‘Neither Here Nor There’

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Sunday, June 15, 2014


MY SUMMER began with a man who wanted to see the Northern Lights.

It was a hot Friday morning. I only had one hundred ten pesos in my pocket. On a whim, I decided to pay a visit to where you could literally bury yourself under piles and piles of books and be found dead a few days later with a smile on your face, Gaisano Booksale, my favorite place in the city. After an hour of ransacking the haphazard arrangement of secondhand books, I heard the cashier breathe a sigh of relief when I paid fifty pesos for Bill Bryson’s “Neither Here Nor There.”

Unfortunately for me, one cannot eat a book for lunch. I spent my last fifty pesos on Jollibee spaghetti, and realizing two things: 1) red sauce had stained the spot on my chest which I was sure constituted a nipple, and more importantly 2) I lost my ten pesos. I could say that I ended up calling my parents to pick me up, but where would the YOLO be in that? (My apologies to Manong Driver; my inability to budget was entirely my fault.)

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This is how Bill Bryson experiences the world—one blooper after another, while seeing the joy in wanderlust and appreciating the culture around him.

When he went all the way to the northernmost town in Europe, the edge of the world, Hammerfest, in late December it was not a smooth translation from British English to northernmost-town-of-Europe English. He waited for sixteen days until, finally, “curtains of shimmering gossamer” exploded in the great dome of the sky—aurora borealis, the Northern Lights.

Almost as quickly it started, I was done with Bill Bryson and Bill Bryson was done with me.

My summer ended with a college sophomore who wanted to spit on Fashion week.

The all-consuming power of Monday bore down on the city like a dog in heat. With only one hundred pesos in my pocket, I was in no financial position to hail a taxi and kiss the sweet air-conditioning hello. When I stepped inside the jeep that would take me to school, my shirt was clinging to my armpits and the jeans I was wearing seemed to press against my skin like mid-morning “sinugba.”

The PUJ virgin would find this scenario disconcerting—sweaty passengers too close for comfort, red-eyed, irritable drivers, and touchy-feely “konduktors”—but discomfort for the sake of convenience is part of the stimulating public transportation experience.

Upon entering the campus, however, I found myself transported into a Pantene ad. Fresh and sun-kissed faces stared at my run-of-the-mill shirt and jeans ensemble with dismay—“Sayang daw ako…”—and it took tremendous self-restraint not to spit on several skater skirts, floral dresses, suede boots, maxi skirts, and Chanel handbags. Yung totoo? Had I really woken up to a Monday morning? Why was everyone dressed in their Sunday’s best?

This is how the average person experiences the world—one beginning after an ending, and vice versa, while being caught in the moments in between.

Lazy days have ended. Another school year has begun. Bedtime is shortened in exchange for long, humid days in classrooms with chipped jalousies and rickety doors. Critique papers will replace Facebook statuses and tweets. Sociology and Philosophy handouts will bury those John Green and Cassandra Clare books. Summer flings will be forgotten in the face of terror professors and “dawat-limpyo” classmates.

You will not notice the moments in between. You will not savor the taste of hot, heaven-smelling coffee as you fight to stay awake late at night. You will not remember the name of the boy who opened the library door for you as you rushed to make the deadline. You will not notice the sweet, schoolgirl ballads of Taylor Swift playing in the background as, drunk and late for curfew, you will the jeep to go a little faster.

These moments are our aurora borealis. Some people go all the way to the northernmost town of Europe and wait for sixteen days to experience the magic. Unbeknownst to us, magic happens in the life around us.

“In this moment, we are infinite.”

***

(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 15, 2014.

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