Six years has passed, and we met again last night. Dinner was good. The exchanges were fun and short. That night, I thought nothing could be more fun than reminiscing the happy days we spent studying at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in 07.
But what shall I do with the year’s longest day?
While browsing an online travel magazine that left me torpid afterward because of the writer’s endless narration of his itinerary donned in a language too sweet and delicious I’m sure it will leave a diabetic’s sugar level shooting to the ceiling, I thought, unless he was high on drugs which made his senses super keen, he must be lying.
Travel writers are a special group of writers. They thrive in the extraordinary and the bizarre. Most of them have a special truckload of word ammunition that often leaves my mouth agape because of its sophistication and elegance. I often see a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal as they often are–a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal, respectively. For travel writers, however, a mountain is a cascade of boulders and debris swept by the gentle blow of the easterlies, a room with a view is a room flooded in a carefully orchestrated foxtrot of sunlight and cool wind on a tranquil Saturday morning, a meal is a plateful of freshly harvested farm produce perfectly showered with a local concoction of cane vinegar and a hint of muscovado. To a travel writer, everything is a novelty, and so it has to be written in a hyperbolically romanticized way to an extent that a reader who is a local of the place he’s writing about will not recognize, take offense at, and find patronizing.
I seldom trust, if not completely distrust, travel writers. They do not understand the dreariness and the dryness of the everyday and the commonplace. They are passersby who cannot wait to leave the place and catch the next bus, train, or plane because the thought of what is out there, the other side of the mountain, the horizon, the antipode beckons with tempting invitation that the now is expressed in such succulent platitudes. I gravitate toward the everyday because the everyday does not imagine itself other than what it is. The everyday defies any attempt at making it look rosier than what it truly is. It is only in the everyday that reflection is possible and truthful.
I have some vivid mental images of her. We were in second grade. It was a humid June morning; my section felt uneasy in our seats confronted by a foreign being that didn’t look like most of us. Our grade two teacher, Ma’am Ureta, was staring at her while her mother was explaining to our class adviser why her daughter missed the enrollment. After roughly 15 minutes, she was asked by my teacher to say good bye to her mother and to occupy the empty seat three desks from where I was seated. She was wearing a lavender shirt, a pencil cut skirt, and a backpack made from woven rattan strips. She looked so different from your usual public central school kid. Her skin was a lot fairer, her face radiant unlike most of us then who looked sullen if not hungry having missed breakfast or were too poor to afford it. She looked well-fed. I, in particular, was a few strands away from looking malnourished. I am not sure if we instantly clicked, but our friendship spanned nineteen years. In a year’s time she looked like most of us, public school kids. Playing under the midday sun with us charred her skin, the sweat left her hair sticking and reeking in that quintessential odor of kids unaffected by life’s many hardships that luckily only the adults worry about.
Today, I saw her again. This time, her face looked even more, I am not sure, luminescent, I suppose. She looked happy and content. Tired, yes, after having gone through the rigors of med board reviews, but there’s something that seemed to well up from within her.
And I love what I saw. I am very happy for her. I envy her in fact. She has within her the best gift a woman can ever have.