ORDINARILY, a newly arrived package of books sets off a rash of sniffing around the spine and cover, usually to postpone the anticipated first taste of the first page.
However, when I touched the pouch containing the biographies of Isaac Newton and Pablo Neruda, I felt a third unexplained spine.
It was a notebook, nearly six inches by nine, covered in blue cloth, with about a hundred blank, acid-free pages.
On a card inserted inside the notebook, the seller said the notebook was a gift.
The Internet is amazing. Where is the marketplace that can bring together strangers whose purposes cross and match: one person wants to clear his apartment to make way for other books, the other is just dying to read the unwanted titles?
Where else but in this online chaos can the intangible and the impersonal produce a thing as blank but definable, as common but inimitable as a notebook?
Nothing, even on the Internet, can be as magical as a notebook.
In elementary, I used to pass on my school books to a friend who visited our family during summer vacation.
Although she was two or three years younger than I, she pored over those books, a feat that amazed me not only because this was done in summer, a time I used for thinking of creative ways to do nothing. A. told me that in her hinterland barangay, neither her schoolmates nor her teachers had these books or any books at all.
A. just wanted to read my old books because she hoped that, after finishing sixth grade, her parents would send her to high school.
My friend was specially drawn to Math. She spent nearly an entire summer just scanning my workbook before she asked me, a bit hesitantly, if she could also have my old notebooks.
I was about to tear off the unused pages but A. showed me how to remove the staple wires. She painstakingly snipped off the used pages, aligned the trimmed blank sheets, and backstitched with twine to bind a new notebook from the remnants of my old ones.
Today, I see some of my students bringing these “green” notebooks. Some deconstruct old notebooks and create a new one, using saved string or yarn, even shoelaces with neon smileys. In a sidewalk bin downtown, I saw notebooks made to look as if they were handmade.
It’s quite a trend, hip and cool for some youngsters.
All those summers ago, A. was not driven by a trend. She swam against the currents and eddies swirling her family and neighbors round and round their tiny sitio.
When she practice-solved the mathematical problems in my workbooks, she wanted a notebook that would fix in place and hold for keeps all her trials, errors and final solutions.
Doing her Math on loose slips of paper would not have worked. How would she know if she was doing something right if she no longer had the proof when a problem whose solution she had worked out years earlier would suddenly turn up in that remote classroom, by chance, by magic (what else could have made some things materialize in a blackboard in a classroom where no books warmed the hands and opened the minds of teacher and the taught)?
When I think of my friend, now entrusted with the finances of her long-time employer’s varied businesses, I am sure A. unknowingly started something else when she faced those blank, bound sheets as if she were Ali Baba unsealing the doors of the cave of wonders with the cry of magic, “Open Sesame!”
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* First published in the “Matamata” column of July 26, 2009 in Sun.Star Cebu