Scrutiny

by Emmylou Shayne Layog (Fiction)

He had a long day, okay? Panoy only wanted to impress his boss, his VIP, his Subject. Maybe nerves made him do it. But still—he shouldn’t have. He could have just waited a little more until the man introduced himself. Well, in his defense, the man—who turned out to be a congressman from Manila, he is very much aware of that now—literally came hurtling toward The Subject. And Panoy pushed him off. Right after that, the congressman’s face turned a shade of red he could never ever forget for the rest of his life.

The moments that came after were a blur. It was supposed to be a leisurely stroll at the SM Mall of Asia. It was Panoy’s first time there. But then he noticed something—a figure—in his peripheral view. It ran toward them. His reflexes kicked in, and the next thing he knew, there was an angry congressman shouting curses at him while The Subject calmed the man down. Panoy couldn’t speak after that, and he absent-mindedly followed after his companions as they left the mall in a hurry. They weren’t trained to memorize names of politicians in VIP Security Protection course.

Now he’s sitting on one of the twin beds in a luxury hotel room The Subject booked for his bodyguards. They’re in Manila for a publicity event; it was basically his first time to fly. He’s been The Subject’s bodyguard for three years, and now he finally got to travel. But he may or may not have just put his job in jeopardy. He takes a minute to survey the well-lit, air-conditioned room. Two of his companions are already fast asleep. The other one, Bebot, is on the phone with his wife—probably checking on his family. All of them directly accompany The Subject on this trip. Five more are with Madam, The Subject’s wife.

Panoy also decides to call home. He thinks it’ll calm him a bit. Or a lot. After a few minutes, Francis—his eldest son—answers on the third ring.

“Boy? Kumusta?”

Dada Panoy! How are you? How’s Manila?”

“I’m OK, boy. It’s very… different, here. O, kamo diha? Are you watching over your sisters? Dada misses all of you!”

Panoy’s eyes already feel heavy with tears. It’s the first time he’s been this far from them.

Grabe, it’s only been a day, Da. Do you want to talk to Mami?”

He hears his son call out his wife’s name.

Dada, I have to go, ok? Magpraktis pa ko. Here, talk to Mami.”

“Hello? Dada? Unsa man? Is everything all right?”

Panoy chats with his wife for a few moments before the bodyguards were being summoned downstairs for dinner. Mao na ni, he thought. I’m getting fired before I can touch my rice.

That night, their dinner—which almost made Panoy forget his dilemma—cost a whopping five hundred thousand pesos. The Subject doesn’t even bat an eye when he was presented with the bill. He acknowledges the waiter to say thank you, then passes the bill onto his money guy—who had the goods ready before anyone could spare a glance.

He sees The Subject get up from his seat and whisper something to Bebot, who is keeping watch by the door. Bebot gestures to Panoy and he leaves the dining hall with them. The Subject has to entertain a few questions from the media. Reporters crowd outside Edsa Shangri-la Hotel. Once outside, he waves to the sea of people swarming the venue.

“Mr. Congressman, do you plan on selling your mansion in Forbes Park?”

“Sir, will you be absent when you’re in the Senate?”

“Congressman, what can you say about same sex marriage?”

That question seemed to catch The Subject’s attention. He turns to the reporter to give her an answer.

“As Christian, for me, no to same sex marriage. Babae sa lalaki. Lalaki, sa babae. Common sense,” The Subject shares his conservative views about the topic.

“Any more comments, congressman?”

“In animals, have you ever seen babae sa babae, lalaki sa lalaki? O di ba, wala? Mas masahol pa sa hayop ang tao,” he lets out a hollow laugh.

The reporter nods and takes notes from The Subject’s statement. More reporters seem to take this as opportunity to ask more questions. The Subject gives answers that were not as memorable as the last one, as the reporters noticeably don’t have any more follow-up questions after that. They stop asking him about his plans if he wins a seat in the Senate. They only want the hottest gossip they can get from the Subject.

When it was done, they retreat inside the hotel. Panoy hears a very particular voice call his name.

“Edgar Dequilla?”

Panoy can recognize that voice anywhere. He has heard the voice from various platforms and sources—music being the strangest of them all. Panoy takes a deep breath before facing The Subject. At least he waited until after dinner, he thought.

“Yes, Sir?”

He sees The Subject’s amused expression and instantly relaxes.

“I knew I had the best bodyguard from Gensan. Asta diri sa Manila,” he chuckles. It echoed throughout the Shangri-la hallways.

“Sorry, Sir. Reflexes lang ‘guro,” Panoy laughs with him and he feels a strong arm grip his shoulder.

“It’s fine, Edgar. I know you were just doing your job.”

“Just call me Panoy, sir.”

The Subject tightens the grip on his shoulder and lets go, walking away.

Diri sa ko, Panoy.”

That night, he falls asleep knowing he still had a job.

The Subject gives ten thousand pesos to each of the bodyguards to spend “for your family only, not for other families. Oke?”

Panoy splurges on chocolates, but he makes sure to buy his wife a Gucci-looking handbag, and matching dresses for his little girls. He drops by The Subject’s sporting goods store to buy his son personalized hand wraps and boxing gloves. Francis isn’t interested in any sport, is he? Or is he into those computer games, like all the kids these days? Well, Panoy thinks it’ll be a great idea to introduce Francis to boxing. He would like to maybe—just maybe—see the next People’s Champ in his son, too.

Three days—and a few congressmen he actually recognized, thanks to his companions—later, he comes home to General Santos City with pasalubong for his family. The Subject gave them the day off. He spends it lounging on their sofa and waiting for the children to come home from school.

Panoy reaches for the remote control when his daughters—Pam and Dayna—barge and attack their Dada with hugs.

“What took you so long?” Panoy asks them.

“We had to wait for Kuya. But he told us to go ahead. Bless ko, Dada.”

He turns the TV on to watch the evening news and immediately sees The Subject on the headlines again. His daughters check out the pasalubong he brought for them; Dayna munches on some chocolate and Pam is holding her new dress up for her Mami to see.

Dada, that’s your boss, right?” Dayna makes herself comfortable on her Dada’s lap.

Nahaharap sa panibagong kontrobersiya si Sarangani representative—“

Soon enough, Panoy’s wife, Jenny, joins them. They all watch Panoy’s boss continue to get criticized on national television. A few minutes later, Francis arrives, all sweaty and breathless.

“Where have you been, boy?”

“Practice, Dada. Bless ko.” Francis kisses his Dada’s cheek.

“Boy, I bought you boxing equipment, o.” Panoy calls out to his son.

“Sige lang, Dada!” Francis’ answer disappoints him. He was already disappearing to his room.

“Please try them out for me, ok?”

Francis didn’t reply. He probably didn’t hear Panoy.

Later, after eating dinner, it was Panoy’s turn to wash the dishes. He sees his son emerge from his room to gather the boxing equipment in his arms.

“I’ll go see if they fit me, Dada.”

This lifted Panoy’s spirits.

“Sige, boy. Who knows? Maybe you could be the next People’s Champ!” He grins at his son. Francis goes back to his room.

Jenny arranges the dishes after her husband washed them. As she puts away the last of the utensils, Panoy remembers to ask her about Francis.

“He practices at The Subject’s mansion. Maybe you guys could go together tomorrow, ‘da.”

The next day, Edgar Dequilla is back to work. It’s a Friday—which means The Subject’s church mates from River of God flock inside the mansion’s basketball court for the weekly Bible Study. The River of God’s own auditorium—courtesy of The Subject, of course—is currently under construction.

Panoy arrives at the venue with his son. Immediately, Francis runs to the other kids who practice together with the choir. So that’s what kept him busy all this time. Panoy notices that his son was the only boy in the little Bible dancer team, group—whatever they are called.

The Bible Study begins moments later, with worship songs signalling the commencement of the program. His son moves as gracefully as the other dancers. It seems like all the days of practicing paid off.

Hala, that’s your son, right, Panoy?”

Bebot nudges him and waits for him to answer.

“Yes, that’s him. That’s my son.”

He takes a deep breath and continues to observe his son move to the beat of the song. After the routine was over, the dancers sit on the bleachers and the pastor takes his place on the stage.

Today’s preach especially includes the latest issue involving The Subject. The pastor expresses his support for The Subject over the flak surrounding him.

“Leviticus 18:22 says ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.’ Same-sex marriage is an abomination. Our church is one with our good congressman—and future Senator—over here”—the pastor points to The Subject—“in condemning all acts of homosexuality. God does not want us to stray away from his Word!”

As the pastor continues to express his sentiments about the matter, Panoy’s companion, Bebot prods at him again.

“Look, Edgar. Frank bayot is leaving,” Bebot points to Madam’s personal assistant, who is getting up from his seat.

Only a few people notice him, including the bodyguards keeping watch by the main gate. Soon enough, Frank reaches the area where Panoy and the others are.

“Sir Frank, molakaw na ka? You won’t finish the sermon?”

“I’ll go ahead, kuya Edgar. My migraine is getting worse by the minute.” Frank puts his right hand against his temple. Panoy opens the gate for him.

Amping, Ma’am, ay, Sir Frank!” Bebot calls out after Frank. The latter ignores him. Panoy reprimands his colleague.

Buang ka, Bebot. That wasn’t funny. He didn’t even acknowledge you.”

Bebot stops laughing at his own joke and whispers, “I don’t care, Panoy.”

There is only silence for a few beats until Bebot quipped,

Ikaw? Why do you care? Bayot pod ka?”

Panoy doesn’t respond. He glances back at the ongoing Bible Study and sees his son already watching the exchange with Frank and the bodyguards. For a moment, their eyes meet. Francis is the first to look away.

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