( If you still have not read chapter 1, do read it here.)
As soon as they arrived in Lubuagan, Guinnaban was baptized to Christianity by Fr. Belucci and named Benedict – after St. Benedict. To Guinnaban, the name symbolized hope and courage – and he liked the sound of it!
The abrupt change of environment though, had made him and his family uncomfortable. There were sad moments that they thought of going back to the simple life in the barrio. It was difficult for them to adjust to the ways of the progressively booming town. The good priest however, insisted that they stay on as he knew Benny was a brilliant boy who could pursue a much needed education for the sake of his people.
The following school year, Fr. Belucci enrolled him at the Parish secondary school.
On the very first day, Benny was already taunted by his classmates. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“Benedict” he would reply.
“Benedict? that’s a fancy name, huh? Far from your ugly, Kalinga name.” then the group would roar with laughter.
“ Let’s see if you can live up to it, “ laughing, they would leave him speechless at the center of the school’s quadrangle.
They frequently picked on him and made fun of him. “Here’s the native,” they taunted and ridiculed him.
On the 5th day of school, Francis the most intelligent of the class, challenged him to a spelling contest. Benedict was reluctant to participate, as he was brought up by his parents believing that a truly brave man did not have to prove himself.
But the whole class jeered at him:” C’mon, you – from Taloctoc, let’s see if you know something, ” and they refused to allow him to leave the room.
Thinking that it would do no harm to anyone, he accepted the challenge and stayed. They unceremoniously pushed him beside Francis; he could see the beads of sweat mushrooming in Francis’ excited face as he gleefully grinned at him.
Each of the students started yelling words for them to spell.
“pneumonia,” one shouted.
“Use the chalk dumbo! Write ” Francis snarled at him, “Let’s see if your teeny weeny brain recognizes words.”
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There were two students assigned to both blackboards to check what they have written.
After each word, the uproar grew lesser and lesser as Benny had been able to spell the words correctly.
Unknown to them, since Benny’s first day with Fr. Belucci, he was allowed to use the old priests’ personal book collection. He devoured them like someone starving, and spent every free time savoring each page of the variety of books available for his perusal. He even started reading theology!
“And what is this all about?” a voice thundered from the doorway.
Everyone turned to meet Mrs. Garcia’s unsmiling face. “What are you up to, now Francis?” her piercing stare made Francis wince.
“Err… we were just having a spelling contest,” he was meek as a lamb in front of Mrs. Garcia.
The teacher took one long look at the board and said sternly, ” the two of you, come to my office, right now.” Her manner was succinct but there was a hint of pride in her tone.
Francis got most of the scolding as Mrs. Garcia was aware of his boisterous behavior at times.
“Let me finish what you started,” her voice was gentler now and there was a twinkle in her eye.
“Spell liaison” , she motioned to Francis.
Francis stood at attention and proudly blurted out, ” L – I – A – S – O – N” .
Mrs. Garcia – her face expressionless – nodded to Benny .
” L I A I S O N”, Benny enunciated each word deliberately.
The teacher happily tapped the shoulder of Francis, ” Now we have a new champion, Francis ,” she strode towards Benny and intoned excitedly, ” You are correct! I have high hopes we will win the championship this year. From now on, both of you should work together.”
As days laboriously passed , it was evident that academically, Benny performed better than Francis – to the other one’s obvious chagrin. In fact – he was the best in all categories – be it in Mathematics, English, Literature, or Music.
He had an eye and a heart for all extra-curricular and academic pursuits. He was the Grand Champion in the Math Quiz bee, the Spelling Bee and had won the Short Story Writing Contest sponsored by the English Society.
He then earned their respect and admiration. No one dared to taunt him anymore. Everyone wanted to be in his list of friends.
He graduated from St Theresa’s College as the Valedictorian of High School Class ‘ 76; with 6 medals: the gold, the leadership medal, the Insular Life gold, the Best in math, the Best in English, and was awarded “The Most Outstanding Graduate.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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