Love, Unexpectedly: First Meeting

I looked up at the steep staircase, small and dimly lighted. Behind me was the rush Sunday activity of vendors eager to call on the churchgoers leaving the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu just across from where I was standing.

I climbed up the stairs and walked the familiar hallway. Obscure lighting from the high ceiling failed to flood every corner of the corridor. The indistinct paint was coming off the old walls. The floor was unswept, with unbundled trash and a couple of cockroaches just off the corner at the top of the stairs. I immediately turned my eyes to the direction I was going, lest I would feel a bile of disgust coming out of my throat.

I entered the office of the review center I enrolled in. It was a bright contrast to the hallway. Almost everything was white—the sofa, table, chairs, and walls—like a comfortable clinic for adults. The air conditioning was working well, a balm to my heat-cloaked skin. I found a corner as I listened to my classmates talking with the teacher, as we all waited for the time to reach one. Most of my classmates were old, more than 35 years old, many of them vying for permanent positions in the government. To them, failing the civil service examination was not an option.

When it was time for the class, we moved to another room, a classroom, passing another section of the dark hallway. The classroom was not what I expected it to be: some windows were broken, the poorly maintained armchairs were scattered across the floor, the blackboard already turned yellowish green, and the wall paint was peeling off badly. The entire area was fit for an emotional video documentary. It was my third time in the room so I wasn’t surprised at the sight anymore.

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Remembering Coleen, the girl of joy

What is now a paved road outside my parents’ house used to be uncovered soil with stones and weeds. This rough plot of land, with only trees on one side serving as a sort of boundary and a concrete wall on the other, welcomed the restless feet of 8- and 10-year-old children jumping and thrashing against the hard ground.

Among them was Coleen. She was a short, frail-looking girl with a pair of sad eyes. Her appearance was a sobersided contrast to the meaning of her complete name: Coleen Joy, or a girl of joy. But appearances can be deceiving.

During one of our games of catch or hide and seek with the neighborhood children—Manny, Toto, Nonoy, Christine, and Alwin—Coleen would come out of her house pale and tired. She must had had one of her “nebulizer sessions” to ease her asthma attacks.

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