We all mature: one way or another. It is one of those simple facts of life we can never escape from. There will come a day when we realize that we have changed the way we view things — for the better, we hope. Just recently, that day made itself known to me.
Like Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton, I used to value physical beauty above others. This was to me a tendency unconsciously observed. Do we not, as children, often choose playmates that look as pleasant as their genes or their parents’ money can make them? I was guilty of this. Aren’t we all?
When I was in grade school, there was this girl whom no one liked too well. I was not exactly the popular kid, either, but I thought I was better off than she was. At least I had some friends. She, on the other hand, was the sort others would run away from, as if she had a deadly and contagious disease. She was the perpetual ”it” of the oh-so-many playground games we played when we were kids.
Now that I think of her, I cannot come up with a single fault she had that I once found so major. She was neither ugly nor shabby, although she was rather plain-looking. She was not testy, like I had been and sometimes still am. I knew very little of her then. I still know little of her now.
Her father was also the subject of scrutiny for my young but critical eyes. She looked so much like her father, and so everything I came to associate with her — now all forgotten — were things I associated with her father, too. Her father and mine had the same job. Both our dads had this stern look about them, but that which I did not mind seeing in my father I found so annoying in others. Her father had dark lips which I once associated with mean people. I disliked them both, apparently for reasons I thought were good enough back then. I was determined to never have anything to do with their family. Period.
Or so I thought. I did not encounter the girl again until university. I always saw her around the campus with this big smile on her face. She looked so different from when we were kids! Even then, I hesitated to greet her. Prejudice built from youth is difficult to remove.
I went about the hallways without acknowledging her whenever I passed her by. I knew she knew I could see her, and she, me. People can act stupid when they don’t know how to act.
I don’t exactly remember when. Out of the blue, she sent me a Friendster request which I did not have the temerity to reject. From then on, she would greet me first whenever our paths crossed. She always greeted first.
I met her again recently. I was on my way home and she was on her way to a class. I was preoccupied with my heavy backpack and thoughts of the thousand other things I had to do. As I was walking up the steps near Roxas Gate, there she was, saying “Hi!” with this big smile on her face. I gave a startled yet equally cheerful reply. I went on my way with a much lighter heart.
Cheerfulness, apparently, was the contagious disease that she had all along.
I rode a jeepney home. I am not sure where and when her father entered the jeepney. It took a while before I noticed him. The two encounters were extremely coincidental but I am sure I was not mistaken about whom I saw. That they happened within a few minutes of each other led me to think that the heat of the mid-afternoon sun had produced the most realistic mirage.
Just like his daughter, he looked quite different from the way I remembered him. His hair was starting to thin in some places, but he could not look any more pleasant than he did that day. His lips, once black (or perhaps that was my imagination, too?) had now turned into a pinkish-pale color, the kind I associate with kind men. I heard he had become a teacher. Maybe that was the reason he looked so fulfilled. His current job couldn’t possibly pay as well as his previous one did, but what is money compared to fulfillment? I could not say for sure whether he recognized me or not, but for the better part of my ride of home, I pretended to be asleep.
It felt strange to have this kind of encounter given that I just finished reading Dorian Gray the other day. I no longer feel that I don’t want to have anything to do with their family. In fact, I wish I had the chance to be invited to dinner to get to know them better. It’s not an occasion I could count on happening, if simple happenstance were to be depended on. At any rate, I am just so happy that the day happened the way it did. Realizations are good for the soul, and this is something I need more than anything in the world right now.