Unexpectedly, after 20 years, and in a perfect coincidence, the mystery behind the missing of my Black Elpo shoes was resolved.
“Small world,” I said to myself when he walked towards me. His loud sunflower pendant dangling, lapping on his chest. His “bling-bling” glittered and throw glints on the lobby of the three story apartment building, I thought it was prism hanging on his necklace flirting with lights. He offered his right hand heavy with the gold chain bracelet. His finger has a gold ring with horse-shoe crown studded with little twinkling diamonds. He came dazzling through. And we shook hands. He emitted sly smile, one that size or wise you up. His grip, hard, hurting, lacking warmth. He was Rufino. My childhood nemesis. Never had it occurred in my wildest imagination that we’d be working together at Whittaker in 1983.
The driver who picked me up that late afternoon on a hot Wednesday at the Riyadh International Airport said goodbye after he endorsed me to Rufino.
“I think I know you,” he said. “You’re from Baliwag. Right?” I nodded.
“By golly! You’re that tiny chap who doesn’t want to wear that ugly Black Elpo shoe… Uh… Oh… I must confide. You know why you lost your shoes? Remember Justiniano, the pinhead guy with lips like a leech. I joked him, he could bring home your shoes. Ha … ha … The fool did. Ha … ha … Anyway, go with me. Leave your suitcase there. I’ll get your apartment key from Bombet”
I wondered. Who’s he at Whittaker…? His nonchalant confession about my shoes fused rage in my entire body. I like to loop his necklace around his throat and see his tongue out grasping for breath. And all those sad, painful memories surrounding my black Elpo shoes reeled back like film clips. I wondered… Did Rufino ever get successful chasing Carmelina?
I dogged him up to the third floor. He knocked hard one door to the left, and shouted, “Rufing here”. The door opened. Thick clouds of cigarette smoke greeted us. The apartment was a house of sin. Crowded and noisy. There were gambling tables of “Pusoy,” and Lucky Nine, and “Mahgong”. In the living room, three people were watching porno movies.
A tall guy with a worried look appeared before us. He handed Rufino two keys.
“His starter kit is there already. Make sure, this wouldn’t reach the office,” the guy warned. I wondered again. What this dialog meant.
“Bombet … that’s what you get from too much Taster’s Choice. Relax.” Rufino said.
“We called our Apartment “Hardees”. Rufino said while we’re on the road in Nissan Pajero. “See all these ‘suns,’ he boasted, referring to all his “bling-blings,” these are juices from Hardees Casino.”
Few more minutes, he parked the car. “We called this ‘Suleminiya Apartment’. 101 is your apartment number. You have a pseudo Muslim roommate. Don’t be surprised if he makes ‘Salah’. That’s his trip for a new roommate, to show off he’s a Muslim. It means, don’t cross with him. That’s why all Whittaker people living here can’t do things illegal to the Muslim culture. But he will have his days soon! I just looked at Rufino digesting what he’s saying.
“Tomorrow. I’ll have overtime. I’ll pick you up. I’ll show you, your assignment,” Rufino said. I felt like being bombarded with details and I couldn’t keep up qualifying them.
Rufino opened up Apartment 101, then my room. Big enough, complete with furniture, but the aura seemed gloomy and lifeless. A box lay idle at the entrance. That could be the starter kit box. Rufino opened the box. It was loaded with kitchen and bedroom stuffs.
“You didn’t need this much,” Rufino said. He scooped one comforter, one bed sheet, one top sheet and other miscellaneous things, set them aside, and ready to take them.
“Wait a minute,” I said. I was uptight. “I think, as it was issued to me, it’s my responsibilities. Before you get anything, I guess, I must report that first to whoever is in charge, on Saturday! If it’s okay, then you can get some. No problem.” Rufino threw me a fierce look.
Thursday, not a working day, Rufino picked me up. “Did you see Ibrahim Herrera, making ‘Salah? Praying, I mean” He asked.
“Yes. In front of my door,” I said. Rufino laughed. Your roommate is a faggot and a spy. He had been conducting `flesh business’ at his apartment. Nobody dared touch him. That`s why people living in Sulmeniya have a boring life, unlike the Hardees people, they can have a lot of fun. His Christian name is Agusto. When he converted to Muslim, that’s for protection, pleasure and convenience.
When we get to the Whittaker’s Property control Office, Rufino said, “This is where I am going to assign you,” with one hand on his hip, while the other pointing a desk with lots of printouts on top. Is he my boss? I wondered. Has this orientation sanctioned by the office? He pulled a file of print outs, sat up and began explaining, giving me pointers on what the other boss likes and dislikes. I yawned.
However bad a person is, surely, one must have a redeeming trait, so they say. I tried finding one on Rufino, but failed. Rufino seemed just one short of the seven deadly sins and that is sloth, but pride, wrath, lust, envy, greed and gluttony. He had them all. I was ashamed he is my town mates. One thing that really vexed me, apart from backbiting, busy bodying, outsmarting, sowing intrigues, his bossing, although he was not boss, was his propagandizing the ills of his own race. He was as if taking pride telling to other nationalities that most Filipinos are fond of scrounging “mapagharimuhanan” that if they can get things without cost, pilfering, they would do it. That Filipinos have these tendencies to get ahead by any possible short cut, taking one over the other to get an advantage. He was belittling, debasing his own race. In my tenth month with Whittaker, to the point that he stressed me out to the max, something happened…!
Rufino squealed Ibrahim for letting other nationalities; Pakistanis, Arabs, Egyptians, hung around in his apartment, apparently, conducting his “flesh” business. This was against Whittaker’s Housing Policy. Ibrahim was reprimanded. Two weeks later, early Morning of Thursday, the Hardees Apartment was raided by “muttawa” religious police. Caught in the act of gambling were twelve employees of Whittaker. Two from Northrop Company. One jumped from the third floor in panic, alive but amputated. The raid yielded boxes of “sadique,” locally brewed wine, gambling paraphernalia and porno video tapes. Among those caught who would be spending more than a year in prison and forever be blacklisted in Saudi was Rufino.
In 1986, I was with Allied Medical Group this time, still in Riyadh, to my great surprised I saw Rufino again.
He came not as dazzling anymore. None of his ‘suns’ were showing. Instead, it was his ID dangling now on his chest bearing a Rufin name, while he collects our mails. He was now a courier of DHL-SNAS. I spotted humility in his demeanor now. To my surprised, he approached me, and said, “I am sorry for the mischief I’ve done with your Black Elpo Shoes.” I didn’t know why my eyes got cloudy. Could be tears, tears of forgiveness. I felt his sincerity in making amends. I asked him how he was able to come back to Saudi.
Rufino said, “I dropped the last letter “O” of my first name. I am a new person now.”