"Why do you write?" a woman queried. She was Jeanie, the daughter of a newspaper tycoon, Jesse Abrazado in Zambales, "I cannot see any reason why you want yourself to be starved." she continued.
Perhaps she was right. Since we were classmates for two years at the Saint Louis University Graduate School, she knew who I was including the way I thought, the shape of my imagination and soul. I was pursuing PhD in Literature and she was on her way to Ph.D. in Nursing. She was rich and I was poor. She was fulfilled and I was ambitious. She was beautiful and I was slender and pale resembling John Keats, a sickly 19th century English Romantic poet. Probably, these contradictions between us coincidentally bound our hearts into one.
But when she started to think about our future, the love that we built started to crumble. She commenced to doubt about my ability to raise a family after all writers anyway were all poor. And when I realized that the damage of her questioning was extensive, it was already too late to rebuild our love. Lately I just found myself shattered.
I dropped out of the graduate school and exiled myself in the house which my sister left when she went abroad to forget her past. It was believed that this house was cursed because many people were killed here during the two great wars of the Philippines (now you could imagine how old my refuge when I reclused myself for two years like the English poetess, Emily Dickinson). The children of my sister were not spared including her husband. For ten years, we lived here together but the wrath of the ancient curse continued to ruin our lives. She was rich and I was poor, but we agreed on one common experience - both of us were unhappy. Hitherto, she continued to mourn the mysterious death of her five children that was why she decided to leave and find her happiness and peace of mind in America. I was uncertain if she could find a true happiness there but the most important thing was that she escaped already the evil of this house. Now I was all alone trying to fight the wrath of this curse.
I was lonely, desperate and poor. The books I wrote were stored on the shelves of my library. I stopped from sending to publishers because every time that I would attempt to mail one, I would receive a comment that my book was not good enough for publication.
To relieve myself from an ennui and monotonous life, I devoured all the books that were seemingly unread for more than five decades. They were blanketed with dusts and sometimes even the pages were worn out.
Sometimes I would just write disregarding any prospect of publication. For more than two years, I never saw the sun. The only light that I could have was from my incandescent bulb which was too dim for my sight, but it was an irony that in my solitude, I found peace. My foods were supplied by my neighbors who assiduously inspect my refrigerator every week. That was my routine for a couple of years. Everyday, I read or sometimes I would write - and during this time, I found peace, fulfillment, happiness and joy.
After my cloistered life, when I decided to mingle with people, they would be inquiring who was I, this was because I was different from them. When they would see me, I would wear my black dress with my beard and a long hair that would seemingly tell that I was discharge from a lunatic asylum or from a cloistered life.
Yet despite of my indifference, I continued to live.
My life was completely transformed when one afternoon, Jessica, a columnist of Globe, a widest read broadsheet of the land. She was petite, beautiful, bespectacled young woman wearing red skirt and fancy jewelries.
"I am Jessica of the news paper Glob. I came here to see Noel, the author of LOVE IN TIME OF ANGUISH. Do you know him?" She inquired.
I was speechless. I could not free any word from my mouth. For almost five years since the publication of my book, it was noticed by the press and now after my depression, here came a writer who was very enthusiastic about my book. I looked at her face and from her tranquil countenance; I could see a very mysterious woman who was quite reserved and probably intelligent. I knew that she was about 29 but Jessica was very attractive, despite of this, I was uncertain if I could trust her. This feeling of distrust was immediately anticipated by her when she presented a gesture of assurance.
"Do you know Noel Aguilar?" she repeated.
"I am Noel." I answered back.
I led her to my library which was my refuge for two years when I imprisoned myself and battled loneliness. I offered her a seat at the right corner of the reading table and studied her look once in a while whilst I inquired if she wanted a cup of coffee.
"Yes please." She replied. "Are you alone?" she added.
"For two years now… I am alone. Why?"
"Noel…I came here to discuss your book." She said.
"O yes, the LOVE IN TIME OF ANGUISH, it was published in 1989 when I was seventeen I think. How do you find it?" I inquired as I took my seat and looked at her intently.
She gazed at me and with a questioning look, she opined, "How did you work with your novel?" The style is stunning Noel. You brought us near to hysteria or often into tears. You expressed emotions with ease - that's what we like from your book. Frankly, I have not encountered a writer like you. You are very unique."
"O I think my book is a thrash. My colleagues criticized it extensively that's why I was driven into shame and depression until nobody accepted anymore my other books for publication. I was destroyed by it Ms. Jessica." I sipped a little coffee from my cup and continued, "…and I swore not to publish again."
Jessica remained quiet. She was as if expecting me to tell more about so many things that I encountered when the first copies of the book rolled off the press.
But contrary to her expectations, I was mum as if my heart was stabbed many times by a sword through the loneliness that I suffered which nearly led me to commit suicide when I relied the chagrin at the time my first book was released. How I wished that she never came. Yet if it happened, I would have to live in my own world again.
"Do you mean you have written another book?" Jessica was very careful to shift from our subject who she knew would interest me that I never took notice of. I pretended to be deaf. "You know Noel, I only read your book a couple of months ago. When I went to a private collector in Makati, I happened to see your book that attracted me and I asked the owner, my collector friend, if he could loan that to me and he said, "Yes."- Then he recounted how it came to his collection. Do you know Ambeth of the National Chronicler?" she inquired.
"Yes of course…He is my friend." I riposted. I met him at the Abbey few years ago; I think he is now a monk. Is he?"
"Yes… he is…" she said displaying her sympathetic nod and her beautiful eyes which attracted me very much. I was reminded of my former fiancée, Jeanie who was very beautiful like this woman who came unexpectedly praising my book and who turned to be very curious about the kind of life that I was living. There was a time when I thought that she was in love with me. But this thought was only reserved for a desperate author who wanted publicity and affection as well. I was determined that I would not be desperate from now on so the thought of failing in love with her was out of the question.
"Do you know that he bought that here three years ago when he was on his way to the Mountain Province?" She informed me casually.
I was not surprised at all. Everybody was buying my book although I knew that it was not good as it was intended to be.
"Noel, you are a good writer." She said. "I think you can become an award winning author soon." She jokingly said. "Are you still 23?"
I could not answer her. She was very frank and casual. "May I see the manuscript of your other books?" she requested. I understand in the cover of your book - you were writing a volume of poetry and another novel. Have you finished them?"
"Yes, but I am afraid to publish them." I answered hesitantly as if I wanted to tell her that I did not finish anything after my first novel, but words came unexpectedly from my mouth. "…and I don't want to show these to anybody. In fact there are times when I want to burn them."
"I understand you Noel," Jessica said sympathetically. "But do you want me to refer you to a publisher who will surely publish your work?" she added.
I was silent. Perhaps this time I found a woman who would help me rise from where I stumbled and regained my name which I lost in order to continue my writing career.
We talked for many hours on that first meeting. She had brought me to my senses again. Once more I found that I was very happy to face my table and continue to work with my novel that I wanted to finish a long time ago. More often, I would produce a chapter that would be autobiographical in form and style but it did not make any difference. After all, Jessica would help me.
The following week, I read the first review of my books in her column which built up my stunning style, my inventiveness, my creativity and tranquility in making a mode of my stories and poetry.
I was very happy.
Despite of this media acclaim and the transformation of my life, I never distorted my tote. Every afternoon, I would walk in black apparel for one kilometer and thought of nothing but how would I improve my style. Many people who would see me say that I was insane and other would opine that I was very strange. I believed that they had never seen a very strange person who could walk once a day to smell the fresh air of Baguio in the afternoon and later isolate himself in the darkness of his house where he lived alone.
Jessica who was writing about me since our first meeting turned over to me some of the letters she received inquiring about my identity, my background, my status and my career. I was very amused because despite of my solitude I would find solace with these letters. Now I was no longer alone. It seemed that the curse of the house where I lived was subdued.
I was very happy to read all the sympathetic letters, some were proposing for immediate marriage, some were asking for a date, some were inviting me for dinner and some were asking my advise. For the first time in my life, I felt like a hero. But there was this long letter which caught my attention. She said that she knew me very much but her name was very strange to me. I never knew a Cherrie Hernandez before from Fontana, California. "Perhaps she is only one of my admirers." I said. But I answered the letter on the same night that I read it. I felt that she was near me and for the first time after two years when Jeanie and I parted ways. I was very excited. The letter which was intended to reply her simple comment about my books developed into a love letter. I sealed it curtly and mailed the letter the following day hoping that it would reach her the following week.
When I finished reading the other letters, I bundled and placed them in a box at the other corner of my library then brewed a cup of coffee and I went briskly at my chair hoping that I could relax. It seemed that the thought of Jeanie and Cheri would come to my mind. There was a moment when I tried to compare them from one another. Jeanie was real and Cherie was fictional. I never saw the face of Cheri, yet I could feel that she was very special to me. I was asking myself, "Who is this woman?"
I waited for two weeks but I was not able to receive any reply from her. I couldn't believe that my heart was very nervous and sometimes, it would beat faster than I would imagine."Was I in love?" I asked myself, "I could not be". If the feeling that I had developed for Cheri was a true love, as much as possible I wished that I would pass because I could never feed her with my writings - i.e. when this love is turned into marriage. I was afraid that what happened before between me and Jennie would be repeated. I could not allow that. I had enough. The depression and loneliness I suffered were already fatal to my nerves which nearly brought my self-destruction. But I was in love? What was this strange feeling? It could not be love or was it?
It was unexpected that on the following day, I received a letter without a return address. I couldn't trace who was the sender. I was very curious and excited. "Is this already the letter from Cheri Hernandez?" - I asked then shrug my shoulders and opened unceremoniously the letter that would make the difference on my life. I was uneasy. There was a strange emotion that I could not explain. That moment my time was steady, the hands of the clock could not move and my feet stood still. The eyes that would look everywhere would stare at the blank letters on the envelope. I unfolded the stationery and started to read.
She said, "Why do you write? I cannot see why you want yourself to be starved."
And I knew who she was, and then I smiled…