I stood still as I saw him in flesh, there he was with the young minds listening to every word he says. I stared in astonishment, I couldn’t even move to go inside the already-packed room as te held the microphone speaking eye to eye with the guests while he sat at the long wooden table. I was at the edge of the door with a friend, we were already late for 15 minutes. And as I stood there, still panting and wiping sweat from my forhead, he looked at me and said “Any questions?” – I just shooked my head, clearly star-strucked.
I can still remember the day I bought my first F. Sionil Jose book – it was during the graduation practices in high school of 2008, and so while strolling along the bookstore I saw a pile of books under new releases at the local author stand. And as I was looking at the books I got attracted to F. Sionil’s novel “Tree”. At that time I had no idea who F. Sionil Jose was, all I thought about was how nice the book was (Yes, I did judge the book by its cover) and so I bought it and started reading it. At first I kept re-reading each page at least twice to understand the story, it was such a hard read that eventually I gave up.
It wasn’t until until when I got into my third year in college that I revisited the book and understood the story. It’s when I started learning about him and realized he was a National Artist for Literature! How dumb of me, I know.
During my fourth year doing thesis, I was lucky enough to have a partner that also likes reading the national artist and it was an instant hit! We called it the “Miracle” thesis because we literally did the 400-page thesis in 29 hours after learning that everything we did was wrong and an epiphany happened when we thought that we’d be delayed for another year. By this time I already collected his “Rosales Saga” novels – 5 books that span a hundred years of Philippine history following the story of a family clan.
When I started working I’d save on my stipend and buy his novels, now I realize where my money went, it was on books! Because F. Sionil Jose is such a hard read (Well at least for me) I finished the Rosales Saga novels just in 2015 – That’s how slow I read 5 novels, it took me 7 years!
When the summer of 2016 came, a friend sent me a link for a registration for a dialogue with the National Artist himself. I immediately registered and on June 10, 2016, I will never forget that day I met my hero.
I listened and wrote everything I could that he discussed, but sometimes I just space out and just stare in awe of him, he glanced a few times at me and each glance felt like a blessing from above.
After 2 hours it was over, he agreed for photos and signing books. I brought my 8-year old book and had it signed, I told him it was the very first book I bought but he didn’t seem to hear, but who cares, he signed my book! I had another book which I brought to be signed for someone who wasn’t able to come, I think he wrote something wrong there so thus why my book “Tree” has “My Apologies” written on it by F. Sionil. – Wait, a National Artist apologized to me, I am not worthy of such gesture!
I actually waited outside the room just to watch him leave first, there I was just sitting in the corner watching the great writer whom I admire the most. He wrote beautifully and with great detail, too. He wrote about social injustice in his stories that are still relevant today, which only shows that we really didn’t achieve anything as a nation. He said that we are a people, but not a nation.
In F. Sionil Jose’s stories I see clearly the harsh reality and history, and if ever you chanced upon an F. Sionil Jose book, pick it up and read it, because in it I lived a thousand lives and have died a thousand deaths.