Our first house was built in a small lot in a small village called Merryhomes. Merryhomes straddles the border area of West Fairview and Barangay Sta. Lucia in Novaliches. My father built the house in late 1979 with a P100, 000.00 loan. West Fairview then was an upper middle class community, while Barangay Sta. Lucia was a depressed community with many informal settlers. We thus earned the dubious title of being “West Fairview Gi-leds”.
One of the construction workers who built our house was an ex-convict named Jun Nicolas, aka “Onyong Tattoo”. True to his name, Onyong’s body was covered with the green-hue tattoo that was used to mark a former convict. His body had snakes, an eagle even a space capsule used to identify his affiliation with the notorious Sigue-sigue Sputnik gang. One huge snake covered almost all of his right leg. His head was always shaven bald.
When our house was finished in 1980, Onyong would not want to leave the house. Since he lived in the shanties in Sta. Lucia, my father decided to let him hang around the house doing odd chores for a few bucks a day. At the end of the day, he would go home, but not before entertaining us with his guitar.
I was 11 at that time and at first I was terrified to see a bald tattooed ex-con working as a handyman in the house. But later the family found him to be gentle and kind and so unlike the stereotypical ex-con. He told us that we went to jail because he killed someone, but he killed him because of self-defense. Apart from his evasive and cryptic answers regarding his criminal record, he said very little about himself. He would rather take his guitar and entertain us with his funny songs:
“MISTER CLEAN, MISTER CLEAN, MAGNANAKAW NG LABADA..KITANG KITA ANG EBIDENSIYA, POLO’T BIKINI’T PANTALON…”
His funny songs are his magnet, and he would attract kids from the neighborhood who would be tickled pink with his funny songs.
And nobody would dare, pick a fight with us. All the neighborhood toughies stayed clear off our house less they ran into ONYONG. Apparently people are spooked and we liked it.
One day my one-year old brother had a very severe convulsion. He had been nursing a very high fever and true to our genetic predisposition had a severe fit. The convulsion was so severe that we twitching violently. He was on the verge of dying. Everyone was panicking. Manang Tal our yaya was panicking and was frantic. Our parents were at work. I was hugging my sister, expecting the worst. But Onyong decided to run off to find a taxi cab and he found one. Together with Manang Tal they rushed my brother to the nearest hospital to Fairview---which in those days was the Children’s Hospital in Q.Ave.
When they got to the Hospital, Manang Tal found that they had no money and Onyong was barefooted (in his rush to get the taxi, he forgot to put on his flip-flops). Onyong talked to the taxi driver regarding their predicament and the taxi driver never bothered to argue with the tattooed bald man.
My brother survived. He is now 29 years old and shows no signs of his childhood convulsions.
Onyong will not be so lucky. Less than two years after he heroically saved my brother’s life, he would take his own. We woke up one morning to the sad news that our friend had drunk Nuvan insecticide and killed himself. He got into an argument with his sister and in a fit of depression decided to poison himself.
“MISTER CLEAN..MISTER CLEAN…MAGNANAKAW NG LABADA…”
Don Mclean says it most eloquently…
“NOW I UNDERSTAND, WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY TO ME…
HOW YOU SUFFERED FOR YOUR SANITY
HOW YOU TRIED TO SET THEM FREE…”
If there is one thing me and my brother regret is that we never had a chance to have a cold beer with our friend Onyong. He was a gift to us, he gifted us with the gift of laughter and he gave my brother the gift of life.
To Onyong our friend. We know that you are now in heaven having a cold one. Till we meet again, please save some pulutan for us.
“MISTER CLEAN..MISTER CLEAN..”