Shining Moments: Brief Encounters Etched in Memories (Complete Story) By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr., Publisher & Editor, San Diego Asian Journal, The Original and First Asian Journal in America
San Diego, California, September 30, 2016
Chapter 1, A Hollywood Beauty
He peeked inside the small conference room of the university. He saw a panel of speakers with the audience in rapt attention. The young man looked around as the people noticed him. He withdrew and closed the door. The people laughed.
Prof. Panfilo Sarmiento didnt find it funny. A well-respected columnist of a Manila daily, he was also a Journalism professor at the State University. That morning, he had the crew of an upcoming Hollywood movie as guests. He had the director, author of the story, screenwriter and some cast members including Jennifer, the leading lady and a Hollywood beauty. They were discussing the movies historical perspectives. The crew members were visiting Manila as part of their international film promotions. They were invited to discuss the book and movie on which it was based, the topic of the class discussion.
Does he belong to this class? Prof. Sarmiento asked the students.
Some of them nodded.
Can you call him back? he asked the one seated by the door.
The young man opened the door and yelled, Fernandez, tawag ka ni Sarmiento (Fernandez, Sarmiento is calling you!)
Whats your name? Prof. Sarmiento asked, visibly irked.
Luisito Garcia, sir.
So Garcia, I am just Sarmiento to you, eh?
Garcia realized his disrespect of calling the professor by his last name. He sheepishly scratched his head and apologized.
You have insulted me, he told the student. It will take much effort to regain my good impression of you.
The student called Fernandez looked inside again.
Do you belong to this class? Prof. Sarmiento asked.
Yes sir, Ray Fernandez meekly replied.
Then why did you leave?
He scratched his head and smiled: It would be against the rule if I stayed.
He pointed at a sign on the wall indicating the room capacity as 115.
If I were to stay, it would be one person more.
The audience laughed at the peculiar response.
How would you know the exact number of people here?
I counted them.
In five seconds?
It was actually four seconds, sir,
The audience laughed again.
Still annoyed, Prof. Sarmiento asked another student to count the number of people inside.
After a while, he said 116 sir.
Rebuffed, Prof. Sarmiento thought it was a lucky guess.
Ray proceeded to explain.
You see, sir, I know there were 115 seats in this room. We had a meeting here yesterday and noted the capacity by the number of chairs. Since the chairs are all occupied, the room must be at full capacity.
Okay, you proved your point. Still you can stay, Prof. Sarmiento told Ray.
He asked another student seated in front to give up his chair for Ray.
Smiling at the beautiful actress as he passed, Ray squeezed in between the rows of chairs. Once he was seated, Prof. Sarmiento asked him why he was late.
I waited at our classroom at the Arts and Sciences Building but nobody came. I inquired at the office and was told the class was to meet here today due to the special guests.
Still, Prof. Sarmiento did not let him go.
Why dont I remember you attending this class?
I was here on the first day.
So you have been absent since then? What grade do you expect?
The class laughed.
But you were not here most of the time!
You told us we dont need to attend the class so long as we submit the paper requirements and pass the finals.
Baffled, Prof. Sarmiento asked him about the book being discussed.
Again the audience laughed.
The book assigned today!
Sorry sir, but you assigned us five books. I dont know which one you are referring to.
How many have you read?
Okay, talk about the second one.
Ray proceeded with a brilliant analysis of the book. Everyone in the room was impressed, even the visiting Hollywood panelists.
for instance, the author mentioned the mains characters use of the cotton gin when that device was yet to be invented; this was clearly an anachronism.
The author of the book, also in attendance, was embarrassed.
And then there was the erroneous translation of a Latin phrase.
The author protested.
But it was the translation used in other academic papers.
Yes, but it doesnt mean its the correct one. For years, nobody noticed the mistake until it was taken for granted as true.
How did you know? Do you know Latin?
Knowing a lot of similar mistakes have been committed in the past, I studied the language closely to arrive at the correct interpretation of history.
And I suppose you also know French?
Ray uttered several French words.
What do they mean in English? the author asked.
You would not want to know.
At this point the beautiful actress from Hollywood interjected: He said, Of course I know French, you fool!
Ray smiled and talked to her in French. The actress shyly demurred. What he uttered was understood by only the two of them.
Prof. Sarmiento asked Ray more questions and got brilliant answers. Rays analysis was very interesting and enlightening. Eventually, Ray stated: Dont you think, sir, we should let the other class members share their ideas? I feel like the one giving a lecture.
Prof. Sarmiento turned his attention on the others, yet would eventually go back to Ray. Soon the bell rang to signify the end of the session, but Sarmiento continued with the lecture. After a few more minutes, Ray raised his hand: Sir, the class is over.
Its not. I announced to the class last time we will meet an extra hour today.
I didnt know because I was absent.
Now you know.
But I need to go, I made an appointment with somebody at the canteen. She might leave.
Tough luck. Let your girlfriend wait.
Shes a nun. We were supposed to discuss our charity project for an orphanage.
Really? Prof. Sarmiento was skeptical but could not prove Ray was lying.
Okay, but I need you to attend the classes from now on.
What happened to your rule not requiring us to do so?
I changed my mind. I need your classmates to benefit from your wisdom, he said sarcastically.
Ray stood up, walked sideways in between rows, and handed a piece of paper to the Hollywood actress as he passed. She looked at the paper and smiled. When the others asked her to show it, she held the paper up for everyone to see. It was a caricature of the beautiful actress drawn by Ray while engaging Prof. Sarmiento in thoughtful and brilliant discussions.
Chapter 2 Etched in Memories
The bell rang again, signifying the end of the second hour and the special session of Prof. Panfilo Sarmientos class that featured a discussion of the forthcoming historical film from Hollywood. The director, writer and the casts of the movie were guests. Prof. Sarmiento delivered the concluding remarks, thanked the guests, and declared the session over. Everybody walked out towards the door, down the staircase, and towards the ground floor of the building. The back hallway led to the cafeteria, which led to the front of the driveway. Several cars were parked outside.
It was raining hard. Prof. Sarmiento, his staff and the group from the movie had to wait for their bus that would lead them to the Alumni Hall for lunch. Ray Fernandez walked out of the cafeteria towards the driveway accompanied by two nuns, one elderly, the other young. Prof. Sarmiento realized that Ray was telling the truth when he had excused himself from the second part of the session. He was indeed meeting nuns for a charity project. They passed by Prof. Sarmientos group but Ray did not notice them. He was busy holding an umbrella for the elderly nun to shield her from the rain as they walked towards a car. The younger nun had her own umbrella; she opened the door to the front seat and entered. Ray opened the door for the elderly nun who went inside the car. They talked for a while before the car drove off.
Ray went towards his car, a brand new, pickle-colored 1968 Ford Mustang, the rave at that time. He opened the trunk, put his umbrella inside, and let the pouring rain drench him. A group of female students were inside the car behind him. The driver was having a hard time starting the vehicle. Ray noticed it and motioned to the driver to open the hood. He lifted it, removed the carburetor cover, and told the driver to start the car again. He pumped the carburetor by covering it with his palm and then lifting it to let the air out. Soon, the car started. He dusted off the carburetor cover, put it back, and put down the hood. He told the driver to bring the car to a mechanic as soon as possible so the carburetor could be cleaned. The girls inside thanked him as their car drove off. They were all smiling at their handsome knight in shining armor. All of this did not escape the attention of Prof. Sarmientos group, including the Hollywood actress, Jennifer.
Ray went back to his car, opened the trunk, and removed his soaked shirt. He twisted it to drain out the water and put it inside the trunk. He got his skateboard, placed it on the ground, stepped on it, and skated down the driveway into the street.
THE FOLLOWING NIGHT WAS THE OPENING OF THE PLAY, DIVINE JUSTICE AT THE UNIVERSITY THEATER. A sorority as part of its fund-raising project sponsored the program. A female usher led Ray to the front seat right beside the aisle. In fifteen minutes, the play would start as people were walking in and taking their seats.
From the center front seat, Jennifer again noticed Ray.
The lights dimmed and the play began. The student actors delivered excellent performances. Everybody agreed it was a very powerful play worthy of a Broadway debut. What was more amazing to the crew and stars of the Hollywood movie was it was written by an unknown Filipino playwright.
In the end, the cast members were introduced one after another as the audience clapped continuously. The author, also the director of the play was introduced last. Ray stood up, turned around facing the audience, waved his hand, and sat again. Jennifer and her companions were surprised. They did not expect Ray to be responsible for such an amazing achievement. The cast and audience demanded he go onstage to be properly recognized. Reluctantly, he went onstage and received a bouquet of flowers from a little girl.
THE NEXT EVENING, JENNIFER, THE DIRECTOR, AUTHOR AND THE REST OF THE cast sat around a table near the stage of the folk house where a very good band would play original songs. To their surprise a familiar face, Ray, walked onstage. He took a guitar and started to play with the band. They were surprised to find out that Ray was its leader and composed all the beautiful music.
Theyre very good, the director raved. He was impressed as the band surpassed his expectations. Jennifer was equally impressed, especially now that she had witnessed Rays talents the past few days. After the first set, the audience demanded more, but the band had to take a break. Some members had dinner, but Ray held on to a cup of tea.
He sat beside one of the tables as the staff talked to him. He was giving them money. They shook his hand in gratitude as they walked away happily.
Jennifer later learned Ray was a part owner of the place and was handing out bonuses for the restaurants recent success.
Two Americans walked in, one with long hair and beard, typical of the hippies in those days. The other was an elderly man, with balding hair and thick eyeglasses. They were carrying bags and sat around a table in front.
Ray went to the kitchen and returned with two bags of his own. The trio left the building through a side door.
That was the last time Jennifer saw Ray despite her inquiries. Nobody knew his whereabouts, not even Prof. Sarmiento who also wondered what happened to his bright student. His apartment was simply abandoned the day he left the folk house. It was like he vanished in thin air.
Unknown to many at that time, Ray received an urgent assignment that fateful evening for Newsweek Magazine for which he worked as a special correspondent covering the ongoing Vietnam War. The two Americans with him were his producer and photographer. They left for the airport to cover a press conference the next day in Saigon for an unexpected development in the peace talks. The day after, however, while on another assignment to follow a fresh lead, they went deeper in a jungle in Vietnam and were captured by the Vietcong. It was only decades later after the war when their remains were discovered that things came to light.
By then, Jennifer had passed away, wondering up to the last moments of her life, what happened to an exceptional stranger who briefly crossed her path . – AJ