Monday, November 26, 2012

Will you please tell Leopoldo I'm going back to Silliman U

Yes, we’ll go back to Dumaguete; yes, we will, we really will. Though, I have to warn you, this is beginning to sound like John Steinbeck’s alfalfa in Mice and Men—of Lenny and the rest dreaming of planting alfalfa on the patch of ground they dreamt of owning one day and never did, as far as that novel was concerned. We will still go back to Dumaguete—Karl, Sean and I; we’d get inside Silliman University as a matter of course; careful not to sit on the bench under the acacia no matter how tempting, because the itchy til-as is sure to fall from one of the branches, just like what it did to Karl the first time we arrived several years ago. Instead, we’d go straight to Katipunan Hall hoping to find Prof. Philip van Peele, the Belgian professor who speaks perfect Bisaya when all the rest of the teachers (Filipinos) speak English; perhaps, to ask him why some people like me have poor memories of sound? Though, I am merely speaking from memory, I still would like to discover again how it was to walk the lane from the pier straight to the university, how it was to see for the first time the waves smashing violently against the seawall, as if the whole sight was a copy of an old painting; or, how it is to look up and listen to Karl’s six-year-old footfalls shaking the very foundation of the wooden Hibbard Hall; or was it the second floor of Katipunan, where the dean finally approved of all the subjects I was to take that semester? How could an unlettered soul like me arrive upon the shores of Silliman, dragging along with me a six-year-old child ripe for the first grade while I joined the graduate class at the English department just a spitting distance away? Soon, everybody I knew in Silliman was gone, except for the creative writer Ian Casocot and the venerable Cesar Aquino, every poet (including Sheilfa) calls “Sawi.” But still we find ourselves going back to Silliman, our thoughts straying inside Katipunan Hall, the domain of the English Department, a place which I described that first time I arrived as the most likely place where Andres Bonifacio could have held a meeting. But having exhausted our memories there, we’d go to Claytown to find out about the old apartment where Karl and I spent horribly lonely days together, our door switched in between the one occupied by an Indian couple and their five-year-old girl named Unnam (the Indian word for moon) and the door occupied by the Balikbayans who just arrived fresh from the US. We will find the spot where Rafael, Karl’s first pet kitten, died. One of the days-old kittens Karl’s Korean friends stole from the cat-mother, Rafael did not survive on milk and water. We will stand on the exact spot to remember the sadness written there, leaving a permanent mark in our hearts. If Silliman wouldn’t want me, I would be going there as a ghost. It would still be 5:30 pm of a typical university day, and I’d be rushing to Dr. Ceres Pioquinto’s Asian Literature class, trying to stop the ticking of time as I wait for a photocopy of Ceres’ lecture, while students ambled around me, whispering about my old alcatel; while I—hunched, waiting before the photocopying machine, praying hard I won’t be late, I won’t be late for Ceres’ class, fearing Ceres’ catastrophic outburst, which I used to find so devastating. Or, maybe, finding myself in that bookshop tucked somewhere beyond the public market, looking for some undiscovered English author but finding out to my dismay that the bookshop has already been mined of its best titles; all I found were rejects and leftovers. What do you expect? The whole university was crawling with scholars, writers and aspiring writers, potential artists, beating each other to such stuffs, while I was in my room at the Nerisse Dorm, trying to understand Plato’s Metaphysics before plodding on to the neo-classical poets. Sheilfa said there was definitely one place inside the university we would not feel so outcast: inside the three-story library whose vast windows faced the expanse of the football field. We will go back to Silliman U and spend entire days inside the Library, hungry eyes mining the darkened rows of books displaying Balzac, Petrarch and the like. The last time I checked, I could no longer find Susan Sontag on the shelves. Her books were stolen. It was still the turn of the century. Year 2000. The air between the darkening rows of books written by Dead Authors was musty and full of mysteries.

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