Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Dorm Story*

DISCLAIMER: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Riiiight.

July 2001.

“I’m late,” the girl thought. “Why are jeepneys so rare when you need them?”

A few minutes later, a jeepney came. It seemed full but the driver said there’s room for one.

The vehicle had barely moved forward when the girl regretted getting on. As it turned out, there’s only room for half. She thought of recent misfortunes that have befallen her. Just the other day, she lost her wallet, with her registration form, library card, identification card, and ATM card. She felt that having half her butt on the seat of a jeep was a sure sign that the Fates were conspiring against her.

“Why the heck are you looking at me like that?” she muttered as she caught yet another glance from the guy beside the guy opposite her.

He was looking longer and more frequent than decorum normally allows. He lowered his eyes. The girl turned away. A few seconds later, she felt she was being looked at again.

She looked.

The guy smiled. The girl frowned. And almost felt guilty for doing so.

“He’s cute. But that rainbow-colored shirt he’s wearing is baduy.”

The Fates weren’t so bad after all. 




The dormitory is located at the heart of the university. It should be, for it houses some four hundred pubescent boys and girls thrust into a whole new world called college. The architects who planned the building knew this, and they took care to put the dorm near every establishment of importance. Thus, the church, the bank, the infirmary, the post office, and the shopping center form the dorm’s immediate environment.

The dorm is called Kalayaan (“Kalay” for short), a name rather inappropriate because it is known for its strict rules governing the residents’ conduct. But the dormers are free to a certain extent. They are free to have fun, as long as they don’t mess with the management’s idea of “fun”; they are free to be themselves, as long as the selves they show are that of responsible adults; and most of all, they are free to mingle with whoever they choose. Of course, the management has taken steps to curtail this by inventing this little guideline called “Rule No. 7.”**

In Kalayaan, popular notions about dormitories are affirmed: the authoritarian management, the rowdy residents, the indescribable food, and the not-so-discreet charm of co-ed living. 

**Rule No. 7. Conduct/Grooming
Conduct in the entertainment of guests in the reception hall and within the premises must not go beyond the normal standards of decent behavior.


Lucy is a girl who is very popular in Kalay. Her eyes are big and brown, her skin is white and clear, and her red lips reveal ivory-like teeth when she smiles. Within a week after checking in, she has captured the hearts of half the Kalayaan boys. She belonged to the same circle of friends as the girl’s and they delighted in teasing her whenever an admirer shows up.

One day, one of their guy friends reported that someone from his corridor would like to know the girl. This took everyone by surprise. For the very first time, someone in their group other than Lucy has got someone interested. Obviously delighted with the effect of his news, he added, “He says you’re prettier than Lucy,” and the group, including the girl, burst out laughing.

“He might as well compare Medusa to Venus,” the girl chuckled at the thought. “Maybe he has poor eyesight,” she said in jest.

Mealtimes at Kalay are always a mess. These are critical moments when groups of friends meet other groups not only of their sex but of the opposite as well. The opposite-sex-socialization is more common, and why not? Being stuck with one’s kind day and night makes one long for some sort of diversion, and mealtimes at Kalay provide it.

The girl and her friends hated the dining hall. They would wait until the crowd thinned before having their meal. They are not introverts but somehow, the clatter of utensils and metal trays and the outbursts of pent-up hormones made them so. They also hated the stares and glances thrown at their group when they are in the area. Having a popular friend sure has its price.


The rest of the gang being absent, the girl dined earlier than usual. She was half-finished when her guy friend came.

“Ilsa, meet Rick. He’s the one I was telling you about,” he said with a mischievous grin.


The guy called Rick offered his hand. The girl looked up and almost choked. “He’s the guy in the jeepney!” she thought. She shook his hand, forced a smile, and spent the next couple of seconds trying to conceal the flush in her cheeks. 


The dining area is not the only venue for socialization. Kalay also has some programs to make it a “model place for group living.”

One such program is the inter-corridor sports festival. Corridors from each wing (Boys and Girls) are teamed up and residents from partner corridors are paired. As the girls outnumber the boys, the pairs rarely become pairs. Oftentimes, it is two-to-ones or three-to-ones and even four-to-nones. This is the buddy system.

The barkada to which the girl belonged was a bunch of pseudo anti-socials who hated noise only if they weren’t the ones making it. They were indifferent to dorm activities and would only take part when threatened with pink slip. Most of them came from the same high school, making them somewhat reluctant to admit outsiders. So the girl considered herself lucky to be assigned to buddies as dormant as her friends and therefore would not be forcing their company to her.

Until one night, their resident checker asked, “Do you know someone named Rick?” She had a look that said I-know-something-you-don’t-and-I-won’t-say-it.

The girl nodded. “Why do you ask?”

“He’s your buddy,” she seemed to delight in her knowledge and did not have scruples in showing it.

“But I don’t have a male buddy,” the girl retorted.

“We had a reshuffle,” the checker said as she walked away smiling. 



There are no rules on how buddies should behave toward each other (just Rule No. 7, perhaps). Some pairs become thick as thieves, while some are just indifferent to each other’s existence. The girl and the boy were somewhere in the middle – they weren’t cold but they weren’t warm either. Their conversations generally fall under two topics – Weather and Acads. They probably enjoyed talking about these as they found themselves dining together from time to time. 

When the school year ended, the girl thought the buddy system would end too. They went to stay in different dorms and it wouldn’t be practical for them to meet just to talk about the weather. The guy, however, seemed determined to play the role of buddy. He called and visited the girl quite often, and the range of their topics broadened in time.

The buddy system went on but the girl knew it was bound to change. She knew what his feelings were, he told her in writing. But they didn’t talk about it. She didn’t understand why but she understood him. If she has anything to be thankful for in being a girl, it is the privilege of not having to initiate the talk about love and the whole damn thing. She wasn’t surprised when he popped the question – through electronic mail.

The girl felt that the answer should be sent in the form in which the question came. But the truth was she was too shy to answer him in person.

Nevertheless, she answered his question in the affirmative.

It’s the 21st century style; downright silly considering the distance between them (or the lack of it). They seemed to think so too, for they did something afterwards to redeem themselves.

They took a walk and watched the sun set. 


First they ask, “Bakit mo siya sinagot?” This is a tough question. It’s hard to give reasons when you have so many.

And then they go, “Bakit mo siya binreak?” This is tougher than the first. It’s hard to look for reasons when there aren’t any.

For the girl, the interval between these two was three months. That made the situation even more puzzling. 


When breaking up with someone, don’t do it on his/her birthday.

The girl wasn’t that cruel. She did it a week earlier.

“It’s better to tell him now. Don’t wait ‘til his birthday is over. It will be harder for you then.” Taking Lucy’s wise counsel, the girl did it five days before the guy’s birthday.

It didn’t make a difference.

The guy spent months wracking his brains, trying to figure out what went wrong. It would have been easier if he did figure something out. He sought Lucy’s help but she, too didn’t have any idea. She couldn’t even understand why her friend made that decision.

The girl didn’t understand it either.

“We can still be friends,” the girl said.

For the first month after the break-up, they were. But who needs another friend? The guy was reeling from the blow of the worst birthday present he has ever received and he thought the best way to recover was to forget.

Four months passed. Four months with no texts, no calls, no meetings.

At the end of those four months, the girl found herself in the hospital.

The Buddhists have a name for it – karma. It wasn’t a direct consequence of her “wrongdoing” but she thought it was. As Shakespeare puts it, the worm of conscience was burrowing in her mind.

Karma came flying and it pricked her skin. It came in the form of an aedis aegypti mosquito.

So there she was, lying pale, thin, and yellow on the hospital bed. The ever-dependable Lucy did what the girl didn’t the past four months. She texted the guy and reported the incident.

“Hindi ko naman siya pinapunta dito e.”

Right. But she gave the name of the hospital and the girl’s room number.

The girl lay there with the double agony of seeing her ex and being seen in her most unattractive state. 


One year passed. Still no communication between the two, except for the occasional hi’s and hello’s when they run into each other’s way. After all, the world is not that big and both happened to be campus dormers.

The guy avoided the girl as if she were a plague. The girl knew it and she understood. She understood everything, except herself. She couldn’t understand why she feel the way she feels every time they meet, or every time she sees other guys that walked/looked/dressed like him. She decided to do something. It took all her courage to swallow her pride. Thank goodness for that thing called Friendster, everything appeared so casual.

The girl didn’t get in touch with the guy to try to get him back. She did because there had been loose ends hanging between them, and she didn’t want to leave college with those still in place.

They agreed to meet at last. 


What do ex-lovers say to each other after two years of separation?

Certainly not “May nabibili ka ba sa mga ganitong book sale?”/“Siyempre naman.” But the guy and the girl did say these words – the very first since they last saw each other. The tension was so palpable they didn’t notice the absurdity of it.

Papers, exams, theses, and STS reports were such wonderful topics of conversation over dinner that the two became buddies once more. 


You don’t build a new relationship from the remnants of the old just like that. It would take time. You could just go and meet him and tie the “loose ends’ as you earlier said you would. Then you could stay as you were during your Kalay days.

The girl recited this in her mind over and over as she put some powder on her face. She stared at the mirror, looking for something she couldn’t understand.

A text message startled her. “Nandito na ako sa steps.”

She tried to walk calmly and she succeeded. She even managed to smile coolly at him.

They talked about mundane matters that gradually became deeper with the night. The girl prattled on. She had this silly idea that keeping her mouth occupied would keep her relaxed. But her blabber did not prevent the guy from asking the question she dreaded – “Bakit tayo nag-break?”

This shattered the self-possessed image the girl has been building since they met.

She found herself unable to talk and she cursed her mouth for being so uncooperative. The guy dominated the conversation from there on. “Alam mo ba, you are so hard to get over with.”

Don’t get flattered. Take your time. You don’t want to rush into anything.

The girl smiled but she didn’t say anything.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

“Mahal pa rin kita.”

She wasn’t an angel. His statement was enough to silence the nagging voice inside her head.

*If you got to this part, errrm, thank you? Congratulations? This is basically a long and boring story about nothing, written some time in 2005 and unearthed while cleaning my Yahoo inbox the other day.


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