“Tomas, saan si sniper?”
“Good evening attorney.” Greeted the cheerful head waiter of Big Mike’s Grill.
“Where’s sniper?” Atty. Juanito asked Tomas. The owner of Big Mike’s Grill is Mike Mueller, former Syracuse University standout who played as an import for Anejo Rhum in the PBA in the late 1980s, Joe Cantada the late celebrated basketball commentator would give him the moniker the sniper for his accuracy in the three-point range.
“Didn’t you know attorney? He’s in Japan right now, sir Mike is meeting with sir Jimmy there.”
“Ahh ma-o ba. Mingaw ron (its lonely)”
“Its always lonely on a Wednesday sir, but yesterday we were full house, the place was filled with people from ABS-CBN. Last Monday, there were many customers also sir.” Tomas replied.
Big Mike’s Grill is a small bar located at a former residential bungalow in Shrine Hills. The house overlooks the vast Matina suburb. Aside from whiskeys and imported beers, its burgers and steaks are among its best-sellers.
Mike Mueller is currently in a short sojourn in Tokyo, he would be meeting his 33- year old son Jimmy. Mike along with his brother Jack owned a construction business that served US naval facilities in the Asia-Pacific. There is a great demand for their services as the navy was again strengthening its presence in Asia in the face of China’s growing military might.
Jack, a year ago had let Jimmy an engineer by profession managed the company. Jimmy was Mike’s eldest son in his first marriage. Barrack Obama’s Asia Pivot necessitated the expansion of current US navy bases in Japan; Mike was there to help his son in the ocular of their new projects.
The thin-reed Tomas was often called kalansay or skeleton because of his frame but he had an endearing work ethic particularly when serving bar patrons, he was alert, untiring always ready to please the clients, he could exchange a banter or two. Another waiter was Balong, who was hardworking and sociable as Tomas however his poor command of English and even Filipino Tagalog limited his exchanges with clients.
Gemma the waitress is known for her shapely legs, a hit among the male patrons, however she is reticent and shy, staying at the nook, waiting to be called to serve. Gemma’s aunt Flor, is the bar’s cashier and clerk. Flor is the first cousin of Ellen, Mike’s second wife who hails from nearby Digos City.
Ellen met Mike when she was working as a receptionist in a hotel in Singapore where Mike stayed for two weeks. They had a daughter Angela now 13.
“Tomas can I have Big Mike’s sausages and two cups of rice please.” Atty. Juanito placed his order.
“Sorry sir, but Sniper wasn’t able to make his sausages.”
“Ah ganun ba. Just give me the Porterhouse and two cups of rice.”
“ok sir. Medium rare. Porterhouse. Drinks Attorney?”
“Coke zero muna.”
Atty. Crispin Juanito just celebrated his 50th birthday a week ago at a grand party at the ballroom of the Marco Polo, Mike, Ellen and Angela attended the lawyer's milestone. It was said the celebration was financed by a wealthy client whose son’s homicide case was dismissed by the court thanks to the deft legal maneuvering of Atty. Juanito who questioned the manner of the arrest and the handling of the evidence.
An hour passed since Atty Juanito ate the last morsel of his meal, when he noticed through the bar’s window the arrival of a red Honda hatchback which parked near his Subaru. A few seconds later, a woman arrived at the bar.
Mona Lisa Acupang wore a white cotton polo and tight-fitting jeans. Long black hair, almond-shaped eyes and full lips gave her a sensuous aura. One that Atty Juanito noticed when he first met her as a mass communication student tasked to do some research about libel in his law office. Their journalism teacher was Crispin’s sister who volunteered her brother to be Mona’s resource person having defended some journalists on libel cases.
“ You seemed sad?”
“ I can feel it. I can see it in your eyes, why? Gi-buwagan ka sa imung boyfriend (your boyfriend broken up with you?)”
“Nothing attorney, it’s a family problem.”
Atty Juanito remembered that one fine afternoon at his law office along C.M. Recto Street. Mona confided that her father is suffering from End Stage Renal Disorder, when a person’s kidneys have been irreparably damaged. The treatment was costly and a possibility that she would have to quit school with the family breadwinner sidelined by the disease ruffled the lass.
“Sige na, patulan mo na. (Come on hit on her) she is young and fresh.” His best buddy Ramoncito a known womanizer who had engaged in dalliances with young women prodded him.
And the affair began, Crispin used the wealth he had amassed from his practice as one of the top lawyers in the city to pamper Mona; he financed her college education, spent for her father’s treatment which included a costly kidney transplant.
He gave her a car and bought a townhouse unit in a private subdivision in Matina where he kept her and where they had their illicit rendezvous.
But Mona was not like Ramoncito’s girls. Except for her father’s treatment and her education, Mona never badgered Crispin for material things. It was the lawyer who brought her the LVs, the Pradas, the Blahniks, the Apple gadgets. He saw those brands at her wife’s walk-in closet, maybe also Mona would want those things.
“Why here Cris?” Mona asked while looking around Mike’s Grill, it was virtually empty, only Tomas and Flor remained at the bar conversing in dialect.
“It’s been a long time since we went out for a date.”
“Shucks but not here in Davao City.” Mona rolled her eyes in slight disgust. She was careful, Davao is a small city for gossip to spread like a summer grassfire.
“Sorry na. I was careless tonight, would you like to order something?”
“No I’ve had dinner at the house in Agdao.”
Mona Lisa was a brilliant student, the most promising among the three Acupang siblings, her father was a mid-level employee of an obscure government agency, her mom tended a small eatery in Agdao.
Her father Pedro Acupang worked hard to have Mona enrolled in Ateneo de Davao, it was to his belief that Mona could easily find a job be successful in it. Her eldest brother joined the army while the youngest Acupang son enrolled in a vocational course.
But Mona aside from being intelligent and articulate had leanings towards the arts, she was a gifted storyteller and writer, in high school she would win awards in essay writing contests. In college she gravitated towards film and video productions. She began working on making short films and joined film festivals. One of her shorts even made it as a runner-up in a national film competition.
“ You seemed not in the mood tonight?” Crispin asked Mona.
“Hay, our client had ordered another revision. It was their boss from Manila who ordered it. Deadline is tomorrow.”
“You should be working by it then.”
“Isn’t it obvious.” Mona expressed slight irritation that her precious time was spent on a date with a 50 year-old man.
Crispin knew that Mona would be receiving twenty-thousand pesos for editing a video documentary about a non-government organization building schools in the ancestral domain areas of Agusan del Sur. The amount was pittance for him, equivalent to his retainer’s fee for a big mining company. He offered to give that amount so that she can slack the project off, but Mona refused.
It was not the Mona he knew, the sweet caring college girl, who gave him love, comfort and sex. He yearned for days when he could go to the house in Matina in the pretext of some business trip. The warm freshly cooked meals, the clean tidy homey atmosphere greeted him in the lovers’ abode which reminded him of his childhood home in Mati.
Crispin was born of lower bracket middle class family in Mati, his father worked in the provincial government while his mother was a public school teacher. A brilliant student much like Mona he received a college scholarship grant in Davao City. Inspired by his distant uncle, a fiscal, he enrolled and supported himself thru law school.
In law school he had a seatmate named Patricia de Lara, a scion of an old wealthy family in Bukidnon. The two became friends and later became intimate partners, against the objections of Patricia’s parents they carried on with their relationship. He passed the bar in 1991, they got married in 1992, they had two children Juris and Malcolm.
Juris is a flight stewardess based in Hongkong, while Malcolm is studying law in Ateneo de Manila. As the years passed the once carefree and adventurous couple became distant and cold. Patricia, a socialite spent more time with personal leisure and with friends belonging to the alta de sociedad.
Crispin saw and felt the palatial Juanito family home situated in an upscale village in Lanang as lonely and unloving.
“ Where is Patty?” he would ask the housemaid who is also his distant niece.
“Didn’t’ she tell you manong? She’s in Hongkong with her amigas.” The maid would answer.
And alone in the bed inside the master’s bedroom he would think of Ramoncito’s prodding to take the chick bait. He had felt unloved. His heart yearned for someone to care and who would take care of him.
And he remembered the time he laid down on the living room sofa in Matina, his head resting on Mona’s lap, she would tell her stories what transpired in school, the films she saw and he would tell of her of his youthful exploits as a probinsyano lad in Mati. They talked and they listened to their stories, their thoughts. All that mattered to him.
“So when will you be visiting Matina Cris?”
“When you are done with your video project Mamon.”
“okay prepare the house then. I really miss you Mamon.”
“Can we talk in the car Cris?” Mona seemed to ignore Atty. Juanito’s expression of affection.
“Sure Mamon.” Cris knew something was important that Mona was wanting to say, a trio of customers had arrived and occupied one table. There was now little privacy.
Inside the Subaru, Mona asked permission for Cris if she could take a 2-month film scholarship in Seoul, which was offered after her first short film about child laborers in Mt. Diwalwal was screened in a film festival in Busan.
“We’ve talked about it Mona, I cannot let you go, I need you here with me, two months is too long.”
Hard rain had started to pour as another group of customers entered the bar just in the nick of time before the downpour.
“I need this break, Cris. This is a great opportunity for me, this is a directorial workshop I need this so much, please allow me, I will return.”
“Mona don’t be a hard-headed fool. We can go to Seoul next month if you want, lets have a vacation there.”
“You don’t understand Cris, I am not looking for a vacation, I am interested at the workshop. You didn’t like me enrolling at the UP Film School, okay fine. But this workshop really mattered to me, please allow me. Babe.” Mona gently pinched Cris’ beer belly.
At her happiest, Mona would call Crispin “babe” a sign of affection which Crispin would crave, it was not always that Mona would call him Babe as he would call Mona, Mamon.
Two months without his beloved Mamon, two months living with a cold and distant socialite.
“Oh sige. I really cannot do anything about your decision, Kelan ka ba aalis? (when will you be leaving?) Cris asked his beloved mamon.
“A month from now. Don’t worry, it’s an all expense paid-trip by the South Korean filmmakers exchange program, and the pocket money, I have saved enough for this trip.”
Atty. Juanito nodded without uttering a word. He reached his hand and stroked Mona’s long black hair, he leaned towards the girl, his lips touching Mona’s lips.
One year and four months later
“Here you go. Big Mike’s porterhouse and our famous homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller handed out the servings to a middle-aged couple seated at the new Big Mike’s Steaks bar in Obrero.
Located in a commercial-residential neighborhood north of Davao City’s central business district, Big Mike Steaks Bar is jointly owned by Mike and a group of Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs who were regular clients of the bar at Shrine Hills. They had wanted to make his signature steaks, burgers and sausages more accessible.
“tadaaan Happy Anniversary Patty.” Crispin greeted his wife
“Hala ka, do you really think I can finish this plate?” Patricia, with her fine Castillian features, stared at the chunk of sizzling porterhouse steak served before her.
“Yes you can Patricia, these are the best steaks in Davao City. Happy anniversary to you two, the dinner’s tab is on me.”
“What? No, no. no, its too much, I am paying for this dinner Mike.” Crispin protested.
“No Mike and Cris, the bill is on me.” Patricia said letting out a guffaw.
Patricia and Cris later surrendered to Mike’s offer in footing the bill. Mike was happy that the couple was able to save their marriage; Cris and Pat joined a Catholic renewal movement, where they had become active members.
Crispin and Mona broke up a few months after she returned from Seoul. Mona left Davao to work for a big film company in Manila.
“How was your day, Cris?” Patricia asked her husband.
“Well it went fine, apart from a court appearance and a client meeting, I and Berting supervised the youth ministry’s choir practice for tomorrow’s praise and worship.”
“Oh where’s Neneng?
“Neneng is in Manila to visit their daughter studying there, being his prayer buddy I offered if I could help him in handling the youth ministry. I listened to their practice and bought them snacks.”
“Ah ganun ba, I can’t wait to hear the young ones tomorrow. Father Alfred will be officiating the corporal mass.”
“I am sure Father Alfred will be happy with the progress of the youth ministry, they’d be singing great worship songs, eh ikaw, how was your day.” Cris held Patty’s hand.
“Well after the bible-sharing at Sonya’s house, my prayer buddy Agnes and I watched a tagalog movie at Abreeza.
“Hahaha, I thought you never watch Tagalog movies.”
“They say it’s an award-winning film. There were many who watched the film, it was beautiful.”
“What’s the title? Haven’t really been updated with the movies nowadays.” Crispin asked.
“The Mistress of Manila. The director is a young woman from Davao, and would you believe it was her first film. “
“Ah is that so, Dabawenyos are really good in many fields?”
“Magaling na bata, kasi maganda talaga ang pelikula, naiyak nga kami. (a talented kid because the movie was really beautiful, we even cried.) Patricia gushed over the film she just saw that afternoon.
“It’s not often you shed tears over a pelikula Patty.”
“ Anne Curtis is so pretty and she is so convincing, Christopher de Leon is a terrific actor. Anne plays the querida to Christopher de Leon, she wants to break free but she is beholden to him because of the many things he did for her, then…………”
Atty. Juanito can only nod and smile as Patricia with great enthusiasm tells the plot of the film.