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Literary

A Taste of Home

A pang of heaviness under Christmas lights and melodies lingers; a longing that can’t be sated, that even when I arrive back at my apartment—it’s still not home. 

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Artwork by Krishma Elise Lilles/TomasinoWeb

It’s Christmas Eve. Here I am, a vague approximation of a model employee, on the busiest night of the year but what is before me is the exact opposite—empty chairs, emptier tables, and a hollowed-out version of Jose Mari Chan playing over the speakers. The branch in Makati had seen better days. There are seats colder than the buildings right across the street, the paint had already chipped in some places, and the mascot’s statue outside looked as if the problems of the world had ravaged it. 

I’m more surprised that people still come here.

Even though most people were home for the holidays, delivery services were at an all-time high. I still try to make small talk with the customers. Even though I do all the protocols, leave nothing to chance, the risk is still there, after all. I’m fully aware of that and I have no choice. 

The pandemic had whittled away the usual customers as most of them are now working from home. Usually, you’d see office workers or people going in for a quick bite; lunchtime lines were long and the delivery man was all worn-out from doing several deliveries at once. Back when it wasn’t just the three of us and there were more employees, we’d usually make bets amongst ourselves on which customers were more likely to stay for hours on end, making the place their makeshift workstation. It harkens back to a simpler time, to an era of hugs, and year-end parties—back when no one had to worry about masks or face shields.

No one would disagree that we wanted that back, that we wanted a livelier Christmas, one not marked by gloom and despair, and one that is not similar to a hollow version of a jingle that plays over and over again. 

I was manning the cashier while another tended to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Fred would deliver meals, if the orders were requested on our hotline and not ordered by some ride-sharing app. I remembered how the freezers were at full capacity, anticipating the yearly influx of orders. A sigh escaped my lips at the thought of parties like a five-year-old’s birthday, the way joy crinkled on the people’s lips, their festive squeals, and tons of kids running around the place, greeting our mascot with high-fives and hugs.

But now, the man who donned the mascot had been r etrenched after transferring to another branch. I remembered hearing about several branches in the area closing down. Good thing we got lucky enough. Maybe they’ll come back when everything gets better. 

These are remnants of a past that would never come back. All kept in memories that were prone to fading. Customers did come in for a short while but I miss the long lines and noise that brought the place to life.

I was checking the cashier when a young woman stumbled into the store, hair disheveled and a bit fidgety. 

“Welcome! Can I take your order?”

“Meron pa ba kayo noong 8-piece na chicken bucket?”

I smiled in response as I yelled to the back for her order. We stood quietly with her muttering something close to a whisper while I handed her the change. 

“Salamat,” she says before leaving with the big paper bag. While she was at the door, something from her bag rang. The scene of her talking on the phone reminded me of my parents. I still haven’t called them this week. I wonder how they are right now. Are they fine? Are they eating well? 

Thoughts drifted to home-cooked meals, the smell of our favorite dishes—steam rising as fresh rice comes out of the rice cooker. Pork and chicken adobo, some caldereta, and Lola’s paella—a feast for the eyes and for the stomach. I envision my family together, my cousins eager to open presents, not even finishing their food, while the adults would be chatting at the table as we wait for midnight.

How distant all of these are. 

I tried to shake off the gloomy atmosphere by thinking of how I would redecorate the apartment. Maybe I can change the family photos, buy new frames, add new ones or maybe make a collage of them. But despite the tiny excitement that sparked in me, missing them warped the festive atmosphere even more. The clock strikes twelve, signaling the end of my shift. I say goodbye to the crew. 

As the store faded from view, a pang of heaviness under Christmas lights and melodies lingers; a longing that can’t be sated, that even when I arrive back at my apartment—it’s still not home. It doesn’t have the smell of adobo and paella, nor the chatter I’ve grown used to, and even though I’ve tried to recreate it all before, I know that it will never be the same. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
Stories Writer | + posts

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Literary

At last, Stardust

There, at the clock’s chime, urging us to move forward, at last, we become like stardust, set off to wherever time takes us.

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Artwork by Aliah Basbas/TomasinoWeb

It is here. If I close my eyes for a second, my skin can feel the subtle warmth of the candle nestled inside my hands. I slowly get a whiff of the damp June air––fresh and crisp from the light drizzle while the weight of my feet descends below the muddy patches on the field, and then, I can hear the mumbles of laughter and excitement. 

The stars in the sky have shifted to the ground. We, in solidarity, create a universe far bigger than what is written in books. Us, the different specks of atoms and dreams, collide with each other, ready to skyrocket towards the future. 

I can feel it rising in my bones. The chill of uncertainty along with naive excitement.

In the last few moments of us, in our old uniforms stained with all-nighters, bad recitations, and number 1s in our portals, we bid goodbye. There, at the clock’s chime, urging us to move forward, at last, we become like stardust, set off to wherever time takes us.

Aliah Basbas
Stories Editor | + posts

Stories writer (2018-2019),Assistant Stories Editor (2019-2020), Stories Editor (2020-2021), Stories Editor (2021-2022)

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Literary

Pause

Lenten activities, family meetings, how would he finish it all unless he threw himself into his books? At least he was ahead by two weeks for all the individual work. The group works, however, were a different story. 

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Artwork by Ana Victoria Ereno/TomasinoWeb

“How has your week been, Mr. Llanera?” 

Sir Anton glanced at the screen, gauging if Leo was still with him. It was their fourth session together, and he had tracked Leo’s improvement since they first met. It didn’t take much to get Leo talking, unlike before. 

The monitor Anton used was split between the video call and a document where he took notes. He wore his usual polo and kept his background to that of a nice lounge room—something to bring some semblance of normalcy. 

“I did schoolwork, reviewed for major exams, made some progress on a paper.” There it was again. The shaking in his voice, trembling at the legs. Although he knew who Anton was and assured him that nothing would leak, it didn’t help him keep eye contact. “I finished some work for org, too, while I was at it.” 

A well-used copy of the AP stylebook was on his bed and similar material was scattered at his desk. Silence. Dead air. 

Usually, he’d keep his place tidy, but not right now.

He received a nod from Anton, the counselor familiar with Leo’s stutter. Fear of silence invoked anxiety, the last thing he wanted to see. “Other than work, did you find time to unwind?”

“’Di po,” Leo replied. “I might fall behind.”

“Your professors told me you’re at least two weeks ahead,” he replied.

Leo masked a sigh. He wouldn’t have gotten into this mess if it weren’t for his theology professor. It was more than that, but there was no time to dissect how he ended up having a month of sessions with the guidance counselor. “Ah, that,” he stuttered. “I had a burst of inspiration. Besides, I’m on the dean’s list.”

“I see,” Anton said. He adjusted his glasses, using the opportunity to observe Leo as he spoke further. Most of them were complaints about the heavy workload placed upon him and his classmates. 

Leo’s face tensed up, eyes darting back and forth while trying to find the right words. “Let’s hope my profs don’t drop more work on us…but knowing them, they still would.”

“I understand why,” Anton said. “Finals are coming soon, yes? I’ve heard from other students about it. This whole rushed semester isn’t helping anyone.”

Leo could only muster a nod. He had sunken further into his seat but corrected the behavior immediately. “Most of the deadlines are right after Easter break.” 

Lenten activities, family meetings, how would he finish it all unless he threw himself into his books? At least he was ahead by two weeks for all the individual work. The group works, however, were a different story. 

Anton observed Leo sinking into his seat again, now engrossed with a nearby pen. “Oh. That’s unfortunate. Have you made some headway?” 

“Struggling, but I’ll get it done,” Leo replied. “It’s mostly group work, and I’m already done with my parts.” 

A nod. “I see,” Anton continued, noting what Leo said. “This break, I want you to rest and reflect on things,” he replied. “Do you have any other hobbies?”

“Not really,” Leo said. A glance at the papers on his desk. Red marks, a pen losing ink. Was it even a hobby if he made money out of it? “I do proofreading work.” 

“Do you consider it work or hobby?”

“Um, work,” Leo replied. 

“How so?”

“Well, I do make money out of it.” 

Anton nodded. “Well, work is defined as something you do for a living, but it’s not necessarily fun. Do you enjoy your work?”

“I guess I do,” Leo replied. “Sometimes it’s hard, but I manage.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well,” Leo said, trying to gather his thoughts. “Sometimes, the papers I get are terrible, despite offering some good points. It’s a frustrating experience.” 

“I understand that. If you feel that this sideline burdens you, might I suggest trying to do some writing of your own?” 

“Writing…creatively? Other than term papers?” 

Anton nodded, smiling a bit. “Well, yes. I recall from our last conversation that you said that piling on work helped avoid certain emotions.” Leo wouldn’t admit it, but Anton wasn’t lying. His grades were due any day now. Don’t look like a nervous wreck. “Well, work’s the only thing I’m good at. If I’m not productive, it’s more time wasted.” 

“If that’s the case, you could reframe writing to be productive—other than just for work or academics. A journal could help. You don’t need to show anyone, but it staves off the urge to tick a to-do,” Anton replied. 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Leo said with a smile. His cheeks were strained. He didn’t notice that the hour had gone by until he looked at the clock. Bad habit. Look at you, wasting time. “See you next week?”

“Yes, after the Easter break,” Anton replied. “Stay safe, Leo.” 

Leo left the meeting. It was over. When will this end? How many sessions do I gotta go through? He kepy thinking of things he couldn’t answer. Shouldn’t my professors be happy with my performance?

He shook his head. ”I’m making life easier for them, why aren’t they satisfied?”

Another look at the clock. The sound of a to-do ticked off the list. “I should get to proofreading,” he told himself while opening the latest document. 

“Leo!” A sigh escaped him. Why now? 

“Dinner’s ready!” Leo’s mother knocked on the door. “I made chicken adobo!” 

“Pababa na po!”  Leo tidied his papers in one of the desk drawers. Though he didn’t plan to spend the break, he’d at least have something to ponder upon over dinner.

Christine Nicole Montojo
Stories Writer | + posts

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Literary

The Revolution  

They carved out its limbs of corruption and abuse, broke its bones until it can no longer move 

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Artwork by Ana Victoria Ereno/TomasinoWeb

the skeletons that have witnessed it
lay on their beds, still, tasting rust.
the whimpers of ghosts who fought
still whisper wishes of protection 

those who know it
from textbooks and the stories of their kin,
know its value and the erased scenes
both in ink and pixel 

back then, oceans of beings pulsing from desire,
with a thirst for freedom
joined hands in unity 

and on the 25th of February,
the footsteps marching along the streets
became strong enough to crack Tyranny’s body,
They carved out its limbs of corruption and abuse,
broke its bones until it can no longer move
as the cries of the masses washed over blood-stained streets 

All for the country,
All for democracy 

Aliah Basbas
Stories Editor | + posts

Stories writer (2018-2019),Assistant Stories Editor (2019-2020), Stories Editor (2020-2021), Stories Editor (2021-2022)

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