On seeing her

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.

Paths

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.

Slew

My absence here for the past days, unlike the not a few times I went on a hiatus before, was not because of some complications I’ve gotten myself entangled into but because I found it more and more difficult to secure even a mere thirty minutes to reflect and write my thoughts down. My weekdays are jam-packed with responsibilities at work and my studies; my Saturdays, woefully, are barely spared.

Fortunately, however, because of some levels of criminality in me that I have successfully kept in latency, in between breaks (or classes), I’d clandestinely let go of my unexpressed resentment, happiness, frustrations, ennui, and sadness on pieces of papers that I always keep. I think that by writing them down I am purging myself of excess emotions that do nothing but keep me from accomplishing my tasks, or violence that I would, in very rare cases, manifest, although not completely because I am a good citizen of the state.

Silence, in addition to rest, has also become impossibly elusive; in fact, it is beginning to have that illicit feeling to it whenever I get hold of it in especially rare and fleeting cases, such as when I am sitting on a toilet bowl or when I am beginning to sleep and having REM. Either the metro drowns me in ceaseless, diaphanous noise, or I hear the monotonous sound of my voice, which can be very irritating at times, but quite often, as among narcissists of my kind, I’d find myself listening to its cadence, quality, and idiosyncrasy with furtive conceit. It was a mistake choosing to live on this part of the planet, but I’d be more mistaken if I think that there was a choice to begin with.

What makes this generation of young people unique (and superior) is that we think that noise is a given, that it is necessary in the unobstructed marching of time. We survive despite it, and even thrive in it. It is a surprise that we have not all gone mad, that we’re able to take hold of and keep our sanity quite impeccably. Silence is an underrated, if not a forgotten, virtue (?) of this generation. The more we talk (and hear ourselves talk) the more we think we are intelligent and that we matter.

I talk endlessly, and , on these days, seldom write.

Dear John,

It’s been a long while since the last time I wrote you. It’s nice to be reminded sometimes that amidst the many uncontrollable things that have left you confused, distraught, unable to know what to do next, you have consistently managed to continue and to not give up easily, at least not without exhausting every possible measure. In those times that you’ve given up, and there were many of them, do not think that they made you less of a man, please. Not that doing the opposite have made you more of a man. In the end, it’s not how much of a man you have become that will be the ultimate measure of your humanity but how these have left you richer in experience and insight about life, your life in particular.

I know that you’re far from being satisfied in terms of what you have achieved at your age, I remember, you have never been satisfied. And satisfaction has never been your goal. It was something else. You remain the oddest I know because you do not know, until now, why you’re working this hard, for what, much less for whom.

You’ve been telling yourself to slowdown, but you have postponed countless of times that moment when, finally, you’d press the button that will slow things down, that will drag you mid-air, end this exhilarating feeling of free fall, and to at last allow youself to appreciate the details and be amazed again with the seemingly commonplace. I envy how seamlessly you have projected that carefree, the-hell-I-care attitude toward everything. You are too good at concealing your fears, in fact, you’re too good at this that you have convinced your own self to sincerely believe in these delusive concoctions your mind have carefully made up. I have believed them myself.

It is apparent that you were already burned out a long time ago, what has kept you going remains an enigma to somebody like me who’s observing you from a distance. I wonder what has kept you standing all these times when I have been anticipating that any time soon you’d just drop dead, like a solitary log, in the middle of a busy street, alone and an unknown. But you have held yourself standing, a feat worth commending, though it’s obvious that you will eventually, some time soon, probably tomorrow, succumb to this gnawing tiredness that has been consuming your entrails.

You remind me of the extent of resilience the human spirit is capable of and how your existence is a mockery of this extent, because you and your kind have proved that this extent extends to point infinity.

My friend, this is a simple piece of advice: you’re young, competent, good at anything you do, capable, the world will not disappear the moment you decide to press that release button. I assure you that you’ll find more meaning from all these, from life in general, the moment you close your eyes and begin listening to your own heart beat.

Get some sleep tonight.

A friend

Kitsch-ism

I was having a late lunch/early supper at a diner beside the College of Music, waiting for my class, when these two familiar-looking ladies (they were casts of a musical by Floy Quintos which I happened to watch this weekend) called the attention of the waiter and gave him something close to a disgusted, do-you-know-what-you-are-doing  look, requesting him with tone of impatience to silence the stereo playing a Matt Monroe classic.

The two ladies brought back memories of Kundera’s Sabina who wants to hear nothing of the rubbish that envelopes the restaurant where she dates Franz. The music makes her ears bleed; anything kitsch, that music which happens to fall under this category, causes her hemorrhage.

But so did those two women to me. Their pretense reeks with kitsch-ism. I finished my dinner quickly and left the place that was already drowned in their echoing laughter.

An odd character

Until now I am still trying to figure out how to read this man, not necessarily the writings on the banner he proudly brandished, which was, surprisingly, written in near impeccable English, but the very idea of his being there, complete with a huge plastic pail headgear, the colorful Disney bag, and the reddish teeth that peek every time he smiled. He professed to be a Chinese national seeking political asylum in this country but whose request was repeatedly denied by the Philippine government. So while waiting for the decision on his appeal as stated, he played mendicant.

The wide avenue of Recto in Manila has different versions of characters like him. And one’s visit to this part of the capital is never consummated without encountering an oddity like the man pictured here. I guess he views sanity using a different eyepiece. For him, the rest must be an incomprehensible, meaningless bustle. And he an oasis of rare sanity amid a huge desert of demented humanity.

Masseur

When I was a little boy, my mother used to coax me to massage her pair of massive legs that are as big as Giant Sequoias before she would go to sleep every night. This continued until I was old enough to reason that it was wrong to punish me for my wrongdoings with something as traumatizing as kneading her cellulose-laden limbs using a greasy green concoction that advertised itself as a cure-all liniment. It stank really badly that my childhood nightmares became very graphic and real-life that they included odor of my mother’s mysterious liniment. I would squeal while running my little fingers up and down her veinated legs.

Or in order for me to escape the inevitable I also had to use my very minuscule gift in theater by acting my way out to evade her requests by feigning sick, demented, or the least effective but which I remember using once, being maliciously poisoned by our neighbor whom we suspect a witch disguised as a rumor-monger.

Tonight, for some strange reasons, I remember both my mother and our neighbor. This after feeling a slight pain in my nape and I got no one to give me a massage, sadly.