Among my works, Two Friends, One World and its Tagalog version, Mata at Mangga (not translation) are two of my favorites. They are also among my most popular and successful. Young readers have told me that they have been inspired to take up writing because of these stories. In my sonís lovely, tree-shaded school in Antipolo (The Little Farmhouse), students come up to me and ask if I am the author of that story about the blind boy and his sighted friend Francisca. When I say yes, they flash me a smile, sometimes accompanied by a thumbs-up sign. (These reactions are more important to me than any literary award.)
I have also heard that even much older readers enjoy them. For example, they have been assigned in various college philosophy classes and even the courses of a spiritual formation center. A few years ago, the filmmaker Mark Villena adapted the story into a short film that won several awards both here and abroad. The Cultural Center of the Philippines has a copy of the short film if I am not mistaken.
Years earlier, a play adaptation was also made of the story. This was performed in New York and New Jersey and produced by Rene Encarnacion and Mila Francisca Bongco, for whom the story was written and after whom the sighted girl, Francisca is named. Antonio, the blind boy, uses one of my names.
I wrote the story in the 80s and it first saw print in the GEMS textbook series of Anvil Publishing, Inc. In the 90s, it was then illustrated by Joanne de Leon and published as its own book by Cacho Publishing House. The Cacho edition must have sold over thirty thousand copies since then, and since the Anvil textbook is sold directly to schools, I am guessing that at least 60,000 people have read my story -- if all the students assigned to read it really did read it.
I had written various other stories -- fairy tales and fantasies -- before Two Friends, One World. One has to practice as a writer, even though the practice pieces will never see print. Itís like what a photographer does -- shoot many pictures of the same thing and then choose only the best for the public to see.
When I had a chance to get my stories published, I wanted to make sure that the first story to be published would NOT be a fairy tale or a folk tale. Why? Because in the Philippines, especially after the 70s, a lot of research was done on Philippine folklore and a lot of writers were writing cute little fairy tales fully of whimsical imaginings. So, I wanted my story not to be about the past but about the present. I wanted to show both children and writers, that the world we live in, the Now we live in is wonderful enough, capable of stirring deep emotions, without people turning into princesses or trees bearing candles for fruit.
And so I decided to write about an ordinary walk in the park, thinking there was enough beauty in a simple walk to justify a story. For the idea of it being about two friends -- one sighted, one blind -- I used an idea from a real friend of mine.
In the late 70s and early 80s, I used to jog regularly with my friend Mila Francisca Bongco. About three times a week, we would jog from the Ateneo campus to UP and back. It was during one of these runs that she talked about the idea of two running friends, one sighted, one blind -- I do not remember now if they were real people or whether it was just a story idea. As they ran, the sighted friend would point out and describe things they passed.
This became the core of my story. To add more excitement, I used a device I learned from a movie by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon. This movie had a very adult theme -- a crime of violence. But it was told by showing the different points of view of the characters involved.
I decided to try and apply it to a story for children -- and so, Two Friends, One World is actually two stories about a walk in the park: one from the point of view of a seeing girl, the other from the point of view of a blind boy.
This forced me to put myself in these two points of view. For Antonio, I had to find a way to describe how a blind person experiences the world. And this was an enjoyable exercise, because I was a fan of the blind Marvel comic superhero Daredevil and the TV series Kung Fu. In both cases, they encouraged people to learn how to heighten their other senses. I learned, for example, how to walk from my room to our kitchen, with my eyes closed. So it was both easy and fun to use words to describe smells and textures, to talk about how to calm oneís spirit and to quiet the thoughts in oneís head to let the world enter oneís self.
For Francisca, I wanted to capture the vividness of color and sight -- but since her friend Antonio was blind, I put the color and vividness in her personality and the way she talked. It was also, on a more personal level, a way of remembering and preserving the memory of my own vivid friend. But thatís another story.