“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day, he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is a mushroom!”
~ The Little Prince
When temperature went down during that ber-month, I was in the living room scrolling through my FB while the TV showed some teleserye I was not interested in. A lot of posts were on fright nights. There were people posting Halloween costumes, make up tutorials for Halloween. Team Kramer was in all black. That was cute.
Scroll down more.
There was a photo of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau dressed as the Pilot and his son, the Little Prince. Fallen leaves were on the ground. Behind them, the leaves of the trees were yellow with hints of orange.
How fitting. The foliage almost imitating the sunset.
That was all it took and a distant memory replayed.
Hands were passing around glues and scissors. Scented papers of various colors and cut out pictures were scattered on the floor where eleven students were sitting and chatting. The troublesome flower accessories and yarns were lost in the mess.
A hand picked a picture of an orange sky as the sun hid behind red and black clouds.
Picturesque, I thought while glancing from the corner of my eyes.
Beautiful, you whispered while holding the picture a bit longer before gluing it on a black paper.
I looked at you and smiled.
That was how it all began.
While majority of the population would scurry out the building for lunch, I would often find myself taking the familiar steps to the library. But this time, with you humming along. You really liked that, a different tune every now and then.
A group of seniors passed by talking about their college application. It seems that UP and ADMU were the popular choices.
Sometimes, noon breaks were not filled with procrastination for a short quiz or long test by afternoon or some group report or paperwork. But this would usually end up with students talking loudly among themselves, asking who had read this part or understood the other. Taking a break, I took the largest and most colored book I saw on one of the shelves before sitting down on the circular table at the back corner of the library.
The book I got discussed the iconic paintings of well-known artists. I read something about the painting, A Dance to the Music of Time, by Poussin. At the lower part was Father Time holding a lyre and two putti, one holding an hourglass and one blowing bubbles. It said something about the brevity of life.
I wondered if you already knew about this.
What would you be? You asked.
There’s a lot of time to discern as of now, I answered while flipping through the book. Perhaps, I would get the most demanded careers. It makes job application easier like how demand and supply works. More opportunities when there is demand which comes along with handsome employment benefits package.
But what do you really want to do? You persisted, leaning on your one hand, the other softly drumming against the table.
I avoided that question. But maybe, it was how your brown eyes regarded me with ease. Maybe it was how your lips upturned to a faint smile.
I love visual arts, I replied.
Hmmm. You continued humming so I supposed I should go back reading.
What can you do with visual arts? You asked again.
Let’s see, I started. I want to have my own stories in comics or in mangas. I also want to have an exhibit. It will be something to have a solo exhibit of my own paintings. It would be a good start to join artist groups. There are a few here in CDO. There is also the choice of being an animator. Photography also interests me.
Would you pursue that for college? You asked.
I wanted to laugh at how persistent you can get. But I knew that dreams are special to you. Sometimes, I thought that you find them sacred. Like when every time you hear someone think about giving up or think about not being good enough, you would start your story-telling about Walt Disney, Michael Jordan or Bill Gates. So I opted for a more honest reply for your question.
That would be hard, I said. In a country like the Philippines, it is a better investment to pursue careers that are in-demand or careers that adults would find respectable. Pursuing the arts is not practical. It is hard to go far. Not only that you have to be very talented to be noticed, there are also other concerns like retirement, job security, future investments to support a family, and other things that concern money.
What about you? I asked in return.
I really love music. I think it’s obvious, I really love playing my guitar. When I grow old, I can imagine myself playing that instrument for pastime.
At the back of my mind, I laughed about how the guitar gets your undivided attention. Like that one time when we had an outing with classmates, as people were very busy having fun and playing around, you sat for hours practicing a song that caught your interest. Or like when your mother once said that she wanted to smack the guitar to you because all you did at home was play with it.
Everyone can see that, I said. But what do you plan to do about it?
It is hard like you said, you admitted. But it is not impossible. It just takes time. I thought about doing something to support myself as I am on my way to become a musician. But there is more to life than security. Think about it. I really think that passions have to be pursued so that when you grow old, you would be proud of what you have become whatever the outcome of your pursuit is.
You really are persistent, I said and you just smiled.
By the way, since you are the one into arts, would you judge this? Fishing your phone from your pocket, you showed me pictures you took the day before as you went to the grocery with your family. You took photos from different angles. I knew the place. It was behind SM.
I wonder what the person nearby thought about you, I said.
You simply grinned while smacking my arm.
You showed me your favorite. A white moon hovered over a field of grass. The sky was just getting dark but there was still enough light to see that the grass were green. Worm’s eye view.
What do you think of it? You asked.
I like it, I honestly replied. The moon looks bigger and closer to the earth that way.
Thanks. But I would have loved to take a picture of the sunset, when the sun colors the sky in orange and pink. But it was getting dark by the time we went home.
I see. But the photo is really good.
Thanks, you repeated. You’re a good and supportive friend.
You would often say that. Telling me that I am a good friend. Sometimes calling me a special friend, a good company, or a good influence. You once told me that you feel productive when you were with me, that time is spent well.
Thank you. That was an automatic response from me that time, and on any other occasion when you would comment about our friendship.
Let us have a bet, you said. Don’t let go of your dreams. So, this is a challenge for you.
You prick. You knew how to stroke my competitive spirit to make me agree with you.
You should be an artist in fifteen years. By that time, you can already paint well. Give me a painting of a sunset.
Describe how you want the painting to be, I responded underlining the painting part of the bet without making clarifications. Should being an artist and the painting be achieved within fifteen years, or were they separate matters?
Paint me, sitting on a bench by a cliff and facing the sunset. I am giving you your artistic freedom on how to go about it. But I want it to be a really big painting.
That’s achievable, came my defiant reply. My mind started coming up with images.
Make sure it is because if you could not do it, you are going to pay me twenty five thousand. We can make it fifteen if it is too much.
What’s in it for me? I giggled. How come I am the only one on the struggling end?
Hhhmmm… if you could do it, I would be the one paying you the money. Like a price for the painting of a renowned artist.
I remembered the librarian looking sternly at us while an amused smile escaped our lips. I could not recall exactly what made us laugh. The money? The time? The challenge itself? I could not remember.
After a word from the librarian, we pretended to resume reading, holding in our breath as she sternly stared at us. In the middle of our giggles and effort to not burst into a laugh, you uttered something.
C—, I love you.
I froze. Because God knew I had never loved a friend as dearly as I have loved you. But I had never really desired to keep you. Like the sight brought by a flock of migrating birds – one of the most beautiful to behold but bound to go where it must be. I always thought that you would just come in my life, stay awhile then take off to somewhere, leaving me forever looking up the stars, wondering in which star you could be laughing.
Thank you. That was all I could whisper, too embarrassed to look at you lest you notice something on my face.
But I could never hold those words against you. After all, I could not ask what it was that you loved. Was it the kindred spirit you find in me? Was it the company? The friendship? Did it have something to do with the noon light that streamed from the window? Or the conversation? The teenage hormone?
I did not know. I did not ask and had no intention to.
What was clear to me was there was a challenge. What my memory could not forget was your high regard for dreams. What transpired that noon break made me want to work for something more than money, more than security. Should life be as brief as a bubble that could burst anytime, then I wanted mine to be meaningful, spent with fervor and passion.
The rest of the story felt like light years ago.
I could only vaguely recall as much as I could not really remember the FB posts that I had passed while aimlessly scrolling through my newsfeed.
Standing up from the living room, I thought it was time to get some fresh air. How I miss the fresh air of the bukid.
The front porch was facing west. I moved to the rocking chair which suddenly felt inviting. The rain-washed road in front was sandy with lime being washed down from the hills. Across the road, mountains stretched until the farthest that can be seen only formed a faint silhouette. The grass seemed to stretch endless as well, with some trees here and there.
This afternoon, it seemed that my memory was picking on you. It replayed a conversation we had weeks ago.
It was the first in a long time that we sat in one table facing each other. College was pretty demanding. Add a graduating student in the picture and it became a familiar estudyante serye. We barely came across each other in the campus. If we did, a quick hello, and that was it. It was a surprise we managed to sit down and chat.
I saw your brother on our building, I said.
He took up the same course as you, you answered.
When we were in high school, I had a hard time with that subject, you started. I thought about pursuing it for college. But seeing how my brother is doing, it is giving him a hard time.
I simply nodded to let you continue.
When I decided which course to take, I thought that I can just waltz through college if I would just memorize. But I was in for so much more.
I laughed a little. You smiled.
So how are you doing? I asked.
Struggling. But my girlfriend is doing well. She helps me out.
Good for you. Try to keep up to survive this college jungle.
I am tired.
When you said that, I could not help but look more closely. You were leaning on your one hand, the other softly drumming against the table. Your eyes looking at the people bustling through. You still had that laidback attitude. But your hairline seemed to have retreated a little bit higher. Amidst the soft murmurs of students early morning at the Magis Canteen and the wafting of the aroma of food as the concessionaires started preparing for breakfast meals, I tried to listen more closely to what tune you were humming. There was none. That moment, you looked to me like any other adult, tired of how the day went, thinking about matters of consequence.
Do you still remember our deal? I asked.
When you walked me to my building after that small talk, I wanted to ask you if the bet was still on. But I did not. I still wondered though. I did not join the visual arts club in college to focus on my academics but I would still paint when I had the time as a break from the monotony of school life caught up in figures. Some of the works I could be proud of, I made during my college days. I still dreamt of having my works exhibited. Though I wondered how it was for you.
I did not know how my painting would reach you but it would. When that happens, I hope you had remembered our deal. And I wished for that persistent, child-like character to once again demand the world to acknowledge the value of his dreams.
From the porch, I saw the street lamp lighting up. I imagined a lamplighter faithful to orders, lighting up the street lamp the same hour in the afternoon and putting it out the same hour at dawn.
The semester break was messing up with my body clock. I wanted to grab a nap just before dinner. Heading towards my room, the last thought I had was about the movie where the Little Prince turned Mr. Prince.
Catastrophe, I thought.
As I lay, the sun made its way behind the distant mountains.
Weeks later, I would know that you were bound to a place where the leaves would turn to the color of sunset.
Charmaine Carrillo was born and raised in Cagayan de Oro City. She finished her Accountancy degree at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She was a fellow for essay at the 1st Veritas Writers Workshop, XU’s university-based writing fellowship, and is a junior member of writers collective Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC)