BY ALEX P. VIDAL
WHEN Manila hosted the 30th FIDE Chess Olympiad at the Philippine International Convention Center on June 7-25, 1992, I sailed to the Big City via M/V Princess of Negros (this “provinciano” newsman always hated to take the plane–until today).
Unlike chess guru and columnist Amante “Boy” Espejo (he is the only chess authority that I respect most) who secured an accreditation for the mammoth event, I failed to get an official ID and ended up “outside the kulambo (mosquito net)”; so I spent my time in Manila both as tourist and “undocumented” sportswriter.
Anyway, the rare opportunity to see in person Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik and British Grandmaster Nigel Short was more important to me than joining fellow sportswriters wrecking their brains and belaboring themselves in annotating the Nimzo Indian Defense and Queen’s Gambit variations of the world’s best woodpushers in the conclave that missed the presence of reigning world titlist Garry Kasparov (his absence enabled GM Anatoli Karpov to take over Board 1 for the talented Soviets that romped off with the title edging Uzbekistan and Armenia).
In between matches, I hopped to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) office located inside the Rizal Memorial Stadium (now Ninoy Aquino Stadium) and in nearby Ermita “red light” district during day time.
It was in Ermita at around past 3 o’clock in the afternoon where a very unfortunate incident happened inside–again–a moviehouse.
As usual, my purpose in entering the moviehouse (which had been demolished to pave the way for construction of SM shopping center Ermita branch) was to sleep.
This time, I paid for the cheaper orchestra section. Inside, I noticed a “standing room” or no available seats for those who arrived late.
It was a Tagalog Rated “R” film and most of the patrons were males who came not to sleep. The seemingly dilapidated air-conditioner inside had no match to a horde of warm bodies elbowing each other to get a better space and clear view of the big screen.
After worming my way into the darkness and struggling like a trapped miner to get past and hurdle one body after another, I landed on a wooden wall facing the screen. My view blocked by silhouettes, I rested my back on the wall while standing.
In only about three minutes, I felt uneasy and uncomfortable. Heat was unbearable and the atmosphere no longer was fit for human convenience and decency.
If my purpose inside had been defeated, the realization did not sink immediately in my mind until what happened next.
As soon as I was figuring out my exit plan, I felt something moving, a strange object crawling horizontally on my upper left leg. Not a spider. Not a cobra. Not a caterpillar. Not anything associated to any paranormal phenomenon.
I relaxed, maintained a calm mind, and observed the proceedings. The crawling master stopped and retreated when I moved my leg to send a curt notice.
Seconds later, the mysterious invader was back again this time with unbelievable boldness and ferocity: it landed smack inside my pocket. It was a human hand!
The situation was very familiar: “pickpockets!” I quickly told myself as I made a deep breath and swallow–and summoned my courage.
Without any hesitation, I grabbed a small knife disguised as ballpen placed in the left pocket of my polo shirt and lunged it to my pocket’s uninvited guest.
When the owner of the hand let loose an ear-piercing and loud scream, it was when I realized he was not actually a pickpocket.
“Ahhraaaaaaaay! Anoh vah ang khasalanan koh sa ‘yoh? Huhuhuhu” (Ouch! Why did you do this to me? What is my fault?).
Chaos ensued when some confused moviegoers started running outside thinking there was a rumble.
While those in the hearing distance were stunned, others who didn’t want their earthly pleasures interrupted, were undaunted and ignored the noise coming from a hurting effeminate voice.
When the security guards responded, I thought I made the fastest run of my life and disappeared in the crowd.
When I went home, Leonardo “Nards” Dellero, a singer-composer and one-time barangay captain in Guimaras, borrowed the ballpen-cum-knife. I didn’t bother to take it back from him anymore.