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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

Eight months and counting

I remember the rush my body felt as I filled up my laundry bag while talking to my friends via video chat and how eager I was to go home.

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Artwork by Fernadine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

Flashback to the moment when Mayor Isko Moreno declared a one-week suspension because of the Coronavirus outbreak. At the time, we didn’t know that in a few months, everything would change completely. I remember the rush my body felt as I filled up my laundry bag while talking to my friends via video chat and how eager I was to go home. A lot can happen in a week, right? There was hope in the air, nothing would fall apart, after a week we would hurry to our classrooms for the first period with iced coffee and we would chat with our blockmates about what we did during the break—it was simple. 

Looking back, I wish that we could have been more cautious but then again, we can only do so much. Walking around the campus, seeing everyone wearing facemasks, showed how compliant we were. Placing alcohol and sanitizer dispensers at every building entrance, having our temperatures checked all the time, practicing safety measures—we did everything that we can and maybe that’s the reason why it has become frustrating to see the parts of what made our college life worthwhile, fade away. 

I remember the rush my body felt as I filled up my laundry bag while talking to my friends via video chat and how eager I was to go home.

Where the street is packed with students ordering buchicake and pancit canton, where fast printing services are found, and where the smell of smoke sticks on uniforms, Antonio now can no longer be recognized—empty and quiet, without any hint of fast-moving footsteps. 

In Asturias, where the crowds usually hangout in between periods and lunch breaks, a desert lies. The busy Jollibee had closed, leaving traces of memories within its walls. Its fate, similar to the convenience stores around the university, all covered with blank manila papers with no notes of return. The McDonald’s in P. Noval shut down, I remember walking by and seeing how packed it was every single day, especially during exam seasons; how it shined so bright under the midnight sky where Noval was silent, sleeping, getting ready for another busy day. 

Breakfast dates in McDonald’s Carpark come to mind, the long lines and full tables, the water dripping from the roof outside, wondering where it came from. How shattering it was to see that it closed down. It was one of the go-to food chains inside, who knew that it would end up the way it did? Not me, not in a million years. 

Antonio now can no longer be recognized—empty and quiet, without any hint of fast-moving footsteps. 

Remember how the golden sunlight covered the whole field? How it passed through branches and made you realize how easy it was to love mornings in UST? How the uneven pavement made your friend almost trip, making you laugh then after, it happened to you too? The scorching heat whenever you pass by Plaza Mayor and getting caught up by the 12 o’clock prayer, preventing you from taking shelter to avoid the heat, the long walks in lovers’ lane at night where you awkwardly pass at couples, the slow-paced walking of other students along UST Health Service, and the fountain in Q. Park that’s capable of giving you a heart attack everytime it bursts. It’s funny because I used to dread those moments but now, they are the ones that I truly miss. 

During October, the Paskuhan season starts, the lights all over bring magic to our lonely and tiring days. Now, a plain skeleton of the Christmas tree stands tall beside the grandstand with no company.

Remember how the golden sunlight covered the field? How it passed through branches and made you realize how easy it was to love mornings in UST?

It’s saddening. Eight months in and we still don’t know what the future holds. As for now, we only rely on the power of technology, on the spontaneous zoom calls with friends, on binging series and movies, and even just by taking a deep breath. 

If we only knew what would happen, we could have taken the time to feel that one last hug from our friends, to take time in eating at our favorite place, to spend an extra hour in the library, to walk slowly towards our buildings––enduring the simplicity of a normal day, because right now there is this lingering guilt that keeps on making us realize how we took things for granted and to be completely and brutally honest, I think we’re nearing towards the breaking point.

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Literary

The Myth of Apo Lakay

Whatever my hometown patronized, I saw harmless. It was not until years later that I understood everything.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin/TomasinoWeb

Adu met lang ti nagsiyaatan na idi tiempo na, uray komporme ti ibagbaga da,” (“No matter what they say, he did a lot of good during his time.”) my grandpa would always say, while I was sitting on his lap, listening to him retell stories from years past, eating balikutsa—a candy made out of sugarcane, one of my favorite Ilocano delicacies.

I remember not knowing much then, as one would expect from a six-year old with barely any conceived awareness. I was too trusting of the stories I was told as a little girl, owing to my naïveté. Whatever my elders said, I always assumed were correct. Whatever my hometown patronized, I saw harmless. It was not until years later that I understood everything.

They said it was the Golden Age, the years dating back from 1972 to 1986. There was discipline and barely any crime, and the value of 1 peso was equivalent to that of 1 US dollar—it was almost like a folklore back in the province, shared by the collective memories of fellow Ilocanos. They called him Apo Lakay and built statues in his memory. In the North the people pride themselves for speaking in the same language that a late dictator once spoke. To them it was a language that held a significant amount of heft. A significant amount of power. One that could take over a country and leave it with nightmares decades after.

Nasimsimple pay ketdi ti biag idi,” (“Life was a lot simpler back then.”) they would often say. Everything I knew about Martial law was an inherited memory from my hometown, weathered down by the works of historical revisionism and misplaced loyalties. There was nothing true about what I was told. There was nothing to celebrate about Martial law.

At some point I wanted to unlearn the dialect largely because of shame, I wanted to outrun the identity of being an Ilocano. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t going to be the defining feature of my being one—this urban legend of a fascist who was responsible for the deaths of many and the shared trauma of Filipinos that persist until this day.

And so in place of those ill-conceived tales, I try to reconstruct them through stories that I learned were more historically correct. I start with my little cousins, so they don’t grow up brainwashed with toxic regionalism like I was as a little girl. They will grow up to learn the words ‘fascist’, ‘kleptocrat’, and ‘democracy’. Through this I take on my grandpa’s place in telling stories by telling mine, this time more accurately, this time in favor of the ones who greatly suffered in that so-called Golden Age. There should be no place in Ilocos for immortalizing a dictator.

I could hear the crickets nearby. I could sense grandpa was nearing the end of his stories. I could tell his legs were numb from sitting me on his lap for hours on end. I barely understood his stories, I was only six years old. The last balikutsa melts in my mouth. He says, “Dagijay nga taw-en ti kamayatan para dagiti Pilipino idi.” (“Those were the best years of the Filipinos.”) No, grandpa, those were the lost years of the Filipinos. I wish I could reach into years past and tell him he was wrong.

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Literary

This Thing

Swallowing the sun and rain
But myself still remains
Soaking up all my validity
It eventually shifts my reality

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I don’t know when it came
For there is no one to blame
On the other side of this face
There, standing with disgrace

This is a source of danger
A voice of a slipping reminder
Is this probably the truth?
Feeling estranged from my youth?

Conflicted with my ideals
Finding what would appeal
My mind that was in blight
Would eventually find its light

All alone this body is terrified
This takes over just to terrorize
Authenticity has been eliminated
Like the luster being defeated

Lies ahead were vivid hues
I was blinded, but I would choose|
Reaching out to that lucidity
Maybe to achieve serenity

Leaving this catastrophe
Can’t be done casually
But possible with a tenacity
Evacuating from that apathy

Swallowing the sun and rain
But myself still remains
Soaking up all my validity
It eventually shifts my reality

Not anymore fragmented
This, that has been connected.

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