The elephant in me | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

The elephant in me

There is an elephant in my chest, and it travels from there to my hands.

I first discovered that I was a living zoo to this beast (a jinchuriki, according to Naruto fans) when I was in second grade. I could remember our teacher: small eyes, bowl-cut hair, and short, yet looming for kids like me back then.


I could still hear the thunder of her voice. “For the nation’s progress, discipline is needed.” I would find out later that it was an enduring Marcosian slogan that pervaded institutions such as an elementary school and our national consciousness.

It was a trend to list down the names of the noisy students on the blackboard. But our teacher modified this practice. I could remember our class president, tall and brawny, standing in front, monitoring us like a towering vulture, scribbling with chalk the names not of the clamorous but of the silent ones who would be allowed to go home and meet their waiting guardian at the school gate. I would never forget this hour of imposed silence.


I am not sure if I was in the second or third row, but the beats of the fingers impatiently tapping the wooden table of the desk in front of me resonated. It was Rudyard. He was the Boo Radley of my childhood. He was an object of jokes about his pointed chin, and a subject of rumors for his avoidance of horseplay and preference to play with girls. It was like the trials of Salem. Classmates were hauling him out of the closet.

Then I saw them. Stains of crayon crisscrossing Rudyard’s uniform like clashing rainbows. I was scolded once by my mom for going home with a dirty uniform, so I immediately thought of how mad his parents would be.

But my thoughts were disrupted upon discovering the source of those stains. His seatmate, Philip, was scrawling those markings on the uniform. Rudyard’s right hand kept banishing the crayon-wielding hand but to no effect. The fidgeting of Rudyard’s free left hand became stronger. I glanced at his face, and I knew that tears were ready to surge and the plan of reporting to our teacher was being plotted. But, alas! The tears did not come out. Crying can be noisy, so Rudyard perhaps feared that he would not be included in the list of the well-behaved students. Maybe, he remembered the unspoken rule of tears that I later questioned in my life: Crying is for the weak.

It was at that moment that I discovered the elephant in me. It was in my chest, trumpeting at me and tugging me with its tusks. It then ran to my shoulders, marched to my arms, and reached the palms that I clenched. Soon, my hand was pushing Philip’s hand from Rudyard’s uniform. That cramped space under and between our desks became the arena of our wrestling arms.

The elephant inside me was struggling. It then abandoned my fist and migrated to my throat. My voice escaped across the corners of the room: “Tama na!”

My classmates stared at me. Soon, there was an uproar of whispery reactions. Our class president took charge by reporting me to our teacher. I was charged with disturbing the peace. I was a terrorist. I was not allowed to explain. There was no due process. The president’s words were indisputable.

Then it happened. Until now I still dream of how I was tied to a chair by our teacher, placed at the center of the classroom, and silenced with a piece of tape on my mouth. All that was missing was a placard saying, “Maingay, huwag tularan.”


I tethered the elephant in me. I commanded the swelling tears to be at ease. But they were powerful. A deluge of tears made its siege. I was soon allowed to go home. I did not tell my mother about it. The elephant in me retreated. I remember managing to concoct an excuse on why I cried after she noticed my swollen eyes.

The elephant stayed inside my chest. There were nights when it would thrash violently, revolting against my silence. It was only in the third grade that I told my mother about what happened on that day. My second-grade teacher was no longer in school and was nowhere to be found by the time I broke my silence, but the elephant in me was triumphantly trumpeting.

Rudyard and I were classmates again. Sometimes, I would find him looking at me. It seemed to me that he wanted to tell me something about that day. The words never made their way out, yet those looks of shared understanding were enough.

I sometimes think of him. Where is he now? Did he finally transport the elephant in him from his chest to his throat?

Until now, I occasionally get shy — in parties, in performances, in meetings. But there is a strong pulse inside me. It travels from my chest to my hand. It is the elephant in me, telling me to raise my hand, lift a clenched fist, write, tap someone, speak up. It is the same elephant that reminded me of the first time I became a terrorist. It is the elephant that desires to be free and to free others.

* * *

Kristoffer Aaron G. Tiña, 24, is currently “employed” at their home as a cat cuddler. He is finishing his master’s degree in Communication Arts in UP Los Baños.

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TAGS: grade school memories, Kristoffer Aaron G. Tiña, Young Blood
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