“Hand me some buwad, Olly.”
“Why are you the one who always orders around here? Would you just stand and help yourself?”
“Come again? Remember the Penshoppe bag I bought you?”
“Okay, okay. I know it’s coming. You’re always making use of your trump card. In fact, it’s more of a normal one now.”
“Are you still flapping those lips?”
“Nope. Here’s your buwad, ate.”
It was a sunny afternoon, flabbergastingly serene weather, for the two of us. Christmas just went by. Lots of firecracker wastes and party poppers dotted the streets and canals. Leftovers of Piccolo, Sinturon ni Hudas, and lots of trash littered the whole sitio. It was an extended season of family love and merrymaking, yet for me, it was another season when I’d look after my silly sister, and I didn’t want to be a babysitter.
My name was Jelly and I was a twenty-two-year-old Science teacher at Arullina National High School who advised tenth graders. Molly, my sister, was a twenty-year-old call center agent who was the total opposite of me. She loved shopping and going out on dates with her popular-but-not-so-gentleman boyfriend. One thing I hated about her was how she always had a new boyfriend almost every three months. Christian was her fifteenth boyfriend now, and she had her eyes on a new prospect ready to take over once they could not resolve their piled-up arguments anymore. I always scolded her about this because I didn’t want her to look like a slut, but the thing that I could not tell her was that I was just jealous.
Being a teacher was a tough job, not only that the profession would expect too much from you, but also that it would get you so busy you could say goodbye to things such as love. Don’t find love; if it comes, it comes. Let love find you, they said. That was what I believed in. I always had this lucky charm in my purse that was supposed to “attract” love wherever I’d go. I’d carry it around with me and sometimes had it blessed by a priest in every occasion in churches I could attend to, or in a weekly Christian gathering—called The Feast.
I had crushes before. One was during my high school days and I had not set my standards high then. Not when my Korean bebe boys happened. It all happened during my fourth year in Mandaue Middle High School when I was the president of the student council. I was plotting the activities for the upcoming school fair when a freshman came into the office to submit his class’ suggested booth for their level, and I was the only officer available that afternoon because the rest were busy in their class tasks.
The freshy was named Rico, and he was tall, dark, and… was standing near the door trying to act cool and all. And if you were expecting handsome, no, he was not at all. As he stood, it was obvious how anxious he was just by looking at his demeanor. Upon entering the office, he handed the documents smoothly with an awkward and dentally impaired smile. He left me with an awful pickup line as if trying to pick on some girls who were out of his league. If it were for other girls, they would surely find it cringy and disgusting because this boy was odd-looking, and to add with his crooked and some missing teeth, he had a severe problem with his breath. Not to mention his acnes and pimples.
But not for me.
I experienced the suspension bridge effect right at that moment. I kept it to myself and didn’t even attempt to talk to Rico casually, even after he joined the council. I soon graduated and my feelings remained sealed and undelivered. I later knew that he had signed up for the responsibilities of a secretary because he wanted to establish a close relationship with me. Little did I know he also had eyes for me.
It was too late, though.
My second crush budded during my first year at Cebu Education University. There was this classmate of mine who used to give me a ride on his motorbike to school. Part of my route was to pass by the sidewalk of P-mall, and Joshua might have seen me and thought of reaching out to at least ease my burden of walking another fifty meters to the university. The gesture and his presence made me giddy inside, but I didn’t know that this person’s motive was to have the privilege of copying my notes whenever he was absent from class. The problem was, he was mostly absent the entire school year. He had been transferred to another school during our second year of college due to some serious issues he was involved in—like alcohol and drugs.
I was blind.
I liked another guy, Troy, when I had reached my fourth year at the university. This type of crush this time came in unnoticed. I didn’t have an ounce of feelings for him for almost three years, even though we were classmates, but the more I saw him speak and perform on stage (he was a talented public speaker and orator), the more I noticed him—which made me fall in love with him, eventually. The sad thing was that I couldn’t brave myself up to confess to him until he fell in love with my other classmate, Sasha, and they were still happy even up to this date. I could only think so much about the torture of seeing them happy every day on Facebook and Instagram.
It had been years since then.
And, I was still single, which had given my colleagues the pleasure to tease me since most of them had their love life figured out already, and some were even happily married. Except for my besties at work. We came in the same batch, and I should say I felt relieved they supported me with all my seeking-for-love thing. With them, I felt a sense of belongingness.
Upon finishing our meal, I collected the plates and dumped them in the kitchen sink. The smell of Smart dish-washing soap and rotten, old food wastes still clung in the air, but it never bothered us anymore because we were already getting used to it. It was only the two of us in the chaotic room: crumpled pieces of paper, wrappers of different junk food, chocolate wastes (I liked chocolates), used tissues, Schick razors, and anything that you could fit in your imagination littered the small space. The two of us were not like this before, especially when we were still living with our parents, when they were still alive, in our hometown. We lived in the far north of Cebu, Tabogon, and we would only visit twice a month or during special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, and death anniversaries. The two of us decided to rent a room in a boarding house in Lapu-Lapu when Molly first landed a job as an encoder. It was because we couldn’t afford to commute every day, and it was tedious to always wait for a bus in a crowded terminal. Also, we both didn’t like dirty and crowded places.
How ironic it was for us now.
“Ate, I gotta go buy a drink. What would you like?” Molly asked out of the blue. She was seated on a pillow-seat cushion placed on the floor, wearing short denim shorts paired with a white tank top. Her eyes were barely looking at me because they were glued at the TV situated at the corner of the room. Despite the room being messy, the leafy, green-painted walls accentuated the ambiance of the whole chamber at least. There was a partitioned room by a curtain at the right side of our home dedicated as our sleeping area, and a comfort and shower room in one, compact space just next to it. We both shared a bed, but we didn’t sleep together because of our different job schedules.
The living area consisted of three main furniture only: the low table, serving as our dining area on the left side, near the kitchen sink (we only sit on the floor when eating); the TV cabinet with different stuffed toys displayed on the shelves; and a Whirlpool fridge at the opposite corner. Not having an air-conditioning appliance was a thing that we needed to deal with if we wanted to cut our electricity bill in half. To make up for it, we bought and installed one big ceiling fan in the living area and a stand fan in our provisional bedroom. It was so bare that not even a cockroach would want to live with us if not with the trash littering around.
In short, it was a cramped room.
“Buy me a can of Coke. Include a pack of Whisper with wings. Here, you can keep the change.”
When Molly was already out, I pulled my phone and called my best friend. There was more of a chance of a shooting star tonight than not calling Vhina every fortnight. While waiting for Vhina to answer the call, I recalled the blurry images that I frequently dreamed about. It was a woman with long hair and a sweet voice who always said “I love you” to me. Though I had a guess that it was our mother, I couldn’t just figure it out since we didn’t know how she looked like. It was like we forgot her whole existence.
Actually, I felt like I was missing a lot of things in my life. It felt like I skipped some years and then became a teacher. I couldn’t even clearly remember my childhood.
There was a click on the other end and a wheezing voice coughed, adding sickly: “Hey, been waiting for almost a century for your call.”
“What happened? Seems like you’ve caught a cold,” I furrowed my brows, showing how concerned I was with her condition. I could still remember the moment of happiness we cherished when both of us got accepted in the same school we applied for.
“Just a cold. Been doing great here, though. How was your paperwork?”
I could hear the pounding keys on a keyboard on the other end of the phone. My worry turned to realization as I remembered I was not yet done with my final term of lesson plans.
I rushed into our bedroom and opened my laptop. Had it not been for the deadlines I needed to meet, I’d surely gaze at the wonders of our sleeping area. It was unlikely for me not to have a glimpse of V’s blazing smile, nor even touch Jungkook’s glossy-white face. Different posters of BTS were hung and posted on every wall and corner of the room. There were even figurines displayed on bookshelves where books should have been, and standees that were meticulously placed at the bed-end. I just thought it was a wonderful thing for me to see them first thing in the morning after waking up. Even the calendar that was hanging on the door was designed with each member of the Korean boy group in their summer outfit.
I could only fantasize about them in this little space, though. No one knew this, except, of course, Molly, since we both shared the space, and luckily, it didn’t bother her. No one could dictate my life with my boys. Not Vhina. Not even my sister.
It was my separate world. My own world.
With my phone placed between my right ear and shoulder, I entered my password right after my computer had started. My password had already crossed seas and climbed mountains over the years, and still, nothing had changed—Mom143. A melancholic memory visited me but only for a while because it was overshadowed by the looming deadlines.
There was a buzz on the other end of the phone, followed by a dry cough. Four dry coughs and a weak voice—weaker than before: “Hey, you still there?”
“You’re sick, Vhi. Try to have some rest for now. I’ll ring you up later.” I pocketed my phone and opened the documents I needed to finish.
Alright. Time to work.
† † †
Sitting on a cushioned monobloc chair, I tried to call the number again. It had been ten times now since contacting the number written on the sticky note that was posted on my little mirror, blocking my reflection, not serving its purpose anymore. I didn’t want to look at myself because I thought of myself as unattractive, or as what I sometimes called myself, especially in moments of weakness—monstrous. In fact, the only reason I could think about why I was still single was that no one liked my face.
The moon was already up in the sky. The temperature gradually dropped as time passed by.
“Oh, hello, um, I’m sorry if I was not able to contact you earlier, cher,” I murmured, trying my best to sound polite. I couldn’t handle any screaming and scolding, but I liked doing it myself—especially to Molly’s misdoings.
“Cher, you know it’s almost seven p.m., right?” answered by the person on the other end matter-of-factly.
“Yes, I know, but I have a serious problem with my activities. The curriculum is kind of hard to understand, too.”
“That’s your problem, not mine. I’m having my kind of fun here—just so you know.”
“I’m really sorry, cher. I’m going to submit it right about now, compiled and proofed already.”
“You better do. I don’t want to go through it again against my leisure.”
“Okay, cher, thank you ve—”
The line was cut.
The person on the other end was teacher Grumpy. Well, that was how she was called in our workplace. She had a big and round head with curly, black hair that had some gray strands already showing on ends. Her eyes would make you think she was half awake and/or half asleep. She had a fat, reddish nose complemented in some ways with her thin, pale lips. She loved wearing red clothes, which intensified her personality more than necessary. She didn’t smile that much like she had been sucked out of joy. Rumor had it that she was always in company with a Dementor.
The call made me a bit mad, but it only lasted for a short time. The lesson plan—revised for the nth time already—flashed on the monitor of my laptop. I was about to write something in my notebook about the revisions I had done when a weak earthquake happened, which lasted for five seconds only. This made me drop my ballpoint pen. I sighed and got annoyed. I felt my long, black hair fall smoothly as I bent my slick neck to reach the pen relaxing on the floor. According to my father, and also my sister, I had a beautiful, small face with sparkly, black eyes; a pair of not-so-thick, black eyebrows; and a cute, small nose paired with the lips of an angel.
Even with how they made it sound so flowery, I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, if I was that gorgeous, a guy or two should have courted me already, right? My sister once asked, “If ugly defines you, what is beauty then?” I missed the old sister I once had. Now, all Molly did was to date any men within her grasp.
I typed the email address and clicked send. This day was finally over. I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Last half of the school year tomorrow.
I went to bed right after.
† † †
It was still five in the morning when I was woken up by a loud banging of the door. I was still drowsy when I got up, donning my bedroom slippers. I smiled at the standees at the bed-end and said good morning to them. I stretched my arms up and a soundless yawn escaped from my throat. I scratched my nape, my back, and my thighs before another loud bang—louder than earlier—echoed from the door once again, followed by a drunken voice: “Ate, open the goddamn door!”
Again? I went to the door and yanked it open, leaving Molly’s knuckled right hand suspended in midair, whose gesture indicated that she was about to knock the door again. She gaped at me. I later realized that I was not wearing a top, and I was only in my underwear.
“Ate! Don’t just open the door to anyone, especially when you’re covered with nothing!” Molly barked in a drunken voice—accompanied by some unwelcome saliva shower onto my sleepy face.
“I know it’s you. Come inside. Did you have another fight with Christian?” I replied, eyeing her crumpled spaghetti dress topped by a maroon cardigan. Her fake, blonde hair was a mess and a mixture of Emperador and Red Horse hit my nose the moment I closed the distance between us.
“How come you know? Did he message you?”
“Oh, come on! What’s new? Find a seat inside and I’ll cook you some Lucky Me.”
“I’m not drunk at all. I’m just tipsy.”
“You reek of alcohol! Come on now before I drag you inside. I was having a fantastic dream earlier until you came, so don’t get on my nerves now.”
“Sorry, ate. Just take this as a blessing in disguise. I got intentionally drunk so I could bang your door to wake you early, and so you could prepare for your class. It’s Monday, you know.”
I threw my eyelids wide open and she might have noticed the realization that hit me. A satisfactory grin flashed on her face for a moment, thinking she had changed the subject from her being drunk to something I’d think about, but it was gone by the moment I reached for the switch at the right side, just next to the door, turning the lights on. We both twitched with the sudden lighting and later went inside.
After cooking some noodles, I set the bowl on the table and without a minute of hesitation asked: “Tell me what exactly happened.”
She snatched the bowl and had some slurps before answering upfront, “We broke up.”
“Wow. Am I supposed to be surprised? Is there anything about you that is unpredictable?”
“Don’t start it, ate. I caught him with another girl. I hate him,” she replied, and then added two more slurps.
“Didn’t I tell you with this unnecessary dating of yours? Did it ever help you in a way?”
“Don’t throw your bitterness at me just because you’re still single.”
“Oh?” I smirked irritatingly at her and raised my right eyebrow. “What was that again?”
There was a minute of silence before she answered: “Sorry. It’s just that you are supposed to comfort me in this situation, not this!”
“This is my kind of comforting you, Olly! Next time you bring a man here, I promise to heavens that I will leave this room! Don’t you ever think that I don’t know your kinky businesses here with that jerk when I’m not around!”
“Ate, please. Let’s not go there. We’re all grown adults! Of course, we would have that kind of relationship.”
“What? Are you even listening to what you’re babbling about? Do you still have an ounce of decency in you, Olly? You’re doing it here, in our home!”
“Well, it’s too expensive for a hotel. Better as well use what options we have on our hands.”
A whacking sound roared inside the room. Her face was thrown off-guard with the crispy slap she received from me. I just couldn’t control myself any longer. Another moment of deafening silence coated the atmosphere before I stood and approached her sobbing on the floor.
“I—I’m sorry. I just—” My voice croaked with regret as I attempted to touch her now-turning-bloody-pink left cheek, but my hand was swatted.
“Don’t touch me! From now on, I’ll try to live on my own!” She rushed inside our provisional bedroom and swung the curtains close, leaving me in a temporary mental stupor.
After a few minutes, with a luggage full of clothes and other things, she went straight out of the room without even turning around to look at me. It was almost six, and the first rays of sunrise were already reflecting on the glass windows. I forced myself to stand with my wobbling knees and then limped my way to the comfort room. I stood there with the shower on, thinking of what I had done. I believed, though, at the back of my mind, that she would just be back in a few days.
It was not the first time.
I cleared my head and focused on the upcoming duty that I’d be facing ahead. This was the first day of class 2020, and I’d make sure that I’d be in my best condition before presenting myself in front of my students.
Mondays.Freaking Mondays. Why were Mondays created?The sizzling sound of the onions being sautéed and of the birds chirping outside our apartment brought a relaxing and calming effect on me as I cooked our breakfast in our makeshift kitchen, yet the day being a “Monday” drowned all of it.I hated Mondays the most.Others would see a teacher’s job as much easier than a worker in a convenience store or any fast-food chain because, according to some people who thought highly of themselves, we were just teaching students. One of my students once said that we were so lucky we just needed to sit to get paid. The audacity of the child made me mad; however, I had to cool my head, so I just let it pass through my other ear as a professional.They were wrong.I might be too lazy to think through this, but all the same, still had an idea as to how it worked. They didn’t know what was happening in a teacher’s schedule. Imagine having to bring all your paperwork at home just to finish them all, w
“Okay, class, you’re dismissed.”I went straight to the faculty office to drop off my instructional materials and joined my gang at the cafeteria. Around the table were Ritchelle, Vhina, and Alyssa. Every lunchtime, Ritchelle would get our reserved food ahead of time because she was the first to dismiss her class. She had her classes only in the morning. A month had already passed since then.“Hey, why is the you so late to sits here by the us?” Ritchelle asked just seconds before I settled on my seat. “Me is the stressed by the students, but I scolded them, which make me the stresser,” I replied, following with the flow of the joke. “Wow, I’m impressed that both of you can understand that kind of English,” Alyssa commented as she professionally sliced off the egg white of her sunny-side-up, to be given to Veruca later who notably liked it. Our conversation low-key annoyed her because she was an English teacher.“Join we. We is the teaches you how to says we is the language,” Ritche
Friday.Blessed Fridays. Why couldn’t all days in a week be Fridays?The day of the retreat had finally come. I had been waiting for this day in like, forever. Finally, I’d be able to go back to Bantayan and experience the beaches I had been planning to go to but failed to do so because of time constraints and the people who I was supposed to go with. Sure, I was into traveling but I just couldn’t do it without a friend or two to accompany me. All the teachers who were assigned to attend the retreat were already in the audio-visual room for the meeting and the final preparations. The school bus would pick us up at five, taking us to Hagnaya port in more or less four to five hours. The student council officers were ready with their things and had had their consent forms all signed. I’d surely enjoy myself even with the cumbersome conjunction of minding the students’ security.Including Finlay. Especially Finlay.The school’s AVR was not spacious; they had to move the equipment to the s
The dawn was surely majestic and wonderful when I arrived at Hagnaya Port. The sky was painted with distinct shades of orange and red. It looked like a painter had thrown his palette out of his well-crafted anger, which depicted the rashly-made-but-awkwardly-stunning atmospheric skies. The vicinity was filled with the cries of deafening waves retreating to and fro and mumbles of soggy tires of trucks and buses against the dirty-wet soil. The area had been swept already, but still some types of trash lay dormant in every nook. The cleaners were surely not paid handsomely for the job. A nostalgic, mossy smell and the stingy, salty sea hit my olfactory nerves, which brought me down memory lane. Ah, those were the days.Hagnaya Port was the only port to receive passengers going to Bantayan Island—forth and back. The retreat house we would visit was situated near Kota beach. The earliest trip going there was at four-thirty, but we had all agreed we would have the nine-thirty trip. The call
My head hurt. My surroundings were a blur, and I found it hard to stand. My ears were ringing. I felt like there was blood flowing out of them. I tried to lean sideways using my right arm, and I touched my head with my left to check any injuries. It hurt. I twisted my hip and noticed that something was lying on my lower body. No, someone. And it hurt. I shook my head a little bit, and gradually, the environment became clearer. I first noticed that everything was blue. The person dangling limply on my legs was my student—Finlay. His disheveled, smooth, black bangs were complementing the overall shape of his small face that consisted of wide eyelids, broad nose, well-shaped lips, and a firm jaw. I had never been this annoyed with such a handsome face before. I remembered what happened. All my pure concern with this student turned to a feeling that I neglected for a long time, which I should have accepted all this time. I was enraged, and I badly wanted to shove this disrespectful
I was inside our room with Molly once again. She was not saying anything: she just kept on sobbing. Why ate? Why... hic... hic... I was faithful. I was faithful until the end. I even promised myself that I will be serious this time. I’m head over heels in love with him. But he said that he didn’t feel the same, that he never did. He just dated me because of my looks—never of my whole being, uwaaa...It was the worst. I was never good at consoling people and giving them pieces of advice. I tried comforting my sister but with no avail. I didn’t even know the boyfriend Molly was referring to since she had been dating down to an art, to begin with. I even attempted asking WikiHow about how to comfort someone who had just had a breakup when a message came in.Teacher Jelly, the headmaster wants to talk with you regarding your late submissions.It was teacher Grumpy. Oh, no. I had been passing my LPs late. I was about to send a reply when I heard a feeble voice calling me out: Elly... Elly
This might be some kind of mistake. Or a dream.The behemoth just five meters ahead of us—the one we found unrealistic—was a dilapidated edifice stretching from one side of the woods to the other. We couldn’t see the other end as it was heavily enshrouded with coconut-looking trees—which we all agreed to call “cocohair trees”—from the windows and cracks, but memory-wise, we might know how massive it was.The cry that we heard—and still going on—was of a fire alarm. It was still functional and noisy despite the stature of the building.I was about to tell everyone to be cautious with it when Chevonne, again, sprinted toward the main facade, entering through the wide-open main entrance. Shards of glass littered the threshold where glass doors should have been. We followed suit to avoid losing sight of her.The sound finally ceased. She might have turned it off already.We tiptoed our way in awe as we entered the main gate—ironically, without the gates themselves—and proceeded through the
The body had been removed from the cabin already. The crew found an open area just near the shore wherein they could bury the corpse along with his head. Other passengers were still crying about the incident in their makeshift tents while teacher Samuel, who was out gathering food inland for everyone to eat during the time the men wrecked the door of the cabin, was shocked and could not accept the news. Our only hope of getting out of the island was far-fetched by now.I peeked outside my tent and spotted teacher Mary at the far corner of the shore, near the coconut-looking trees (as the beach was surrounded by lots of them). She was surveying the area and trying her best to pinpoint the suspects who could have done such an act. The thing was, she perhaps still could not believe that something like that happened here, but the experience was not out of ordinary for her.She shared with me a bit about herself before we got down from the barge after finding the body of the late captain. I