THERE was a well, one day.
And later, plants encircling the ancient trunks.
A swathe of pebbles blanketed the ground another day. Workmen watered the shiny, carnivorous-looking leaves. Petrified blocks of wood became a table, a bench when, under the timeless trees, a student sketched on a pad.
Leaving my class one morning, I saw that the mouth of the well was a mosaic of glinting pieces of broken glass and tiles. It was so good enough to eat, I looked around for Hansel and Gretel to appear from behind the trees.
I have taken this path too many times to count. When I was a student, this route had straggling grass pushing past broken stone slabs leading to a decrepit office where tibaks (activists) made out, painted placards and streamers, read Ibon tracts and Issues Without Tears, tattered from being passed around.
This space we shared with the campus security, some administrator’s feeble attempt at check-and-balance.
We who were antsy about campus militarization sometimes went around to the other office to ask the guards to jimmy open the locked door when someone got too drunk again to remember to bring the key to the student council office.
We who were brusque and crude about the military, the state and the church would always knock first on the guards’ door in case we would catch them at an awkward time, changing into their uniforms, with their pants down or their ear glued to the thin walls, listening to someone read aloud Engels or poor Marx in mangled German.
Then as a teacher, I saw the struggling grass finally flattened and the ground, tamped on by students trooping to the new undergraduate building, rising amongst the trees.
When classes failed to normalize, the edifice remained “new” for quite a time. The security guards (another batch) accused students of stealing the starters to disable the fluorescent lights in the classrooms. The students took potshots: yes to consultation, no to overpricing, yes to state subsidy for education, no to corruption!
When the sun set and the trees cast longer shadows inside the classrooms with the missing starters, professors either graded recitation or resorted to storytelling. I transferred all my classes to 7:30 a.m. and have not changed my mind since.
A room that’s too dark to see the writing on the blackboard is still not as bad as the old Bagong Lipunan (New Society) classrooms located across the street. If it rained, the roofs dripped and the pathways flooded.
BL10, where aspiring journalists and broadcasters studied, was reportedly haunted: first, by agents that left electronic ears to monitor our teachers, prone to outspokenness and mini skirts; and then by A, a classmate who cleared her clogged sinuses by systematically blowing her nose on every inch of the room’s curtains (we never told the younger batches).
For all its waterlogged state, the BL10 years left more than an impression on me. I had teachers of all stripes: daughter of a Marcos crony, daughter-in-law of an opposition stalwart, mother of society columnists, daughter of the First Quarter Storm, estranged partner of an underground fighter and then wife of a consultant for international aid.
Teaching the young horrified by an early morning start, I try to pass on what I learned: embrace passion and a dictionary. I wince when I read, sprayed on the boulevard: “Outs Gloria!” I beam when I read my students blogging about the abandoned, the abused, the silenced, the hunk in very short shorts.
The garden emerging from the trees stopped me. A Fine Arts student’s final thesis, this spot of quiet and retreat is discordant with all that I remembered of the past 37 years.
Yet, isn’t that what we live for: capture space, leave a mark, be not left unmarked?
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 27, 2009 issue of “Matamata”