I was never a talker.
Since elementary, I was labeled as the quietest one in class. Sasagot lang ako kapag kailangan o kaya kung si Jell ang kumakausap sa akin. I had never initiated a conversation and talking to others didn’t seem necessary so I only had one friend. And that was okay with me.
Pero simula nang mangyari iyon, mas naging madalang pa akong nagsalita. Speaking became terrifying and being alone was unbearable. I was both thankful and sorry to Jell because she stayed with me throughout high school and even now in college.
“Schel!” sigaw niya habang nagmamadaling lumabas sa apartment namin. “Tara na! Baka mag-quiz tayo sa Eng 1!”
Agad naman akong sumunod sa kanya at nagmamadaling isinara ang gate sa compound.
The campus was just a walking distance from our apartment but we hastily walked, fearing that we would be late for our quiz. Pero napahinto ako nang makita ko ang bumungad sa amin.
Ah. Pedestrian lane.
“Schel,” Jell called. Huminga ako nang malalim at sabay kaming tumawid. Buti na lang at wala pang gaanong sasakyan. Even if we’re walking on the same path every day, I still get scared every time I cross the road. Honestly, I wouldn’t survive if Jell wasn’t around.
Nakarating kami sa university at pumunta agad kami sa first class namin. Pagdating namin ay nandoon na ang prof namin kaya dali-dali kaming umupo sa kanya-kanya naming upuan.
And the hellish quiz began.
“Hirap talaga magpa-quiz ni Ma’am,” Jell grunted after class and I nodded in agreement.
May one and a half hour kaming vacant period kaya pumunta muna kami sa cafeteria sa building na ‘to. Hindi rin kasi kami nakakapag-breakfast sa bahay kaya dito na kami kumakain. Umupo kami sa bandang gilid at ako na ang nagbantay ng mesa namin kaya nagpabili na lang ako sa kanya.
As usual, she was the center of attention. Her pictures were already circulating on facebook university pages such the Cutest Faces of Universities and have thousands of likes and comments. No wonder, namumukhaan na siya ng mga estudyante.
Bigla namang umingay kaya napatingin ulit ako sa direksyon ni Jell at napatayo ako nang nakita kong basa na ang damit niya.
“Sorry, Miss!” the guy in front of her said who was clearly panicking.
Tumakbo agad ako sa direksyon nila at tinabihan ko si Jell. I held her wrist, thinking of ways to get us out of here without attracting more attention.
“I’m really sorry. Hindi ko sinasadya—”
“It’s okay,” Jell muttered.
She smiled at the guy but I knew she was faking it. Yumuko siya at iyon na ang cue ko para hatakin siya palabas pero nagulat ako nang bigla na lang hinawakan ng lalaki ang kabila niyang braso. Lalo akong nagulat nang hinubad niya ang suot niyang jacket at binigay kay Jell.
“Here, Miss. Suotin mo muna ‘to,” he said, guilt gleaming in his eyes.
Doon ko lang din napansin na medyo halata na ang undergarments ni Jell dahil umabot hanggang sa chest area niya ang mantsa kaya naman tinanggap niya rin kaagad ang jacket na in-offer sa kanya.
“Lev! Dalian mo, may training pa tayo!” Napatingin ako sa lalaking nasa pintuan at naka-jacket din siya tulad niya. Doon ko lang na-realize na varsity jacket pala ang suot nila.
“Sorry ulit, Miss, but I really have to go. Babawi ako,” sabay takbo niya palabas at bago pa kami pagpyestahan ng tsismis ay hinatak ko na kaagad si Jell papunta sa pinakamalapit na C.R.
The moment we stepped inside, she immediately released her frustrations.
“Nakakainis! Ang lagkit sa feeling, Schel!” Nilayo niya sa balat niya ang basang part ng damit niya. “But . . . it was partly my fault.”
I remained silent and waited for the rest of her story.
“Na-distract kasi ako doon sa dalawang babaeng nag-uusap sa gilid ko kaya hindi ko nakita na makakasalubong ko siya. Hindi rin ata kasi siya nakatingin kaya ayon.”
“Uwi tayo?” mahina kong tanong.
“No. Aabutin tayo ng twenty to thirty minutes at male-late tayo sa next class.” Bigla naman niyang tinignan ‘yong jacket na binigay sa kanya nung lalaki at nagulat ako nung inamoy niya ‘yon. “Hindi naman amoy pawis. This will do.”
“Ah . . .”
“Yup. Tatanggalin ko ‘tong damit ko at itong jacket na lang ang isusuot ko.”
Binasa niya ang panyo niya at saka siya pumasok sa cubicle. After a few minutes ay lumabas na siyang suot ang jacket habang nasa kamay naman niya ang basa niyang blouse. Buti na lang at naka-jeans at sneakers siya kaya hindi naman weird tignan ‘yong suot niya, though medyo malaki ‘yon sa kanya.
“Ayan, okay na ako. But how would I return this to that guy?” sabay hawak niya sa jacket na suot niya. “Ugh! But this is embarrassing! Wala pa akong isang buwan sa university, may nangyari na kaagad na ganito.”
Pumunta kami sa ibang cafeteria at doon na lang kumain. After that, we went to our respective classes and I was thankful none of my classmates approached me.
Besides Jell, I had never interacted with anyone in the campus unless it was necessary. Talking with somebody I wasn’t close with was kind of uncomfortable, and after what happened that night . . . I was never the same again.
Dahil Monday ay 5:30 PM ang tapos ng class ko, habang si Jell ay 6 PM. Pupunta na sana ako sa gazebo malapit sa main gate pero napatigil ako nang mag-vibrate ang phone ko. Sinagot ko naman agad ang tawag mula kay Jell.
“Schel! Sorry! Male-late ako nang kaunti. May activity—”
“Okay,” sagot ko naman agad.
“Hintayin mo na lang ako sa pavilion. Sorry talaga!”
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Bibilisan ko na lang. Okay?”
After that, I went straight to the pavilion.
She always waits for me ever since fifth grade. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve become too much of a burden to her, but even so, I couldn’t do anything about it.
Pagpunta ko sa pavilion ay pumunta agad ako sa pinakadulong gilid. The pavilion was always relatively empty, but it wasn’t the case this time. There were students who kept on looking around while some were talking in hushed voices.
“Isn’t that Levisque Quijano? The ace pitcher from the baseball club?”
“For real? Ace na siya kahit first year pa lang siya?”
“Wait, does that mean the guy beside him is Jaero Hander Jung?”
Gusto ko sanang lumipat ng pwesto dahil ang ingay na ng paligid at ang dami na ring tao pero napatigil ako nang biglang may dalawang umupo malapit sa pwesto ko.
“Do you think she’ll get mad?”
That voice was kind of familiar so I took a glance at them and I saw the guy who accidentally stained Jell’s shirt this morning. I wanted to get out of this place but my heart almost stopped beating when our eyes met.
“Ah!” sabay turo niya sa akin kaya tumingin agad ako sa kabilang side. “You’re that girl’s friend.”
Could the ground just split into two and devour me?
Halos napatalon ako nang nakita ko siya sa harapan ko kaya lalo pa akong yumuko at niyakap ko ang bag ko para takpan ang mukha ko.
Was that the other guy’s voice? Thank god. Pero nandito pa rin sila. Anong kailangan nila? Si Jellene ba? Nasaan na ba siya--
“Schel!” Ah. That was her voice. “Sorry, ngayon—!”
Tumingala ako at nakita ko siyang nakahinto sa harapan ng dalawang lalaki. She was surprised when she saw that guy and based on her bright red face, she must be embarrassed because she was wearing his jacket right in front of him.
“Ah, hello,” bati ng lalaki. If I remembered it correctly, I think his name was Levisque Quijano.
“Sorry. Here,” sabay abot niya sa paperbag na hawak niya. “It’s a new set of clothes. Uhm, for ruining yours this morning.”
Jell’s face turned redder and that was the first time I saw her that flustered.
“I insist,” that Levisque said.
After a few seconds of silence, she finally accepted the paperbag. The guy smiled at her and extended his hand.
“Levisque Quijano,” he said. “Sorry ulit sa nangyari.”
Jell carefully reached for his hand. “Jellene Lazardo,” she replied. “Sorry rin. It’s partly my fault.”
Even though there were four of us in this corner, it felt like they were in their own little world and seeing them like that was kind of awkward. The guy with Levisque must have felt the same because he wore his headphone and never looked at the two again.
The guys finally left and Jell sat right next to me as she stared at the paperbag.
“Schel, uwi na tayo,” she said, still in daze.
That night, Jell stalked Levisque on social media and I knew that their meeting would surely bring change into my confined life.