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11:23 PM July 20th, 2013

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By: Taffy C. Salazar, July 20th, 2013 11:23 PM

It’s 9 p.m. and I’m on my way home from school. I’m standing on a sidewalk on Katipunan, waiting for a jeepney. It’s been 10 minutes and it feels like such a long time. All I want is to get home.

An empty Antipolo-bound jeepney comes, and I sigh with relief. I board it along with everyone else and take the seat nearest the exit. In no time it gets filled and starts moving away. And then about four men in jersey shorts and oversized T-shirts clutch at the rails and cling to the jeepney, covering the exit. This is strange; they’re not supposed to be allowed to do that. The driver doesn’t seem bothered, and proceeds at a relatively low speed.

I ignore my suspicion, confident that I will be safe. But the passenger next to me takes out his cell phone and begins texting, and one of the sabit  men grabs it. That’s when it sinks in: I’m not safe at all. I hold my backpack tightly, but that doesn’t stop the man from wresting it from me. I try pleading, telling him I’m a student over and over again, but it doesn’t do much. The sabit  men threaten the other passengers, who eventually hand over their stuff.

And then they’re gone, and I’m left stupefied. I think of the backpack and its contents: my cute pink and blue floral wallet with P150, my ATM card, and some high school pictures that never fail to make me smile; my pink Alcatel flip phone, which, while not exactly expensive, isn’t like any other phone because it looks like a makeup compact and it makes me unique; my black iPod classic, a hand-me-down from a dear friend, with all the Taylor Swift and One Direction and David Archuleta songs I love and don’t know how I can survive without.

There are also: my pink hardbound notebook, which I struggle to keep neat; my chemistry prelab notebook, which I just recently covered with newspaper and clear plastic; my dark blue planner, which I try so hard to update to keep my life organized; and my envelope of handouts, chemistry lab manual, yellow pad, water jug, extra T-shirt, retainers, blue personalized vanity kit, pink hankie, and pens. And then there’s the black backpack itself, which isn’t even mine (it’s my brother’s, and he lends it to me, and I’ve always had it with me during the best moments of my life—except this one).

It gets me mad because those things mean nothing to the sabit  guys. What will they get from a barely-written-on notebook, a planner with nothing but to-do lists, and a vanity kit with my name on it? They’ll probably sell whatever they can and just throw everything else away, whereas I’m left with no choice but to get on with my life without my beloved things.

One more thing I lost is my sense of security. The excitement I used to feel whenever I commute to and from school is gone. I used to leave home with a big smile, embracing my freedom, thrilled to finally be on my own. But it won’t be like that anymore. With fear and anxiety, I’m no longer happy commuting on my own.

I never thought such a thing would happen to me. But this traumatic experience is only a taste of what the real world is like. I used to think of the world as a big friendly place where one can be safe and secure as long as one knows what to do. Now I’ll have to deal with the fact that these things do happen, and there’s no way one can stop them no matter how careful one tries to be. It scares the hell out of me.

Taffy C. Salazar, 18, is a biology freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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