They say music is a means of communication. An art. A constant companion. A way of life. A remedy. However, for some, music is a sinkhole. A trigger to sensitive memories. A means of destruction.
I loved music. When I was young, my family would always play instruments and sing. Making and enjoying music served as our pastime. Tandang-tanda ko pa ang saya ko tuwing gagawin namin 'yon pero ngayon, isa iyon sa mga alaalang ayaw ko nang balikan.
"Mel, tara na. Late na tayo," my brother said as he checked the time.
"Wait," I mumbled.
I quickly finished my coffee and brushed my teeth. Kinuha ko ang bag ko sa upuan at sumunod kay Kuya palabas ng bahay. I glanced back and heaved a sigh, wishing I could just stay at home instead of going to the university. Sa totoo lang, ayaw ko talagang pumasok pero hindi naman ako mananalo kay Kuya kaya wala na rin akong magagawa.
"Please, Mel, wala sanang—"
"I won’t cause trouble,” I muttered.
"Good," he said as he ruffled my hair.
I leveled a glare in return. Kapag 'yong buhok niya ang ginulo, magagalit. Alam naman niya 'yong feeling tapos gagawin pa sa akin.
Sumakay kami ng bus at napailing na lang ako nang may ilang babaeng tumingin kay Kuya. He was wearing simple clothes: white shirt, black jeans and white sneakers. His messenger bag rested on his lower back as its strap went across his chest. He had always been a head-turner. Despite his simple look, his tousled black hair, light brown eyes, and defined facial features were hard to ignore.
We sat on the two-seater side of the bus. Sa tabi ako ng bintana pumwesto at tumingin na lang ako sa labas. I watched the people walking on the sidewalk and the trees lining the road until my mind drifted away from the present.
Suddenly, I was back in my previous school. Several of my girl classmates surrounded me, throwing nasty comments and pushing me until my back was pressed against the wall.
“Ano na? Hindi ka pa rin ba magsasalita?” one of them barked. “Pipi ka ba, ha?”
Some girls snickered as their leader pushed my shoulder. I choked back my tears, vowing not to show any weakness to them. I remained expressionless and stared back at her but I almost whimpered when she hit my face.
Fortunately, a teacher saw what happened and yelled at our direction. Everyone scrambled away and I was left alone, shaking in fear. Ma’am Palermo guided me to the faculty room and asked me what happened. My cheek stung but I managed a few words and that afternoon, she summoned everyone who harassed me in the guidance room.
The rumors quickly spread in the school and how the principal requested for their parents’ presence. Of course, my brother was invited, too.
Halos magwala si Kuya nang malaman niya ang nangyari. He said he wouldn’t let this pass until they all apologize to me and promise not to bother me anymore. He said the school shouldn’t let them have good moral certificates, a requirement for graduating, if they couldn’t even own their actions.
Buti na lang at isang buwan na lang ang hihintayin ko noon para grumaduate ng high school. I tried my best to avoid trouble and that one month felt like a year after what happened.
His voice brought me back to the present and I realized we were already on our stop. Nagmadali kaming lumabas at halos matapakan ko ang mga paa ng mga taong nakatayo dahil siksikan na.
Naglakad kami ni Kuya papunta sa university at medyo lumayo ako sa kanya. I was planning to enroll in a different school, but he insisted that I should go here so he could watch me after what happened in high school.
I knew he was worried, but I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be compared to him. Again.
Ever since we were young, he was the star and I was always hidden in the shadows. It was okay with me since he was great and he deserved it, but as we grew older, it had become suffocating.
Pagdating namin sa campus ay agad akong humiwalay kay Kuya. I didn’t want anyone to find out that we were related lalo na at marami ang nakakakilala sa kanya sa campus.
"Text mo na lang ako kapag may problema o kailangan ka. Sabay na rin tayong kumain—"
Bago pa siya makapagsalita ay iniwan ko siya ro'n at hinanap ko ang room ko.
Naiintindihan ko naman kung bakit protective si Kuya sa akin. Simula kasi nang mamatay ang parents namin ay siya na ang nag-alaga sa akin. Kaming dalawa na lang ang magkasama kaya close kami sa isa't isa. Kaya nga lang, nasobrahan naman 'tong si Kuya.
I found my room for my first subject and I sat at the last row beside the window. Sabi ni Kuya, dapat daw ay hindi na ako umuupo sa dulo dahil 'yon ang madalas target ng bullies, pero nakasanayan ko na kasi. Medyo maaga ako kaya wala pa masyadong tao.
There were seven students aside from me. Four were talking and laughing to each other while the two were already exchanging phone numbers. It wasn’t surprising that most of them knew each other since this was the college counterpart of a nearby high school. Malamang karamihan ng mga nandito ay galing doon.
The seventh person was on the same column as mine. His messy and wavy hair was pressed by his headphones. He was leaning against the window and he gazed in front of him with vacant eyes. One of the girls tried to approach him but he ignored her and turned his gaze outside. Bumalik siya roon sa grupo niya habang tinatawanan siya ng mga kasama niya.
"I told you, Priam doesn’t talk to girls,” one of them said.
"Pero sayang 'no? Gwapo sana, isnabero naman."
"Kahit noong highschool, ganyan na siya."
I didn’t know I’d witness something like that. The guy they called Priam was still looking outside and it seemed like he was in his own world.
Sumilip din ako sa bintana sa tabi ko dahil wala akong magawa. Below were students running to their rooms since there were only a few minutes left before the classes start. However, one guy was leisurely walking, not even fazed by the strict rule of the campus regarding latecomers. I was looking at him when he suddenly glanced upward, and his eyes found mine. Both of us were surprised and I immediately turned to the other side. Dahil sa nangyari ay hindi na ulit ako tumingin sa labas at nag-focus na lang sa classroom.
Isa-isa na ring nagdatingan ang ilang classmates ko kaya medyo kinabahan ako. Wala akong kakilala at halos lahat sila ay may mga kausap kaya naman naglabas na lang ako ng notebook. I was doodling and scribbling nonsensical stuff when a song suddenly played out of nowhere. I looked around to find the source and saw two speakers attached to the front corners of the room.
Some guys stood while the girls flashed their smiles and some squealed.
Nagsimula ang unang verse ng kanta at halos lahat sila ay sumabay sa kanta.
~ Baby, I know the story, I've seen the picture, It's written all over your face ~
Lalo namang lumakas ang boses nila nang nasa chorus na at hindi ko naman in-expect na may ganito pala sa university na 'to. According to my brother, this university was known for being a Center for Arts and Culture. They create and nurture artists and their talents that's why aspiring actors, singers, dancers, performers, artists and other art professions want to enter this school.
My brother made me take the entrance exam and I didn't know why I took that seriously. In the end, I passed the test and got enrolled here.
Fortunately, I brought my earplugs so I put it on but it couldn’t mask the noise because almost everyone was singing along. After a few minutes ay natapos na ang kanta at sakto namang pumasok ang professor naming kaya tinanggal ko ang earplugs ko.
A woman dressed in black blazer, trouser pants and wedged shoes stood in front of us. The whispers and talks were immediately silenced by her imposing stance and presence.
"Good morning. This is ART 101, Introduction to Art, and I'm Prim Malzel, your professor."
Nagbigay naman siya kaagad ng syllabus at halos mapatalon ako nang nagkatinginan kami. Kinabahan ako dahil baka bigla niya na lang akong tawagin o pagalitan kaya naman yumuko ako at nagfocus sa syllabus.
She discussed the requirements for the class, as well as the schedule of our lectures and exams, as written on the syllabus.
"Introduce yourself and state your expectations from this course," she said and pointed at the girl in front.
My heart pounded loudly. Ang pinakaayaw ko sa klase ay ang pagpapakilala sa harapan ng professor at ng mga kaklase mo. I’d rather wear a nametag than introduce myself in front of the class. Isa-isa namang nagsalita ang mga kaklase ko at halos mahimatay na ako sa kaba nang katabi ko na ang nagpapakilala.
"Okay, next," our professor said as she looked at me.
My heart was thumping crazily against my chest and I couldn't breathe properly anymore, but I managed to say what I should say.
"M-Melodia Boleyn Guianan,” I mumbled. “I . . . I want to appreciate art again."
Luckily, the students looked uninterested or maybe they didn't hear me but Ms. Prim, as well as the guy with the headphones earlier, Priam, looked at me with curiosity.
I plopped on my seat when she pointed to the next person and heaved a sigh. Nang natapos na ang lahat ay may sinabi lang siyang babasahin at agad din niyang tinapos ang klase. She left the room and some of the students immediately chattered with each other.
"She's the vocal coach of Ciara Carlos, right?" one of the girls asked.
"Hala oo nga! Sabi na nga ba familiar siya, eh!"
"Ciara Carlos? As in, 'yong magaling na soloist?"
"Oo! 'Di ba nga, napuri pa siya ng international singers?"
Pagkarinig ko ng usapan nila ay napaisip ako kung sino si Ciara Carlos. I don't really listen to current music anymore because of that incident but I remembered her since there was a huge photo of her outside the campus.
Nagulat naman ako nang biglang may tilian sa labas ng room at pagtingin ko ay isang pamilyar na mukha ang nakita ko. His eyes wandered inside the room and met mine but before he could even move, several girls were already surrounding him. I averted his gaze and quietly left the room.
I told him not to worry about me. Bakit ba ang kulit niya?
Nang makalayo ako ay bigla kong naalala ang tanong niya sa akin kanina bago kami pumasok.
"Mel, are you really not going to take music courses?"
"No," I flatly said.
"You know why," I returned and we both went silent.
That incident started to play in my mind again. A memory that haunted me for years. A tragedy that I would forever be guilty of.
Because of music . . . because of me . . . our parents died. That's why I will never enjoy it again. I can't appreciate it anymore.
Music was my first love, but it was also my worst nightmare.