College, it is said, is the threshold through which students step into the real, unforgiving world. In the final years before taking responsibility as taxpayers and breadwinners, they take stock of objects serving as shorthand for memories of a carefree period. A campus tomcat living on morsels accidentally dropped on the canteen floor, a secluded bench overlooking the lawn, a lonely tree the age of which nobody knows—these are just a few images evoking memories of college.
When alumni gather for unplanned reunions, stories tend to gravitate toward influential professors and their mannerisms. That’s a given. But only a handful of them capture the students’ collective memory, for they are unlikely symbols.
At De La Salle Araneta University, there was one symbol: the operator of a photocopying machine.
Monday morning last week, classes began with somber news circulating among the students: Antero Cao, popularly known as Kosa, was rushed to the ICU late Sunday night. His blood pressure had risen to an alarming height and a vein near his brain had ruptured, resulting in internal hemorrhage.
I didn’t know about it until a student told me he had failed to get a copy of the assigned readings because Kosa’s stall—located just across from the university gate—was closed.
The news was devastating. In the first week of classes, I often remark that next to the university president, Kosa is the most important person on campus. It never fails to elicit smiles among students. But it’s true. They get photocopies of the assigned readings from him. Since the 1990s, no De La Salle Araneta graduate has earned a diploma without dropping by his stall at least once.
That Monday morning, the remark was viscerally felt. Kosa had been serving students since 1994. Stalls come and go, and a couple or two photocopying booths appear, but he stayed with us despite the university’s relatively small college population, his stall serving as one-stop photocopier for different courses.
In 2006, someone directed me to his stall as the nearest in the vicinity. Since then, he had photocopied the materials I required in my classes.
Kosa was popular, but little was known about him. We greeted each other when I crossed the street, but I didn’t even know his full name until last week. Our pleasant conversations were confined to instructions on the pages to reproduce and the number of copies to prepare, and a respectful acknowledgement of each other’s existence. There was no time for chitchat.
I can’t tell how he got his moniker. He never minded being called “Kosa,” which had an apt sound to it, suggesting camaraderie, playfulness, a shared ideology/attitude, and a cowboy spirit distinctly Aranetan.
Some years ago, Kosa decided to live in his stall, which was crowded with machines, reams of unused paper, as well as discarded scraps, and unclaimed photocopies. He had a cat for a companion. Just outside his stall, he built a makeshift shed from an old tarp to shelter potted cactuses and queuing students.
Despite the unmatchable energy of his young customers—he was 56—he never lost those qualities one observes among children who refuse to cast aside a rose-colored world. Of course, I had heard that he sometimes lost his cool—understandable in humans faced with materials to reproduce ad infinitum. Yet he easily regained that enviable good cheer untinged by cynicism.
Kosa had a sense of gratitude and loyalty to a fault. I have been target of his importunate generosity. On a few occasions, he’d offer to buy me a soda on a hot afternoon or treat me to a light snack, which I always refused.
Because I left him the readings required in my class, my students always showed up at his stall. It’s a joy to know that teaching results in creating a livelihood for someone like Kosa. He may not have been a formal university employee, yet professors and students benefited from his accessible services.
In his gratitude, he’d often refuse to charge me for photocopies. I always chided him and repeatedly told him that friendship shouldn’t blind business. Though we were friends, I said, I came to his stall as a client.
I learned my lesson. For obstinately generous people like Kosa, I made sure to prepare the exact amount to be paid so as to counter his refusals.
In my class on Tuesday last week, a student interrupted the lecture with an announcement: Kosa had passed on. There was a moment of unorchestrated silence. I tried to break the silence at one point, but found that glib words sounded phony.
The outgoing student council president, Patrick Tayo, coordinated with Kosa’s brother Joe for the benefit of students and alumni desirous of paying their last respects. Condolences and expressions of support from alumni here and abroad poured in.
This year’s batch of literature classes was Kosa’s last. My students’ ring-bound photocopies—with or without scribbled lecture notes—are the ink-steeped reminder of their nostalgic campus years. Don’t discard them after the term, I told the students. The stories were lovingly reproduced and bound. Add to them the narrative of the unlikely symbol who prepared them for you.
Cyril Belvis is assistant professor of literature at De La Salle Araneta University, Malabon City.
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