Ten minutes before the bell. Chris and his friends sat outside the classroom waiting for their next class—ethics. Most of them groaned at the thought of giving three hours of their lives studying the values of the dead. He'd rather study how to use AutoCAD.
Chris was a regular engineering student. He went to class like any sophomore, passed the plates that took an all-nighter to make, and still got a mediocre grade. Wash, rinse, repeat. Chris might not be the brightest lightbulb in the pack, but he had a good memory. At least, that's what he told himself.
The comments on the last one were too harsh; he thought—doubt and loathing creeping up on him as he scrolled through his phone. He needed a break. This was the best he could do.
Friday the 13th. That shouldn't mean anything, right?
Two took the spare tables and sat as if they were chairs. Three of them, including Chris, took to the floor. The five of them are blockmates awaiting the same fate. Footsteps punctuate inside jokes, surrounded by yellow walls and red linoleum. They were supposed to relax before the next class, but Chris couldn't rest easy. A pit of butterflies in his stomach turned into a dull ache. Was he forgetting something?
“Diba walang recit today?”
It's less of a question and more of a prayer. He didn't recall the professor saying something about a scheduled recitation. Granted, he was half-unconscious during that class, and he really didn't get the point of learning the importance of Plato and Aristotelian ethics if he was going to do land surveys and CAD mockups, but it was a required subject—and possibly the death of him. His quizzes weren't that great. The same could be said for his recent long test.
In other words, he needed a win—a sign that would turn the tide.
Failure is not an option.
“Alam ko meron,” says Rob, who was busy trying to read a print out. “Yung kay Kant un, diba Efren?”
Kant? What's that? It was as if Rob had said a foreign phrase. "You mean I Kant understand what you're saying?"
Not Chris' finest. No one laughed.
Instead, he heard his friends whisper amongst themselves, especially the two seated atop the tables. "How long is it? Yung reading?"
"Mga twenty pages, ganun," the boy on the left replied, wiping off a stain on his uniform. “Basta, boring siyang basahin.”
The one on the right whispered back. "Diba graded recitation yun?"
Wait? Graded recitation? That was ten times worse. If this was just some normal participation thing, he could just fly by with some half-baked explanation on the importance of making the right decisions, but this was graded. He had to answer what the professor expects to hear. He then looked at Efren, who was too busy studying to notice the tension. A whisper in Chris' heart grew to a loud roar.
Please don't be true.
Unfortunately for Chris, the tall mestizo in front of him nodded. Efren was a man of few words, not even taking his eyes off his tablet. But the plethora of scrawled notes in his right hand should've alerted Chris that something was afoot. It also didn't help that Efren's confirmation looked like a Roman emperor sending men to slaughter.
Rob gave Chris a look, seeing the nineteen-year-old almost shaking. "Di ka nagbasa?"
If Chris had been in a less agreeable mood, he would've slapped Rob for pointing out the obvious, but he had bigger things to worry about. He needed to make at least sense of what was going on later in class. “May notes ka?”
Five minutes till the bell.
Being nice, Rob handed over his printout notes scrawled down onto a tablet. It was ten pages long and filled with text—annotations in red ink. Rob's cursive cluttered the screen. It took Chris a minute to even start parsing out the words. Yet he does not understand any of it. The sinking pit in his stomach did not abate. He reads and reads, yet nothing's absorbing. It's as if someone else held the key to retaining all this information. To understand what Kant meant. The man meant nothing for him—but he couldn't say that during the recit.
Nothing was making sense. Three minutes left. Chris tried to scan again. The ink started to call out to him, their red marks clawing at the parts he barely understood. The parts that barely made sense to his sleep-deprived mind. Categorical imperative? The universal law? They were all foreign concepts—things that Chris swore were just something that some guy from the sixteenth century made to torture him. “Hindi ko talaga gets pinagsasabi niya.”
"Just re-read it," Efren said. As if Chris had already tried re-reading the text. "Read it slowly." Not exactly helpful. This wasn't learning a new song or how to use engineering software. It was ethics. The way people should behave. Yet, he couldn't get how any of it worked.
The bell. End of the line.
His friends started making their way into the classroom. The loud ding interrupted his thoughts. Prayers. To whom would he even pray in this case? He was all alone. Alone in his thoughts, he and the scant information he got from Rob's notes.
At that point, Chris had shuffled to his seat, thinking of how he could've forgotten there was a recit today. Now, he was in a war without a loaded weapon. Maybe God would have mercy and let him have an easy question.
Professor Tan started his lecture with a recap of last week's discussion. Meanwhile, Chris swore that his heart was going to skip a beat. And not in a good way. His mind started to go blank, desperately trying to recall what he had seen in Rob's notes.
"Today, we are going to talk about Immanuel Kant and the Categorical imperative," the professor said. Chris saw the graying hairs. The wrinkles. Chris swore that the man's dress shirt was too tight, the buttons almost bulging.
Some of the students in front shift around, hoping they wouldn't get called first. Luckily for them, their professor had gone to the back and shot a look towards Chris. "Mr. Ramos?"
The professor called him. He was the only Ramos in this room. Christopher Ramos. It wasn't a slip of the tongue or a case of mistaken identity. It was fate.
Just his luck.
He blamed Friday the 13th for this misfortune. The universe is shouting a poignant sign. Of all the people in the world, why did it have to be him? Why not Rob? Or Efren—the man was more than prepared to deal with these things. Chris' breaths became shallow. They're rushed out of his lungs and out his mouth. He could feel the sweat accumulating in his palms, the clamminess mixed with an air-conditioned room. What is he going to ask?
"Please explain and demonstrate Kant's first formulation of the categorical imperative."
Chris had not gotten to that part of the reviewer. He never got to that part. Blank. No thoughts. It starts to impair the rest of his nervous system—activating fight or flight. He clearly saw the professor looking at him disapprovingly, shooting him a look as Chris tried to get the words out. If there were any. Nobody dared try to coach him out, fearing that their grades would drop if they did.
Chris knew nothing. Didn't know where to begin explaining and how he would end it. Not a clue. After five minutes, the professor had given up coaxing an answer and promptly reminded the class what would happen if they didn't read the assigned readings, paying special attention to Chris' row. Despite the "mild" punishment, he saw the shadows of a failing mark rise in his vision.
It could've been worse. He could have gotten kicked out of the classroom. Professor Tan may have chewed him out for wasting valuable class hours. Chris chalked up his good fortune to divine intervention—his professor being in somewhat good spirits.
There went his chance. Bawi na lang next time—if he had any chances left.