[Eng'g (pronounced "eng") is of course UP Diliman's College of Engineering. This old piece, meant to be published in the college paper but cut due to space constraints (and some say, controversies), is some sort of tribute to my college of three years running. Is the main character in the story yours truly? Partly yes, partly no. Non-Tagalog readers be advised: the dialogue is in my native tongue.]
â€œOi una na â€˜ko, may klase pa ako sa Engâ€™g,â€ you tell your friends. The groupâ€™s conversation breaks up as you start to descend the AS steps.
â€œHey, wait lang! You naman o, basta na lang aalis,â€ Ciara says in between puffs of her cigarette.
â€œLate na ako e,â€ you say, scratching your head.
â€œWhy, whatâ€™s that ba, majors?â€ she asks. You nod in response.
â€œMy gosh, i-cut mo na â€˜yan! Itâ€™s more fun here than in Engâ€™g, no! Bulok dun, and you donâ€™t get to see girls like me there, di ba?â€ Ciara giggles, and your other high school buddies follow suit in enticing you to stay. You think it over for a while, but in the end you reach a decision.
â€œSorry talaga…di ko â€˜to pwedeng i-cut. Alam niyo namang second take ko na, at ayokong ma-dehado ulit. Bawi na lang ako sa inyo sa susunod,â€ you tell them with a sheepish grin on the face. Without waiting for their consent, you sprint down the stairs and bolt for the Beta Way.
Walking briskly towards Engâ€™g, your mind canâ€™t stop chewing over Ciaraâ€™s words. She and the others have always had a biased view towards your college. How could they judge Engâ€™g without having experienced Engâ€™g life? You canâ€™t understand their love for the crowded corridors of Palma Hall, where unknown, hostile faces blend into a single nebulous mass. The building they fondly call â€˜A-Sâ€™ isnâ€™t your home; there youâ€™re a mere a tourist in a distant land, out to make new acquaintances, out to plumb the mysteries of philosophy, history, geography, name it -â€“ subjects which are mere childâ€™s play compared to what youâ€™re wrestling with everyday in Engâ€™g.
But now, walking across the Academic Oval, far removed from Palma Hall, you can make out the imposing figure of the home of UPâ€™s best minds -â€“ your home. In paper itâ€™s called Melchor Hall, but to you and many others it is simply…Engâ€™g.
You storm out of the classroom, spewing out curse after curse. â€œPunyeta namang test â€˜yan o,â€ you hiss.
A girl at your side sniggers. â€œMagmumura-mura ka ngayon, e sino bang may kasalanan kung bakit ka bumagsak?â€ She frees a piece of crumpled paper from your clenched hand and un-crumples it. A 27% encircled in bright, red ink stares out at you.
â€œAyan, Engâ€™g Cup pa kasi inuuna,â€ she softly says. â€œAral muna sa susunod, ha? Saka na yang basketball.â€
You sigh as she hands back your creased test paper. â€œOpo, sige na po. Kung di lang kita bespren…â€
â€œâ€˜Yan naman gusto ko sa â€˜yo eh…madali turuan. Uy, di pala kita masasamahang kumain ngayon. Pupunta pa ako ng tambayan. May ExteCom meeting e.â€ She presses your hand and flashes a smile. â€œSorry…â€
â€œOkay lang no,â€ you assure her. â€œSige, kita na lang mamaya.â€
With that your bestfriend leaves and disappears amongst the throng of people flocking towards the stairs. Hunger threatening to make you keel over and die, you hunt the hallways for a monay vendor. You find one, and for ten pesos your mutinous tummy is calmed down. You can imagine Ciara telling you, â€˜Monay?! How cheap! Donâ€™t dare go out with me again!â€™, but your wallet is a lean, worn-out thing and the sizzling tenderloin at the Engâ€™g Caf is something which you reserve for merry occasions, such as a 3.0 classcard in any ES subject. Besides, monay tastes fine. You donâ€™t need beluga caviar to make your day.
It is in this time of munching your â€˜cheapâ€™ meal that you walk around Engâ€™g. Unlike in Palma Hall, the corridors here are decked with familiar faces, smiling, winking, and sticking out their tongues at you. Friends, coursemates, even people whom youâ€™ve just been classmates with for one semester â€“- all of them, you consider to be family. Theyâ€™re all around you, and their mere presence eases the pain of a flunked exam.
You can see your classmate Marvin rushing towards you. Heâ€™s shouting: â€œYahoo! Tara na tsong, basketball tayo!â€
Marvin nods giddily while befuddlement sweeps over you. â€œHa? May class pa tayo. Wag mong sabihing mag-ka-cut ka?â€ you say in a reproving voice.
â€œTimang ka talaga. Wala si Sir ngayon, naka-post sa depâ€™t na may sakit siya. O ano, sama ka na! Pang-practice na rin â€˜to sa Engâ€™g Cup. Andun na sina DJ sa Molave.â€
You shake your head and wonder why no week passes in Engâ€™g without any of your professors missing their classes. Youâ€™re about to take Marvinâ€™s offer, seeing basketball as an ephemeral escape from acads, but suddenly the memory of your bestfriendâ€™s gentle scolding jolts you back to reality.
â€œNaku tol, pasensya na. Punta akong library sa baba, medyo kailangang kong mag-aral…pramis ko kay Bea â€˜yon e,â€ you grudgingly admit.
â€œBea? Ikaw ha, di pa nga â€˜kayoâ€™, e ander de saya ka na,â€ Marvin jeers.
â€œSira!â€ You punch him on the arm.
Somehow you feel good that, for the first time this semester, youâ€™ve managed to study in the Engâ€™g Lib for at least an hour. You proudly walk up the stairs and pass by your bestfriendâ€™s tambayan, merely wanting to boast that you had kept your promise. But Bea has other things in mind, and she drags you into a three-hour ride with her org. At first you have misgivings, but trepidation soon gives way to delight as you find out how fun it is to be in an org. Laughter, jammings, gossips and new persons to include in your Engâ€™g â€˜familyâ€™ â€“- youâ€™re surprised at what youâ€™ve been missing. Youâ€™re already in third year and have steered clear of organizations, all because youâ€™re too lazy to undergo those hellish application processes. But now it seems your outlook is changing.
During a short lull in the tambayan, you whisper to Bea, â€œHuy, pwede pa bang mag-apply?â€ to which she gives you a quizzical look.
â€œMalamang oo! Teka, ano bang nakain moâ€™t gusto mo na ngayong magka-org?â€ she asks.
â€œWala. Monay lang naman.â€
You stand beneath the waiting shed near Engâ€™g. Every UP-Philcoa jeepney you flag down is brimming with passengers. Bea and her orgmates are still in the tambayan; her dadâ€™s going to pick her up late. Ciara of your HS-buddies had texted you a message: â€œdearie, go hir nman s haws ko, d2 n lhat ng guys…club-hoppng l8râ€, and so you forced yourself to leave Melchor Hall.
But now, your eyes canâ€™t stop darting from Engâ€™g to the approaching jeepneys. Something just doesnâ€™t feel right.
Your thumb hovers over your cellphoneâ€™s keypad. â€œErase message?â€ the display asks. You press â€œOKâ€. Ciara and her club-hopping escapade vanish into electronic nihility.
You walk back towards Engâ€™g. You walk back towards home.