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December Blues

“Papa will be home soon,” she whispered to him, “he always goes home.”

Animation by Renzo Hipolito/TomasinoWeb

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It was past eight in the evening, and the people of the village had never been more thrilled with the upcoming season as it was coming sooner than they expected.

Indeed, Christmas was only a few days away, the evening wind breezing through the trees, hinting its arrival.

While having dinner with his mother, the child stared at his spoon. His right hand turned it around, and his attention was caught not by the Christmas tree from the spoon’s reflection, but by how the tree has gained numerous things that were wrapped in papers of distinct colors, designs, and symbols.

After telling his mother he wasn’t that hungry anymore, she took the plates and washed the dishes first, then before bringing him to his bedroom. As he laid on his bed, the child’s thoughts still focused on what he saw under the tree.

There was a knock on his door, and his mother came in, with a glass of milk on her hand.

“I can’t sleep, mama,” the child said, scratching his eyes.

“Time to sleep,” she told him, “or you won’t get to open those gifts under the Christmas tree.”

The child, having understood what his mother said, or perhaps, a little bit of what she was trying to tell him, nodded and asked her where his father was.

“Papa will be home soon,” she whispered to him, “he always goes home.”

His mother knew his difficulty of drifting off to a deep sleep. He saw her smirking as she looked down at him. She handed him the glass, and while he drank, she told him again to have a good night’s sleep.

Then she turned out the lights and left him alone.

Something suddenly came up in his mind: He set the emptied glass aside and stepped down from his bed. Little did his mother know that she left the windows open, but it wasn’t the idea that came to the child’s mind. Instead, he approached the door, managed to reach for the knob — and he turned it.

The child reached for the doorknob once more ashe silently pulled the door. A faint sound of the door closing — the deadbolt locking it from the inside — echoed faintly along the short hall that would lead downstairs to the living room, then to the kitchen.

As a typical child, he didn’t tiptoe like what an adolescent would do; he carelessly walked towards the stairs, and step by step, not even sure if his mother even heard the door closing.

Surprisingly, he didn’t fall over as his attempt on walking down the stairs became a triumph for him.

Aha! he thought to himself. Mama didn’t notice me.

He was even proud of having left his bedroom without the knowledge of his mother, who would scold him whenever he, as other parents would call it, was “disobedient.”

In the living room, where the Christmas tree stood, he–with a grin on his face–walked closer towards it, his feet trembling in the cold, but it actually helped.

At first, he stared at the things covered in wrappings.

They look lovely! the child thought.

He bent down to reach for one and held it in his hand. It didn’t seem heavy for his soft palms and fingers. He settled himself on the floor and tried to tear off the wrappings, which was another triumph for him. Having accomplished what he set out to do for the night, the child giggled and held the newly-bought teddy bear. I love you, mama.

Little did the child see the letter attached on the wrappings; in a thin ballpen mark, it read: “Miss na kita anak. Love, Papa.”

***

He was waiting for a ride along the boulevard plagued with traffic; he was already standing under the waiting shed across his school for nearly half an hour.

The traffic was getting worse and he still had a lot to accomplish. Being impatient while waiting for a ride, he pulled out his earphones.

People ran towards buses that seemed to accommodate more passengers, and people complaining about the usual Manila traffic. He glanced at his watch: It was already eight in the evening. That would take him two hours or more to make it to their house, where his mother would be more or less waiting for him.

While he stood under the shed for another fifteen minutes, he watched the cars veering along the road. Then, he felt raindrops falling on his hair and the lens of his glasses. He slowly took a step backwards and found a bench where he settled himself.

Seated alone in the bench, he stared at the Christmas lights at his school from across the road. He saw students walking in and out of the premises — some with their umbrellas, the others braving the sudden downpour of rain. He opened his backpack, rummaging through his things for his umbrella.

Unfortunately — and unsurprisingly, he thought to himself — he left it at home. He remained seated at the bench under the shed and wondered what time would he arrive home.

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Despite having his earphones on, he heard someone hurrying down the footbridge, and he saw a boy standing inches away from where he was seated.

The boy seemed vexed with how his uniform turned out: He obviously dared to walk under the rain. The boy rolled his sleeves up to his elbow, cursed at himself for being reckless.

And he, the unfortunate kid seated on the bench, thought, Poor guy. He must have had a bad day. The boy pulled out his phone and when nobody seemed to answer his call, he threw his phone along the road, where a car just passed by — and his phone crashed to the windshield.

He was surprised with what the boy did. Indeed, the boy was the kind of person he shouldn’t mess with on a Monday night; so, he ignored what he just saw and continued listening to his playlist.

When he looked up to see if a cab or even a jeepney pulled over to accommodate him, the boy walked towards the shed. The boy settled himself next to him, and they both remained silent for a minute, not glancing at each other, his hands on his phone, and the boy’s hands in his pockets.

“You know how it feels to be disowned?” the boy asked him.

He shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said.

“It freaking sucks,” the boy said angrily, “imagine having a father who hits you with anything he sees and forces you to leave the house today, and a mother who doesn’t even go home anymore? Yeah, I’m not that lucky.”

Then he asked the boy, “What made him disown you?”

The boy just stared at him, his eyes burning with sarcasm.

When he knew what the boy was implying, he remained silent and said he was sorry with how the boy was going through. Somehow, he wanted to comfort the boy for he knew how it felt to be isolated. However, he never knew the feeling of being disowned. He glanced at the boy, who, to his surprise, began to sob. He lifted his hands to cover his eyes as he cried, his nails on the verge of scratching his face.

He didn’t know what to do at first, but when the boy leaned on his shoulder, he handed him the left half of his earphones. The boy put it in his ear to listen to the playlist. He realized that the music he was listening to had calmed the boy. He didn’t bother if his shoulder had gone wet because of the boy’s soaked uniform.

He looked up at the shed’s roof where drops of rain poured down the muddy pavement. Having forgotten what time it was — and this time, he didn’t want to know how long he stayed under the shed with the boy.

It felt new for him to be with a boy, but it didn’t surprise him at all. When a jeepney pulled over by the shed, the boy suddenly rose from the bench. The boy told him that he had to go, and the next thing he saw was the jeepney leaving the shed, with the boy looking at him with a slight smile on his face.

As he arrived at their village, where every house was lit with Christmas lights and different kinds of lanterns, he walked all the way to his home and knocked on the door, and he waited for his mother to open it for him.

Mama greeted him with a kiss on his cheek and asked how his day at school went and how were his friends doing. All he said was, “The fireworks were nice, Mama.” He shut the door behind him while his mother walked upstairs hurriedly.

He wondered why she was in such a hurry. He shrugged at that thought, dropped his backpack on the floor, and slouched himself exhaustingly on the couch. While he waited for his mother, he thought of the boy from the shed and wondered how his Christmas would go.

Perhaps, school was more of a home for him than his actual home, he thought.

“Anak, look who’s home just in time for Christmas!” his mother said excitedly, as she bolted down the stairs.

For a moment, he had no idea what his mother was talking about. Then he heard the door of his bedroom open. He looked up and watched while the person slowly walked his way out of his room.

He didn’t recognize the person at all. He was a stranger to him, like the people, whom he never talked to, in their village. He looked new to his eyes. He glanced at his mother and made a gesture that would give her the expected question: Who was he?

His mother gave him a response, a smile that he had never witnessed with his own eyes. It was the kind of smile from his mother that he never saw because it gave him a feeling of something new — something that felt lovelier than home.

It was Papa.

by Ian Jozel Jerez

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Literary

Combat fake news through literature, urges critic, veteran journo

Quoting Palanca Award-winning writer Jose Dalisay Jr., renowned critic Rolando Tolentino upheld that “the best antidote to fake news is true fiction.”

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

A veteran journalist and a renowned literary critic urged Thomasians yesterday to write more literature about current social issues to fight the rise of disinformation in the country.

Rolando Tolentino, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Creative Writing, said during this year’s Paz Latorena Memorial Lectures that writing short stories and poetry could help combat lies peddled by those in power.

Quoting Palanca Award-winning writer Jose Dalisay Jr., Tolentino upheld that “the best antidote to fake news is true fiction.”

“Paano mo maco-combat kung in-abdicate mo ‘yung role ng panitikan? Magsulat ng panitikan tungkol sa panahon na ‘to,” Tolentino affirmed.

With the advent of social media, Tolentino also lamented the distortion of “orality” of storytelling and the perception of reality but he maintained that literature “is a creative response to reality.”

He continued by stating that the role of literature in Philippine society is crucial as it serves as the country’s record of important historical events and social movements.

“Napakahalagang area [ng panitikan] sa kasaysayan natin, ito na ang chronicle natin,” he said.

He added: “Kaya natin napatunayan na may Martial Law, may Marcos dictatorship, may Spanish colonialism ay dahil sa mga matitigas [at] astig nating manunulat na nag-intervene sa panahon na ‘to.”

The former UP College of Mass Communication dean also stressed how “slow” writers are nowadays in publishing literary works that tackle issues current social issues.

“Wala na tayong poems na lumalabas, wala tayong short stories na lumalabag. […] May pagka-slow na ‘yung writers natin kasi ang pumapasok talaga are all these posts, mga commentaries [n]ila sa Facebook,” he said.

Meanwhile, veteran journalist and columnist Salvacion Espina-Varona called on writers to use literature to resist alienating pro-administration supporters.

“Alam natin kung bakit nanalo si Rodrigo Duterte [at hindi lamang ito dahil sa fake news but] because he does not exist in a vacuum: He is the sum total of rage passed from generation after generation,” Espina-Varona told the audience.

She also urged that a “real” way to battle lies is to become “truth-tellers,” telling them that safeguarding truth is not solely the role of journalists.

“Hindi pwedeng isang sektor lamang lipunan ang magiging guardians ng katotohanan sa mundo, hindi pwedeng journalists lang,” she said.

This month, Facebook began implementing strict measures against the proliferation of fake news, such as identifying links from legitimate news sites and blocking links from several websites identified to peddle false information.

The social media giant, meanwhile, on Thursday announced its partnership with online news agencies Rappler and Vera Files for a third-party fact-checking program in the country, which aims to prevent the spreading of fake news content on the social media platform.

Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque have protested the partnership, accusing Rappler and Vera Files of “partisanship.”

On Oct. 4 last year, the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media opened its first hearing on fake news, the first of its kind in the country. The committee concluded its second hearing last Jan. 30.

Bannered with the theme “Saysay ng Panitikan sa Panahon ng Fake News at Tokhang,” the yearly lecture is held in honor of Paz Latorena, an esteemed Filipina fictionist and former chair of the University’s Department of Literature.

The event concurs with the celebration of the National Literature Month. —with reports from P. Jamilla

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Literary

5 children’s books you should definitely read again

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, we take a look back on five children’s books whose lessons and tales remain true no matter when or how many times you read them.

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From novels to picture books, children’s literature from all genres were our gateways to other worlds and imaginary friends when we were young—and for some, these stories were their first taste of literature.

While people tend to dismiss books written for children when they grow old in favor of more serious literatures, it is undeniable that children’s literature shaped millions of childhoods all around the world and their timeless stories continue to influence the lives of people from all ages.

As we celebrate International Children’s Book Day, we take a look back on five children’s books whose lessons and tales remain true no matter when or how many times you read them.

 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is widely considered to be a hallmark of children’s literature and one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre, which has proven to be popular to both children and adults. The book’s narrative, peculiar characters and imagery have inspired various films, games and plays throughout the years, as well as various literary discourses and, ahem, mad theories about what the novel really is about, which serves as proof of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s lasting legacy.

 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Speaking of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novel Coraline is often compared to the Lewis Carroll classic due to the two novels’ similar premises of a young female protagonist entering another world, but for a children’s novel, Coraline serves unexpected scares—especially in the idea of having better version of one’s family except that they have buttons for eyes. The book’s ideas may be too much for children, but reading it again after a few years reveals the beauty of the novel’s narrative and the timelessness of its horror.

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Tales of children being lost in other worlds is a common theme in children’s literature, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe takes this trope to a higher notch with four English siblings crossing over to another world to fulfill their destiny of ending the icy rule of an evil witch. The novel—which C.S. Lewis wrote as the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia series—also incorporates allusions to Christian tradition such as Christ’s crucifixion. While these details may not be obvious to very young readers, a re-read of the novel and the entire series shows the complexity of Christian allusions and pagan influences in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which serves to show that children’s literature can have complex narratives rivaling “adult” novels and break the stigma surrounding children’s literature and the fantasy genre.

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The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

While the high fantasy of The Lord of the Rings proved to be the more influential work in the long run, its predecessor The Hobbit, which was written primarily for children, laid the foundations of the Middle-earth mythos which has come to define the fantasy genre. Nonetheless, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins remain a classic and a landmark of children’s literature—and the prelude to a greater epic.

 

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Le Petit Prince or the The Little Prince, as it is more known in translations, is just a simple and little book, yet poignant. While the story is generally a children’s book, its tale of the loss of childhood wonder and innocence has resonated and moved adults readers throughout the years, and perhaps, the book’s timeless message, despite its short length, is a testament that the essential is indeed invisible to the eye.

 

What are your favorite children’s books? Share them with us in the comments or by tagging TomasinoWeb on Twitter!

 

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Literary

Lullaby

I still sing this hymn
Not to drive my friends
Gone. I want you here.

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Art by Aijen Sy/TomasinoWeb.

Tonight, I sing this
Hymn for two, four, six
Ears. My breath to reach
Yawns of the dismissed.

Alone in the dark
Room flooded with an
Eerie presence that

Lurk close by. I feel
Isolated. Don’t
Stand too close. Don’t stare
Too long. Tenebrous,
Eidola. Figures
Nudging my sight. But
I still sing this hymn
Not to drive my friends
Gone. I want you here.

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