I met her yesterday. She was, despite a scar the size of a rice grain above her left eyebrow, beautiful.
I was alone, slumped into a wooden bench along Manila Bay, taking pleasure in the intermittent breeze which smelled of salt and sea and sanity and peace. The rim of the sun had just touched the horizon when I noticed her walking towards me.
She wore faded jeans and a white mini-tee, with the infamous mnemonic for the twelve cranial nerves printed in black bold letters in front. Except this time, “Girl’s Vagina” (standing for Glossopharyngeal and Vagus nerves) had been crossed out with crimson red ink (lipstick?) and replaced with two new words, such that the mnemonic now read “Oh! Oh! Oh! To Touch And Feel A Guy’s Valls, So Horrible!”
“Your shirt’s got attitude,” I said.
She smirked, and I assumed that was her reply.
“Look Miss, that wasn’t a pick-up line.”
She stopped walking and looked at me, her head angled and eyebrows partly raised, as if waiting for me to say something else, so I said, “Sorry, I thought I knew you from somewhere.”
Then, for a couple of minutes, it seemed as if somebody pressed the mute button, silencing all the cars along Roxas Boulevard, the waves of Manila Bay, and the children crying because they could not find their candies, before she finally replied, “Of course you weren’t trying to pick me up. I thought you’d notice the shirt. And of course you do know me.”
She spoke, and recognition dawned in an instant. After all, how could I forget a voice that had been whispering in my head since childhood?
“You miss math, don’t you?” She sat on the other end of the bench, her shoulder-length black hair dancing with the air.
“Yeah…” was all I could mutter.
I looked away from her (Who was it who told me it was rude to stare?) and turned my gaze back at the setting sun. It was already half-submerged in the sea, and the cloudless sky, which a moment ago had been clear blue, was now, as I had always described to myself, bleeding. Another day about to be forgotten. And with it, the exams, the review sessions, the headaches, and the frustrations.
“I wonder what has happened to the kid who used to memorize Ten Ways to Show Kindness, the characters of William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist, and the MTV Asia Hitlist.”
Her voice had an ethereal quality to it, almost a drawl, but not quite. It could lull me to sleep.
“I am…” I said, cutting my sentence to search for something profound to say, only to settle eventually with, “…tired.”
“I see,” if she were surprised I certainly did not hear it in her voice, “But you weren’t tired when I helped you deliver your kindergarten valedictory speech, enumerate the Ten Commandments, recite your high school declamation piece, and answer your college admission tests.”
“Well, I wasn’t. I am now,” I uttered the words flatly, without even looking at her.
“I am tired of studying two weeks prior to an exam. I am tired of cramming one week before an exam. I am tired of reading books, only to realize that it would be useless without memorizing every single information on my lecture transcriptions and poring over every single sample exam because professors recycle questions. All of a sudden, the million dollar question has become, ‘Do I really have to memorize that?’”
“That is the problem. You can never be sure, can you? Because this teensy weensy fact you’re skipping right now might just be the one that could save a life someday.”
“Damn it,” I said to myself.
“Do I need to hear this?” This time, I did look at her. She was fixing her hair into a bun with a giant clip (What did my sisters call that thing? Shok-shok?).
“How many times do I have to tell you? It is not what you memorize, but what you learn. It is not what you forget during the test, but what you do remember after.”
Her voice was not mad. It was in fact, serene, and driving me nuts.
“You know it’s easier said than done, especially if you have to pass.”
That was when I realized the sun was gone, its fading light replaced by the giant multi-colored lampposts that illuminated the walkways. From somewhere, an acoustic band had begun playing John Mayer’s No Such Thing.
“This is pointless,” she edged closer to me. “Go home,” she whispered in my ear, “Get some sleep. Your bed misses you.”
She stood up and began to leave, while I buried my head deep in my hands.
“Hey!” I called at the last minute, suddenly remembering something I had long wanted to ask, “Can you at least tell me where I lost my guitar’s capo?”
Memory just smiled, then walked away.