In a city cloaked in fear and silence, the weight of a suffocating grip bore down heavily on the souls of its dwellers.
I found myself in the dusty confines of a forgotten library, a weathered textbook lies dormant, its pages bearing the weight of a suppressed history. The weathered book, which pages once inscribed with truth, but now bears the scars of a regime's revisionist brush. In the dimly lit section of the library, the typewriter clacked rhythmically, like a heart beating in the darkness. I hunched over the desk, my fingers flying across the keys, my mind racing with the stories I had heard. Whispers of victims silenced, buried beneath the surface of revised textbooks. Stories that needed to be told.
I flipped through the calendar which sat across the long table. It was as if I was flipping through the chapters of a dark period. I was being drawn back by voices that I could hear. I closed my eyes so tight to avoid the voices and the images flashing through the lenses in my mind. However, I suddenly remembered that to resist these memories is to ignore the truth. Instead of running away, I immediately opened the weathered book. 2023–is the year I am in, sadly, books seem to be gradually forgotten. Dusts cover books in shelves and the lessons they contain fail to reach children’s minds anymore.
Thoughts were still circling in my head when the librarian snatched the book in my hand.
“Time has healed the scars in the spine of this book that you hold, you can never touch its torn pages again because they were already repaired,” she said. Its spine is cracked. The pages turned tan. Each of its pages is frayed. What is she talking about? I cannot see what part of this weathered book has been repaired. Have the scars on its spine healed? How come a cracked spine gains its form again? A weathered book in a forgotten library could not possibly be new again. She placed the book in front of me. I waited for her to be in the distance so I could flip through its pages again.
I came across this one page that sent shivers down my spine. As the page soaks in bleach, its stains don't come off—it continue to haunt the bloody past. Obviously, they did not succeed. There were red blot marks on the surface of the page, but the heading was not erased. This remains a mystery to me. How come an almost erased whole page did not even slightly stain its chapter title? No matter how persistent the person who tried to regain the color of this page, the title seemed to be not even touched but the context was obliterated.
A chapter cannot be left titleless. In the labyrinthine world of texts, where words are meticulously chosen to craft worlds and characters, the absence of a title in a chapter is akin to a missing puzzle piece in a grand narrative mosaic. Titles serve as beacons, beckoning readers into the heart of a chapter's essence, offering hints, evoking curiosity, or guiding emotions. A titleless chapter, like an unmarked crossroad, leaves the reader adrift, without the subtle compass of theme or tone. It is a void, an unanswered question in the eloquent conversation between author and reader, a moment where the unwritten is as conspicuous as the inked. In the realm of storytelling, even the absence of a title holds a story of its own—a narrative whispered between the lines, waiting to be discovered.
The librarian was holding a poster in her right hand and sticking materials in her left. I was trying to peep a look at the details of the poster until I gave up and just waited for her to stick it on the wall.
Only books without titles can be borrowed.
I immediately got up from my seat and asked the librarian, “But why? How are we supposed to know what it’s about?” she glared at me. “That’s why you open books and read them,” she said.
This library really is a mystery. Towers of untitled, weathered books confuse its goers.Their rules are constantly changing. Last January when I first visited the library, they were accelerating the delivery of essential education services and its facilities, promoting learner’s well-being, establishing inclusive education and a positive learning environment, revamping the book section where you could find tips on how to be job-ready or to be responsible citizens, and provide ample support to teachers by providing seminars and fund-raising events for them. It has just been eight months since all these and now they are imposing a new rule? Do the cowards want to rub off their dirt since truth gives justice to the oppressed?
I picked up a book from one of the shelves that contained books without titles. “Ah, this one. Looks like they just covered the title but it still peeks through,” I murmured.
The title was crossed out and inked with heavy tints of red. The book I was holding was a textbook. So they won’t learn that this is about the dictatorship of Marcos anymore? Then I thought, they'd only discover the truth if they open the book and delve into its pages, wouldn't they?
Two young men entered the library. I heard them talking about the new rule that the librarian just posted on the wall. I sat close to them so I could hear them properly. Right off the bat, the guy with glasses told the other that he disagreed with the rule and the other guy agreed without a doubt.
“This is not acceptable. This is manipulation for a facility that’s supposed to widen our knowledge, “ said the other guy.
“Then maybe purchasing and collecting books was a great idea. Good thing I did that after college graduation. I’ll be one difficult reader to be bought by nameless books and limiting libraries, I guess,” the guy with glasses said.
“Ah, you’ve been collecting? Books like what?”
“Mayroon pang ibang mga libro tulad ng "Some are Smarter than Others" ni Jose Ricardo L. Manapat, at ang kalalabas lang na libro ni JC Punongbayan na pinamagatang "False Nostalgia", na parehong tinatackle ang mga kasinungalingan at kung paano gumana mula sa likod ang rehimeng Marcos,” he answered.
They continued pointing out the flaws of the newly imposed borrowing rule. They talked about how books are essential in learning, most especially for children. They feed our minds with knowledge and help us widen our perspectives. I continued to pretend that I was more invested in reading the book in my hand rather than extending my ears to listen to them. I was holding a book about dictatorship. Should I read this? May mapapala ba ako sa librong ‘to?
It was as if they heard my thoughts.
“Sa panahon ko bilang estudyante sa elementarya, mayroong pagpapalawak ang aming guro sa kung ano ang nangyari sa Martial Law ngunit ito ay umiikot sa iilang pahina ng libro ng AP lang kung kaya ‘di rin gaanong napalalawak ang diskurso tungkol dito,” he said.
I cannot even remember flipping pages on my AP book when I was in elementary, even more so encountering a page where dictatorship was stated clearly.
I suddenly missed the previous librarian whom I became friends with.
A prospective change of librarian to the helm could usher in a transformative era for this old library’s landscape, but it is attached with apprehension. Given the library’s and books’ historical tendency to contain corruption, diminished educational resources loom ominously, minimized teacher support, and a declining educational standard.
The two became silent and so I began to read a page in this book I am holding seriously.
The return of the Marcos clan carries the potential for adverse repercussions on the Philippine education system, with concerns encompassing resource allocation, academic freedom, and historical accuracy. Vigilance and safeguarding measures are imperative to navigate this potential reality.
Every word I read felt like a knife piercing through my soul.
I heard loud cries again.
The people in the library started standing up and running towards the exit. I was left confused and let myself get into their sea. I ran. As I ran near the exit, I heard the cries, and protests grew louder and more widespread. In the shadows, a group of victims gathered, each carrying the heavy burden of their own painful memories. Among them were students, who had endured the pain of the victims during the darkest days of the regime. Their trembling hands held faded photographs and books, a relic from their youth when hope had still flickered in their eyes.
Our nation's fate rests on our unwavering commitment to preserve the light of truth and confront our history, imperfections and all, to build a just and resilient society that withstands revisionist forces.
I found myself holding the weathered book from the forgotten library. Its spine is cracked, pages are tanned, and edges are frayed. Its title and chapters were tried to be erased but they still peeked through the pages.
Remembering is resisting.—Paolo Cootauco