We were given cheat sheets where the price of food, souvenirs and other stuff were listed. Fortunately, marami kaming nakuhang coins kaninang umaga. Simula rin ngayon, wala nang schedule for the challenges at bibiglain na lang kami, which was quite worrying.
“Gusto n’yo ba ng kape?” tanong ni Arin. “Bibili kami ni Elix.”
Roi and Zion nodded. Agad kaming naglakad ni Arin papunta sa camp store sa tabi ng Main Cabin, the largest one in the camp, kung saan naka-set up ang iba’t ibang klase ng snacks: branded chocolates, potato chips, pasta, fragrant coffees, soft drinks, freshly baked breads, sweet desserts, and other mouth-watering food. Kung wala kang self-control, for sure mauubos ang coins mo sa lugar na ‘to.
“Hmm, so one bronze coin for four cups of coffee,” Arin muttered. “Ang mura ha, in fairness.”
“Maybe they know that most of us drink coffee like it’s water.”
She chuckled. “Yeah. Parang ‘di ako mabubuhay kapag walang kape.”
Sa ngayon, mayroon kaming four gold, two silver and seven bronze coins. Mukhang mayaman-yaman naman kami dahil sa apat na gold coins kaya okay lang gumastos para sa kape na worth one bronze.
I saw Lessy approaching the pavilion, too, so I smiled at her and she did the same. Kasama niya ang isa niyang teammate from the Orange team, si Zey. I remembered the time she and Ina bumped into Zion and me. Kapag naaalala ko ‘yon, parang and-drain na agad ako dahil nai-imagine ko ang energy ni Ina.
“Bibili rin kayo ng food?” tanong ni Zey.
“No, kape lang,” sagot ko naman.
They both snickered. “Kami rin.”
Sabay-sabay na kaming pumila at napangiti na lang ako nang maamoy ko ang kape. Arin and I carried two each and went back to our cabin. Naabutan naman namin sina Roi at Zion na may sinusulat sa whiteboard na nasa living room.
“Ano ‘yan?” asked Arin as we put the coffee cups on the small, round table at the middle.
“Sinulat namin lahat ng teams,” Roi replied.
“We should know our enemies,” Zion added.
We stared at the table they did and I was surprised they remembered almost everyone. I mean, there were 60 people here.
Medyo nahilo ako nang basahin ko lahat ng pangalan. Sa totoo lang, iilan lang sa kanila ang nakakausap ko pero kilala ko naman halos lahat, especially those I find interesting.
“Tao ka ba talaga?” Arin muttered, looking suspiciously at Zion who was checking if he got all the names correct.
“Last time I checked, yes,” he retorted.
“Hoy, may ambag din ako,” reklamo naman ni Roi.
“For sure mga dalawa o tatlo lang ang naidagdag mo.”
Bago pa makasagot si Roi ay binago n ani Arin ang topic at tinanong niya kung anong team ang kailangan naming bantayan.
“Well, Green’s the leading team,” I remarked. “And we’re the second. I guess they are our rival?”
“Still too early to say that,” Zion returned. “Other teams have potential to take over our position, too.”
“Wow. Parang sure na sure kayong dalawa na nasa upper tier tayo, ah,” komento ni Arin at sabay kaming napatingin sa kanya.
“I think we’re the most balanced team,” Zion said. “Hindi naman malayong nasa itaas talaga tayo.”
I felt the same. Kung pagbabasehan ang genres na sinusulat namin, we could already cover almost everything. When it comes to physical strength, we have Roi. Deducting would also be easier if Zion and I help each other. Then we could leave the romance stuff to Arin.
Pumunta naman ako sa porch dahil nagsimula nang magparamihan sina Roi at Arin ng kakilala sa mga nakalista. I breathed deeply and enjoyed my coffee while observing everything from here. Some of the writers were talking to each other from their cabin’s porch, while others tried the obstacle courses.
Sakto namang lumabas si Yena mula sa cabin nila. She was also carrying a cup of coffee. Our eyes met and we nodded at each other. I thought it would be awkward but the silence between us was somehow comfortable. I read some comments before saying we have the same kind of personality and I think that was quite right.
Narinig ko naman ang pagbukas ng pinto ng cabin nila kaya napalingon ulit ako roon. Brian came into view and he broke into a grin when he saw me, which was surprising. So he could smile, huh?
He waved at my direction and I had to look at my right to see if there were any people in the next cabin. It turned out he was waving at me.
“You found four gold coins,” he mentioned and smiled right after.
The teams who got gold coins were displayed on the monitor at the pavilion. Out of the fifteen teams, only five got the 20 gold coins hidden throughout the camp.
“I told you, you’re lucky,” he added.
Kung kanina ay nainis ako sa sinabi niyang ‘yon, ngayon naman ay napangiti ako. I didn’t know luck would be on my side this time.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
Brian noticed Yena listening and she urged her to say hi, too, which flustered her. Napilitan siyang bumati sa akin at napangiti naman ako dahil sinamaan niya ng tingin si Brian noong nakalingon siya sa direksyon ko. I didn’t expect to see that side of her.
He was called by one of his teammates inside so he rushed inside and left the two of us alone. Itinaas ko na lang ang coffee cup ko at gano’n din ang ginawa niya.
“Cheers,” I muttered.
Napatigil naman ang lahat nang may nagsalita mula sa speakers sa kanya-kanya naming cabins.
“Good morning, Challengers! Please proceed to the center gazebo,” the staff said. “Today’s theme is Thriller and the last team to arrive will be the first to play the game. Good luck, Challengers! I hope your hearts are prepared.”
Pagkarinig namin no’n ay agad nagtakbuhan palabas ang mga tao. Mabilis ko namang inubos ang kape ko at sumunod kina Roi at Arin na mabilis lumabas ng cabin papunta sa gazebo.
Zion and I followed behind them and there were already teams gathered in front of the gazebo. Luckily, we weren’t the last one to arrive. Brown team came last and they looked worried about the punishment.
A huge white cloth was tied to the pillars, concealing the gazebo’s interior. One of the producers came out and called the Brown team. Andrea and Jason immediately followed him while Lareza and Meijin walked with heavy steps, afraid of what was inside.
The other teams remained outside, anxious and curious about what would happen. Natigil naman ang bulungan ng iba nang bigla kaming nakarinig ng malakas na sigaw mula sa loob.
“Oh my god! What is this!” Lareza yelled, terrified.
She was shrieking so much that I started to wonder what kind of task would cause her to act like that.
“Please, please, please, don’t move—!” Meijin whimpered and she screamed so loud that almost everyone covered their ears.
Maging sina Jason at Andrea ay naririnig na rin naming sumigaw. I was too focused, trying to hear anything that could help us survive what they were going through, that I flinched when I felt someone’s hand creeping into my arm. Pagtingin ko, naka-angkla na sa braso ko si Arin. She looked scared.
I looked around and saw most of them were already filled with fear. Some were frantically pacing back and forth, wincing whenever someone inside screamed, while others looked pale and grim, as if their souls had left their bodies.
After a few minutes, lumabas ang apat. Jason looked exhausted, while the three had tears in their eyes.
“Anong meron?” nag-aalalang tanong ni Wannie ng Red team.
“It’s crazy,” Lareza said, sniffling.
“Tatlo lang ang nakuha namin,” dagdag ni Andrea. “At si Jason lang ang nakagawa.”
Tumingin naman si Jason sa direksyon namin. He was holding a pink ball and lightly bowed at us.
“Sorry,” he mouthed.
Bago pa may makapagtanong na iba ay pinapunta na sila ng staff members sa katabing gazebo para makapagpahinga. Lalo namang natakot ang iba dahil sa mga sinabi nila.
“Oh my god, ayoko na,” Arin sniveled.
“Same,” sabi naman ni Roi at napataas na lang ang kilay ko nang makita ko siyang nakatago sa likuran ni Zion kahit na mas matangkad naman siya sa kanya.
The staff came out again and looked at our team. “Next! Pink team!”
Almost everyone shifted their gazes at our direction and I realized that was what Jason was sorry about. Naramdaman ko ang paghigpit ng hawak sa akin ni Arin. She said she doesn’t get scared easily but not knowing what was inside must have gotten her.
Marahan kaming naglakad at naramadaman ko ang paglakas ng tibok ng puso ko nang nasa harapan na kami ng harang. Ako ang unang pumasok at kasunod ko silang tatlo. A long table came into our view, with something on top of it, covered with white cloth.
A pretty woman, about 5’6” and maybe in her late twenties stood in front of us and smiled. She gestured us to stood beside her and we did. “Hello, Challengers!” she beamed.
The staff removed the white cloth covering the long table, revealing eight fish tanks. The side facing us and the top parts had black shrouds, completely concealing what were inside.
“The rule is simple,” the woman said. “Each member shall collect one coin per tank within three minutes.” A teasing smile escaped her lips as she looked at our expressions. “Good luck, Pink team!”
“Ayaw kong mauna. Paano kung bugs ‘yan o kaya insects?” Arin shuddered and her face looked pale. Hmm. So she wasn’t afraid of ghosts but bugs and insects terrified her.
“Ladies first,” dagdag ni Roi na mukha ring nakakita ng multo.
Nagkatinginan kami ni Zion and a mutual understanding was reached. He stepped forward, volunteering to challenge first. He stood in front of the leftmost tank and it felt like the whole place was holding its breath, waiting for someone to talk or scream.
The staff gave him a plastic bowl where he could put the coins and they readied the timer.
Zion nodded. “Yes. Challenge.”
He slowly put his hand through the hole at the top of the tank and Arin stifled a scream when he flinched.
“Whoa, whoa,” he exclaimed. “Stop moving.”
“It’s moving?” Arin asked, horrified.
“Buhay?” added Roi.
Sa loob ng tatlong minuto ay apat ang nakuha niya mula sa apat na tanks at kung nagugulat at nagpa-panic siya sa bawat pagpasok ng kamay niya, paano pa kaya kaming tatlo?
“Okay, you got four coins,” the staff confirmed after Zion handed him the bowl.
He sighed in relief. “You guys . . . ” He looked at Arin. “You’re in for a ride.”
Arin and I pushed Roi in front before he could react and the staff handed him another bowl. He looked at us as if we betrayed him but he couldn’t do anything anymore.
“Okay,” he exhaled. “Challenge!”
The moment he put his hand in the tank, he let out ear-piercing screams with cusses in between.
“Putangina, ano ‘yon!” he cursed as he withdrew his hand, inspecting if he still had complete fingers.
Kahit kabado ako ay natawa ako sa reaksyon niya pero parang lalo namang natakot si Arin. Zion, on the other hand, looked like he was about to laugh.
“Dahan-dahan, baka mamatay,” he commented while he was on the other side of the tanks where he could clearly see the contents of them, and that made Roi even more terrified.
“Gago ka, anong hayop ‘to?!”
Zion shrugged. “Not sure. Ngayon lang ako nakakita.”
Fortunately, Roi got a coin from that tank. He proceeded to the next and a higher-pitched scream came out of his throat, almost tumbling over as his body recoiled.
“Tangina bakit may tubig?! Ahas ba ‘yon?!” He glared at Zion. “Hoy!”
I couldn’t hold my laughter back anymore and Zion snickered as we watched Roi destroyed his ‘cool’ image, thrashing and screaming at the unknown contents of the tanks. He only got two coins after three minutes and I was the next challenger.
Good thing I wasn’t scared of this kind of challenge. Honestly, I’d pick this one over a haunted house anytime.
Well, it’s time to test my nerves.
An unfamiliar sound blared from the speakers inside our cabin. I tried covering my ears with my pillow but the music was so annoying that I had no choice but to get up. Pareho kaming nakasimangot ni Arin pagbangon namin.
We went outside of our room and the two guys were walking with their eyes half-closed. Mukhang pugad din ng ibon ang buhok nila.
After a few seconds, huminto na rin ang tunog at pag-check namin sa orasan ay 7 A.M. pa lang. Grabe, hindi ko akalaing gigising ako nang ganito kaaga. Kapag bakasyon pa naman, madalas tanghali o hapon na ako nagigising.
"Good morning, losers," Zion greeted and we all glared at him. Nagising ang diwa naming tatlo.
"Sinuwerte ka lang," Arin grumbled as she combed her hair with her fingers.
"Well, it's a game of luck," he retorted.
Hindi ako nakatulog nang maayos dahil hindi ko rin matanggap na nanalo siya kagabi. Ang hirap pa namang matulog kapag masama ang loob mo. Isa pa, late din ako kadalasang natutulog kaya hirap na hirap ako kagabi.
Nagsimula namang mag-exercise sa labas sina Arin at Roi, at pinanood ko sila mula sa porch. Nagg-gym pala kasi si Roi at gusto niyang maging fit pa rin habang nandito. Ganoon din si Arin. I had lived a sedentary lifestyle and exercising was just too tiring for me.
Nakaupo ako sa bench na nasa bandang bintana at dumungaw naman mula ro’n si Zion.
“Hindi ka nag-e-exercise?” tanong niya.
“No,” sagot ko. “I like brain exercises more than the physical ones.”
Lumabas din siya at akala ko ay sasabayan niya sina Arin at Roi pero nagsimula siyang maglakad. I almost snickered after remembering him almost getting lost yesterday. For sure, maliligaw siya.
The cabin on our right, the green team, went out and joined the others who were exercising. Tulad ko ay nasa porch lang din si Yena at nagngitian ulit kami. I wanted to talk to her but I couldn’t.
Bigla namang may nag-announce kaya natigilan ang lahat. I thought it was about a challenge but instead she explained the uses of the coins we just collected.
Basically, this would be our money. Starting today, we would use these coins to pay for our food, to acquire hints or for other services.
“Every morning, there will be a coin hunt, and it will end at 8:00 A.M. That is all. Good luck, Challengers! All the best!”
Napatayo ako at agad na tumakbo para maghanap ng coins. This time, I’d make sure to find at least one.
Napunta ulit ako sa gazebo at nagsimulang maghanap doon pero pagdating ko ay nandoon na ang ilang members ng ibang team: si Dean ng yellow team, Brian ng green team, at Wannie ng red team.
I tried looking for the coins in the pillars and benches but to no avail. Napunta naman sa side ko si Brian at naghanap siya sa tabi ko.
He was wearing a simple white shirt and jogging pants. Halos kasintangkad niya siguro si Roi. Mukha siyang tahimik at mahiyain tulad ni Yena.
“I’m a fan of your works,” he suddenly said, prompting me to look at him.
He continued looking between the woods of the bench’s back rest as if he didn’t say anything. I wondered if I just misheard what he said and was about to ignore it, but he suddenly turned his head on my direction.
“You’re a good writer,” he added.
For a second, I was flustered. Oo, nakakatanggap ako ng compliments from readers pero through messages and comments. Roi was the first one who told me in person that he was a fan and then . . . this guy.
Hindi ko siya fina-follow sa site but I think friends kami sa fb . . . or not. Though I know him since nakikita ko rin ang posts niya dahil sa readers.
“Oh. Thank you,” I mumbled, trying not to sound tensed.
Halos mapakunot naman ang noo ko nang may makita siyang silver coin sa arm rest ng bench? What the? Kanina pa ako nagtitingin doon pero hindi ko ‘yon napansin. Wait, did he say those to distract me?
“Lucky,” he hummed. “Wala akong nahanap na balls kahapon. Buti ngayon, meron.”
He smiled at me but I glared in return. Kung hindi siya pumunta rito ay sa akin dapat mapupunta ang coin na ‘yon.
“Maybe you’re lucky,” he said and somehow, I felt insulted.
Lucky, my foot. I couldn’t even find a single ball yesterday, and now, he found one in the area I was searching before.
“Just like Friesha,” he continued.
My annoyance slightly dissipated when he mentioned one of my characters in my ongoing fantasy novel. Huh. So he was telling the truth. He was my reader.
Napalingon naman ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Arin. Agad na umalis si Brian at pumunta sa kabilang side ng gazebo kung nasaan sina Dean at Wannie habang lumapit naman sa akin si Arin.
“May nahanap ka na?” tanong niya.
I averted her gaze and grumbled. She chuckled in return and handed me two bronze coins. Napahinga na lang ako nang malalim. Paano at saan nila nakikita ang mga ‘to? Bakit ako walang makita?
“Ikaw na lang muna maghawak. Wala akong bulsa, eh,” sabi niya.
“Saan ka maghahanap?” tanong ko bago siya makaalis.
“Hmm . . . baka sa playground,” sagot niya. “Si Roi nasa obstacle course, ewan ko kung saan na nagsusuot ‘yong si Zion. Try mo malapit sa hanging bridge, parang wala pa gaanong pumupunta ro’n.”
Sabay kaming naglakad paalis sa gazebo at agad naman akong tumakbo papunta sa hanging bridge. It was situated several meters beyond the stone bridge. Nasa “central park” kasi ang cabins, gazebo, playground at obstacle courses. Kapag nilakad pa ang lugar ay may makikita kang hanging bridge na nagco-connect sa central park at isang plateau. Sabi ng crew, part daw iyon ng pwede naming libutin pero dini-discourage nilang pumunta sa kabila dahil mataas ang hanging bridge at nakakatakot tumawid.
Nang makarating ako ro’n ay wala ngang tao. I was about to approach the bridge when someone emerged from the trees.
It was Zion.
He looked around and when our eyes met, I almost laughed. That guy . . . he probably got lost. Ah. No. I’m sure of it. He got lost.
He walked toward me as he cleared his throat. Patingin-tingin pa siya sa lupa na parang may hinahanap kahit obvious naman na naligaw siya rito.
“Nakahanap ka na?” tanong niya.
Ng naliligaw? Yup, I wanted to say but held it back. Ipinakita ko sa kanya ang binigay ni Arin pero wala akong sinabi. Huh. I’d just let you assume.
Tumingin siya sa hanging bridge na nasa harapan namin at tumango.
“I guess baka meron nga rito,” he muttered.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”
Nagsimula akong maglakad papunta roon. It was quite windy so the bridge was swaying but that didn’t stop me from walking on it. Halos nakakadalawang steps pa lang ako nang tawagin ako ni Zion. Paglingon ko, nakatayo siya mula sa pwesto ko kanina. Ah. I thought he was just behind me.
I looked at him with questioning eyes.
“That looks dangerous,” he said, making me raise my eyebrows.
“It’s not,” I retorted. “And I think there’s a coin in the middle part.”
“Don’t worry, I can handle myself.”
Nagpatuloy ako sa paglalakad habang nakahawak sa lubid. Mukhang matibay naman ang pagkakagawa sa bridge kaya ewan ko kung ano ang ikinababahala niya.
The bridge was swaying much more when I was getting closer halfway. Mas malakas din ang hangin at makikita mo rin ang bangin sa ilalim. Dahan-dahan akong umupo nang may makita ako sa pagitan ng mga kahoy.
“Huwag mong bitiwan ‘yong lubid,” rinig kong sigaw ni Zion mula sa kalayuan pero hindi ko na lang siya pinansin.
Halos mapanganga naman ako nang makita ko kung ano ang makinang sa pagitan ng mga kahoy na nasa harapan ko at napalingon ako sa direksyon niya.
“What? What happened?” he asked.
“There’s something here!” pasigaw kong sagot.
I carefully pulled out the four gold coins, worried that I might drop them. Nang makuha ko ‘yon ay agad akong tumayo at halos patakbo akong bumalik. Zion looked distressed and I found that a bit funny. Nang makarating ako sa kinatatayuan niya ay napabuntung-hininga na lang siya.
“I got four gold coins,” I beamed as I showed him the coins on my palm.
He sighed again. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go back.”
Nauna naman siyang maglakad kaya napataas ang kilay ko.
“You’re leading the way?” Napahinto siya at agad naman akong naglakad sa unahan niya. “Can’t let you lead; we may get lost.”
I could hear him grumbling behind me but he didn’t retaliate.
Well, I guess it’s my win this time.
We had lunch at noon and I kind of like the boodle fight concept. Pinabalik kami sa pavilion matapos ang lahat ng groups na makita ang balls nila at naka-setup na ro'n ang pananghalian namin.
The food was mouth-watering as it was a mixture of cuisines from different regions. Halos lahat ay nakatapat sa pwesto kung nasaan ang gusto nilang kainin at hinatak naman ako ni Arin papunta ro'n sa seafood.
Pagka-announce ng staff ay agad na sumugod lahat ng tao sa nakahain. Buti nga at nakahiwalay ang table ng program staffs at may sarili silang boodle fight dahil baka lalong gumulo ang pagkain.
Pumunit ako ng dahon ng saging mula ro'n sa nakalatag at kumuha ako ng mga gusto kong kainin. Ang hirap nga lang dahil unahan talaga. Buti na lang at nakakalusot ako sa mga espasyo sa pagitan ng mga tao kaya pasimple akong nakakakuha.
Pumwesto ako sa gilid para maayos akong makakain at tumabi naman sa akin si Lessy kaya nginitian ko siya. Nag-usap kami tungkol sa show pati na rin sa una naming pagkikita. Looking at her now, she had matured a lot and it felt like it was just yesterday when we first met.
"Teammate mo pala si Ate Arin," she muttered.
Weird na marinig ang Ate sa pangalan ni Arin. Magka-edad kami pero hindi ako ina-ate ni Lessy dahil napagdesisyunan na namin dati na maging casual sa isa't isa kahit na two years younger siya sa akin.
"Yup. Close ba kayo?" tanong ko naman.
"Naku, hindi. Wala, gusto ko kasi ang works niya kaso nahihiya akong magpakilala."
Sakto namang naglalakad sa direksyon namin si Arin at kumaway siya sa akin. Hindi rin naman ako close sa kanya pero dahil nasa isang team kami ay mas makikilala ko siya. Comfortable din naman siyang kasama at siya ang madalas nag-o-open ng topic kaya hindi ganoon ka-awkward 'pag magkasama kaming dalawa.
"Huy, bakit nandito ka sa gilid, Elix?" tanong niya nang makarating siya sa pwesto namin.
"Ah. Ang daming tao ro'n, eh."
"Takot ka ba sa mga tao?" Nakita ko naman ang curiosity sa mukha niya kaya medyo napangiti ako.
"I'm not good with crowds," I admitted. "I tend to feel anxious and out of place."
Iniwan ko naman silang dalawa ro'n at nagdahilan na kukuha pa ako ng pagkain para makapag-usap sila lalo na't hinahangaan ni Lessy si Arin. Muntik naman akong mabunggo dahil hindi ako nakatingin sa dinadaanan ko. Buti na lang at braso namin ang unang nag-collide kaya napalayo agad kami sa isa't isa at hindi natapon ang hawak naming pagkain.
"Sorry po," agad kong sabi.
Hindi ko siya kilala pero medyo na-intimidate ako sa height niya. Siguro ay three to four inches ang tangkad niya sa akin at hindi siya nagsalita kaya kinabahan ako. Baka nainis siya.
"S-sorry po," I repeated.
"Okay lang," she replied and marched away.
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako pagkatapos ng nangyari at pumunta na lang sa kabilang sulok. Napansin ko namang nandoon din si Yena at tahimik siyang kumakain. Nagkatinginan ulit kami at tumango sa isa't isa pero pagkatapos no'n ay umiwas ako ng tingin. I wondered if we would have a chance to talk but we both didn’t like initiating a conversation so I guess no.
Nakita ko naman na nag-uusap-usap na ang ibang writers habang kumakain. Dahil wala akong masyadong ka-close dito kagaya ni Lessy ay nanatili ulit ako sa isang sulok. Na-miss ko tuloy ang phone ko.
Pagkatapos kumain ay pinayagan kaming lumibot o 'di kaya bumalik sa cabin kaya dumiretso ako sa cabin namin. Nag-stay doon ang tatlo at nahiga ako sa couch. I didn't get enough sleep and the activities had exhausted my energy so I immediately drifted to sleep.
Naalimpungatan naman ako at ilang segundo akong nakatulala lang nang ma-realize kong may tao bukod sa akin. Pagtingin ko sa bandang ulunan ko ay nakaupo si Zion sa rocking chair habang may hawak na libro.
“Good evening,” he said, still looking at the book.
Nahiya naman ako bigla dahil sa itsura ko. Kanina pa ba siya nandiyan? Habang tulog ako? Bigla tuloy akong napaupo. I was about to go to the bathroom but what he said stopped me.
“Evening?” tanong ko. Tumingin ako sa bintana pero nakatakip na ‘yon ng kurtina at paniguradong isinara na rin ang sliding glass.
“Yup. Evening,” sabi niya naman at isinara niya ang librong binabasa niya. “It’s already 6 P.M.”
What? Teka, halos five hours akong natulog? Gano’n ba ako kaantok at napasarap masyado ang dapat ay idlip lang?
Tumayo naman ako at naghilamos para magising ang diwa ko. Pagbalik ko sa sala ay bukas na ang bintana at nakadungaw siya ro’n.
“Nasaan pala sina Arin at Roi?” tanong ko habang palapit sa direksyon niya.
“Baka nakikipag-usap sa ibang writers,” sagot niya.
“Ikaw?” Napatingin naman siya sa akin. “Bakit ‘di ka makihalubilo sa kanila?”
“No need. I already know them.”
Tumabi ako sa kanya dahil malaki naman ang space sa bintana at namangha ako sa kulay ng langit. The sun was already setting, creating a palette of pastels in the sky. It was a breathtaking view. Kung nandito lang sana ang phone ko, mapi-picture-an ko ‘to.
“What do you mean?” I followed up, still looking at the sky.
“Through observation,” he replied. Napatingin naman ako sa kanya dahil gano’n din ang nasa isip ko. I mean, you could get enough information about someone’s personality just by observing him or her.
“I see,” sabay tingin ko sa paligid kung saan may ilang writers na naglalaro sa obstacle course habang ang iba ay naglalakad-lakad.
“Ikaw? Bakit umuwi ka kaagad?”
“Napagod ako saka wala akong tulog.”
“Hmm. Eh ngayon? Bakit ayaw mong lumabas at kumausap ng ibang tao?”
“Same answer as yours,” sagot ko. “Besides, I’m not really a people person.”
“That, I know.”
Sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin pero sinuklian niya ako ng isang mabilis na ngiti. For some reason, it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be if it was just the two of us together. It seemed like we were pretty much cut from the same cloth.
After some time ay bumalik din sina Arin at Roi sa cabin pero mukhang may problema dahil dire-diretso si Arin sa kwarto. We looked at Roi for some explanation but he just shrugged.
“Nakasalubong ko siya nang katatapos niya lang kausapin ang isang writer then she stormed off,” he described.
“Kilala mo ba kung sino ang writer na ‘yon?” tanong ni Zion pero umiling naman si Roi.
I wanted to see how Arin was doing but I was unsure if I could do or say anything. Hindi ako marunong mag-comfort ng tao kaya palagay ko ay wala rin namang mangyayari kung pupuntahan ko siya.
Hinayaan na lang namin siya at makalipas ang isang oras ay lumabas siya mula sa kwarto. It looked like she had already cooled her head off.
“You’re scary,” bungad ni Roi nang makita niya si Arin at natawa na lang kami dahil sa mukha niya. He was hiding behind Zion, when in fact, he was taller than him.
“Well, sorry Mr. Gorgeous,” she retorted.
“Gorgeous?” tanong ko naman.
“Yea. Apparently, may crush sa kanya sina Nana and Wannie. Like, bakit?”
Natahimik naman bigla si Roi. Was he blushing? “Luh, ikaw nga parang may crush din do’n sa isang writer na kumausap sa’yo.”
Arin glared at her and was about to throw some vicious words, I think, but Zion interrupted her.
“Nana and Wannie?” Zion queried. “Well, Nana was staring at him during the second challenge so it was pretty obvious. Wannie is the blonde girl, right?” Tumango naman si Arin. “Hmm, that was surprising.”
“Not really,” I chimed in.
“Why?” he asked.
“She was stealing glances at him back in the hotel and during lunch. I guess she wanted to talk to him but she didn’t have any guts. And she’s liking his posts, tweets and story updates so either she’s your reader and slash or she’s interested in you.”
“Oh, I see,” Zion spoke in an undertone. “Nice input.”
“You mean, inference?”
Napatigil naman kami dahil nakatitig lang sa amin sina Arin at Roi na para bang may ginawa kaming mali. Or as if there was a ghost behind us. I hope there wasn’t.
“You’re way scarier than her,” sabi naman ni Roi.
“Agreed,” Arin concurred.
Nagkatinginan kami ni Zion at hindi ko alam kung dapat ba akong matawa sa sitwasyon o sumakay na lang. Zion chose the latter. He conveyed his observations regarding Arin’s and Roi’s behavior and that made them plead for him to stop.
We spent the night recalling what happened during the challenges and they teased me for not finding any balls during the second challenge. I knew they wouldn’t let that pass.
Pagpatak ng 9 P.M., isa-isa kaming pinatawag sa main cabin kung saan nags-stay ang producers at iba pang staffs ng program. Pagdating ko ro’n, pinapunta ako sa “interview room” at kung anu-ano ang tinanong sa akin tungkol sa mga nangyari. Buti na lang at ‘yon ang usapan namin bago ‘to.
I was asked about my expectations before the program started, how I felt and what I was thinking during the challenges, and my opinions about the other challengers. Na-realize kong ito ang ginagamit sa reality shows. These were the confessionals inserted in the middle of the scenes to create more depth or drama.
“Last question,” the interviewer said. “Of all the challengers here, who’s the person who immediately got close to you, the one who would be uncomfortable with, the one who you want to befriend and the person who got your attention.”
Napaisip naman ako sa tanong niya at ilang tao ang pumasok sa isip ko. Makalipas ang ilang segundo ay sinagot ko siya.
“For the first question . . . Arin,” I answered. “She’s the first challenger I’ve met and her personality made it less awkward. Medyo nakilala ko na siya, I think. The person I’d be uncomfortable with would be Ina. She’s got a lot of energy and I won’t be able to keep up with her, so yeah. I want to befriend Yena or Pia. I feel like I can learn a lot from them. Someone who got my attention would be . . .”
Natagalan akong sumagot sa huling tanong. Ang dami kasing taong sumagi sa isip ko. I wanted to mention at least three but the interviewer said that would be too many.
“Zion,” I said.
“Why?” tanong ng interviewer.
“Well, he has this mysterious air around him and a twisted personality. I mean, not twisted in a bad kind of way. Just, uhm,” I heaved a sigh. “Crap. Can you please just edit that out?”
Natawa naman ang staff sa sinabi ko kaya lalo lang akong nahiya. I shouldn’t have said that.
“It’s okay. He said the same thing about you,” sabi naman niya kaya napakunot ang noo ko.
“Oops,” he teased.
“Ano pong sabi niya?”
“Dahil napatawa mo ako, I’ll tell you,” he said. “He told me you are several layers of mystique. An interesting person. Anong masasabi mo ro’n?”
Tumawa ulit siya kahit na hindi ko alam kung bakit. Pagkatapos no’n ay pinabalik na niya ako sa cabin dahil may nakaabang nang challenger sa labas ng room. Pagbalik ko sa cabin ay naglalaro ng card game sina Arin at Roi habang hawak na naman ni Zion ang librong binabasa niya kanina. Our eyes met each other, and the interviewer’s words echoed in my ears.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” sabi ko naman.
Agad akong umupo sa sahig kung saan nakapwesto ang dalawa at tinanong ko kung ano ang nilalaro nila. Roi said they were playing Crazy Eight. Sumali naman kami ni Zion matapos ang isang round.
“So, anong catch?” tanong ni Arin. “May punishment ba ang matatalo?”
“How about may premyo na lang ang mananalo?” Roi suggested.
“Like what?” tanong ko naman.
“The defeated players shall grant his or her wish,” sabi naman ni Zion.
“Call!” sabay na sigaw nina Roi at Arin. Tumango na lang din ako.
“Ho-ho. Now, I’m motivated. Gusto kitang matalo para makahiling ako sa’yo,” Arin announced while looking at Zion.
He smirked. “If you can. But that won’t happen.”
“Is that a challenge?” I asked.
“If that’s how you see it,” he retorted.
Interesting, huh? You, too, Zion.
I guess he would also be one of my challenges.
"Uy, bagay," Roi teased as Arin and I got out of our room, wearing the clothes provided by the crew.
Fifteen minutes before the supposed announcement, a staff knocked on our door and gave us a set of clothes. Pinagbihis kami at nakita kong napangiwi si Arin dahil sa kulay ng damit namin. It was pink. Buti na lang at gray ang track pants namin habang sa guys ay black.
"Why pink?!" reklamo niya habang nakatingin sa suot niyang damit.
"Okay na 'to," sabi ko naman. "At least, pastel at hindi neon pink o fuschia."
"Sabagay." Tumingin naman si Arin sa dalawang lalaki at siya naman ang ngumiti nang nakakaloko. "Uy, bagay rin sa inyo."
Agad na kumunot ang noo ng dalawa pero bago pa sila magsagutan ay tumunog ang speakers sa cabin namin.
"Challengers, please proceed to the pavilion," a woman with a sweet voice announced.
Lumabas naman kaming apat at nakita naming color-coded din ang lahat ng teams. Kung tama ang bilang ko, merong fifteen teams ngayon dito.
Nagulat naman ako nang may tumawag sa akin at paglingon ko ay nakita ko si Lessy, isa sa mga una kong naging kaibigan online.
“Uy, Les,” sabay ngiti ko sa kanya.
She was wearing a green shirt and her hair was shorter than her latest photo on her social media accounts. Nasa likuran niya naman ang teammates niya at napaatras ako nang makita ko si Brian, isa sa pinakasikat na writers sa site. His presence was quite intimidating, maybe because of his sturdy physique and expressionless face.
“Challengers, here’s your second challenge for this day,” the staff announced.
Nasa pavilion siya at pumunta naman kaming lahat sa harapan niya. The atmosphere was still awkward but it wasn’t as bad as before. Maybe we were slowly getting familiar with each other.
“Second challenge, huh? Ilang challenge kaya bawat araw?” one of the writers on my right side wearing a purple shirt muttered. I glanced at her direction but I didn’t recognize her face.
“Hmm, siguro four or five,” sagot naman ng teammate niya.
Tiningnan ko naman ang mga ka-team ko at mukhang ini-i-scan din nila lahat ng nandito. Dahil sa ambiance at suot namin, para na talaga kaming nasa isang survival game na variety show.
“Your second challenge is,” sabay pakita niya ng bilog na bagay. “Find the Colored Balls!”
She explained the mechanics and it was simpler than the first challenge. We just need to find four balls, the size of an egg, with the same color as our team’s shirt. After that, we should arrange the thing inside the balls and write the answer on the big white board in the pavilion.
“The three fastest teams will have an advantage later on and the last three will receive a punishment. Good luck, Challengers! All the best!”
Pagkasabi no’n ng staff ay agad nagtakbuhan ang teams para hanapin ang kanya-kanya nilang bola. Nag-decide naman kaming apat na maghiwa-hiwalay para mas mabilis naming mahanap ang sa amin.
Ayon sa staffs, hanggang sa stone bridge na nasa tabi ng cabin ng PD crew ang boundary kung saan pwedeng makita ang mga bola. Nasa gilid ko naman si Kuya Poy, ang assigned cameraman sa akin, at sinasabayan niya ako sa pagtakbo. After hours of following me, I somehow managed to get used to his presence but it was still quite awkward. Nag-advise din siya kanina na mas magandang sinasabi ko ang mga naiisip ko kaya kahit nahihiya ako ay paminsan-minsan din akong nagsasalitang mag-isa.
I tried finding the balls in the shrubs and there were other members of other teams who was doing the same when all of a sudden, Feliz, member of gray team, yelled excitedly. Napatingin kaming mga malapit sa kanya at napanganga na lang ako nang makita kong hawak na niya ang isang gray ball.
“Found it!” she beamed and she immediately put it inside her front pocket.
Dahil doon ay mas naging enthusiastic ang ibang nakakita na maghanap. Hinalughog ko na rin ang ilang halaman pero wala akong makita ro’n kaya lumipat ako ng pwesto. Tumakbo ako papunta sa bahay kubo at marami na rin ang nandoon.
“Yay! Nakakita rin ako!” sigaw ni Jean na puro dahon na ang buhok.
“Ako rin!” sigaw rin ni Les.
Na-pressure naman ako dahil halos lahat sila ay mayroon nang hawak na bola kaya kung saan-saan na ako naghanap. Tiningnan ko ang gilid ng kubo pati na rin sa sulok-sulok ng mga halaman pero wala talaga akong makita. I was getting frustrated when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder.
Lumayo ako ro’n at muntik pa akong matapilok dahil sa batong natapakan ko. Paglingon ko, nakita ko si Zion na nakatingin sa akin habang nakakunot ang noo. Bigla naman akong nahiya sa ginawa kong paglayo kaya tumingin ako sa kabilang direksyon.
“Hmm, pati ro’n nagulat ka?” he teased. I wanted to say no but that would just put me in a more embarrassing situation.
Lumapit na lang ako sa kanya at sinamaan siya ng tingin.
“May nakita ka na?” pag-iiba ko ng topic.
“Yup,” sabay labas niya sa bulsa niya ng dalawang pink na bola kaya napanganga ako. How did he find two of them?! Bakit dalawa na agad ang nakita niya?! “And you?”
Lalo lang akong nahiya at nainis dahil sa tanong niya. Dahil hindi agad ako nakasagot ay mukhang alam na niya ang ibig sabihin no’n. When I looked at him, he had this smug look on his face and I was sure that he was mocking me.
“Ah. I guess you’re not good at finding things,” he said with that irritating smirk pasted on his face.
“A-as if. I’m just . . .” My voice faltered. Wala akong madahilan.
“Well then, good luck.”
Tumalikod naman siya sa akin at sinamaan ko ng tingin ang likod niya. Seriously, how did he manage to find two in a short period of time?
Ipagpapatuloy ko na sana ang paghahanap ko pero bigla namang may tumawag sa pangalan ko pati na rin kay Zion.
Pagtingin ko ay tumatakbo papunta sa direksyon namin sina Arin at Roi habang may hawak silang pink na bola . . . what?! Nahanap na nilang tatlo lahat ng bola namin?
Bigla namang lumingon si Zion at alam ko na agad ang gusto niyang iparating. He gave me a quick smile and I rolled my eyes in return.
“Hey, I won this time,” he muttered but I chose to ignore him.
Pagdating ng dalawa ay pinakita agad ni Zion ang nakita niya at tumingin silang tatlo sa akin nang nakakaloko. Ugh, stop looking at me! Yes, yes, I didn’t find anything.
Nagmadali kami papunta sa pavilion at pagdating namin ay nandoon na ang green team. We immediately presented the four pink balls to the staff and when she nodded, we sat on the floor and opened all of them.
to obtain what they desire
men go to far greater lengths
to avoid what they fear
Those were the words written on the paper inside the balls. I was reading the words in my mind when I remembered that book. Those phrases finally made sense.
“Alam ko na,” sabi ko sa kanila at agad naman akong tinulak ni Arin papunta sa white board. Halos sabay naman kaming natapos ng representative ng green team sa pagsusulat pero napansin kong magkaiba kami ng content. Sinulat ko ang nabuo kong sentence sa ibaba ng word na ‘pink.’
Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.
After that, tumingin kami sa staff at ngumiti siya sa akin. “If you know where the line was from and the book’s author, I will give you an extra point,” sabi niya kaya mabilis kong nilagay ang libro at author.
“Ah! Hala hindi ko alam!” sabi ng katabi ko pero dahil nauna siyang natapos kaysa sa akin ay paniguradong sila ang first place.
“Okay, first team to finish the challenge is green team!” the staff announced.
It's the little mistakes that lead to big mistakes.
‘Yon ang sentence na nabuo nila pero hindi ko rin alam kung saang book ‘yon galing. Buti na lang talaga at nabasa ko na ‘yong sa amin at natandaan ko ang line na ‘yon.
The Da Vince Code
“Pink team, second place and extra point for the book and author!”
The green and pink team’s names were displayed on the monitor near the white board on the first and second slots, respectively. Pagkatapos no’n ay pinabalik naman ang mga natapos na teams sa cabin at i-a-announce na lang daw ulit ang susunod na challenge.
We were all tired after searching under the scorching heat of the sun. Tanghali na rin kasi. Pagdating namin sa cabin ay kumuha agad kami ng tubig sa dispenser at nag-cooldown. After a few minutes, may kumatok na staff. Si Roi na ang nagbukas ng pinto at may inabot naman na box sa kanya.
“Ano ‘yan?” halos sabay-sabay naming tanong nang makabalik siya sa couch kung saan kami nakatambay.
“The advantage, I guess?”
Inulit naman niya ang sinabi sa kanya ng staff. According to him, the tokens could be exchange for food, information, clues or even another advantage, depending on the situation and the amount.
“Oh, ayos ah,” Arin commented.
Sa ngayon, meron kaming dalawang bronze at dalawang silver na kasama kanina sa envelope na binigay sa amin bago makapasok dito. A silver coin was added after finishing the challenge at second place and another silver coin for the extra point we received a while ago.
“I guess the goal is to collect tokens every challenge and use it to our advantage,” dagdag ni Zion habang tino-toss niya ang isang bronze token.
Sumilip naman ako sa bintana at marami pa rin ang hindi pa tapos. Titingnan ko sana ang direksyon ng pavilion pero nagulat ako dahil nagkatinginan kami ng babaeng nasa katabi naming cabin.
Her braided hair rest on her left shoulder while on the right was a towel. Her eyes were big and pretty but somehow, they also looked sad. Kung tama ang pagkakaalala ko, siya si Yena, isang fantasy writer. Tumango lang siya sa akin kaya gano’n din ang ginawa ko at pagkatapos no’n ay nawala na siya sa paningin ko.
I didn’t know that she also accepted this show’s invitation. I was following her on her social media accounts and she seemed to be an introvert like me. She only posted one photo a year ago but she deleted it right after. I didn’t know I’d recognize her easily. I wanted to say hi because I read one of her works and liked it. Ang hirap nga lang dahil nahihiya akong lapitan siya.
Nanatili naman akong nakatingin sa cabin nila dahil sa nangyari pero halos mapatalon ako nang makita kong may dumungaw ulit mula ro’n at tumingin sa direksyon ko.
It was Brian.
His deadpan face and cool demeanor made him a bit intimidating. I didn’t know what to do because he was just staring at me for a few seconds. He nodded at me after that eye contact so I did the same but just like what Yena did, he immediately pulled his body back.
Okay, what was that?
"Damn, look at that," Roi muttered.
Nakatayo lang kaming apat sa harapan ng isang camp. It was surrounded by two-meter stone walls and in the middle of the border was a double-leaf door made of wood, hinged on a stone arc. May naka-gray na staff sa entrance kaya naman naglakad papunta ro'n si Arin at sinundan naman namin siya.
"Congratulations!" she greeted and she gave the envelope she was holding to Arin.
Pumasok naman kami sa loob at lalo lang akong namangha. It looked like an eco-park. There were several cabins arranged into two columns on the left side and beyond the farthest ones was a huge campfire setup. Beside the campfire was a huge pavilion with white columns and red roof while on the northernmost part was a cabin bigger than the rest, an open shed that looked like a store, and another huge cabin right before a stone bridge.
On the right side was an array of structures: gazebos of different sizes and designs; playground with recreational equipment designed for young adults; and obstacle courses that contain walls of different heights, stairs, ropes and nets, and muddy water.
I couldn’t see what was beyond the trees and the stone bridge but the central area was already impressive enough. I mean . . . whoa. Camp Half-Blood feels.
Arin opened the envelope and inside were weird chips and a key. She tried opening the doors using the key and after her fifth attempt, we finally found our cabin.
The cabin has a porch lined with wooden railings about three feet in height, and wooden benches were set right below the windows. Pagpasok namin ay may dalawang kwarto kaya naman kinuha namin ni Arin ang mas malapit sa banyo. In fairness, airconditioned ang kwarto at maganda ang banyo.
"Thank god nandito ang mga gamit natin," sabi ni Arin at mukhang wala namang kinuha o pinakialaman kaya nakahinga rin ako nang maluwag.
"Tayo pa lang ba ang nandito?" tanong ni Roi habang nakasilip sa labas.
"Mukha," sagot naman ni Arin.
Lumabas naman ako at umupo sa wooden bench sa porch. I closed my eyes, felt the gentle breeze as it touched my skin, and it was relaxing. Pakiramdam ko ay nasa probinsya ako.
"That was tiring," Arin grunted and I heard how she plopped herself on the couch.
"Mukhang tayo pa nga lang ang nandito," rinig ko kay Roi.
"Good thing is, we get to rest," dagdag ni Zion habang nakadungaw sa bintana sa likuran ko.
Matapos ang ilang minuto ay pumasok na ulit ako sa loob at nagsimula kaming mag-ayos ng mga gamit. Nang na-segregate ko na ang akin, kinuha ko ang phone ko at humiga sa side ko sa kama. I tried typing an update for my ongoing story but it was getting awkward because of Arin's presence. In the end, I gave up.
Nagulat naman ako nang biglang humiga si Arin at medyo na-out of balance pa ako dahil sa pagtalbog ng kama.
"Grabe. Ilang oras pa lang 'tong chuchu na 'to, ang dami nang nangyari," she commented and she suddenly turned to my direction. "Paano kaya nila naisip 'to no? Na-e-excite tuloy ako sa susunod na challenges."
Naalala ko na naman tuloy ang sinabi kanina ni Ms. Hannah na ite-televise 'to kaya na-stress na naman ako. 'Pag talaga namukhaan ako ng mga kakilala ko, hindi ko na alam ang gagawin 'pag natapos 'to. Papalamon na lang ako sa lupa.
Nakarinig naman kami ng ingay sa paligid kaya lumabas kami ng kwarto at naabutan namin ang dalawa na naglalaro ng cards. Sumilip naman ako sa bintana at isa-isa nang nagdadatingan ang mga grupo. Gaya namin ay sinubukan din nilang buksan ang pinto ng iba't ibang cabins.
"Anong nilalaro n'yo?"
Napatingin ako sa likuran at pinapanood ni Arin sina Roi at Zion na maglaro. Lumapit na rin ako at sisilipin ko pa lang sana ang hawak ni Roi ay biglang may malakas na tunog ang bumalot sa paligid. Napatalon pa ako dahil sa gulat at napasigaw naman si Arin.
"Now that you're all here, I welcome you, Challengers, to Camp Juvenile."
May speakers din pala sa bawat cabin at may cameras din habang nakaabang naman sa labas ang kanya-kanya naming cameraman.
"Your next challenge will be announced at 11:00 so for now, you can rest and know more about each other. All the best!"
Pagkatapos no'n ay napalitan ang tunog ng kanta na hindi ko naman alam.
Dahil may dalawang oras pa naman ay nakisali kami ni Arin sa laro ng dalawa. We played pusoy dos and we had to teach Arin since she didn't know the game.
"Straight," Roi said while setting down his cards.
"Hala ang hirap naman. Teka, wala akong matira!" reklamo ni Arin at wala na siyang nagawa kundi mag-pass.
"Straight flush," sabi ko naman sabay lapag ko sa limang cards. Jack of hearts na lang ang naiwan sa akin kaya pagkatapos nito ay malaki ang chance kong manalo.
"Royal flush," Zion suddenly announced. "And finally, pusoy," then he placed the two of diamonds on top of his royal flush.
Badtrip. I didn't expect him to have that combination. And that little smug on his face was annoying, as if he was telling me, 'I won. Loser.'
Ilang rounds pa kaming naglaro at ang pinakamaraming panalo ay si Zion. He was the overall winner with 4 wins, I was next with 3, Roi with 1 and Arin with none. Gusto ko pa ngang mag-isang round pa pero umayaw na si Arin dahil hindi naman daw siya nananalo.
"Ang init na. Lakasan natin 'yong aircon," Roi commented and he set the temperature to 16°C. Hinubad niya rin ang jacket niya at hindi ko napigilan ang sarili kong mapatitig sa braso niya.
"Whoa. Totoo 'yan?" Arin asked and I realized she was also staring at that.
"Ah. Eto?" sabay pakita niya sa amin no'n. "Oo. Got this after graduation."
He has a tattoo of musical notes just above his elbow and it was fascinating. Simple yet eye-catching.
"Wait. Graduate ka na? Ilang taon ka na ba?" tanong ulit ni Arin.
"Twenty one. Kayo ba?"
"Twenty one din," Arin replied.
"Magt-twenty one pa lang," sabay naming sagot ni Zion.
"Oh. Cool. Magkaka-edad pala tayo," Roi remarked.
Hmm . . . maybe we were sorted according to our age? Pero mukhang hindi rin dahil may nakita akong ilan na hindi naman magkaka-edad sa isang grupo. Siguro nagkataon lang sa amin?
"Gusto n'yo maglaro ng ibang game?" Arin suggested and she stood up to get the four mini whiteboards on the table.
"Pass," bigla namang sabi ni Zion at naglakad siya papunta sa kwarto nila.
"Oh. Dahil ba nanalo ka na? Playing safe?"
Napatigil naman siya pagkasabi no'n ni Arin at tumingin siya nang masama sa kanya. Looked like he was triggered by that statement. Wow. She had already grasped his behavior and knew how to use it against him. That was amazing but also terrifying.
Bumalik si Zion sa pwesto niya at nakapaikot ulit kaming apat sa couch habang ine-explain ni Arin ang game.
"So basically, huhulaan mo lang ang magiging sagot ng katabi mo. It's a way na rin para makilala natin ang isa't isa in a fun way. Game?" sabay abot niya sa amin ng whiteboards at markers. "Okay, ako ang magsisimula. Ang direction ay pa-ganito," she said, gesturing a clockwise direction.
Bale ang mangyayari, my answers should be related to Zion, Zion with Arin, Arin with Roi and Roi with me.
"Okay, question number one," pagsisimula ni Arin at napatingin pa siya sa taas. "Hmm . . . favorite color!"
Pagkasabi niya no'n ay napatingin agad kami sa kaliwa namin para obserbahan ang itsura ng huhulaan namin. Zion was wearing white shirt and black jeans so I couldn't tell anything. Dahil five seconds lang ang time ay sinulat ko na lang ang una kong naisip.
"Game!" Arin exclaimed and all of us showed our answers.
I wrote white, Arin wrote gray while the two guys wrote pink. Halos pareho kami ng itsura ni Arin nang makita namin ang salitang pink sa whiteboards nila.
"Seriously? Pink?" sabay tingin nang masama ni Arin kay Zion habang nakakunot naman ang noo ko kay Roi.
"Hindi ba? Kadalasan ng mga babae, pink ang gusto 'di ba?" depensa naman ni Roi.
"No way," sabi ko naman.
"Okay, sinong nakakuha ng tama?" tanong ni Arin at tinuro naman kami nina Roi at Zion.
"Whoa! So gray and white nga favorite n'yo?"
"Ang duga. Obvious 'yong amin," reklamo ni Roi habang nakaturo sa jacket niya.
"Kasalanan namin?" Arin countered.
Sumunod namang nagtanong si Zion at hanggang sa nakadalawang ikot na kami ay wala nang tumama ulit sa mga sagot. Well, at least, may mga nalaman kami sa isa't isa to the point na pati size ng paa ng isa't isa ay alam na namin. Napatigil naman kami nang may kumatok na staff at si Roi na ang humarap sa kanya. After a few minutes, sinabi ni Roi sa amin na kailangan daw i-surrender ang phones at iba pang gadgets para sa fairness ng challenges. Siyempre, doubtful pa ako no'ng una pero dahil may designated box at number naman pala bawat tao ay nabawasan ang pag-aalala ko.
Mukhang hindi talaga kami makakapag-update sa loob ng 40 days.
Pagkatapos naming ibigay ang phones namin ay lumabas kami at nag-stay sa terrace. Nasa labas din ang iba at ang ilan ay naglalakad-lakad. Gusto ko nga rin sanang libutin 'tong lugar kaso baka mawala ako.
Huminga ako nang malalim at humugot ng lakas ng loob kung saanman saka tumingin sa kanila.
"G-gusto n'yo bang lumibot?" tanong ko at napatingin naman sila sa akin.
"Pass. Mamayang hapon na lang ako," sabi ni Roi.
"Ako rin, Elix. Medyo masakit pa ang paa ko kakalakad kanina," dagdag ni Arin. Nawawalan na ako ng pag-asa nang biglang nagsalita si Zion.
"Tara," sabi niya kaya napatitig ako sa kanya.
"Uyy," biglang tukso ni Arin at halos sabay kaming tumingin nang masama sa kanya. "Grabe naman kayo! Joke lang, eh."
Bumalik muna ako sa loob at kumuha ng cap saka kami naglakad ni Zion. Buti nga at hindi masyadong mainit at presko ang hangin kaya ayos maglakad pero sobrang awkward naman dahil hindi kami nag-uusap.
We went to the right side of the camp and walked around to reach the largest gazebo which was surrounded by several statues and labeled flora species. May kubo rin sa likod at nasa paligid no'n ang lahat ng gulay at halamang nabanggit sa Bahay Kubo kaya namangha ako. Sayang lang at wala na ang phone ko sa akin. Ang ganda pa naman sanang picture-an ng view rito.
"I have a question—"
"OH MY GOD!"
Napatalon ako sa gulat nang bigla na lang siyang sumulpot sa harapan ko at maging siya ay nabigla sa reaksyon ko. Paano ba naman kasi, umikot siya sa kubo at nang paliko na ako sa kabilang gilid ay doon siya lumabas. Ang nakakainis pa ay nakita ko siyang nagpipigil ng ngiti.
"W-what?" I asked, embarrassed by what just happened.
"So you easily get startled, huh?" he said and I glared in return. "Anyway, I just want to ask if you also know—"
Hindi na niya naituloy ang sasabihin niya dahil may dumating na ibang tao kung nasaan kami. Paglingon ko ay nakita ko sina Ina at Zey, teen fiction writers at pareho ko silang nakakausap sa social media.
"Oh! Elix, right?" sabay turo sa akin ni Zey at ngumiti na lang ako sa kanya.
"Si Zion, o!" Ina exclaimed while pointing at Zion. She approached him with a wide smile and I could tell that she was excited. "Hello! I'm Ina! Binabasa ko ang Hollow series mo and it's amazing!" sabay lahad niya ng kamay niya at nag-shake hands silang dalawa. Hindi ko na naintindihan ang pinag-uusapan nila dahil kinausap na rin ako ni Zey pero ang alam ko lang ay ang energetic ni Ina.
Kinumusta naman ako ni Zey at sinabi kong okay lang ako. Halos sabay kaming nag-sign up sa site at isa rin siya sa mga una kong nakilala. Madalas pa kaming nakakapag-usap noong bago pa lang kami pero dumalang na katagalan. But still, I was glad that I met her.
"Thanks," Zion said and he suddenly put his right hand on my shoulder, making my skin tingle. "Sige, una na kami," sabay tulak niya sa akin kaya napilitan akong maglakad.
Nang makalayo kami ay binitiwan niya ako at sinamaan ko naman siya ng tingin.
"What was that?" tanong ko.
"Sorry. I needed to escape. Can't deal with hyper and energetic people. They drain my energy."
Pagkasabi niya no'n ay nawala ang kunot so noo ko dahil gano'n din ako. Well, unless that person is interesting or he or she is my friend. Hindi ko na lang siya pinansin at pabalik na sana kami sa cabin pero napakunot ulit ang noo ko nang lumiko siya sa kung saan.
"Saan ka pupunta?" tanong ko at lumingon siya sa akin.
"Pabalik sa cabin?" inosente niyang sagot at nakatingin lang ako sa kanya ng ilang segundo.
"But the cabin is this way," sabay turo ko sa kabilang side, na kung tutuusin ay sobrang dali lang namang tandaan.
"Ah. Is that so?"
I saw the uneasiness and embarrassment on his face and I wondered if he was just trying to lighten up the mood or he was serious. My question was answered when he turned to the right again even if the right way was just the straight path toward the gazebo.
"Diretso lang," sabi ko habang nakatingin sa likod niya. His shoulders tensed and I couldn't help but smile at his actions.
"I know," sagot niya naman.
Kaya pala no'ng nasa hotel kami ay lagi lang siyang sumusunod sa amin kapag naglalakad at naghahanap ng kung ano pero siya ang nauna noong na-realize niya ang pagkuha sa mga gamit namin. Sabagay, may numbers naman ang rooms kaya siguro nakita niya agad.
Sumabay na ako sa paglalakad niya bago pa siya maligaw sa kung saan.
"So you easily get lost, huh?" ganti ko habang naglalakad pabalik at hindi siya nakaimik. He even forced a cough to save himself from embarrassment and that made me chuckle.
"Well played," he commented and before I could respond, he increased his pace since we could already see the cabins.
"I know," I muttered as I followed him back to our members.
I guess I won this time.