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Literary

What the cards failed to consider

When Leah asked Aileen if Jacob would ask her out for Valentine’s Day, she drew the nine of swords.

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(Artwork by Meghan Castillo/TomasinoWeb)

When Leah asked Aileen if Jacob would ask her out for Valentine’s Day, she drew the nine of swords.

Leah didn’t know what the card meant. Aileen was the go-to reader in her block, who read palms and cards under the table, so that was her job. When she glanced at the design below her desk, it was the print of a man, sitting upright on his bed, with swords struck horizontally against him, one pierced through his chest. Aileen didn’t need to say anything. Leah already knew.

Aileen scooted over to peek. Her face fell. “Oh. Oh no.”

Expecting the worst, Leah nodded. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

“The design isn’t very subtle, huh. Maybe it’s just a warmup. Want to draw again?”

“Isn’t that unprofessional?”

“Who cares? Maybe you’ll get the lovers card this time. I thought you wanted to date him.”

Leah did—er, sort of. Jacob was a marketing student she met in Antonio, where she went to in the afternoon to smoke. He just happened to be there and also just happened to carry a lighter. Leah pulled out a stick of Marlboro, and Jacob was ready to light it for her.

He wasn’t a conversationalist. Jacob used his mouth to puff out smoke more than he did words, but Leah could look past that. She just had to look at him. At his broad shoulders, at the way his yellow sleeves curled between his biceps, at his neck. His face looked good, sharp-nosed and thick browed and full-lipped. The car key hanging on his belt helped a lot, too. They hit it off pretty well. 

They exchanged numbers and went out irregularly to get some food and to smoke, but it stopped there. They didn’t sleep with each other, or kissed, they didn’t even hug. Leah didn’t know what they were. She just liked to look at him. Jacob liked being seen. In the presence of the tarot card, that looked glum between her fingers, she felt nothing. Maybe a little relieved.

She sighed. “Lunch?”

Aileen took the card from her hands and sheathed it into her deck, shuffled it, wrapped it with a cloth, and tossed it into her bag. “God, I’m starving. Carpark?”

They hopped out of Saint Raymund’s and walked through the school grounds. Aileen was the block’s tarot reader but she was also Leah’s confidant and best friend. 

In the student-filled aisle that trailed from the parking lot to the fast-food chains, Aileen stopped in her tracks and shoved an elbow against Leah’s ribs. Aileen pointed. Leah looked.

Jacob had wrapped his arm around someone else. A girl. She was smiling, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a string of pink balloons in the other.

Oh. Leah thought. So that’s what the man in the tarot card felt when the sword struck through his chest. Oh.

Aileen grabbed her hand and, in a split-second, they dashed through the crowds of students, their feet kicking off the asphalt as they went. Leah was too dazed, her head clouded with Jacob and the girl––at the way he was grinning, midway through a joke, and at how the skin of his arm was touching the girl’s nape. At how they looked at each other. Leah didn’t know he met someone else. 

Aileen led Leah next to the trees where she could sit. “I’ll be back,” she said and disappeared. When she returned, paper bags in hand, she smiled at her.

“Hey, hey, listen, I bought you food.”

Leah blinked, collecting herself. “What?”

“Forget Jacob! Forget him, hey,” she pulled out a cup of iced coffee, placed it next to Leah, and brought out a pair of sandwiches. “He’s such a loser.”

Leah felt a tear trickle in one eye. “He is…and boring and smells like Axe perfume, and honestly, really dumb.” 

Aileen laughed. Leah wiped her eyes and pierced the coffee cup with a straw. She took a sip—it was her go-to order: Caramel macchiato with the whip stirred. She was just about to ask something when Aileen replied, “Soy milk, with two additional shots of espresso. I know.”

Leah peeled the wrappings off of her sandwich—it was a BLT with no cucumber and no onions like she usually ordered. 

Jacob didn’t know her favorite drink or her favorite meal. Jacob didn’t even know Leah’s favorite color. He didn’t know anything—but Aileen did. She knew everything.

Leah looked up at her best friend now, her chest wrung out of anger, filling up with warmth. In the sunlight, Aileen biting out of her sandwich, she started to glow. What the cards got right—Leah wasn’t going to spend Valentine’s with Jacob. She was never going to see him again. What the cards failed to consider was that there were other people. Better people. 

What the cards failed to consider was Aileen. 

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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.

READ  Isang tahanan

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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