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Bonsai

As I’m planted in my seat, I could feel my toenails slowly burrow past our ceramic tiles, pushing into the cement until it cracks.

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Artwork by Ana Victoria Ereno/TomasinoWeb

For the past year, my body has been conditioned to sit in front of my computer screen, and I have no choice but to obey, as if my body has a mind of its own and I am but its vessel. 

In the middle of Zoom lectures, my fingers tend to stick on the keyboard as I type my notes. But as my eyes melt the longer I stare at the blocks of profile pictures and sea of words, I try to hasten my pace only to drown in them. As I’m planted in my seat, I could feel my toenails slowly burrow past our ceramic tiles, pushing into the cement until it cracks. I’m afraid it would reach the kitchen downstairs. My mother would notice and ask me to wash the dishes or water the wilted plants outside. 

Had I finished working on the thousand origami cranes I started the day after Paskuhan, I wouldn’t wish to attend with a date next time. Instead, I would just wish for a normal school day, to laugh with my friends while arguing where to eat between Angkong or Dimsum Treats, and study in the library. 

But months have passed. I ran out of paper and my fingers are strained from folding. 

Only when the academic year ended did I realize that my body is tethered to the things I’ve been accustomed to. A weary sigh escapes from my lips as I tip my headthe only part of me that I can freely move. My eyes spot the shrub that’s been there half my life. It’s nestled beside the window, at the far end of my room.

I try to move, but my feet are stuck from the shackles it made on its own. I grit my teeth as I attempt to break free again from the fetters that prison me in this chair, not minding the blotches of red and purple forming on my wrists.

Dead on my feet, I stare at the computer screen, tasting bile in my mouth and feeling my stomach churn. I shut my eyes tight, my shoulders heaving from the sudden pressure on my chest before shifting my stare at the window.

I couldn’t remember how long it’s been inside my room but I envy how it’s just planted there, never moving an inch. A surge of resemblance sweeps inside me as my eyes flicker before staring down my feet.

At least bonsais grow.

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Literary

The not so flowery roads

I want you to realize that not all roads lead to a field of flowers, but not every road leads to a dark pit of nothingness either.

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Artwork by Aliah Basbas/TomasinoWeb

This is some sort of advice and maybe a confession as well. You name it. You can pick whichever you think it actually is.

Right off the bat, I want you to realize that not all roads lead to a field of flowers, but not every road leads to a dark pit of nothingness either. Sometimes, it is inevitable to go through them. So when you do go through them, I hope you know that you are not alone.

You see, I did not know this and I don’t think any of us really do. When the big sad in the shape of a 100th feet wave washes over us, we find ourselves completely in the dark — a never-ending void with no exits, as if we are trapped underwater. And we feel scared, but that is okay.

I’m not an expert on these things, so please bear with me.

There will be days when the bed becomes a part of you and taking a step towards the living room suddenly becomes the hardest thing to do and that’s okay. At times there will be moments where you feel both the silence and the noise at the same time and you wouldn’t know what to do as your body becomes unreachable. And that is okay.

I want to carve in stone that feeling everything at once and not knowing how to deal with the sensation isn’t a crime. That crying at an inconvenience doesn’t make you weak. That being honest enough to admit that the world is too heavy for you to carry right now, is a certain type of strength that most people are constantly hiding. And that asking for help is the bravest thing that you can do.

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We have spent so much time bottling up emotions that we were taught were wrong. “It’s all in your head,” they say. They’re right. They reside in our heads and that’s what makes them real. And they are real.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s okay to feel. On the road that doesn’t lead to a field of flowers, there are places where you can rest and take a breather. There are trees that come in the form of people who can make you feel safe. There are passages where you can find comfort in solitude. And there are circumstances when the big wave doesn’t even exist.

So when you feel like the sky will crash down or the walls of your room keep inching closer to you, feel the warmth of your hands, sit in silence, and try your best to hear the subtle thumping of your heartbeat, maybe count to ten as well. Before you know it, you have reached the end of the road.

And there, a scenery will greet you, making you realize that the best decision that you have ever made was to stay.

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Literary

Bayani

Tuloy pa rin ang giyera sa bayang binubuhay ng kapwa

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Likha ni Ana Victoria Ereno/TomasinoWeb

Bukas pa rin ang pintuan ng kahapon

kung saan matatanaw ang anino

ng mga panatang sinimulan at winakasan

ng pawang pluma’t sandata.

 

Kakatok bilang bisita sa mga alaala,

ang bayan ay babatiin ng “Mabuhay ang malaya!”, —

isang basbas na paaabutin

hangga’t may bumabangon pa rin.

 

Tuloy pa rin ang giyera sa bayang

binubuhay ng kapwa. 

 

Maganda man ang tanawin sa liwanag,

babalutin pa rin ito ng dilim.

Ngunit buhay ang salita mapa-umaga man o gabi:

manunumpang ang bawat hakbang

patungo sa kinabukasan

ay palayo na sa nakaraan.

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Literary

A Letter to a Young Thomasian

To the new UST student reading this, in the near future, I hope you see the same things I did. But today, I write to you in hopes that you become less alone.

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young thomasian
(Artwork by Ched Janelle Bautista/TomasinoWeb)

Given all the circumstances, those of which I am sure all of us are tired of hearing, much less remembering, I still hope this letter finds you warm and well. 

There are things I will say here that may or may not stir something in you: an invitation of excitement for what may come after all this ends, anger for what could have been, sorrow for all that is. We know how strong words are, what they can make us do, and what they can become. But they aren’t enough in letting you know what I know, to see the things I’ve seen, to have what I had. Words cannot compare to first-hand experiences, but as of now, this is all I have left.

First and foremost, I’m sorry. Not that I had anything to do with the pandemic—I don’t think anyone should be held accountable for how it all started, but I’m sorry about how it escalated to such an extent. I’m sorry it’s happening to what should have been a year for freshmen like you to make new promises and be compelled not to break them. I’m sorry you still refer to the directions as north, south, east, and west, and not the way we have been trained to do during our time in PE: España, Dapitan, Lacson, Noval. Sorry about the street names, you would have liked walking through them: crossing roads and keeping your eyes alert for a potentially speeding car, an alarming stranger, a stray cat, or a friend. 

I’m sorry you are reading this when you could have been hearing it directly from me. I’m sorry the voices you will be compelled to listen to are transmitted from your device or deterred by a buffering screen. I’m sorry we won’t get to meet, not for a little while. Sorry for apologizing so excessively. There is so much of UST in me that, if I could, I would pull it out of my chest, wrap it inside a box, and give it to you, free of charge. It would be our little secret.

It must come off as awkward, maybe a little ridiculous, to think of the university as a secret, as big as it is: a walled-in city of 21 point five hectares, curated specifically for dreamers, romantics, free thinkers, future heroes, and every person in between. Yet there are things only we could know, not through sardonic gatekeeping, but by virtue of shared experiences—both good and bad. 

You will be accustomed to bouncing between lectures through Zoom and Google Meet links for some time. But there’s a pedestrian lane in the street that separates the Hospital building and the Carpark, jokingly (and somewhat affectionately) called Shibuya Crossing, that you will have to get used to before meeting your colleagues. You may or may not be the unfortunate victim of water droplets in an infamous spot in Dapitan. 

You could be the proud owner of a pack of pastillas, sold to you by a very convincing vendor. The “pop” of the fountain behind the main building might be just what you need to wake you up at seven in the morning. The diverse cast of statues scattered around campus might be of some interest to you—from a well-known saint and philosopher to a very familiar looking figure, carrying what appears to be a globe. This and this, it all belongs to you as it does to me. Thomasians, like alchemists, know how to turn mundane things to gold. We know how to take things from the past and turn it into something else.

There is the matter of a Thomasian’s complicated relationship with the rain—rain that could be a blessing from the sky or a punishment to everything urban, depending on who you ask or on which side the coin lands. Drizzles come and go, gentle kisses upon the earth, but Manila downpours are unforgiving. They are relentless, churning streets into rivers. Nothing floods as much as UST, which seems to suck the water around the city like a sponge. It used to flood so much that it is baffling Thomasians don’t grow gills through natural selection. It used to be so bad that we took umbrellas with us like an extension of our bodies, and accepted the fate of our ruined textbooks, damp socks, and bricked phones. 

I remember always hating the overcast. But today, every time I look above and see grey, all I could think about is my second home, that I used to be part of something bigger.  

I know how hard university is, and I know how harder it will become when you experience it exclusively in front of a screen. It is draining, difficult, and devastatingly lonely. No one likes the situation we’re in, and I’m going as far as to say that everyone despises it. 

The UST I write about is not what you are experiencing now. If our roles were switched, I’d think of you as someone not quite all there in the head, that we cannot be in the same school, that everything you have written and will continue to write sounds like a fever dream. It’s not. If there’s room for it in your heart to trust me, I pray that you do. 

Things are not where they should be now: the leylines are rearranged and the stars have realigned. But like all things inherent to nature, it will get better. To become a Thomasian is to become a conqueror of solitude—which is why we have the welcome walk, why we attend Paskuhan and Agape, why we wear yellow on game days, why I am writing to you now. To the new UST student reading this, in the near future, I hope you see the same things I did. But today, I write to you in hopes that you become less alone.

Maybe this is just how Thomasians are, what we become, what we unconsciously morph into. We turn into schools of fish to swim our way to safety, we become the stoic trees in Lover’s Lane, we become like statues. We flock to each other like birds, lick each other’s wounds like dogs. A dreadful part of me, bordering somewhere between realistic and pessimistic, believes that this current set-up we are forced to do might continue for some time. A year at the least. Maybe even more. But a hopelessly romantic, sad, and desperate part of me continues to believe that it will all end earlier than we initially thought. 

Until then: drink water, keep a blanket around your shoulders, and stay away from the rain (or, after reading all of this, bathe in it all you want). I can’t wait to see you soon. 

With love,

A Thomasian student

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