Three years ago, when I was still in the university, I also worked at a restaurant. Everyday I would see people come in pairs, in groups but mostly, alone. They would sit there and sip coffee, have a read or do just whatever they feel like doing. Oh, how I envied them. I wanted so much to do what they were doing, however, I couldn't because at that time I had to work for nine hours a day and study for the rest of it. So such an aspiration remained a silly, yet life long dream.
Yesterday, I executed it. It was such a rainy day; two typhoons were hitting Metro Manila. It was a perfect day to sit and relax, sip coffee and read. Being the hoarder that I am, I had with me two bags of receipts, tickets, and napkins from our recent trips and all the materials I needed to compile a scrapbook. It was bliss! I exchanged pleasantries with the managers, ordered coffee and sat there and attacked the day's newspaper.
Then, an old man entered the restaurant with his left arm around the shoulder of yet another man in a white uniform. His whole body was shaking as he limped for another step. Every step seemed to be a huge struggle. He looked so familiar to me but yet, I wasn't quite sure. Five minutes passed and I couldn't take it anymore. While his nurse was ordering at the counter, I approached the old man. I knew it; he had been one of our regular customers at the restaurant.
Hi name is Mr. Candido Filio. He is a retired Colonel of the Philippine Army and a professor of the University of the Philippines for more than 20 years. He founded the very first Scrabble Organization in the Philippines and in his lifetime, he received awards for his works.
Mr. Filio and I shared a very special bond during my days in that restaurant. He was one of the most intellectual people I knew. Everyday, I watched him write parts of his book and he would always discuss bits and pieces of it with me. Everyday, we exchanged Trivia. Every Sunday the Philippine Star Newspaper had a special page for word puzzles and among his peers, Mr. Filio holds the record for being the one who answered all of them in less than five minutes. He enticed me into trying to solve them too and for months and months I did my best to beat him but to no avail.
Then one Sunday, I did it! I was able to answer them before anyone else. Everyone cheered for me. He came up to me with a smile, congratulated me and said, " No one has ever beat me before, you're the first and this is the last and for that I'll have a prize for you tomorrow".
The next day, he gave me a new, very special and expensive Scrabble set. I would have never been able to afford one like it by myself. He encouraged me to learn the game and love words. And true to his words, I was never able to beat him again.
While I looked at him yesterday, I felt very sad for the man I used to know. He had always been very active, very healthy and always loved to laugh but the moment he opened his mouth, it all faded away.
He was still as sharp, as smart and witty as he was before. If it weren't for his physical deterioration, no one would have ever guessed that he had survived prostate cancer, two major heart attacks and was now battling a kidney disease. It was amazing how he remembered me and our fun together. It was wonderful talking to him again.
We exchanged updates about our lives. I told him I got married and that I had decided not to pursue law school anymore. I was embarrassed when I admitted this to him because I know that he believed in me and in a way, I was letting him down.
Somehow, he seemed to sense my awkwardness and what he said to me is something I will never forget.
"Kate, what do you think is man's ultimate goal in life? Happiness isn't it? You are happy and that enough, should be considered a success. Many people spend a lifetime searching for that. Be thankful that you have found it."
And for that, my life changed, probably forever.
Copyright © 2007 Katherine Whellams
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