Sunday, October 10, 2010


Have you noticed how they play the same two or three songs for line dancing?

It was a salubrious October evening with a hint of the coming autumn. I imagined the Lutheran church hall in Bethesda is usually filled with hymns but this evening, there was the tune of “Toro Toro” (I’ve never really had the compunction to find out if that’s really the song’s title).

“I’ve been to hundreds of this,” a man outside the hall door told no one in particular.

He whispered to me, he’d smuggled in whiskey and offered to pour some in the Styrofoam cup I was holding, half filled with lukewarm coffee.

“No thanks,” I replied. Though it wasn’t that far crossing Maryland to Virginia I have trouble driving in the dark.

The hall was filled with Pinoys. The party was organized by the Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao Association – they say they’ve been in existence for years but that was the first time I heard about it, much less been in one of their events.

Inside, the rudimentary rows for line dancing were formed, half the eyes gazing on their partner’s feet, their own struggling to keep pace with the lazy, numbered steps.

The other half of the room was doing their own ballet – filling paper plates with their fill of menudo and afritada and pancit from the buffet table, they now zigzagged back to their tables, trying not to hit or be hit by prancing feet or flailing hands.


On any other Saturday evening, Solly might be in that happy throng.

This evening was actually dedicated to her. Part of the night’s proceeds will help buy her a plane ticket back home. You see, Solly, at 57 years old, is dying. A cancerous tumor is growing in her brain and her doctors have given her only a couple of months more.

Solly is the sister of a friend of a friend – which in the cosmos of Pinoys in this part of America translates to family.

She arrived in a wheelchair. Sullen, her face swollen from the chemotherapy. Her smile was labored as friends and strangers took turns to wish her well with an embrace, a hug, a kiss.

Solly’s younger sister, Flor, watched from a corner, fighting the tears welling in her eyes. She knew this was also Solly’s despedida.

Solly is divorced from her Jamaican husband who, we heard, has taken a younger wife, also a Filipina, someone he met in one of estranged couple’s vacations in Manila.

Their son lives on campus in North Carolina; but tonight, he kept a vigilant eye on his mother.

Her own eyes were transfixed on the line dancers, perhaps reminiscencing happier days. She couldn’t resist the urge to stand and dance but she was quickly helped back to her seat, exhausted and sobered. Solly may be resigned to her illness but not her fate. Not yet, at least.

Her life was at apogee, the point of no return where the voyage is shorter moving forward. If she becomes any sicker, the cost of going home will become prohibitive. Bed-ridden, no airline would agree to convey her without a complete medical team accompanying her.

If she puts off her return any longer, Solly would have to make that trip in an urn.

She is going home to Bicol on November 13.


The woman puffed furiously on her cigarette. She had a distinct Bisaya accent; she revealed she was originally from Samar. I never got to ask her name because I never got the chance, as she shared her tale of Ahmed.

Ahmed was her husband who died fairly recently, she replied to our nonexistent question. He was a Muslim. He died from cancer of the larynx.

“I didn’t even know there was that kind of cancer,” she said, talking rapidly as many Bisaya women I know seem wont to do.

She revealed that Ahmed didn’t like to attend these Fil-Am gatherings. “He let me go there anytime. I often got home late, sometimes past midnight and all he asked was if I enjoyed it.” His trust was unquestioning.

“He accepted me even after knowing I already had five children. He even helped me bring them here in America,” she said, confessing that she didn’t have papers in her first few years in the US. A TNT, tago-ng-tago, one of thousands of Filipinos who entered the country on a tourist visa then decided to stay, living in the shadows.

“Ahmed was a good Muslim,” she insisted, “He did not force me to convert to his religion. He didn’t even forbid me from cooking pork at home. He was a good and kind to me,”

She pulled more smoke from her stick.. “I don’t believe this will give me cancer,” she said defiantly in between coughs.

“Ahmed died after only six months,” she recounted, “But he didn’t smoke, he did not drink. He was very clean; I think more than I could ever be. He liked everything to be organized and orderly all the time.”

“I don’t think I will ever find a man like Ahmed. He helped me fix my life, and opened opportunities for my children. God has a way of making things right,” she said thoughtfully.

“Sometimes discover all of a sudden that He gives us someone when we least expect it and they do God’s work here on earth.”

She stomped on what was left of the cigarette and walked back inside, a smile standing for hello and farewell.

On the drive back home to Alexandria, I decided to avoid the GW Parkway even if it could have brought me home quicker. I had noticed the herd of deer grazing by the road side because the sun was still setting. But in the dark, they are known to dart across the two-lane parkway, their eyes lit red by a car’s headlights offering very little warning to unwary motorists. Tracking I-495 was longer but it will take me home as well.

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