I remember the day when the class exploded into cheers as the suspension rescued us from the session of our particularly strict professor, who ruthlessly called names for recitation the way an executioner coldly ticked out the names of the doomed. We were halfhearted, an air of gloom hovered over us, but we still ate at our favorite spot, ordering the usual fried dumplings. We laughed about how one of our friends cut classes to go to the bathroom but then disappeared. As it was time to go home, I still remember the footbridge where we bid goodbye to our one friend going to Manila, while another friend and I went to Quezon City.

I still remember the sickly-sweet scent of the UV Express that made us dizzy, the warm metal pole that I switched angles with when the driver hit the brakes, and the warm blast of air that signaled that a door was opened. Each passenger that came in and went out wore those masks, which we didn’t know would be marked on us for months to come. Lastly, there was the fist bump I gave to my friend before I alighted at my spot and he went off to Novaliches.

Did we know that the meal and the ride would be our last before the long stretch of separation and distance we now find ourselves in? Did we know that it would be the last time we’d be seeing each other for a while?

I sit in front of a computer screen, listening to a droning voice, fighting to keep my eyes open under the hot afternoon sun. I scan my eyes, and four of my six best friends are present. I learn only later that the other two didn’t enroll. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on them, and on so many others. My classmates still look the same, but for some changes. The guy I used to share rides with in the UV Express has eyeglasses now. He looks funny. The Manila-based girl has a dark background even though it’s noontime (turns out she’s in America). One has changed his haircut, and the other has pimples dotting her face. We laugh over the stories we share. But despite the banter and camaraderie, we know something is not quite right.

As I write this, I miss the scent of the perfume that my Manila friend had. The musty texture of the jacket my friend with the new haircut often wore. The rustic smell of the classroom as wood intermingled with the aircon. The texture of fried dumplings that crunched in the mouth. The subtle spice of the condiments at lunch break. The cacophony of España traffic. The weight of my bag slung across my front to outwit pickpockets.

I can see in my friends’ eyes that they’re tired and exhausted even if we’re all stuck at home — and even if our parents repeat the question, sometimes jokingly: “Nasa bahay lang naman kayo, bakit kayo mapapagod?”

I’m tired, and so are millions of other citizens. Behind the smiles my friends and I give each other is the question: When can I see you guys again? 

We wish it would all just end, not only so we could eat once more at our favorite spot in school, but also so that the many who are ill now or are suffering may find their much-deserved solace.

After the class ends and the screen goes black, one doesn’t know whether one’s friends will still show up tomorrow. I hear myself sigh as I face my reflection again. I look so funny. Should I shave? My hair’s getting long again; I need a haircut. Also, don’t forget to do the economics assignment, or your grades will pay. Oh, look, cases have risen again, the government has brought back ECQ. Fix your room, play games to ease your mind, do something, anything…

It’s been too long.

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