pen and ink on paper
II. THE MAN
With my hands trembling, I slowly tore off the top of the thick white envelope I got in the mail. It had the university’s logo on the upper left and my name neatly typed across the middle. A couple of days before, two of my friends in high school who took the same exam as I did already received the same envelope. But theirs wasn't as thick as mine and I also found out that the letter inside their envelopes contained the sad news that they didn't make the cut. "Well there's still UST and FEU," said Honesto when he read his.
That night, my mother was still at our neighbor’s house - Aling Josie - exchanging gossip. I was alone at home and staring at the neatly torn top of the thick envelope. "Did I pass? Or did the person who closed my envelope simply placed in thicker wads of paper which would eventually contain the same thing - that I failed."
I gingerly took out the sheets of paper stuffed inside and slowly unfolded one of them. And there it was, the words typed neatly with an electric typewriter on an immaculate white sheet monogrammed with the university’s logo, "you successfully passed...".
I rushed to our next door neighbor and looked for my mother. I told her the news and immediately told her, "I passed it. But is it okay if I go instead to Ateneo?"
"But I thought you preferred that one?" she wondered.
"I know. But now you know that I passed. Besides I am qualified for that full scholarship in Ateneo and take up B.A. English," I told her thinking with the conviction of a young man who believes he can conquer the world.
"Hay naku. Bahala ka. As long as you make sure we can afford the tuition fees," she told me with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Go home and cook the rice for dinner.”
While I was heading back home I passed by the gate of my uncle Tito Sinforoso and his wife Tita Caring.
"Pssst. Psst!!" I heard and turned my head to see Tomas ushering me to come closer.
"Daddy's calling you upstairs to his study," he told me as I came closer. Although, Tito Sinforoso and Tita Caring never had children, they had their wards that they raised. Tomas, was one of them. A child of one of the patients at the National Mental Hospital where Tito Sinforoso and Tita Caring worked until their retirement, I've always found it odd to hear him call my uncle as "daddy".
"Why?" I asked Tomas. "I don't know. He saw you passing by from his window and just told me to call you to him," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Okay," was all I said as I followed him through the gate and down the narrow corridor leading to the main door. I followed him up the wooden flight of stairs with the shiny, polished mahogany banister. I took a mental note that when I come down later I'll slide down from it.
Upon reaching the top, he lifted his right hand and motioned me to wait. He turned to the big black narra door with the shiny brass doorknob. He knocked once and turned it.
"Daddy, he's here," he announced.
"Come in," a low voice came from behind the door. "Go in," Tomas said. When I stepped inside the room I heard him closing the door behind me and the knob clicking.
I have only been to Tito Sinforoso's study twice in my entire young life. The first time, I was playing hide-and-seek with Tomas and three other kids. I hid behind one of the big shelves. It was a good hiding spot except that I shrieked in pain and terror when my foot was caught on a mousetrap, prematurely giving away where I was hiding. The second time I was there was when I sneaked inside when nobody was around and "borrowed" a book that caught my fancy. It was a handsome volume of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I swore I would return it after reading but I never did.
I stood there in front of his large wooden table which was at the far end of the room surrounded by walls of shelves brimming with books. He was sitting behind it on a high backed wooden swivel chair, the kind they had in the fifties, wearing a crisply ironed white short-sleeved shirt. Come to think of it, I’ve only seen him wearing that kind of shirt when he was alive.
He has white hair cut very short. In fact, it was cut so short it reminds me of Apolinario Mabini, the Great Plebian's photo from one of my school books. It made him look scholarly and old, especially since he wears those black horn-rimmed glasses.
“Sit down,” he said in his soft voice as he raised a hand to gesture me towards the small wooden chair beneath a lamp with a shade made of capiz that gave out an eerie yellowish glow.
“I see you already received your admission letter,” he told me as his eyes gazed on the envelope I had in my hand. “And it seems that from the look of how thick it is, you already received your other documents to enroll there, haven’t you?” he further added.
“Yes sir,” I meekly replied.
“Your mother told me that you also passed P.N.C. (Philippine Normal College now a University), La Salle, UST and Ateneo. I also hear that you topped the exams in the former, is that right?” he inquired. “You know your cousin Linda is a librarian there and she already has a spot for you when you visit her at the library.” (My cousin Linda is the chief librarian in PNC. The moment she heard I topped the exams she already trumpeted that I’ll either be a teacher or a doctor someday. I hear she’s already readied a table just for me in the library.)
He took the black horn-rimmed glasses from the bridge of his nose, blew on it until it fogged and wiped it with a white handkerchief from his breast pocket. He put back his glasses again and neatly folded his kerchief. “So, have you made a decision to which school you’re going to for college?” he asked as he slid his kerchief back into his breast pocket.
“I will enroll in Ateneo. I figured I can go there with the scholarship I got. Besides Tito, they have a good program and some of my former classmates from grade school also passed,” I told him firmly. Of course, it wasn’t really the program nor the other kids I know who are going there. It’s the idea that I’ll be heading for a more exclusive and private Catholic university where every thing I've been comfortable and familiar with will be several notches higher.
“I see. The Jesuits are known for good education,” he said as he leaned back on his swivel chair. He paused for a few seconds in deep thought as I stared down on my toenails thinking I need to cut them soon. They’ve grown too long. I was in this reverie when he sat straight on his chair, making it creak.
“If you so choose to go and enroll in THAT university (he turned his gaze on the envelope in my hand), you won’t be studying inside a classroom. There will be a bigger world out there for you - a much bigger world than you could ever think of,” he told me as he looked me straight in the eye. For a moment, I thought I saw a glint in his eyes, a sort of sparkle that I have never seen in this old scholar of an uncle.
It was right then when I heard my mother calling from below.
“Your mother’s calling you. It is already getting late. You should go now,” he said.
“Yes, sir. I will think about it.”
I stood up when I heard my mother calling my name again and hurriedly went to the door. I gently closed it behind me and took some quick strides toward the steps. I held on to the banister and had the urge to slide down… but I stopped. I smiled at myself and thought, “I’ll do it next time.”
That night, after dinner when I’ve already put the dishes aside and was alone at the table, I opened the envelope again and took out several of the forms. I took a pen from my father’s pant pocket and proceeded to write my name on the form 5 sent by U.P.