I’m back with a different kind of post this afternoon. I’ve never dabbled in the waters of writing fiction. However, I’ve been tinkering with a series over here, and I finally decided to share it with all of you! If you love it, please smash that like button. And for those uninterested, know that more Cg/l posts will still be coming daily ❤ I promise! Alright, now let’s dive in! 😉
I noticed the heat first. Like a wall of fire to my fair skin it hit my face as soon as the sliding doors opened. “Welcome to Ninoy Aquino International Airport” the automated voice said on the loud speakers. I sighed and looked around. For a moment I stood in a literal sea of bodies and luggage. <How the hell did I end up here?> I thought to myself. I pursed my lips, grabbed my rolling suitcase and stepped outside. The air was the second thing I noticed almost a moment later. Smells like nothing I had ever noticed before entered my lungs. A mixture of sweat, car fumes, food, and trash hung in the air. People scurried between cars like a sadistic game of “frogger” and all I could do was gawk and cringe as a large jeepney nearly hit a man.
Somehow in the flurry of movement, these people seemed to know where to go. They moved with ease, having adapted to a city with the world’s largest traffic problem. <I got myself into this> I thought <Now I need to adapt!>. Walking to the edge of the curb I was instantly bombarded with men wanting to take me in their taxi. Back home, I just hired an Uber but here I felt like royalty. I blinked in confusion. “Where do you need to go, Ma’am?” the cab driver asked. “Um—” I hesitated. It was a sea of dark eyes, black wavy hair, and skin kissed by the sun. I pulled out the piece of paper that I kept in my pocket, lest I forget the address of my university, and handed it to the man. Suddenly he grabbed my bag, ushered me in the car, and whisked me away.
I had never lived in a big city before. Atlanta, though urban as it was, was sprawling across the Southern rolling hills. The landscape resembled the people itself. It took up space, not bothering to be efficient in any form or matter. Manila was something entirely different. It was all I could do to not stare out the window like a child with wide eyes. Towering buildings loomed, traffic moved with no rhyme or reason, and buses and cars flowed in every shape and color. I had made it my mission to leave the South and go as far away as possible. I was done with that life. Done with the hurt. Now, I yearned to turn the page and dive into a new chapter. After a professor urged me to study abroad, I sent off my application, never seriously considering that I would be accepted. And yet, here I was… thousands of miles from the place I knew to be home, hearing and seeing a world completely different from my own, and living in a country where I knew no one.
The music was the third thing that I noticed. I’ve always been a musical soul. For as far back as I can remember, not a day went by that I wasn’t singing, humming, or learning to play the piano. Riding here in the taxi I listened to music that felt comforting, yet alien all at the same time. I had no idea what the lyrics meant, but the music itself felt like its own language. My fingertips drummed on the edge of my knee and I began to pick up the chorus: karaniwang tao, saan ka tatakbo. Kapag nawasak, iisang mundo. Karaniwang tao, anong magagawa, upang batayan ang kalikasan.
I hummed the tune and let the music soothe my nerves. Somehow, we inched along, ever in a crawl, until we reached the university. Hopping out to help me with my bag, I passed over a handful of pesos to the man, not knowing how much the fare should be. For a moment, the man glanced up at me knowing that he could have easily taken the entire large lump sum of money. But respectfully he counted out the correct amount, and passed the rest back to me. “Oh” I blushed and gave him a smile as I watched him zoom off. I was entirely alone. Slowly I turned and faced the old building with Spanish and modern architecture. Swallowing hard I began my walk up to the main building. A young girl stood behind the welcome desk wearing a UP shirt. Looking up at me she smiled. “Welcome! Are you new to the University?” she asked me in perfect English. Every cell in me could have cried with sheer joy in that very moment to hear my language spoken. I didn’t expect it, but it came like a warm blanket when you need it most.
“I am” I blurted out. The girl stood up and pulled out a welcome packet for freshman. Rounding the desk, I noticed that she was a student council member. “I’m Joanne” she chirped and held out her hand. I’ve never been good with handshakes. To be honest, they make me nervous. But I didn’t want this fresh-faced Filipina to think I’m strange, so reluctantly I placed my hand in hers. “Sara” I stammered, “Sara Elizabeth Lane”. <Only the whitest name ever> I thought as the girl smiled at me. “Welcome to UP Los banos” she said, “I’ll give you a tour of the campus”. The way she said the university name seemed to flow off her tongue like water. “UP Los banos” I mumbled to myself, testing out the new school name. Admittedly, in high school I had studied Spanish and excelled at it. But when I looked over the university brochure and began reading up on Tagalog, only a few of the words crossed both languages.
After following this girl for nearly an hour she led me over to the dormitories. “This is your room key” she said handing over a key, complete with a school key ring, “and this is your rape whistle”. I quirked an eyebrow at her. <Rape whistle?> I wondered. “Don’t blow it unless you’re really being attacked” she smiled. “Not that I would mind being raped” I muttered; a bit too loud. The girl blinked at me and I realized my faux pas instantly. <Oops. Okay, note to self… Filipinos aren’t into rape fantasies. Check!> I thought. “Jokes!” I said giving a half-assed giggle. The girl smiled awkwardly as I took my leave and went into the building. Glancing at my room assignment I headed towards the elevators. After traveling for hours, sleeping like shit on the airplane, winding through traffic, all I wanted was a cold shower and a long nap. <Room 203> I thought and stepped into the lift.
As the doors were about to close a voice called out loudly, “hold the lift!” and I jumped. My arm shot out into the sensors and they reopened as a young man stepped inside. “Thanks” he said giving me a smile before turning away. He was dressed casually, but put together. My eyes couldn’t help but trail over him as the doors began to close again. Polished shoes, ironed chinos, crisp white t-shirt, and a simple casual bomber jacket. <Obviously taken> I thought and the lift doors closed. The old chains began to tug on the elevator emitting a groan and I grasped my luggage so tight the whites of my knuckles shown. In the silence of the small space I inhaled sharply, causing the man to glance over at me. “Not a fan of elevators?” he asked with a smirk. “No…” I muttered nervously. In truth, I hated small spaces. They felt so claustrophobic! “Don’t worry” he said, “these things rarely break”. I looked up at him, only then taking in the smoothness of his skin, and his dark, mysterious eyes. “Rarely?!” I squeaked. He laughed as the elevator dinged and reopened. “After you” he gestured politely. Awkwardly I stepped out into the hallway. <This is a co-ed dorm?!> I thought wildly. In the South, that never would have happened. I opened my mouth to ask him if he was a student, but the man was already walking away. Too shy to call after him, I turned and walked opposite down the long corridor to the tiny room that would now become my new home.
Turning the key in the lock I prayed that my new roommate would be chill and kind. As the door opened, I saw not one… but three other girls unpacking in the tiny suite. Bunk beds had been stacked in the small space and somehow, we were supposed to manage in the tiny quarters. “You must be Sara” one of the girls smiled at me. I couldn’t help but be envious of her body. She looked 90 pounds soaking wet. Her hair was jet black and as smooth as silk. Her full lips gave a natural pout that rivaled Kylie Jenner’s, and she had a nearly flat chest. I, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. With genes that were both Sicilian and Irish, I came from a long line of stocky ancestors. We were built for survival and cooking. And damn, could my family eat. After growing up in such a household, my short frame was thick (i.e. fat), and my hourglass figure wasn’t even close to Marilyn Monroe. I looked at the girl’s flat chest and then at my voluptuous bust. I would be the largest bra in the room by far.
“I am Sara” I nodded and inched into the tight space. “Good” the girl said, “I’m Maria, and this is your bunk” she gestured. The last time I had been in a bunk, I had made out with a girl named Claire at sleep-away camp. I didn’t think this bunking experience would come anywhere close to that. “Er, thanks” I muttered and moved to sit down. I wanted to sleep but I couldn’t help but notice the conservative uniforms that the girls were pulling on. Long skirts flowed down their bodies, and button up shirts covered their form to make them resemble more like a sack of flour than a young, blossoming woman. “So…. that’s the uniform?” I asked timidly. “Oo” the girl said, handing over a parcel with my name on it. The school had been given my measurements ahead of time. <Oh what?> I wondered, <Oh? Oh?>. I didn’t want to question what the girl was talking about, so I moved automatically, picking up my dead limbs and yanking on my new, daily attire.
As I peeled off my t-shirt, I noticed the other girls glancing over at my body and instantly I blushed! I hate it that I blush so much. My mother calls it the “Curse of the Celts”. After we both suffered from a bout of rosacea, our faces now turn dark pink every time we get nervous. They were muttering words to each other that I couldn’t understand, before one of the girls smiled and poked my bare stomach. “Puti!” she teased giggling. I blinked in confusion and shook my head. “It means… white” the other girl smiled politely. <Yeah> I thought, secretly admiring their tan skin, <Isn’t it funny how we always long for what we don’t have?>. Like a snowflake against three chocolate cookies, I finished getting dressed and we headed out to eat.