First rule of a Philosophy student: Always bring a book. —Emily Summer, Ninoy Aquino Library and Learning Resources Center, PUP Manila 6th of September, upon seeing the Atlantic Ocean and realizing her mistake.
My little wristwatch ticked another sorry second. The time was 9:10 in this cloudy Thursday morning. I found myself at the far side end of Magsaysay Boulevard, waiting for a jeepney ride to school, waiting for the time to stop. ‘I am late, I am late.’ The words played in my head like hypnotic music. In my mind, I saw my furious professor, her face all red with anger, her soft curls scream her harsh words as she finds herself burdened with too much disappointment from what she once thought was a bright student and in my heart, I felt again that unwished-for embarrassment in front of the class. I told myself to skip Algebra class but even that I could not afford to do.
I rushed my way to the crowded streets of Teresa. My feet were heavy with what felt like all the heaviness in the world. My heart screamed with regret so excruciating I could nearly use some morphine. The morning fight, the traffic jam, the exhausting rush in the early hours of the day, the chaos in the streets of Manila, the urgency to chase the ever-elusive time, the demands and deadlines and schedules we people are chained into and how we let the cruel exteriority penetrate our inner fragile selves. It’s funny how we live.
As I hurried to get to the University, a boy accidentally bumped into me and hit me with his playing ball. He apologized a half-meant apology but I didn’t have the time to wait for the other half. It’s funny how we run out of time to look back to what has been said and done, how we are always quick to throw words we never think about until we realize that we never really mean them and how we can never bring back the things that had already happened. Time is the great equalizer, one has once said. But time is the great betrayer too, a sweet, solemn murderer of delicate trust; the way it works its evil schemes when we are foolish enough to think that everything is alright.
I dragged myself along the iron-colored stairways as I climbed up to the 6th floor. My heart was pounding like drum bass that echoed in every corridor of the main building. I found it harder to breathe for even the thin air was suffocating. I wished for a small space enough for breathing and in the vastness of that place, with feet rushing as mine do, with breaths panting in dire distress and with hearts heavy with self-constructed pain, I found that all I had was my self. When I reached the classroom, I felt a dose of relief upon knowing that my Algebra professor hasn’t arrived yet. The chaos brought by that stressful Thursday morning gradually settled to the rock bottom as I gracefully sat in silence inside room w609 and prepared for Algebra to kill me once again. It was between the tormenting silence and the waiting that I wished I had a book.
Somewhere, sometime, an author once wrote, “The world is a terrible place, cruel, pitiless, dark as a bad dream. Not a good place to live. Only in books could you find pity, comfort, happiness and love. Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn’t ask anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly.” I know I could never disagree.
My Algebra professor did not arrive that day which made my stressful morning a laughing stock for the gods. I was left with nothing to do with the remaining hours but to talk to myself. I should have brought Charles Dickens with me, or C. S. Lewis or Jeremy Bentham or Thomas Hobbes or Anne Frank or Jane Austen; it doesn’t really matter who so long as I have someone to keep me company. But I was beating myself with regret because I had none to keep myself from my self-destructing thoughts. Thanks for ditching A Tale of Two Cities, you stupid stupid girl.
And so, I walked my way to the library to burn the dead hours. The room was quite crowded, consumed by unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar stares. I chose the cubicle at the far end of the library, the one near the wall and the open window and the mild calming breeze left me with nothing to do but stare blankly out in the open sky. My eyes were caught for a moment by a wooden wreath-like furniture standing beside the cubicle. Inside the wooden piece sat an old faded globe. From my seat, I could see the European countries in all its splendor and glory. And in that ethereal moment, I caught a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean and thought to myself my incurable need for company.
The truth is hell: People just leave sometimes, swift and unspeaking, granting you with an unwanted solitude that makes you wish for non-existence. But this god-forsaken world doesn’t end there, though. When people go AWOL on me, I go with books. Books are better company; they’re fragile but can carry you through all the wildest adventures, they’re silent but scream of a thousand telltale words, they’re old and wise but never one and quick to spew judgments, they don’t spell BFF or do handshakes in summer afternoons but god, these books, these little precious books will never ever let you down.
First rule of a Philosophy student: Always bring a book. The rest of the rules shall follow.
“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” —Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961