It was June 1993, first semester. Passing the entrance examination with an impressive mark, I was lucky enough to land a scholarship in one of the state-sponsored universities down south. I told myself it’s not so bad, at least I’ll be able to go to college for free. My parents encouraged me to take advantage of and experience it as well.
It was my first time to leave our town to study. The university was just four hours bus travel away but it was totally different from where I grew up, my town being a coastal one and the new place a sleepy locale in the heart of Bukidnon.
I took up engineering—it was the “it” course in those days. I was able to adjust to my new environment fast; things just came naturally. As freshmen, we were in a block section and had the same subjects all week long except for the mandatory ROTC during Saturdays for male students. Majority of my new found friends were guys.
Three weeks into the semester, I noticed one particular classmate. Her smile was enticing and it captivated me. She appeared to be really nice.
Her name was Jenny.
I stayed in a village where new students usually lived, a community of sorts. Despite the everyday hassles of who’s going to use the facilities first, I’d always welcome each day knowing I’d be seeing Jenny again and witnessing her smile, hoping she’d notice me.
Weeks passed and one day she finally did. From that day on we had exchanged smiles and glances. I was 17 years old—it’s not really an accomplishment, I thought, but it’s a good start.
Every day was like magic to me seeing her, but for some reason we never talked. I was contented with the unspoken words in my head. I started mentioning to my friends, her high school classmates, that I kind of liked Jenny. They laughed at me. I didn’t know if I looked funny or the idea was a joke to them.
The acquaintance party was approaching and I was really itching to ask her to be my date, but my friends told me “naku, huwag na kasi ang tatay niyan napaka-strikto at ang tapang, di papayag ’yun na i-date mo anak niya, di nga ’yun papayagan na pumunta siya sa party eh, pahihirapan mo lang sarili mo diyan.”
On the day of the party, my eyes wandered the place, hoping to see here there. I gave up, sensing that her father indeed didn’t allow her to attend. An hour into the night, however, to my surprise I had a glimpse of her. Wow, she’s here. I summoned every bit of courage, started walking toward her, and asked her if she wanted to dance with me.
She said yes.
We talked while dancing. It was just one dance but it became the highlight of my life for the next few weeks. I really liked Jenny and my gut told me she felt the same way too, but the warnings I had received from my friends echoed in my mind at the same time. I was not afraid of her father and I liked her too much but I didn’t want to complicate things.
Maintaining that the reason for my presence in that place was to study, I stayed away from her. When I saw her coming my way I took a different path. When I saw her smiling at me I never smiled back. I saw the question in her eyes, wondering why I suddenly turned cold to her. I couldn’t tell her my reasons. We slowly drifted away from each other and it really pained me for some time.
I transferred to another school in the city the following term. I never saw her again, thus I haven’t had the chance to explain to her why things happened that way between us.
Twenty-three years later, 2016, as I was scrolling through the pages of my social media account, I chanced upon a name. A name that never left my head. A single click, a familiar smile. Jenny. Suddenly a rush of energy flowed into my veins and I was transported back to where it all started.
I decided to ask her to be my friend but doubt lurked inside me. Will she remember me? Does she hate me? I went ahead anyway and sent a friend request. I am not looking for love anymore but a shot at redemption.
Twenty-four hours later my mobile rung and a message flashed. It was Jenny. I was relieved that she remembered me. We exchanged messages for an hour, then she joked “at least now we are able to talk longer than before” and smiled.
I finally told her my reasons, why my sudden change, and she understood and just laughed at it. It’s okay, she said, we cannot predict the future. It was a delightful day for me.
I believe that we will end up with the same circumstances, same conditions we are in now, but it could have been a different story for the both of us. She agreed.
This experience has taught me that sometimes we need to take a step away from our comfort zones, take risks, calculated ones at that, and enjoy the things that are present and not worry about the consequences, which may not materialize anyway.
It was a fun journey. I can’t help but laugh at myself now. Well, life’s like that. It was such a relief though, a burden finally released. Twenty-three years too late, but still feels good.
Antonio M. Salvo II is a mechanical engineer working at a consultancy firm in Doha, Qatar. He says Jenny, a civil engineer and a businesswoman, is married to an American and lives in the US, and they exchange messages every once in a while.
Editorial cartoon, February 24, 2016