His is the rightmost chair on the last row. It has always been his, regardless of classroom, class size, subject or time of day. During the first couple of weeks every semester, he makes it a point to arrive in class before everyone else, that by the end of the first month, nobody dares to contest his territory. Everyone knows: the seat belongs to he who never sleeps.
To any of his classmates, he is just another student condemned to take the same dreary subject. He passes all exams, but he does not top them. He answers correctly when called to recite, but he stays silent the rest of the time. And immediately after the professor utters the standard “Thank you for listening class,” he leaves the room, unnoticed.
When somebody happens to mention his name over a group lunch, it is met by blank stares. Eventually, one exclaims, “Ah, the lanky guy with disheveled hair and oversized polo shirts!” followed by another who says, “The one who always sits at the back, religiously taking notes while everyone falls asleep?” Laughter, and the conversation stops there.
He is a nobody; nobody knows him. He likes it that way. They, after all, do not see what he sees, and he does not have the answers to explain.
For when the professor requests that the lights be turned off, when lecture evolves into torture with the monotonous drone of the air-conditioning unit and the lullaby voice resonating in the room, when heads begin to fall sideways one after the other, he begins to see them all: the to-be-written love letter, the angry mother holding a rubber slipper, the house with ten bathrooms and no kitchen, the backstage interview with a pop star, the white sand of a Boracay beach, the Harry Potter wannabe and the green goo gliding across the bedroom with unseen feet.
The sight of a wisp of cloud emerging above a sleeping classmate’s head and transforming into a cinematic sphere never ceases to amaze him. In a series of flashes, his classmate’s desires, fears, worries and angst all unfold before him. He sees everything.
And so he knows who computes and compares exam scores, who gets recurrent tiyanak nightmares, who uses lecturers as dartboards and who undresses seatmates in his head. He knows too much, more than he wants to, that he does not bother to engage in conversation with anyone. Try talking to someone who, you know, fantasizes about having sex with a neighbor’s dog, and you will understand why he does not even return hellos when somebody happens to recognize him along corridors.
With his seat providing optimal view of everyone in class, he has become adept at pretending to look at the professor, when in fact he is staring at someone else, the mini-theater above someone else to be exact.
A classmate can look at him in the middle of a lecture and see, simply, a nerd obsessed with jotting down every word that comes out of their professor’s mouth. The classmate, not knowing that the notebook contains mere phrases describing fragments of other people’s minds, may even envy him for his ability to stay awake through marathon lectures lasting three to four hours.
Thus, while almost everybody dreads the most boring subjects in the unholiest hours of the day (early morning and after lunch), he delights in attending them.
Today is no exception. The lecturer has arrived, and while several of his classmates groan sychronously as they slide lazily down their seats, he shifts to proper sitting position.
The lecturer, a bespectacled 50-something lady clad in deep violet blazer and matching below-the-knee skirt, removes her laptop computer from the carrying bag, connects the cables and fumbles with the buttons of the LCD projector. “Good afternoon,” she begins as she opens the PowerPoint file of her lecture.
His eyes dart to the numbers on the lower left portion of the white screen. Slide 1 of 94, it says.
He opens his notebook to a blank page, and in big bold letters, scribbles his first word for the day: NICE.