Tabada: Digressions

I OWN four pairs of eyeglasses. Two for reading, two for viewing. Two pairs are quite old, bought in and brought from Cebu.

The two recent pairs of glasses, as well as the newer lenses of the older pairs, were bought from Dr. Nella Sarabia when I started my studies last year.

During my visits to Sarabia Opticals, I got more than an eye check-up. Dr. Sarabia told the stories behind her family’s collection of antique optometrist equipment and vintage cameras, the storytelling imbuing the artifacts with myth-making powers.

The storyteller herself seemed to have stepped out of myth, silver-maned yet ageless, silver-tongued yet gifted in listening.

On the optometry shop’s walls were enlarged prints of sepia photographs of Zapatista rebels and women revolutionaries she brought from living in Mexico as a student and then as wife and mother. These launched our digressions about parenting and rebellion, art and meaning, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

While I was choosing the frames, Dr. Sarabia flexed the temples to show how the horizontal arms holding the glasses to the face were pliable as bamboo. In geometry, curvature refers to the degree a line deviates from a plane.

Deviations upset plans and structures. For someone like me, prone to falling asleep while reading library tomes, flexible eyeglasses are, pardon the pun, eye-popping.

These past semesters, the new frames bear up despite falling off, being dropped, slipping under bodies and backpacks, and being slept on.

Last Thursday morning, the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Shopping Center (SC) went up in flames. Destroyed in the two-hour fire were 48 shops, including Stall 39, Sarabia Opticals.

As reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the SC was the fifth UP Diliman campus structure to go up in flames within a span of eight years. Three of these were academic buildings—the Alumni Center, the UP Faculty Center, and the Institute of Chemistry Building. The fourth structure was the Casaa canteen.

The losses to the community cannot be measured in terms of the material. As with the other landmarks, the SC fire disrupted a web of relationships involving those who, in salient and unheralded ways, make academic life possible, endurable: the photocopier and binding operators who asked at times about one’s studies; the food, school supplies, and souvenir sellers we turned to for treats after surviving one trial after another; and the ladies who made “free” and “clean” compatible realities in the SC toilets.

Taking shortcuts with the natural rhythm, farmers sometimes start fires to clear the land and return the soil’s fecundity. Will this digression hold true now? The smell of smoke overwhelms.
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