I couldn’t keep my eyes and hands off this bicycle of tomorrow; I kept waxing and polishing it every blessed moment. The bike was, at the time, the ultimo of my very being. Coming in segundo was the fact that I was now about to enter UP High as a freshman in a week’s time. I was both apprehensive and exhilarated at the thought of this coming phase in my life where, I was told, happened all the important rites of passage.
And so, one singularly bright morning, the first day of school finally arrived. I parked the bicycle of tomorrow at the foot of the Education building’s stairs, locking its front wheel with the chain of tomorrow onto the solid banister railing. From thence I proceeded to find my classroom at the 4th floor. I was quite glad to meet many of my co-graduates from UP Elementary School, but a feeling of disquiet chilled my enthusiasm as I noted the graffiti etched on the desks and blackboards and scrawled on every square inch of the walls within reach. Those inscriptions certainly would never have gained literary acclaim for its authors, though they could be quite colorful in syntax, innovative in philosophy, and forceful in libido.
On that day I learned that there were teachers and there were teachers. Some were kind, motherly/fatherly types while others were benignly aloof. And then again there were “terrors” whom, the upperclassmen said, would sooner or later be visited upon us poor lost souls! (You’ll be s-o-r-r-r-r-e-e-e, n-y-a-h, n-y-a-h, n-y-a-h, ha-ha! they said!)
In retrospect, I know now that this was nothing but the application of a police investigator’s technique by the professors upon the students. This good guy–bad guy role-playing among them was meant to (1) level the playing field among students coming from different walks of life; (2) make us confess our ignorance; and (3) serve to toughen the spirit as well as to sharpen the mind.
Going back to the bike. When the final bell rang for the day, I rushed to where I parked it. I almost died when I found that the front wheel remained chained to the banister railing, while the rest of the bike was gone! I was speechless, and sweat broke out in beads all over me. I had lost the bike of tomorrow on my first day of school!
That’s when Joe Plasabas –– then a complete stranger to me –– strutted in and asked me what the matter was. So I told him, with the bravest front I could put up, that someone had botched the theft of my bike, seeing that he left the front wheel behind. Joe then siddled up to me and said, in a conspiratorial manner, that he could arrange for me to have the bike back. There was a catch, he added. To ensure that no one would ever relieve me of the bike again, I’d have to park it next time unencumbered by the nicety of securing it with the lock and chain. Which was, of course, completely against the grain of logical reasoning.
But there really was no alternative; as Ernie Marcelo said when he got kidnapped a few years back by really nasty-looking types, you do everything you’re told, praying to God and all the saints, Santa Claus included, that things will turn out for the better.
So I acquiesced to the terms laid down, and as soon as I did, Joe gave a twin-fingers-in-mouth-whistle. Whereupon three of Joe’s companions hove into view from behind some bushes, bearing the missing portions of the bike which they proceeded to reassemble. That having been accomplished, Joe said he had to test if the bike would run properly. After about eight runs around the campus, he decided that the bike was safe for me to use and turned it over to me. From the corner of his mouth he reminded me, in quite forceful terms, about the covenant we had made.
Needless to say that within a week, the bicycle of tomorrow began to exhibit signs of abnormal wear and tear. Many times my grandma, who lived in what used to be Area 5 beside the College of Law, would say to me, “You know, I saw a bike that looked exactly like yours being ridden up and down the sunken gardens.”
In a few more months, the bike of tomorrow became a thing of the past. But what the heck, it was a small price to pay, for I had gained the friendship of Joe Plasabas and his gang of pirates. From then on they had my back covered, so no one would dare bully me. Those badass boys taught me three important lessons the classroom won’t give you: (1) thou shalt not give the other fellow the pleasure of seeing you cry, (2) thou shalt not squeal, and (3) thou shalt keep holy your word of honor.
As they say, all the important rites of passage happen during your high school days.
Perhaps this refrain from Frank Sinatra's song best describes who I am and what my life has been like:
"I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing:
each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race..."
While the song of my life is not exactly classical, nevertheless I hope that when it ends, it will be like the closing echoes of a hymn sung in a great cathedral.
More from Albert J. Lesaca