*Larita Kutsarita - n. see THE AUTHOR
*Spoonfuls - n. articles/dispatches/scribbles by Larita Kutsarita
(Background photo by Aiess Alonso)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Field Trip (fiction)

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…."
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

The Field Trip

“U redi?”

Chris was in his dorm room and had been staring at the same text message for about three hours now. The same question—his life in a question. His life in dull pixel in a dusty Nokia screen. His life in two words that aren’t even words to begin with. “Am I ready?” It was hard to tell. But what the hell, he was going. Damn sure he was. Ready or not, loaded or not. He was going.

The instructions were clear: a text would be sent at half-past ten at night, right after a late dinner—“and make sure you get yourselves a heavy one, the heaviest you’ll have, in fact. Consider it your last supper.” Laughter rippled among the students as Tina, their “tour guide,” oriented them on the “field trip.” The nervous kind of laughter hidden under the guise of a young, restless sort of brave front or the young, restless sort of bravery hidden under the guise of nervous laughter—whichever anyone preferred to see it. By 11, everyone was to confirm thru text if he/she was ready so Tina would know just how many vehicles they’d need. Right after texting, they were to dispose of their sim cards—“Be sure to throw anything that can be associated with this trip! Or with this organization even. Remember your loved ones, but don’t bring them anywhere with you.” By 12 midnight, everyone would have to make his/her way to the university grounds (because the university was the safest take-off point). That was where all of them would meet, where they’d find out who was going or who backed out. Next destination? The mountains, or the forests, or the fields—wherever the roads would take them.

Chris’ Nanay knew a bit about the field trip. Aling Celia sent him only a hundred pesos for the outing in addition to his allowance that week since he told her that it didn’t cost much.

“Where are you going?” she asked, her voice’s excitement ringing on the phone. She was always thrilled to hear about her only son’s “adventures” in the city. After all, Chris was the only one among the family to have made it as far as college—the country’s premier university at that.
“Just up north, Nay, not too far,” answered Chris, stopping his voice from breaking for they were in fact going down south and it was anything but “not too far.” They talked casually and briefly, just like any other conversation they had on the cellphone. She mentioned the neighbor’s pig pen and how it stank up the whole barangay, how his 62-year old Tatay, Mang Mike, had gone home drunk at 3 am again—“he probably feels as if he’s 30! Por santo!” She even teased him about Joy’s dropping by their house the other day. “She asked when you’re coming home,” Aling Celia giggled like a teenage schoolgirl. Chris loved that giggle. He was already missing it even then.

“Hala sige, at ako’y mauubusan na ng load. ‘Nak, ingat na lang ha (Alright then, I might run out of load. Take care, Son),” Aling Celia said before she hung up. And Chris savored that “Ingat” for he never knew what it meant until this field trip, until he and his mother talked for the last time.

Right after that conversation, he did feel like crying. But he didn’t. Tears would not make things any easier. Not tears, not blood, nothing. He got out his navy blue Hawk knapsack and fixed the zipper that would not close when it had to close and would not open when you pulled it open. He prepared the usual necessities: three sets of clean underwear, three shirts (two were of white cotton and one was red), a pair of cropped denim pants, his Colgate toothbrush, a bar of Safeguard, a sachet of Rexona for men, a sachet of Clear for men, and another sachet of Kraft Cheez Whiz Pimiento Flavor (he’d have to make do without the bread). He looked down at his feet, his worn-out leather sandals, and decided that he wouldn't need any socks for those. He’d have to leave his tattered sneakers behind because they might be too heavy. He then secured all these things in the bag’s main compartment and opened another compartment—this time, smaller—where he put in his copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Kuya Rod, the reason he’d be part of this excursion, gave it to him a year ago. He was a like a brother to Chris. He would’ve joined him in this trip if he hadn’t gotten his girlfriend pregnant two months ago. “I know it’s wrong but there are things that just matter more than your country. Fight on my behalf, bro,” he said to Chris when they last spoke.

Chris noticed that there was still enough space for his stuff so he went to his study table and surveyed whatever else he could bring with him. He gave their family picture a quick gaze and turned it facedown on the table. The photo was taken by the front gate of their house in the province a good five years ago on his first day in high school. For a moment, he wanted to bring with him his Tatay’s toothless grin, his Nanay’s wrinkles around her deep-seated eyes, and his own bouncy, black hair that could’ve made it to a Vaseline shampoo commercial (he now has limp, long hair that he fixed with a tight rubber band), his innocence—or naivete, whatever it was—radiating through that crisp, white polo shirt. But he knew it’d be easier if he left the image of yesteryears behind. It’d have to haunt him later.

He continued packing: his red face towel, the handkerchief with the initials COM—short for Christopher Olivier Martinez—personally embroidered by Aling Celia (he was fine with souvenirs that did not have any of his loved ones’ images in them), the little postcard of Pablo Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe (Boy with a Pipe) on which Joy signed, “To my own Picasso, I’ll be waiting” and which had given him one of the greatest joys in his, so far, brief yet not so uneventful,18-year old life. He also put in his pirated copy of My Fair Lady which reminded him of his own mother, she being a flower vendor when she first met Mang Mike (it was also Aling Celia’s all-time favorite movie). He secured a Batman mug—which he’d owned since he was five—by wrapping it up in two pages ripped from the latest copy of the university’s campus publication. His packing was then cut short by a sudden crowing of roosters. It was his phone’s alarm tone and it was already 11 pm. He switched off the alarm clock and opened his inbox. There it was again in its misspelled, pixel mockery: “U redi?”

Chris pressed on the keys rather automatically. “You bet” was all that he could say. That was his answer. His life in two words. Then, he pressed “Send,” afterwhich he switched his phone off and took out his sim card (he’d have to throw it someplace else). He looked at his navy blue Hawk knapsack—it was either half-full or half-empty. It didn’t matter. He was going.

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