I was waiting for one particular announcement from the morning news – class suspension, that is. My eyes shifted between the TV to my plastic plate with faded pink flower prints that contained steamed rice and fried eggs which I could not call sunny side up as that would be ironic when even the faintest beam of light couldn’t get past the thick, dense, dark gray clouds. Light rain produced mellow sprinkling sound on the roof, remains of the relentless downpour the previous night. I was done with my breakfast when the news presenter declared class suspension for primary and secondary levels only so, I quickly made my move before all college students like me who waited for the same announcement could flock to the streets. Not getting a space in jeepneys or FX and getting stuck into heavy traffic was the last thing I wanted on such a day.
I slung my messenger bag on my right shoulder across my body. A navy blue horizontally rectangle three-compartment bag which houses several notebooks, photocopied lectures, reg card, ID with maroon lanyard, coins, a gel pen, a lunch box, and a folding umbrella. The material of the bag looked waterproof though I doubt, but somehow on days of light rain, when I didn’t want to use my umbrella, it seemed to work.
I walked out of our house, closing our orange gate behind. The neighborhood was still asleep except for a few stray dogs. The asphalt road looked even darker when wet, fallen leaves were everywhere. Water overflowed from the drainage and the world smelled of damp soil. My shoes were, unfortunately, not for this kind of weather. It was made of fabric. And although thick, it’s not meant for the wet season. I walked carefully so I won’t get my shoes wet and the layer of my pleated navy blue skirt would not be caked by mud.
It took two short and narrow streets before I reached the main road. There was dead silence. There were no tricycles jam-packed with kids in uniform. No high school students loitering around the sidewalks. There weren’t many jeepneys bound to Cubao as well. Few crammed Tamaraw FX passed by, some painted in matte maroon with random patches of putty. I thought of my favorite jeep and wondered if I’ll see it that day. If not, I just hoped to ride the fastest so I would reach the university on time.
Bright round headlights blinked from a few meters away, a signal from the driver that he was still looking for passengers. Its rectangular head sign above the windshield, topped with small square beige lights that serves as the jeep’s identification wrote FELVIT, derived from the owner’s name, Felix, combined with someone else’s name. Painted in almost neon pink, Felvit stopped in front of me, the konduktor screamed, Cubao! Cubao! Marami pa ‘yan sa loob! While showing me the black rectangle signboard with reflectorized yellow stickers shaped into the letters of the word Cubao. I walked towards the rear of the jeep. Felvit’s mudguard has already served its purpose. I stooped and boarded the jeep. It still had a lot of space indeed.
I sat at the last seat, nearest to the exit. On rainy days, they let down the tarp, like curtains to cover the window so passengers won’t get wet. But a jeep crammed with passengers and tarps on the loose is equals to sauna, so I chose the most convenient seat that day, where I can feel the breeze, although, mixed with smoke as I would be very near the muffler.
The konduktor played remixed music, old love songs: a mix of Michael Learns To Rock, Richard Marx, R.E.M., and The Carpenters, with loud beats and occasional voice-overs in between, a deep baritone voice would say For Lovers Only before a new song starts with a different rhythm.
Two minutes into the journey, we reached the hi-way, where he usually stood to wait for a ride. I wondered if he was there and if he had classes that day.
I tilted the curtain-like plastic tarp that loomed over the window, its transparency was blurred with the wrinkles and gray marks from being rolled for a long time, and peeped through the thinly opened space, hoping deep inside my teen heart, that I would see him. I knew that the probability of seeing him was about 65% because of the time and day, and I was right.
He stood on the crowded sidewalk under the roof extension of a bakery. He wore a dark violet polo and black slacks that made him hard to miss amongst the sea of people, even from afar. With only a few polos and shirts that he wore over and over again, the colors were easily imprinted in my mind. I could easily spot him whenever he and his whole class passes by our classroom even just from my peripheral vision blurred by the jalousie windows and similarly, I could spot where he was sitting in their classroom whenever I pass by, without even looking directly.
All the passengers flocked to Felvit as it stopped. I was afraid he won’t be able to get a seat if he would be a gentleman and let all the ladies get in first. I was also afraid that if he wouldn’t get any space inside, he’d end up riding at the rear of the jeep, standing in a stoop, gripping on the steel handles, and his probability of getting drenched when it rains is about 99%.
I sat there listening to the beat of the music as one by one, people stooped to enter and settle on their own seats. And then he came, wiggling his way into the jeep that is already almost in full capacity. He sat three spaces behind the driver’s seat. I saw the driver’s eyes at the rearview mirror. He checked if all passengers were safely seated, released the brake, pressed the clutch, changed the gear, and then pressed the accelerator hard.
I bent my body forward to get his attention in between the arms; some handing fairs, and some gripping the steel bar handles connected to the jeep’s fiber tech ceiling. He smiled and nodded. My young heart fluttered even with just the acknowledgment of my existence.
I kept glancing at him throughout the one hour journey. He slept peacefully. The old love songs mixed with loud beats and the high pitched whistle emitted by the 4BC1 engine was his lullaby, the upholstered seats of the swerving jeepney, his cradle.
I was not able to sleep due to excitement. I watched the tires leave marks on the wet road of Marikina to Marcos Highway to Katipunan and I thought of how I would start the conversation once we reach Cubao and get off the jeep.
Huy, Kuya, it seems that you have an early class?
Kuya, let’s ride the jeep to Divisoria together!
What’s your first subject? Why so early?
You slept throughout the whole journey. You didn’t sleep last night, did you? Did you have a late-night class?
I couldn’t figure out what to say or ask whenever I see him but I’ve always wanted to talk to him. Sometimes I’ve felt that he noticed my moves to get his attention. I felt embarrassed. But I still tried.
Because who wouldn’t want to talk to him? He was the most popular guy in the Hotel & Restaurant Management Department and the pride of the Dean and all Professors. He won bartending competitions when he was just a sophomore, defeating all the other juniors and seniors. He was everything most of us in the department ever wanted to be. He was charming and witty and he swooned a lot of girls and befriended all the rest (that includes all gender). Sometimes I wondered if I really had a crush on him or if I just had pure admiration for a person so inspirational, one whose footsteps I’d like to follow.
Felvit reached Cubao and stopped by the terminal. All passengers exited Felvit and walked in different directions. The taho vendor stood idle in front of the bank beside the terminal. Boxes and old newspapers laid flat on the sidewalk where people must have spent the previous night. That must have been a cold one.
‘Alissa,’ he called me. His voice, young and cheerful. His smile revealed his incredibly white teeth. His naturally sleepy eyes narrowed.
He waved his hands signaling me to walk alongside him. A talkative guy like him could start telling stories anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. I tried to keep up with his pace while listening to his stories amidst the distractive pounding of horns of impatient drivers, screeching tires, and the engine noise of all the vehicles in Aurora Boulevard.
In the middle of heavy traffic, where stoplights changed colors, hundreds of people walked along, and against me, gray smoke came out of mufflers, dark clouds covered the sky and showed signs of unpredictable rain; my teen heart smiled and emitted beams of rainbow-colored light.
‘Let’s ride Maria Clara. It is fast and it plays nice music!’ He pointed to a silver jeep with a sparkling head sign that read Maria Clara in red and yellow reflectorized letters.
We ran towards the jeep and tried to enter before any of the other waiting passengers did and sat side by side. We laughed and talked throughout the journey from Cubao to Nagtahan. It was about twenty minutes of nonstop stories about his experiences from his first to the third year in college, about common friends, and the oddity of not meeting each other earlier when we grew up in the same small town. There were so many instances when we were both at the same place and time but never managed to meet each other.
‘Such a shame. And a waste of time,’ I thought. ‘I could have met him earlier and maybe things would have been different.’
Maria Clara was really fast, and surprisingly, there was no traffic when I needed it. How ironic.
He pulled the string hanging on the ceiling of the jeep, triggering a bulb to light up behind the steering wheel. The jeep gently swerved to the right and dropped us just before it entered Nagtahan Bridge. We ran illegally across the wide road that didn’t have zebra lines, where a lot of students got caught for jaywalking. Luckily for both of us, we never got caught in four years.
As soon as we reached the sidewalk, it started drizzling. I took my folding umbrella from my sling bag, opened it, and offered to share it with him. We walked side by side, this time a bit quieter, aware of the impending downpour, and the probability that he really just wanted to walk away freely but couldn’t refuse my offer to share the umbrella.
A few meters ahead of us stood two young men, one in light blue long sleeves and charcoal gray pants, another in maroon polo and black pants. One wore a sling bag and the other has a notebook tucked into his left armpit. Both smoking.
‘Uy those are my classmates. Thank you for sharing the umbrella. I have to go now and ask them if we have assignments.’
He run-walked and joined the two. I continued to walk at my own pace as I still had some time before my first class starts.
I walked past them. He waved. His two classmates looked at me. I nodded and smiled.
The light rain stopped. I folded my umbrella and held it with my left hand, swaying it back and forth as I kept walking slowly. I passed by the gloomy photocopy center with white walls that had gone gray and street vendors who sold candies and pens and pencil. Parked at the corner of the street was a bicycle with a sidecar, its driver wore raincoat and cap, and sold steaming hot mami. Students and workers stood around the bicycle holding styro-bowls, scooping the oily soup with plastic spoons. The aroma of the mami was so inviting but I just had my breakfast and my allowance wasn’t enough to cover an extra meal.
I presented my ID to the security guard and entered the university gate. I took the stairs to the third floor and sat on my chair in a half-empty classroom. Wall fans blew wind into my face and made me sleepy. I propped my right elbow on the armrest and slouched my face on my palm, staring into the gray clouds visible through the slits of the half-open window.
I still had time before the class. I actually had a lot.
If you are still here, thank you so much for reading until here as this is quite a long one. This post is an attempt to rewrite of one of my earliest blog entries, Share Na Lang Tayo Sa Payong. The intention is not to just create a mirrored translation but to retell the story in a different writing style. I tried to remember as much as I could but since this happened between 2002 and 2003, some memories have already eluded me. Some words are quite difficult to translate, mostly related to jeep like estribo, sabit,trapal, etc., and I hope I was able to describe them in a way that you’d be able to picture them in your mind.
*Featured image by Eunice Stahl via Unsplash