. He welcomed us with a wide smile, rushed to my dad and hugged him tight. Then he approached Joe, our family driver, shook his hand, pumping exaggeratedly, slapped his shoulder and hugged him too.
“This is your first cousin,” my dad points to me.
Andres jumps and smiles and hugs me. “Pipipippinsan , sa-saya ko aaaanak ni Tata Mamamarianing!” (C. . . c. . . cousin, I . . . I’m s . . . so. . . soooo ha . . . happy . . . the son of Tata Marianing!)
He grabs my elbow, carries my father’s briefcase, and leads us inside the house.
He was a nonstop host. He let us sit down. He picked up a pair of slippers for my Dad. He turned on the electric fan. He supplied Joe with a clump of comic books. He rushed back and forth in the direction of the kitchen to get more soft drinks from the fridge and remind the house-help to cook extra rice.
We came unannounced and brought with us a generous lunch, because my dad always exulted at these rare visits to his bosom brother and he’d always say “this calls for a banquet.”
We had a great lunch of broiled swordfish, “sinigang,” and bulalo. Andres made sure we were always eating while he did all the talking.
After lunch he showed us around the farm and proudly introduced us to his pet python at the back of the house. Then he brought us outside in the tennis court and bragged that not one of his friends nor anyone of his father’s friends could beat him in the game. I was touched by Andres’ hospitality that I felt guilty I did not bring him any pasalubong. So I took out my sunglasses and gave it to him. He did not know what to say. He was smiling from ear to ear. He wore the shades right away. We told him he looked like General MacArthur.
Tio Kare arrived home early around 4 pm and as usual was overjoyed at seeing us. He insisted that we spend the night there because he was tipped by a patient of his, an army lieutenant, that there was just an encounter nearby. Calauag, being a town in Quezon near the boundary of Camarines Norte was a known hotbed of rebels and Philippine Army soldiers.
And so we decided to stay overnight.
At dinnertime Andres, sunglasses and all (at night!), regaled us with tons of stories. He knew by name almost everybody in the community. I learned later that the barangay captain called him “congressman.” The soldiers called him “general.” The rebels called him “Ka Andres.”
He had a story about every person he mentioned. He said the soldiers wanted him to help them guard the outposts, and the rebels invited him to join them.
After dinner, Tio Kare told Andres to go to his room and watch his favorite TV program. My father, Tio Kare and myself were left at the table to continue their bonding conversation. Suddenly Tio Kare’s face dropped. It was about Andres. We understood. The boy would never become a doctor and fulfill his papa’s dream.
Before Tio Kare could continue, my father interrupted him. “You did not get what you wanted, but do you realize that you were given something better? God has blessed you with a wonderful son. He stays with you and takes care of you, the farm, and everything here. You send him on errands and he never complains. If he had become a doctor as you originally had planned, he could be somewhere else by now and left you. But look at him. He never left you. He is a gift from God.”
That was huge, and it hit me good: You did not get what you originally planned, but God gave you something better. We do not get what we want because we do not see the larger picture. God’s plans for us must be much larger than we can grasp, and our plans are only a tiny part of the whole. It is not wise to insist in applying too much control over “original” plans when a better one has been laid out for us. I think we only have to trust.
Years later, when we heard the news that my uncle had passed away, I asked about Andres. He was right beside my uncle, said my relatives. He never left his papa. He was offered several jobs outside town but he refused them all “to take care of my papa.” And he did, said my relatives. Until the very end.
And then I heard nothing of Andres after that. I do not know what became of him. Nor do I know where he is. The last time we passed by Calauag the old house was no longer there. And neither was Andres.
It’s been decades now since I last saw Andres. But I am not worried about him. He never complained. He was so easy to please. Even the simplest things in life made him happy. He can sleep anywhere and be happy. He can eat bits of food and be happy. He can even have nothing and be happy. Wherever he is I’m sure he’s still wearing the pair of sunglasses I gave him.
We’re now in Rego Park along Queens Boulevard. My wife is going to do some shopping and I tell her I’ll join her shortly. I suddenly crave for ice cream. I walk towards the Baskin-Robbins Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk that sells my favorite ice cream. It was not available the last time.
“Still not available, Sir, so sorry.” She knows me. It’s Black Walnut or nothing.
“What do you recommend?” My words take her by surprise.
“We have Red Velvet. Would you like to try it, Sir?”
It was the best ice cream flavor I ever tasted.