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Literary

Christmas Tree

Nakajacket ka pa rin na itim at may kahawak kamay. Tiningnan ko ng huling beses ang cellphone ko. Walang reply. Walang kahit ano. Huminga nalang nang malalim at pinindot ang delete contact.

Artwork by Aldrich Aquino

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“Magpapapicture tayo sa tapat ng Christmas tree ha!” Ito ang huli mong text sa akin. 

Siguro nga totoo ang mga multo at isa sa mga multo na ito ay nakasalamin, nakasuot palagi ng jacket na itim, at may nakakatunaw na ngiti. Hinayaan kong mamatay ng kusa ang aking cellphone hanggang sa makita nalang ang imahe ng sarili dito. 

Ilang buwan na din ang lumipas simula nang natikman ko ang lasa ng pait ng isang bagay na maihahalintulad ko na din sa pag-ibig. Ngayon, nandito lang ako sa may mga upuan sa tapat ng Plaza Mayor—nagmumuni-muni habang hawak ang reviewer sa Theology. Binalik ako sa wisyo ng katabi ko at sinabing magreview na kami. Oo nga naman, marami pa akong mga bagay na kailangang aralin at gawin. Tumayo ako at inaya ang kasama ko sa library, baka naman sakaling makapag-focus na ako sa acads. Pinagpag ko ang aking palda, itinago ang reviewer at nagsimulang maglakad.

Parang nagmamartsa kami, anong nangyayari? Lahat ba ng nasa harap namin may sprain sa paa? Napakabagal naman maglakad ng mga ‘to. Konti nalang at baka mapasigaw na ako ng, “Kaya ba this week?!” pero syempre hindi ko gagawin ‘yun. 

Dahil exam week, maraming nasa library. Walang maupuan, walang masaksakan ng laptop, at wala ding maupuan. Nang makaupo na kami sa Social Sciences, tiningnan ko ang cellphone ko, baka may nagtext na. Ay, wala pala. Nevermind. Aral na nga ako. Makalipas ng ilang oras, naubos na ang aking braincells. 

“Guys, uwi na ako ha?” sabi ng ka-block ko. Sabay na kaya ako sa kanya? Parehas naman kaming Dapitan, ayain ko na din kayang kumain?

“Uy teka, sama na ako.” sabi ko sabay ligpit ng mga gamit. Nagpaalam na kami sa mga kasama namin at umalis na. Ang lamig naman…next time magdadala na talaga ako ng jacket. 

Nang makalabas na kami sa library bigla siyang nagsalita. “Gusto mo ba kumain? Tara kain tayo.” Pumayag naman ako tutal ‘yun na din ang plano ko. 

“Angkong o Dimsum?” tanong ko. 

“Ricing Star nalang.” sagot niya. 

Pagdating namin sa V. Concepcion, ang daming tao. Lahat ng kainan puno. Naalala ko na naman ‘yung sinabi mo, na kapag ganito, umuuwi ka nalang sa dorm at natutulog. Pinagalitan kita noon kasi mag-isa ka lang at sa malayo ka pa nakatira, dapat inaalagaan mo sarili mo. Tumawa ka nang mahina at sinabi mong sweet ako. Hindi mo alam na unang beses kong magsabi ng ganung bagay, hindi kasi ako sanay. 

“May date ka na sa paskuhan?” nasamid ako sa tanong niya. 

“Wala e. Kasama ko lang mga kaibigan ko. Ikaw ba?” tanong ko. Pinakita niya ang likod ng cellphone niya. Ah may instax. Alam na. 

Nag-take-out nalang kami at nagpaalam na ako na uuwi na ako. Bago umalis, chineck ko ulit ‘yung phone ko. Oras at petsa lang ang bumungad sa akin pati na rin ang schedule ng mga klase ko. Siopao na yata ako ah? Asadong asado. Makauwi na nga. 

Isang araw nalang at magpapaskuhan na. Naalala ko pa nung Agape, pagbukas ng mga ilaw nanlaki ang mga mata ko, hindi dahil sa ganda nito pero dahil akala ko nakita kita pero mistulang guniguni lamang pala ‘yun. Nagtext ako ulit sa’yo habang hawak hawak ‘yung kahon ng Aristocrat, hinihiling na sana magreply ka kahit isang beses lang.

Kumusta ka na nga ba? Nakapasa ka ba sa quiz mo? Kung hindi, pakitandaan nalang ang mga bagay na sinabi mo sa akin, “Life starts after quiz 1!” napailing ako at napangiti nang mapait. Totoo nga ang kanta ng Rivermaya. ‘Ang bilis nga naman talaga maglaho ng pag-ibig mo, sinta.’

Mag-eexam na ako sa Theology at pagkatapos nito, wala na akong iisipin pang iba except ikaw, charot lang. Nag-eexam ka din kaya ngayon? O baka naman tapos ka na at naglalaro ka nalang sa Mineski? 

“Okay class, please get one and pass.” Ito na. Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Makalipas ng isang oras, masasabi ko rin na mababawi ko na lahat ng nawalang tulog ko last week at ngayon. Ang mga blockmates ko naman nagsisitalunan na dahil tapos na ang exams. Sana all masaya. Tiningnan ko ulit ‘yung aking cellphone. Wala pa rin pero okay lang, may isang bagay pa akong pinanghahawakan––baka makita kita sa christmas tree bukas. 

“Kita tayo ng mga alas-singko bukas ha?” paalala ng kaibigan ko. Tumango ako at inayos ang mga gamit ko. “Okay ka lang ba?” tanong sa akin. “Oo naman. Nag-iisip lang.” 

“Alam mo, baka minulto ka na talaga.” sabi nila. Ngumiti nalang ako at sinabing, “Baka nga o baka nakuha ‘yung cellphone niya o kaya nahulog sa jeep diba?” Kung ano-ano na ang pinagsasabi ko pero alam ko namang ang totoo. “Una na ‘ko.” sabi ko sabay labas ng classroom. 

Gabi na ng Paskuhan. Ang daming tao na naglalakad at nagpi-picture sa mga ilaw. Napakaganda nga naman talaga ng UST. Humiwalay na muna ako sa mga kaibigan ko para makapag-isip-isip. Naikot ko na ang buong field at nakabunggo na ng iba’t-ibang tao. May maliit na parte sa loob ko na nagbabakasakaling mabangga kita at marinig ang mahina mong “sorry” pero alam ko din namang hindi ‘yun mangyayari. 

Sige na nga. Lalakasan ko na ang loob ko. Itetext kita, kapag hindi ka nagreply, lalapit ako sa Christmas tree at magpapapicture mag-isa.

Message sent. Benteng minuto na ang lumipas wala pa rin.

Dinala ako ng mga paa ko sa harapan ng Christmas tree at dito kita nakita na may kasamang iba. Nagpakita ang multong nakasalamin na may nakakatunaw na ngiti. Nakajacket ka pa rin na itim at may kahawak kamay. Tiningnan ko ng huling beses ang cellphone ko. Walang reply. Walang kahit ano. Huminga nalang nang malalim at pinindot ang delete contact. 

Binalot ako ng hangin. Napakalamig. Buti nalang at nagdala ako ng jacket.

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Literary

Happy anniversary!

Little did I know at the time that March 9 would be the last day I would be able to see the University and my friends in person.

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(Photo by Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb)

March 9, 2020. 

I still remember how that day was going. Amidst the safety protocols at the time in the form of face masks, alcohol, and temperature checks, it was really no different from the typical Mondays I’ve gotten used to. You wake up after a short weekend, prepare, and make your way to the University. 

In my case, it was the usual two to three hour commute I’ve been doing for over a year. Pretty simple right? 

How was it typical you might ask? Well, despite being aware of the situation at the time, I won’t deny it anyway that I did not take the situation seriously. This is not to say that I did not observe and cooperate with safety protocols, but I admit, I was still lighthearted enough about things that I would joke around about it with my friends. 

COVID welcome party. Didn’t age well, but I guess it’ll be a reminder of the days leading up to this. 

Anyways.

Simply put, March 9 was just the beginning of another cycle. A cycle of going to class, listening, or not listening to your professors, mingling with the people you’ve been with for the past year or so, and finally going home late because you still hung out with your friends well after class. 

Or so I thought it was. I had just survived another session of Economics class by the time the news broke out of Mayor Isko declaring a week-long suspension of classes. COVID-19 cases had been increasing at the time which led to the supposed one-week break. 

At the time, a week-long suspension sounded appealing. It was already the second half of the academic year which meant that any form of a break would be nice. I had an ongoing burnout as well at the time so that supposed one-week break was much needed.

But the thing is, it wasn’t just one week. Little did I know at the time that March 9 would be the last day I would be able to see the University and my friends in person. Little did I know that one typical Monday would be a reminder of my last day in Manila. 

That one week turned into a month then that one month turned into a year. Before I knew it, all my plans for the previous year had gone down the drain. Without any warning, the life I knew was gone––forced into an indefinite and abrupt end by an unseen force. 

It’s been a year since March 9. This time around last year, I was still in the outside world. Due to the suspension and campus closure, the streets had been hauntingly silent, akin to what you would see if you were still out at around 1 or 2 AM. Heck, even the trip home at the time felt weird even if I’ve ridden the same bus and sat on the same seats countless times over the past two academic years already. 

But now, I’m just here, writing this piece in my room, the same one I’ve been trapped in since I got home at around 11 p.m. on this day last year. Now I’m just some lost child who’s lost pretty much all sense of fulfillment in what he does. 

One year later, I am just a shell of my former self. 

From someone who was primed to fulfill the potential he and other people saw in him, I’ve been reduced to an underwhelming, burned out deadweight who’s probably causing the same people who believe in me to regret their decision. 

I don’t know anymore, really. At this point I’m just letting the days go by, barely putting in the bare minimum in just about everything I’m involved in. Nothing I’ve done to regain some sense of fulfillment has worked so far, and I don’t know if there’ll even be anything that’ll give me that anymore. 

Everything has felt like a burden frankly speaking. From being the second-highest officer in the organization, to having a position in a school project, all these were supposed to give off a unique sense of fulfillment for me. 

But unfortunately, all these have felt like obligations, which I am forced to fulfill because it would be unethical if I put myself first before the job. 

In retrospect, this time last year and the days that followed seemed like the best year because of how this anniversary has been. Being stuck at home and only seeing Manila for a total of four times since the one-week suspension has made last year’s events look like the best thing to happen, if we’re keeping it real here. 

And no, this isn’t some sympathy piece, nor some privileged rant. 

This is just a mere commemoration of the day normal ceased to exist. 

But hey, maybe things would get better one day, right? We may never go back to normal, but this world would be less of a living hell. Maybe one day I won’t be telling the people I love that I miss them and I am tired of seeing them through my laptop screen anymore. Maybe one day, I won’t be spending countless hours playing Genshin Impact during my free time while ignoring just about everyone in the real world. 

Or maybe not. We’ll never know until we get there anyways.

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Literary

Wall of Roses

To remember the storms and grim atrocities,
One must never let the memories of the tragedies falter.

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EDSA Commemoration held last February 25, 2020. (Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb)

Weary eyes glare across empty asphalt,
Toward the men clad in armor, prepared for assault,
Deathly stares pointed like spears across the avenues.
Shouldered rifles, their aim steady and true.

The streets choke with the tide of people,
The radio waves harken to the faithful,
A veritable sea of bodies fill the city.
Marching the streets with devout alacrity.

His armored columns batter down the avenue,
Their blitzkrieg halted, a frozen retinue
Fearsome marines, armed to the teeth
Unmoving against a wall of hands with roses and wreaths.

Gunships circling like vultures, guns bared,
A bone-chilling sounds forth, a horrid drone,
The masses do not stir, no longer scared,
Forward they press, to his riverine throne.

His mind is unsure, his seat uneasy,
Whether to rain down his mortars and bombs.
His generals plead to loose a volley,
No orders released, his rage kept mum.

The people shout, and beat, and cry,
For him to relinquish his seat, to give up the fight.
His situation has turned sour, awfully awry.
Nowhere to go, his family takes flight.

Never forget how his men storm the night,
How daughters were taken, sons left slain.
Bearing truncheons, expressing his might,
Never again shall that darkness reign.

To remember the storms and grim atrocities,
One must never let the memories of the tragedies falter.
A bloodless war waged in the fields in cities,
Justice regained upon the shoulders of the martyrs. 

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Literary

Hello, 2021

The sun’s out with its mellow light showing a clear sign of what’s up ahead––a beginning. 

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Photo by Jessica de Rosa on Unsplash

The sun’s out with its mellow light showing a clear sign of what’s up ahead––a beginning. 

All that happened yesterday becomes a blur. The parties, dinners, the echoes of fireworks and car horns, the “goodbye and thank you” messages, the closure that we’ve been yearning to have for us to completely move forward, the people who have left, and the ones who stayed; these things leave a bittersweet ending to the year that has tested our wits and pushed us to the limits of our limits. 

We deserve a pat on the back, a roaring cheer from the crowd, and a cake for surviving the horror of 2020. We may be limping from the ache, our eyes may be red from all the crying, and our will to strive may have taken a huge blow, but what matters is, we managed to finish even without flying colors––even if we exited without avoiding being unscathed. 

And now, we take a step forward to the better things, to new sunrises and sunsets, to new beginnings, to meeting new souls that may become a part of our lives or rather be someone who would be a friend to others, to new challenges, to new levels of extreme, and to having more chances in starting anew. 

But there shouldn’t be an act of forgetting that sometimes, this is not the case for everyone for struggles don’t vanish overnight. The heaviness of circumstances that we cannot escape continues to weigh us down and so, at times, all we can do is sit quietly and bask in solitude or at most, gather all remnants of courage and strength in our bodies to conquer the storm one step at a time. 

It is the first month of the year; the sun’s out with its light––it’s just there being anything that we want it to be, may it be hope, strength, light, or whatever––waiting for us to stand up again and bravely face the unknown of what this year will bring. 

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