Zel—her name draws a picture of the paths we used to walk together— labyrinthine halls (or so it seemed to us, freshies that we were) of the Faculty Center, bustling corridors to Spanish class, pathways to the Math Building and NIP (a.k.a. outskirts of the universe). I see that winding trail that begins at NIGS, crawls through trees and streams and shrubbery, and emerges outside the Math Building, beside a fishball stand (I wonder if it’s still there?).
She called me her “first real friend,” her closest friend in UP. I’d been wanting to write a story about our friendship. About how we spent breaks between classes cramming homework or snacking on fishballs and ice-cream or looking at my drawings and stories or comparing the crazy designs we painted on our nails. She fascinated me with her world so different from mine. She was two years older, lived away from home, drove a car, knew celebrities, went to parties, danced hip-hop, and hardly spoke Tagalog. I was the naiveté to her sophistication, still the girl to her woman. Yet whenever we walked through those familiar paths to our classes, chatting about nasty professors, cheating boyfriends, and the various evils of high school, I felt that beside me strode an akin spirit. I felt a certainty that those walks, those conversations would last throughout our college lives and beyond.
When term ended, we tried to take the same GE classes the following semester, but the CRS, like fate, was and always is indifferent to attempts at ordering lives. The conflicting schedules it gave us meant that we seldom saw each other, and when we did, there was hardly enough time for anything other than a quick hug and a garbled product of squeezing months of experience and anecdotes into several hasty words. The sem after, she shifted from CAL to CBA (which, though only several minutes’ walk from CAL, seemed a world away—funny how distance is multiplied in UP). I didn’t see her for years.
But I did see her again—at the Bahay ng Alumni with her boyfriend, at the FC parking lot, at a rally protesting Con-Ass. If this piece were fiction, I would probably write that, with years and silence and separate lives between us, when we finally walked the same path again, I stared at her face, seemingly familiar but vaguely so, and tried to decide whether I knew her or not, and if I did, what her name was, which class I took with her, or if she remembered me. While I pondered if I should greet her and look the fool or just pretend not to notice her, we would pass each other without a smile, without recognition, without hello. In reality we gave each other the same quick hugs, the same quick updates about how we’ve been. Only sometimes I wonder what experiences a hurried “I’m good!” encompassed, or how it would be if I was still her closest friend in UP.