Health And Family


MIDLIFERY - Twink Macaraeg -

My previous article about Friends got me thinking about my Badminton Group. We don’t know each other all that well off the courts, but I have no doubt that if I were fleeing incarceration for some crime I didn’t commit, any one of them would offer me refuge in a remote Bali-themed hideaway. I’m sure that if aliens invaded human bodies and there was no way of knowing whether or not one had been possessed, they would still invite me over for coffee.

I could say that what binds us is a shared passion for the sport, but that might mislead you into thinking that we’re any good at it. Let me say, instead, that we’ve recreated that magical time from childhood when we played agawan base or patintero that stretched for a mile (in Capiz we called it kaban-kaban) with any and all worthy participants, regardless of pedigree, language spoken or juvenile criminal record. To be part of the group you merely had to subscribe to certain rules: No cheating. No crying. No slacking.

Children have a cutthroat way of dealing with violators. The errant one was simply ostracized like a Jonah in Master and Commander, never picked for a side and left to skulk away, in search of other playmates. Culled of such deviants, those who remained were then free to spill blood, sweat and tears (the former and the latter being metaphorical) in the sublime pursuit of a collective goal.   

I remember our initiation. All the warehouses that my hubby Poy and I frequented had closed down, as the badminton fad went into its death throes. I was forced to look into the courts 50 meters way from our home, to see if there were any openings.

There were none, of course, as the facility was a small affair with a complicated membership system that didn’t seem to give any special privileges for being residents of the Village that hosted it. But a lady who introduced herself as Tita Lei approached to invite us to join them the next morning.

Poy and I weren’t particularly enthused. We were both decent club-level tennis players in our youth. As such, that made us half-decent badminton players in our middle age, we thought. We couldn’t imagine wasting our time playing chimay-style badminton with a bunch of senior citizens. But to be polite, we accepted.

We showed up early to find Tita Lei doing warm-up aerobics to a disco remix of VST and Co. and Kylie Minogue caterwauling from an iPad. The women who followed preferred, for some reason, to climb through the open window rather than pass the doorway. I learned that most of them were grandmothers but to describe them as sprightly wouldn’t do them justice. Not only could they play four consecutive games without resting, they danced the jitterbug during brief lulls, did pratfalls and physical schtick reminiscent of Dolphy and Panchito movies, and energetically cheered each other on when they weren’t cursing each other out in Chinese or Ilonggo.

Tita Lei, Poy and I had dubbed “The Wiley Lei” because she could dropshot from anywhere, the shuttlecock somehow traveling in the opposite direction from where her racket was facing. Katy had a crosscourt hookshot; truly a thing to behold. When it seemed that there was no way she could get to the bird, she would leap and do her Kareem Abdul Jabbar thing, catching her opponents flatfooted without fail. Miel had the floppiest wrist you’ve ever seen, which gave no hint of whether it would hit long or short. Amah could return any smash, I mean ANY smash, inventing a different expletive every time. Ayingguu! Ennaamwee! Okeenangggg!  

None of them were trained in badminton’s footwork that could get you to any point in the court in two lurches, but they compensated with scrappy-ness.  Some scurried, others galloped, but they did the locomotion with awesome efficiency.

They got game, thought not in a way a textbook would dare teach. I immediately settled in among them, a bunch of garrulous former tomboys and high school jocks sporting muffin tops that no amount of physical activity could eliminate. Whether it’s our reduced production of estrogen or just the natural bad-ass feeling one gets after a satisfying hard-fought match, we sometimes take to calling each other by our surnames. Hoy, Tirol! Okey si Olalia!

Poy, humbled because his brute force had little effect against the Iron Maidens, took his place with the other spouses who joked among themselves that no matter with whom they wife-swapped, or dallied extra-marital-ly, they still somehow found themselves with the same harridan partner.

Patner, takbooo, put@#$#%!” Tita Lei bellows, as she’s whipped from side to side like a windshield wiper. 

Katy exhorts, “Kaya ba? Kaya ba?” when her side is behind, and even if they have a 12 point deficit to surmount, her partner has to reply with a sufficiently lusty, “Kaya!” before the game can proceed.

I’ve come to like being yelled at. At my age, it’s gratifying that someone can still have higher expectations of what I’m capable of. When that someone has a decade on me, then I imagine that thrill magnified for her threefold when I yell back, “Pambihira, why’d you miss that? Para kang lola!”

Mind you, expectations can only go so far. I once suggested that we enroll in a couple of group classes with a former National Champion to brush up on our rudiments, only to receive the gentle rebuke. “Old dogs, Twink.”        

How could I have been so foolish? I mentally kicked myself afterwards. Why didn’t I have the good sense to realize that some things weren’t meant to be changed? A shot sailing just beyond a racquet’s reach would surely elicit the catcall, “Kulang sa Star Margarine!” Someone at the brink of victory had to declare right before serving, “Okay! Finished or not finished! Pass your paper!” Franco could always be counted on to holler, “Tira, Baby!” to cheer on a female player. No one points out how unforgivably corny that is.

Upon such predictabilities are sustainable, long-lasting relationships built. Who cares that the only curiosity any one has expressed about my job is to ask, whether it’s true that Mega makes a billion pesos, or Have I seen Derek Ramsey’s package?   What does it matter that Amah, — obviously a woman of means, judging from her idle chatter about renovating her building in Binondo — will respond to any queries about her wealth with a straight-faced “Kabit ako ni Henry Sy”?   

More importantly, we all went through some unspoken ritual that earned us acceptance into the clique. Our camaraderie is rooted in adherence to the basic tenets of play-manship — No cheating. No crying. No slacking.

Alongside what we implicitly recognize as the hallmarks of character, the 14 of us — save for exceptional circumstances like foreign travel or exhaustion from an all-night mah-jong session — show up for every game.

That’s what makes for a good friendship. Showing up.

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