Some places mentioned are real; mostly set in Camarines Norte, a small province in the Philippines but the story is all fiction.
I heard a bustling sound behind me. But distant.
Music. Party music.
People laughing and talking. But I couldn't make sense of their words.
And then lights. Bright lights everywhere.
Suddenly I realized I was outside. A strong wind echoed on my ears and the trees rustled. The air smells as if it's dawn and like the melted ice from the arctic finds its way to this place. This atmosphere only happens at that time of the year.
It's cold and I'm wearing... a dress. Why am I wearing a dress on a cold December night?
I looked backed fast, startled at hearing a human voice. His eyes widened upon seeing my face. His lips were ajar, so I've waited, but no words nor a sound came out. It took him a minute to recover himself from looking bewildered.
I heard him exhaled. The one you let out when someone is stubborn and not listening to your advice. He walked towards me and started removing his jacket from his shoulders. I shifted uncomfortably, not sure if I should go and walk away or remain standing there while he undress.
I keep looking down in case he's planning to take his shirt off too. But that's insane. It's freezing out here!
He smiled as he put the jacket around me. And on a closer look, his face is actually familiar. I know him from somewhere. Like really know him. But I couldn't remember his name. But his freshly shaved squared jaw, well pointed nose and smiling eyes, and even his slightly messy black hair... I recognized this face. Where did I saw this guy?
"Thanks. It's fine. Really. You don't have to." I mumbled and was about to give it back to him but instead of saying, "yeah, fine, whatever you say," he cupped my face using both of his hands. He leveled his face to mine and stared. I feel flushed. Nobody has ever stared at me like this before. Then I suddenly realized he was just trying to keep me warm by covering my cold ears.
"Better?" he asked grinning, still covering my ears. He pulled down when I nodded.
"You came." He said as he put his hands to his jeans' front pockets. I also recognized this familiar tic.
He pulls his shoulders up, crouching slightly. He's obviously cold. Yet clearly, he's also somehow intimidated by his tall height instead of flaunting it proudly.
I guess he felt anxious being stared at. Or maybe I am the one staring weirdly at him?
"Yeah," I managed to say, "Yeah, I guess I did." But I have no idea what I came here for exactly. I picked at my left earlobe out of habit.
"You're not wearing the earrings I gave you."
"I'm sorry." I replied. It almost came out with a question mark. He nodded repetitively, while his eyes were looking down, his mouth tight-lipped.
"No, don't be sorry. You shouldn't be. It's not your fault," He smiled all the way now to his ears.
"I told you, I understand."
He beamed at me and slowly he reached for my hand and held me close to him. For the next few minutes, he was just hugging me. Tight. And I wondered why a stranger, a guy nevertheless, would hug a girl like me. And he sort of smells my head. As far as I could remember, I haven't showered my hair today. But he's not pulling away, though weird enough, I don't want him to. Something's really off, I can feel it--not just him or this place, but also me--yet my insides feel cool about it. I clenched my fists to stop myself from hugging him back.
Why am I not freaking out yet?
"I wish I could be there with you." He whispered on my ear. Believe it or not he didn't sound like a pervert or a serial killer, just like how those other guys sounded like in suspense movies. It's a mixture of sincerity and helplessness. I walked a few steps back and gazed at him. I got tears on my eyes for some reason. I know he is pained. Because of something about me. And I feel guilty about it.
He read through me and shook his head. He smiled some more.
"I understand," he said upbeat.
"And I really do. Because I like you." he pulled me gently and kissed my temple.
"Haven't I told you that yet, Andy?"
I blinked and found my Life and Works of Rizal professor walking inside the classroom, along with other students who hurdled for their desks like a landslide. Because as soon as he reached the door, he starts calling names for attendance.
"Andrea Golla," I raised my hand lightly as I heard him say my name.
Then everything widens. Reality snaps me back. I nearly jumped.
I'm in class!
I hugged myself and looked around quick. Processing what just happened. Which is real and which is not. Or if I missed something, anything, at all. Someone was hugging me. Okay. That sounds alarming. A stranger hugging me.
Still, I felt relieved. I didn't shut down entirely. It was just less than a minute. Is it? I'm not sure anymore.
Some mixed letters of the alphabet was coming out of my professor's mouth until he finally made sense. At least for the next five minutes. I excused myself from the class and went to the comfort room. I hurriedly look for my meds and took one. I forgot to take it this morning. I cursed at myself. Now I know why I almost lost my sense of reality.
I looked at my wristwatch and decided to go back to class. My prof was just in the middle of discussing the love interests of our National Hero as I walk in and the whole class is ecstatic. Huh. Yup, you're right. Couldn't relate much. I wish I could ask someone what they're laughing about. Then he started talking about midterms and the course requirements. All sorts of groaned erupted. I smiled.
I look for my pen and notebook to take note of his reminders. When it's this loud I feel that I am real. That everything is okay. That I am still awake. Everything is normal. Or so I thought.
I turned to my classmates hoping to see some exasperated faces but as soon as I did, nobody was there. When I looked back to where my professor was standing, he was gone.
For a second, I was convincing myself it's not happening. My heart started beating fast.
Why are you beating fast? This is not happening. No! Not again!
I breathed heavily. Through my mouth. And waited for a moment. For a movement.
Nothing happened. Nada.
Great. Now I'm all alone in a... classroom.
I groaned and rubbed my palms to my face out of frustration.
It came again.
I panicked when I heard footsteps coming from the hallway. I held my breath.
But they're just students chatting their way to the next class. I let myself breathe and tried not to do stupid things like kicking the air while yelling. It seems like a pretty good idea considering the situation, but I changed my mind.
I'm exhausted. I shouldn't be here. Midterm is nearly there and my research paper is my utmost priority right now. And not just research. It's a known fact we also have other subjects. Which means, other projects. And I'm supposed to be listening to my Rizal professor today. Not idling time in some fragmented realm.
I looked out the window and tilted my head at my reflection. She's wearing a uniform. A fancy one. A well-fitted white blouse with a blue vest and a clean cut blue skirt, with shiny black shoes. And she's sitting on a well-lighted and well ventilated spacious classroom. I shifted my gaze to my desk. My elbows are leaning on a red backpack, which probably is mine.
As of this moment, I'm in a fancy high school uniform. In a fancy high school. With (I guess) fancy school mates. We're going to the ball and spend vacation in a cruise.
I shook my head. This sounds ridiculous. This is not Meteor Garden!
The door from the upper left corner of the room slides open and a guy walks over the table in front and plug in his laptop.
"You done sleeping?" he asked nonchalantly. He was noisily encoding something then stopped abruptly. He looked at me without lifting his head. His eyes fixed on me.
"You mean me?" I asked
"Nah, I was talking to the laptop."
"That's what I thought." I said smiling, while I move my eyes around the room.
He leaned out of the table, closing the laptop. He frowned. Okay. Bad move. My fault.
"Someone sounds ironic," he said. He stepped down from the aisle and faced me. Then he flicked my forehead.
"Ow! Why'd you do that?!" I yelled gaping at him. And regretted doing so. Because I just sounded like a brat. He snorted.
"Kids today," he murmured. I glared. He's in high school! So I'm way older than him.
"You're half-awake." He said as if reading my mind.
"So that was the solution? That's how you wake up people?" I asked. He nodded smiling.
"Now, hand it over." He said, dropping the smile. I picked at my earlobe and bit my lip. I was standing still but my brain cells are actually killing each other, my eyes searching a way out and that's when I saw the backpack in a new light.
But I'm not supposed to react to a stimulus that triggers the shutting down to prolong. My doctor said I have to fight back and shake these thoughts away thinking about the things that are real to me and with everybody else. I closed my eyes and thought about the amount of works I have to work on this week.
My cat. My mother. The patients in the hospital where my ma works. What else?
"Hand it over, unless you don't want to graduate this year. Last chance."
I open my eyes.
He's still there.
And I'm still here.
Oh no. It's not working. Why is it not working? I can't get stuck in here--my cat who takes a dump in the floor when nobody is home. My printer was a wreck because my cat jumped on it. My friends in high school who totally ignored me after knowing I'm psychologically unstable--
"Celestine, are you listening?" I heard him say. I snapped.
"Ugh. Why don't you get it yourself? Why are you ordering me around anyway? We're in a democratic country. Right. I don't even know if I'm still in the same country. Do you have the same law here? Oh, should I think in my head that you're going to get it yourself, whatever it is?" So much for not reacting to a stimulus. I got to get back to my medication.
He was silent for a minute. He crossed his arms. Then he chuckled.
"It's not real. It's not real. It's not real," I whispered and folded my hands together.
"Illusions. Hallucinations." I keep mumbling while eyes are closed. I open my right eye, slightly. The guy squinted on me.
What am I thinking? It's just the backpack. How hard can it be?
I grabbed the bag and pushed it lightly to his arms.
He blinked at me multiple times.
He looked down at his arms and dropped the bag. My eyes fell quickly to where it landed. Then I stared back at him.
Okay. So that's not what he wanted to get from this girl.
I suddenly want to drop to the floor and rummage inside the bag for whatever this guy is looking for. But his eyes are fixed on me again. I decided not to move then.
"I'm sorry." I'm startled by my own words. It just came out of my mouth automatically. Looks like it's been my favorite word ever since I was considered crazy as a teenager. Been sorry my whole life, I guess. Especially for my ma.
"You should be," he said annoyed.
"On second thought, I should be the one who's sorry. I don't think I could give you a grade higher than 60."
"What do you mean?" I asked
"What do you mean?" he repeated and let out a frustrated sigh. He bit his lower lip. He looked really pissed off.
"You sleep all throughout my class. You don't take the quizzes. And you always managed to fail your major exams. Which I would really be so amazed of, if only I wasn't your teacher in this subject. But then again how are you going to answer the test? You sleep during class. Oh, did I say that already?"
"Wait, what? You're a teacher?" I asked and was convinced I have to apologize for being a jerk. Then I remember, he's not real.
"Yeah. I guess you forget from time to time. From all those sleeping you're losing track of things. I'm your professor in Physics. And we had an agreement."
"You have probably mistaken me for someone else," I said within a broken sour laugh while eyeing for the back door, and plan to run for it, in case he decided to become a vampire and convince me to let him feed on me. He went back to his table and sat on its right corner. He rubbed his temples and crossed his arms at me.
"I mean, what kind of agreement... sir?"
"Short term memory lost. Very... clever. Nobody has ever played this joke on me before. Must be an honor," he said wearing his serious face.
It makes him look older. And this time he did sound like a real professor. Like my real professor. He's starting to make me feel embarrassed. My silence though just makes him more edgy.
What am I supposed to say?! I don't even know what's happening right now in my own creation. So how am I going to make excuses for this girl Celestine who freaking sleeps in a major subject?!
I, myself, would be mad at her if I were her teacher as well!
"I gave you a project last week. Does it ring a bell?" He asked with a much calmer voice this time. His patience finally growing back. Probably.
I tapped my fingers on the desk too quickly. The guy-professor-I should call him the professor now-stared at my hands. I dropped my hands to my side and shook my head. He gave me a look only parents give to a child, who totally messed up but still is forgiven because no matter how many times you flip the world, it's their child.
I heard him sighed and lowered his head. I've seen that before. Yeah... the disappointed look.
It seems to me that this was Celestine's last chance but I kind of blew it.
Shoot! No! It's not! They're not even real! What is happening to me, pitying an imaginary teacher?!
"Unless you want to spend the holidays making up for everything, you have to give it to me today. You have until five." He uncrossed his arms and went back to his laptop and continued typing.
"Now. Scoot. My advisory class will be here."
"I can't. I mean spend weekends here. I mean I don't think I can make it to your dead--"
"Celestine, I have an eight o'clock class." He cut me off firmly and gave me a look.
"But it's already past ten." I answered absently. He stared at the top of my head and pointed a finger behind me. I turned around. He was right. It's eight o'clock. At least in this realm. In my reality, I should be in the library right now before taking a break for lunch.
I was about to leave but halted.
This isn't right. I've created them. I need to make them stop causing traffic inside my head. If I won't say anything and acted as if this is the norm, it's also unfair for them. I mean, they have to know they aren't real. No. What the heck am I saying?What I really meant is that this is insanity and I should be the one in charge of my own brain. Not them.
I turned back to the professor.
"Sir," I started as I gain some bearing. I guess I also need a table to lean on.
"I know it sounds crazy-and yes, it is crazy but you got to believe me-I'm not... who you think I am." He looked up again from his laptop but didn't bother to lean out from the table.
"Great. That's awesome," he said smiling. And you can tell he really meant it.
"Are you now the girl who's going to submit her project?"
I covered my face with my hands and shook my head when I heard him say this. Okay, spell aggravating.
Breathe in. Out.
"No. I mean. I'm not her... Celestine. My real name is Andrea. I'm not your student. I never flunked physics in high school. I'm already in college. And currently, I'm in my senior year as Civil Engineering student."
Each word felt like broken chunks of glass coming out of my mouth, especially when the one receiving them doesn't look like he believes each of my carefully chosen words. For as long as I can remember, I have been telling that I am not Celestine.
It stopped when I reached third year high school. When the whole campus decided to call me crazy and when I started taking my meds. It stopped when I met Dr. Giselle Melendrez.
It stopped when she told me that this world doesn't really exist.
He blinked at me. For a moment he looked taken aback. He didn't say anything. Probably contemplating whether to send me to guidance or to the nearest clinic. And just when he was about to say something I continued,
"And I made you up. In my mind. I know that now. So I want you stop. All of this. I have to get back to class. To my real class."
He let out a frustrated sigh, once again and walked towards me. I thought he was going to drag me out of the room so I covered my body with my arms, out of instinct. Who knows if he can also change into something else, since all this things are just imaginary. But instead, he reached for my hand and put it at the left side of his neck. Just below his jaw line.
Then I felt a pulse.
I grabbed my hand back.
"Did you also made that up?" he asked.
W-what was that? Was that... was that real?
Or was I expecting that to happen just like how I do in dreams during sleep?!
Probably. Yes. Of course.
Besides this guy looks so real that he can get even a hundred pulse for all I care!
"Look. If you're not feeling well, you can go home. I'll talk to your homeroom adviser-"
"I can prove it," I said walking to the white board. Pulse doesn't prove anything. But I can prove to him I am not Her.
"She's not awake yet." He mumbled under his breath.
"Give me your most favorite problem in math or physics. Anything. Momentum? Velocity? Algorithm? Whatever. I'll try to solve it. No, I will solve it."
"Are you kidding me right now?" he asked wide-eyed. I shrugged. Then finally, he saw that I was serious.
"Okay. If this will keep you peace of mind. So be it." He turned to the board and started writing fast. He turned towards me when he's finally done scribbling.
I didn't move a sec and stared back. He was trying to see a weakness thru my eyes. But I wouldn't budge.
"The floor is yours," he gave me the pen and walked to the side of the board. I picked at my left earlobe as I read the problem.
I bit my lip when I'm done reading. He was giving me the give-up-yet?-look.
I smirked. This kid in the board doesn't even need a calculator. This needs milk to grow. My so called professor needs to upgrade his fave word problem. I started playing with numbers inside my head like a pianist does with his instrument and within a minute or so, gave the problem a smooth solution.
I throw the pen to the table and turned to him. He stared at the white board, crossing his arms. He sauntered back and forth just looking at my answer. He caressed his chin. He's acting a little bit weird.
Then for a moment, he stared at me. But I don't know what this look means. He shook his head. Is he amazed or what?
"This doesn't prove anything." He said indignantly.
"Why not?" I blurted aloud.
"Celestine could have never solved this. If she could, why did she fail this subject?" I argued.
"Yeah, that's true. Fair point." He shoved his laptop to the side and sat at the table. He must feel comfortable talking with some furniture supporting him.
"But technically, you didn't fail because you can't solve. You just don't read. And write. Anything. You sleep during class. In all classes. And when I mean sleep. I mean, really long sleep. Nobody can wake you up. You just... go to class and sleep," he said as he looked up to the ceiling then turned to me frowning.
I get it. He's now getting tired of this conversation.
Well then... vanish. Disappear now! Bring me back to reality!
"I can't believe I just said the word sleep more than four times now. In just a day because of you. My mind will associate you with the word sleep from now own without really meaning to, because of this nonsense. And I am really disappointed right now that you're trying to boast to your own teacher, that you're good in problem solving. When you can't even solve the real problem we have here. And to tell you the truth, you being brainy doesn't make you a great student. That's not how it works. Not by being a show off and a know-it-all."
"Michael," the professor and I turned to the woman in the door, holding out an elongated small stick.
"Can I copy the excel format? I accidentally deleted mine." She said and swayed towards the professor. I'm guessing she's a teacher here as well. He took the stick.
"What are you doing here, Celestine? Shouldn't you be in class?" the woman asked. And as if on cue, students started strolling inside the classroom. I heard one of them talking about the soccer game this afternoon at three. Some of them bring out their textbooks. Everybody acted pretty normal. And real. While I'm acting weird and awkward. In this world, I'm still the odd one.
Way to go, Andy!
Okay. This is starting to get complicated. Part of me says that what I believe is possibly unreliable right now. My heart as well as my arrogance sank. I found Professor Michael staring at me. And for the second time around. I couldn't read what's on his mind.
I picked up the back pack on the floor and bid goodbye. I heard Sir Michael saying something urgently to the other teacher as I step out of the room.
"Wait," Professor Michael called out, his foot steps following me to the door. So I turned around.
I kept a poker face like turning into defensive mode, ready to face another wave of nugging. But instead he just stared. I scratched my neck. He's not undressing me in his mind, is he?
I frowned at him. And let out a sigh.
I'm his creator, but I don't know how to read minds!
He realized he was staring at me for a long time without saying anything and blinked. I guess his mind went somewhere.
"Do you know where your next class is, Celestine?" I was seeking a hint of mock in his eyes but found none.
"It's fine. I can manage. I mean, I know teachers are worried sick about their students. But I can manage. No need to worry about a show off like me. And being a know-it-all, this girl will probably also tell you that she is old enough to get to her own class."
"Glad you're back to your old self, Celestine." He retorted.
Shoot. Is Celestine rude to people? Great. Now people will think I'm really her!
"I didn't mean to be rude sir I just--"
"It's fine, Celestine. I know college entrance exam is such a pain in the ass this time. I know how it feels. As you know, it's not that long since I graduated. It's still fresh how college sucked and drained all my blood. Though for you kids that's like a hundred years already. But for me, it felt like it's just yesterday." He said with a laugh. I relaxed for a moment. I find his friendly-self familiar.
"Thanks, Michael. But I'm not dreaming about being already in college--"
I got cut off by the sight of some students who seem to recognize me because they kept giving me the looks like they do.
"Good. Your classmates are here." Michael said and grabbed my shoulders and positioned me towards the students.
"Jane, Rebecca," he nodded at the two to come over while the rest of the students keep their pace.
"Celestine's not feeling well. Please help her get to the class since you're off the same room." he said
"Bet it's too much sleeping. I even wonder how she'd never choked up by her own saliva." Snickered Rebecca. Jane looked like she's going to cry from forcing herself not to laugh.
"I remember that. She was drooling all over the place. I thought we're having a flood." Said Jane with gestures, who acted-I mean both of them did-as if we didn't exist.
I glared at Professor Michael because obviously, he chose the wrong babysitters. Not that I needed help though. He gave me a slight shrug and shook his head, like saying he's not part of it.
I can't believe even here they have bullies. But I know better. The fact that I don't have to start a war with girls who aren't even real. Yes, I'm aware of that fact.
"Thanks Sir for trying to help. But I'm way better than fine," I acknowledged the professor and turned to the girls.
"And you two, your skirts are two inches from your knees," I pointed at their knees, disturbed at how they appear. They gaped at me and were too shocked to say anything back.
"You're a senior. Those freshmen wannabe's will thought that's fine, without even knowing it's against the school policy. Heaven knows you should know that more than ever. And it's freaking cold if you haven't notice. And stop mocking people," I said sounding threateningly more than I expected.
"You're not perfect yourselves. Anyway, enjoy it while you can. It'll be over soon girls." I started walking and shoving them out of the way.
Wait till you're in college. Let's see if looking like a slut will let you pass a course subject.
I laughed even in the midst of shutting down. Which is great. It means my mind's coping up with the crisis.
"Do you think she noticed my nose job?" I heard Rebecca saying.
Ugh, great. They got my point! Not.
Merci pour la lecture!