more than met the eye

I hated Phil at first sight. He was an applicant in the college organization where I was already a member and he was just bad ass. He had bad ass eyes, bad ass eyebrows, a bad ass pout, a bad ass attitude, a bad ass walk, the whole works! He was bad ass all the way, and he was what people call maangas.

I decided I thoroughly disliked him and couldn’t abide his presence. He handed me a signature sheet (also called sigsheet), one of those requirements for gaining entrance into the org (short for organization), during one of those days when applicants had to accost members for the purpose of filling out these sheets.

I glanced stoically at his sigsheet which he was asking me to sign in the part that had my name. “Preambulo,” I said curtly, telling him to recite the preamble of the constitution of our organization while I wrote on his sheet.

He began reciting the whole thing: “Kaming mga mag-aaral ng Pampublikong Administrasyon ay naninindigang itaguyod ang disiplinang ito bilang isang mabisang lakas sa pagpapalaganap…” After he had finished his recitation, I gave him back his sigsheet and walked off, leaving him where he was. I had said only one word to him the whole time. Yep, I was hostile. I didn’t want him there.

Eventually, as was the natural course of things, Phil was received into our organization and what’s more, he was close friends with my boardmate and closest friend of that time, Tere. At this point, I had still managed nevertheless to ignore Phil completely and retain the record of speaking to him one word per semester.

One day, Phil was walking along the street with Tere and I passed them by as I was going in the opposite direction. I greeted my friend, of course, and characteristically, payed Phil no attention. When I was gone, Phil talked to Tere about it.

“Mataray si Cory,” he remarked to her.

Tere was understandably confused. “Hindi naman siya mukhang mataray ah.”

“Hind nga siya ‘mukhang mataray’, ” he said. “Mataray siya.”

Tere didn’t really know what to make of it. She and Phil had undertaken the application process at the same time and so the two were batchmates and had become friends. In time, from conversations of our day that Tere and I would share with each other, I sensed a genuine friendship between her and Phil. She told me of the humorous way they had introduced themselves to each other.

“Tere,” she had said, giving her nickname. “Short for Therese.”

“Phil,” he introduced himself in turn.

“Short for Philippines?” she asked. Actually, I confess I don’t remember who made that joke. It was one or the other of them.

Such vignettes of information, marks of real friendship, helped soften my attitude towards him. So, I had thought, he was capable of something genuine after all.

Tere told me how Phil thought I was mataray and I realized I had to try to be friendly towards him. And so it was that the next time I saw him, I smiled and said hi.

He was immediately warm and familiar in reaction. I took this haughtily for a second, tempted to say, “Aba, close tayo?” This was not entirely a mean thing to say or think. It was a phrase members had been apt to use on applicants during their application process and I had been a member the time that Phil had been an applicant. The phrase usually then evolves into a joke.

I decided to be nice to Phil. Fine, I thought acceptingly, the friend of my friend is my friend.

It was actually in one of these initial encounters that I changed my mind about Phil. He doesn’t remember it but I remember that moment clearly.

If a day would come that Phil would ask why we had become friends in the first place and how it was that I had come to champion him, I would point to this moment.

I even remember where it happened: second floor of our college, near the stairs. Phil and I were just a little way off from the tambayan of our organization because we had just departed from there. I don’t know the time of day because I wasn’t really marking it, but the long and rather wide hallway that stretched behind our backs had been kind of dim and there were only a handful of students milling about.

I was asking Phil about himself, clearly inviting him to discuss it if it was his favorite topic. I had disposed myself to listen and he threw me off my guard when I didn’t get an answer. Usually, of course, people would answer, and sometimes, not all the time, they betrayed their self-absorption in how they gave it.

Something occurred to me in the duration of that moment. It was something that was already familiar to me and which writers already have a name for. They call it a “throb” or a “glimmer”. In their words, it is something in which “an act of recognition” happens. I have my reservations for going by what they called it, particularly because “throb” calls to mind some sort of palpitation while “glimmer” seems to bring with it inescapably the connotation of light and it doesn’t usually come in that way to me. I prefer to say that it was something like a hint. It’s when a window or a door is seemingly suddenly and spontaneously thrown open and you get a glimpse of what a house is like inside. You get a sense of things. In this case, when Phil turned silent about himself, I got the sense that maybe there was more to Phil than met the eye.

And this perception provided the startup of things. It was just a mustard seed of thought but it was out of this that a friendship grew. I began to think better of Phil after that. : )


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