NOVEMBER 22, 2008; 7:45PM. We were forty-five minutes late and counting. My ride hurtled along the rain-drenched Ayala Avenue. It was a Saturday and, thankfully, evening traffic was light. As we turned left towards Rufino Street, our car barely missed collision with a slow-moving taxicab. My friend John was behind the wheel. Seeing that we’ve steered clear of the cab, he stepped on the gas and headed towards Rada Street. I let out a heavy sigh. Precious seconds were wasting and we were missing an opportunity of a lifetime.
We reached the back side of our destination inside of two minutes. I opened the car door once we’ve passed the back entrance of the office building. My head and half my body were already jutting out of the vehicle even before John could manage a full stop. I jumped out. Damned if I’m going to wait until the car is parked.
“Go ahead! I’ll follow!” John shouted through the car’s open door.
“ Thanks!” I shouted in return, not even looking back.
I burst inside the building and rushed towards the elevator, past a startled security guard who asked me where I was headed. “Digicord Recording Studio. Second Floor,” I answered in a tone he wouldn’t think about messing with. I fixed him with my best De Niro glare and he must have decided it was not worth it as he sat back on his chair without another word. The lift was still on the eighth floor so I doubled back and took the stairs. All along the way, up the steps and through the empty corridor, my heart was racing; five Arabian horses were stomping in my chest. This is it.
I reached the main door of the studio and tried to collect myself before opening the heavy oak door. My heart sank. The reception area was empty. Oh my God, they finished early. Then, John emerged from the elevator, ran, burst through the door, took my arm and led me inside past the posh executive offices up to the last room on the right where my friend and poet, Ricky, was waiting.
“You’re late,” Ricky said, a little upset. “They came in at 7pm sharp. Recording had already started. He’s finished two poems from the anthology and he’s nearly midway through The Last Brew.” It can’t be! My knees buckled.
The Last Brew is my prose poem which is part of an anthology of literary pieces which were to be read and recorded on CD by a great American actor no less. I had been waiting days, weeks and years for that one single moment in my dreams to happen. I had waited all my life. And there I was, halfway between realization and total despair.
Ricky finally led me through the door with the lit red sign that said “In Session.” The room was dark. We went straight inside the control booth, which was only about 15 square meters and was already filled with people. There were about 20 souls squeezed inside the booth, all of them craning their necks towards the wide soundproof glass facing the more spacious recording area. I was shaking like a leaf. The sound technician was busy tweaking the controls, adjusting the volume and tone of a familiar voice which I immediately associated with big films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, War of the Worlds and, yes, to some extent, the recent Tropic Thunder.
Ricky whispered to a young brunette, who looked at me quizzically then pointed through the glass and mouthed the words: The Last Brew. She was the actor’s assistant, I presumed. Then, I looked through the glass and there he was – Academy Award-winner and Hollywood’s most sought-after dramatic actor and narrator, Morgan Freeman, in the flesh. Inside the recording area, he looked exactly like in the movies, only darker. He was tall, easily over six feet, salt and pepper hair. The liver spots on his face were visible even in the dimly-lit booth. He was wearing a black flannel shirt over jeans, much unlike the authoritarian suits he donned in Deep Impact and The Sum of All Fears. He wore monitor headphones and was speaking towards a huge hanging microphone. In front of him was a piece of paper, a copy of The Last Brew (it might have been safe to say). A little to his right, was a bottle of Evian. To his left, leaning on a small table, was a pair of crutches. Need I say why?
The Arabian horses were back thumping, now trying to get out of my ribcage. I was star struck; I almost forgot he was recording my piece. I let it sink. I could hear faint music in the background.
“…if there’s anything I have learned from all these is that nothing is unbreakable. What we have strived to live for is what eventually did us. And there’s this certain inevitability that, one fine day, I would wake up with the steely resolve, the heart, to finally put matters in order. I wouldn’t let anything kill it, not even hope. Today is as good as any day, I guess.”
A pause. The hair on my arms and nape were standing on end. My heart was being stabbed with a spoon. As customary to all of his previous narrations, he was reading very, very slowly, enunciating every written word as if everything hung on each syllable:
“I still dream of coffee. But today I will be putting back your mug – your Holy Grail – high up the cupboard behind the looking glass where it will sit alone, unrivaled for now, looking down on me from a revered place where it truly belongs.”
At that point, I knew in my heart that The Last Brew was meant to be read aloud. He scanned the control booth. It was like he was looking at a garden with all the flowers in bloom.
“And for the briefest of moments, I will remember the last significant time you held our cup, smiling, beautiful and radiant in the dying afternoon sun, the summer breeze blowing tufts of your golden hair, your eyes saying everything’s going to be alright.”
Another pause, this time longer than the first one. Is he stopping? I didn’t know what was happening. Mr. Freeman was looking downward on the carpet as if searching for the right words to say. It’s right there, Mr. Freeman. Just read it! I almost shouted. I felt Ricky squeeze my shoulders. And then, slowly, Mr. Freeman looked up with all the sadness in the world. Suddenly, he was Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy.
“It all ends here, not because there’s nothing else to say, but because nothing else matters. Remember our attempt at definition. Deja Brew: The feeling that we’ve tasted this coffee before. This has ominously become our definition of fate, our destiny.”
At that point, his voice was low, almost in grunts. It was real cold but I felt like my ass was being lit with a hundred smoldering matchsticks:
“But when that time comes, this I pray – the next time you look down your petit noir, face-to-face with that bottomless black, feeling that old familiar feeling…”
There was genuine regret in his voice. You could almost see pain leave his mouth and scatter in mists around the air-conditioned room. The background music built up to a crescendo.
“…I hope that every once in a while you’d still see my reflection looking back at you, reminding you how brave we’ ve once been to throw it all into the mix and how we’ve given it all we’ve got.”
I closed my eyes and held my breath.
“You know I’ve been under the rain for too long. I love the rain, but sometimes I miss the sun.”
Eyes still closed, I was almost in tears.
“So here I am looking out the door with my final brew – a piping-hot cup of decaf – its steam rising, floating, thoughtfully dancing to the wave of a last goodbye.”
There it was – a long-cherished dream delightfully coming true. Miracles do happen. My mouth was wide agape. John looked at me with condescension. The room was in utter silence. You could almost hear the rustle of clothes and the faint noise of the wind outside the curtained glass windows. Then, without warning, the control booth erupted in applause. I could feel congratulatory taps on my shoulders. I fought bravely. And if not for my shuddering shoulders, I wouldn’t know that I failed miserably.
I was still looking at Mr. Freeman. He slightly bowed his head to acknowledge the applause. Then his eyes – those piercing brown eyes – scanned our booth. It scared me to think that those were the very same eyes we see in action movies; just one look at you tells you what kind of a fuck-up you are. But not tonight. Those hazel eyes held your hands and shook it as if you’ve been buddies for years. Then he spoke.
“Now, I wanna know who wrote that,” he asked with the face of a poker player. And those piercing eyes…
Everyone in the Control Booth looked my way. Mr. Freeman locked his gaze at me and, frankly, I didn’t know whether I’d felt like greatest poet in the world or nothing but a true-blue, certified fuck-up. The world around me started to swirl. John stared at me as if the moon just swallowed the sun and the constellations and there was nothing but a huge black hole in front of him. His face started to blur. Milky. And then blackness…
— o —
“MR. FREEMAN…” I was mumbling as I opened my eyes. John’s face was inches from mine. Coming to, I realized that we were inside the car and were parked on some familiar street in Makati, famous for its clubs and parties.
“Freeman?” John asked with a secret smile on his face.
“I was calling his name,” I said, delirious.
“Yup, you were calling some name alright, but it wasn’t Morgan Freeman.”
“It was Jack,” John said. “Jack Daniels!”
“You’re so full of shit, my friend.” John chuckled hysterically.
The world outside was swirling again. Hungover, I felt like throwing up.
(what dreams may come)