July 19, 2024

Before Julisa broke into tears in our office one afternoon the day before vacation, I received an invitation from Maria PL Lanot asking me to attend the Nick Joaquin Literary Prize Awards night at the Winford Manila Resort and Casino. I was not confident going to the big city and recalling the last I went there the sticky warm weather tortured me all throughout my stay. I have three entries for short story and I wonder what story got the third place as Maria only informed me not to miss the event. Was it “Time for Tattoos” – a story I wrote reminiscing the tattoo symbols poked at by Benguet tattoo artist ate Wamz at Charm Café in Tam-awan, or the story “Visiting Moth” – my recollection of my first visit to my hometown Sadanga, or the story “Blood and Gold in Benguet” – the story of an impoverished miner.
I look up from my laptop, busy typing grades in our school portal and stared at the shy sickly girl standing in front of me. “Yes hija, you are?”
“Julisa sir, from your 9 to 10 a.m. class. I’m sorry I missed your classes,” she said softly and then coughed with her handkerchief.
A quick hot air suddenly pulled my breathing and I was quick to raise my brow.
“Why only now? It’s the end of the school year already, you see I’m submitting the grades,” I said sternly in low voice and tried to check on my co-teachers, whose eyes focused on their own laptops but their ears and neck are pulsing with attention.
“Why, what happened?” I tried to calm myself.
“Sir, I got dengue last week so I wasn’t able to do the last activities,” Julisa said in almost tearful voice and handed me a yellow medical certificate. When I looked at her thin body, greasy hair and dry skin – a weakling just out from the hospital – a sudden wave of compassion overcome me and was speechless. I lowered my eyes and pretend to study the certificate.
“Dengue… it goes into the blood, right? Are you feeling better now?” I managed to inquire in a professional tone.
“Not much sir, I’m weak and I plan to visit you yesterday but I have throbbing head,” she replied.
I hold my compassion and showed not much pity, as a teacher – it came to me to always practice impartiality knowing that students are quick to sense it. Deep inside, I know very much the pain of getting sick in the middle of the school year and the courage needed to overcome oneself to return to school either to comply in school or just to stand in front to deliver lesson in class. I am also a very sickly teacher.
“Are you taking medicine?” I asked again.
“Yes sir, but I only took only few. We cannot afford the other medicine. My father is just a miner and I still have three younger siblings,” Julisa broke into tears and quiet sob.
I was surprised my co-teachers didn’t look from their laptops. We’ve been conversing very softly but I almost sure I can hear the crying and cracking of voice of this miner’s daughter asking for consideration – but more of a help.
“Your father is a miner you said? Haven’t they found golds yet?” I asked this time; I didn’t hide my worry of her health and pity to their family. I pictured my overworked father who died in a construction site.
“They had once sir, way back high school but used it for my ailing brother, up to this time, they only grind enough to supply daily needs,” she replied.
Why do poor things happen to poor people, I told myself.
It took me a while to make sense of what is happening. In ordinary occasion I will give consideration, will line up the task for the student to comply then make bargain with the passing grade of which I can only give to delinquent students. But this time, I felt something broke within me while looking at the girl in front of me. She is a miner’s daughter!
Just a month ago, I accidentally burned my feet from hot water. I covered the scalding with cooling paste and still continue attending my class. Barely getting healed, I went to the Capitol to receive an award from the province and then a week after I went again to Manila to receive the Nick Joaquin Literary Prize and only now it dawned to me that story that won is “Blood and Gold in Benguet”. There is a sense of clarity and soberness that came to me similar when I write stories with parallelism in life.
“Okay Julisa, what is more important right now is your health. These missing activities may do and you could still have a passing grade. What I needed you to do now is to visit the clinic and have a follow up check-up. I think you need more rest,” I said in a hopeful tone understanding the parallel situations we are in. Then, I modestly opened my drawer and drew from there an amount from the cash prize I received from my writing and fold it with the medical certificate.
“I will not give you grade if you don’t do what I said,” I look at her and gave her a nod.
When Julisa left the room, I stood after her but went to the comfort room. There I began to let the emotions flow. Oftentimes, people ask a pointless question – Why do writers write fiction stories?
Parallelisms allows us to see the truth that run in stories and our lives, these things writers see but many even teachers and readers may not truly understand. What consoles me then was that afternoon, the day before vacation it came to me what it really means to win not just in writing but in the real life.