KUWENTONG FRESHIE | After sunset

NI TONI KRIZIA VIVARES

The sun shone at the eastern horizon like all the other mornings. It was my first day in UP. Papa woke up early to fix a breakfast for his darling princess, who’ll in a while be called Iskolar ng Bayan. Going to UP meant taking a number of roads, roads that my father fears. So at breakfast, under fork scraping against plate, he reminded me to survive the shake. He told me that trouble comes once we are not sure anymore of where we stand and whom to stand for.

I didn’t understand him, until I was there.

My hair was all tousled up after a 40 minute ride from Calamba. I stood in a distance, look up under the high sun and count the tamarraws. I walk through. They call this UP. Some buildings were unfinished, some dilapidated, and walls are unpainted. Again and again, I’d put out my tabular schedule and ask every passerby where IBS is.

Throughout the day, I bounced like a ball with a video camera in hand documenting everything. I took a picture of myself, post it on Facebook with the cliché caption first class, first lunch, first everything. Upperclassmen raised their eyebrows when I put my hand up and stand for every recitation. People find it weird when you offer them an unsolicited ¼ sheet of paper. I stopped at every bulletin board, rushing words to read every post. I run to the next building for the next class, unaware of the grace period.

Then, to not fear after sunset is never against the rule. I’ll go home with many stories to tell to Papa. Happy, innocent stories.

The sun never rested its ray to a girl I just knew early this semester. Her name is Ana, 16. She’s a new freshman. She never had a breakfast like mine that day. She was from her dorm. She never had the same excitement, just fears and guilt for leaving home. She fought for this, she told me. When she learned that she passed she knew her parents wouldn’t allow her.

I didn’t find it shocking. They have reasons to fear. Kids get killed here, every time. It happens at 11-o’ clock, when after practice a 19-year-old boy got stabbed and killed at FO Santos. It happens one night; when a girl at the same age, carrying her laptop was forced to the ground to steal her breathe. It happens to children, even kids who sell sampaguita got raped. One day an 11 year old nut vendor disappeared. After 14 days, she was discovered, her pants pulled down, her body deteriorating, lifeless. One day again, two bodies just floated. Reports told us they were drowned.

It happens every semester. It’s as if, there’s a curse, and the curse took life. The curse wills every mama to go to LB, pick up her child and hide her under her wings.

It is not difficult to recognize the work needed to be done. One day a Professor lost his laptop and gadgets “inside” the CAS faculty room. One day an insane woman so freely, went inside the lecture hall in PhySci just before the class started. It made you so cynical about your security. There was a time when there was a scent of paranoia everywhere. And every time you walk alone, you fear for your life.

Ana told me, that of all the pulse of fears inside her, none could compare to the guilt of leaving home. Maybe her parents were right. Sure she can survive student meal for the rest of her stay. She can skip meal sometimes, or just east siomai. She has none of the princess’ glass shoes. She wears flats and worn out bag. The dorm and tuition fee increase is too much to bear. Ever year, she’ll be afraid of her STFAP bracket assignment.

The battle’s too much for a new freshman. This is a battle hardly won by anyone else. I have seen many people who stumble because they weren’t able to gather their courage or they never had the chance to seek for it. They didn’t survive it.

In the ‘selfie generation’, the rise of narcissism, paralyze us. Only few are making sense of their world.

I wonder why we never engage. Why we settle for complacency and mediocrity when our call is to know better, and do better. People flare into self addiction, when there is a battle to be done, when there are issues to be faced. I wonder why we never thirst for ideas anymore, why we never test our perspectives until they are strong enough to stand for us. Sure Ana’s fight is my battle and yours.

My papa told me then that, trouble comes once we are not sure anymore of where we stand and whom to stand for. Whom do you stand for?

Know that Ana has another problem. Just in case her Papa calls one of these days, she has another story to tell.

An 18 year old UPLB student was hit by a drunken driver last August 7. After fighting for her life for five days, she died. [P]

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