I was with my friend Toph one night, driving along a stretch of highway, when he asked me to drop by the house he bought for his mom in Taguig. He wanted to visit her. I obliged; it wasn't that often that Toph manages to find time in his busy schedule to visit his mom, and I figured I had some to spare.
It was two hours before midnight when we got there, and we practically had to wake the whole household to get in. We made our way into the living room. I sat on the sofa, admiring the cool light fixture attached to the ceiling, four half globes set on a large wooden square, while Toph promptly left and made his way up to his mom's bedroom. I heard several voices; I figured his nieces, who were also living in the same house, were probably awake by now too. I didn't know what was happening, but there was a palpable excitement in the air.
Then everyone came down, and with their loud voices, you'd think they've been patiently waiting for Toph rather than being rudely awakened in the middle of the night. One niece asked for a dress from his uncle for the prom, and he said, with a smirk and a small twinkle in his eye, that he would think about it. His mom was very affectionate, constantly touching her son's cheek with an exclamation about how gwapo (handsome) his son had become.
More than the fuss over him, what amazed me was how soft Toph seemed. How human. It was as if all barriers around him were brought down, and now there was just him. It was as if I was seeing Toph, the true Toph, for the first time.
It was a remarkably touching scene, and reflected an aspect of my friend's life I wasn't familiar with. I love Toph, but he can be a bit arrogant. The arrogance has basis though; he is a self-made man, who managed to wrangle some success for himself despite the extreme poverty he inherited. Though to some he may seem abrasive, to me it is merely the tenacity of an individual unwilling to succumb to the low expectations of his community. He once told me that he knew, even as a child, that he would never allow his circumstances to define him. He believed, no, he knew that he was more than the poverty he was born into.
We didn't stay long, although we did stay long enough for Toph's mom to show me a few photographs. Her lined face seemed to be set in a perpetual smile. I realized it was because her favorite son was home. I smiled politely, and tried to be as sociable as I could. Still, I felt like I was intruding into something terribly personal.
We were quiet on the ride back, although, as it usually is with close friends, it was a warm, comfortable silence that felt natural and apt. Toph broke the silence when he told me that when he was younger, especially during the first few years when he was still trying to make his mark in the world, he was very insecure about two things: his looks, and his poverty. He made some bad decisions because of it, but as he grew up, he realized there were more important things, and that he didn't really have to prove anything to anyone. He said he was finished proving himself to everyone. He was himself, and he knew that that was all that mattered.
Photo taken here.