Last Monday, I saw her again after eight long years, right in the middle of a morning train rush to work. My last glimpse of her, she was my seatmate in our fourth year, was during our high school graduation in 2003, crying, like all high school students do when it dawns on them that the road from this point on radically diverges and that they’re bound not to see each other ever again.
I was standing, holding the still-warm metal handrail when I heard a woman say my name, ‘Fev’, a couple of times. The timbre of the voice did not register. Nobody calls me Fev anymore except those people whom I spent with most of my childhood and teenage years. Seeing her after many years brought back memories of the better times in the province. We were classmates in fifth grade when she, along with a handful of her classmates, were distributed among the 13 other sections in grade five after their class adviser died of cancer in the middle of the school year. They were from section 6. She performed really well in class, did even better in subjects like Filipino and Civics than my section 1 classmates. She silently made her way and consistently maintained her good grades. She remained my classmate from then until our last year in high school. I learned from former classmates that she studied Fish Technology at Mindanao State University in General Santos City then moved to Laguna after graduation and eventually to Manila. We planned to meet once or twice when we began working but it never materialized.
I looked to her direction, she was seated between two old men. She seemed to have aged well beyond 25. I saw gray hairs peeking through her coarse crown. “Kamusta na ka, Fev?” It took me a while to recognize her. I simply blurted “Janice!” We did not talk as she hurriedly got off at Ortigas station. She was carrying a tote bag that dwarfed her small frame but this did not keep her from ambling confidently and joining the crowd scurrying out of the station, and getting lost in the plethora of strangers.
People indeed pass us by in a matter of seconds to say ‘hi’, or if we’re lucky, minutes, and for some of us who are not very fortunate, without us even realizing it. Our paths, though at some point may fortuitously converge, remind us that whatever we have now is ephemeral, that however we wanted to chat and catch up with a high school classmate we have not seen for almost a decade, we all must proceed with our own journey and just be hopeful that in the next train ride we can ‘stop and talk a while’, says a line in a famous commercial for coffee in the 90s.