“ Mr. Benedict Lomiwan is hereby voted as president of the class,” the instructor announced.
It was barely his third week in the University, but everyone in class already knew who he was. It would be impossible not to! He always got the highest scores in their quizzes – even in algebra – which everyone considered “very difficult”.
It was in Algebra and English that he excelled – a deadly combination. Some students were good in Algebra but not in English, and vice versa. Only Benny, did good in both and that made him an “Exceptional” student.
He knew that by being in the Dean’s List of scholars, he would do justice to the sacrifices of his parents and Fr. Belucci.
He had enrolled in A.B Political Science as he had plans of becoming a lawyer someday. College exposed him to the various cultural minorities in the country and people were less discriminating because of ethnic origin.
Image from: Free Digital Photos
It was a cultural activity in the University and he was in his native costume – a g-string. During school days, he went to class in clothes everybody wore – warm and comfortable city clothes, and it was the first time he had to wear his native costume again. He had looked forward to it.
“Hey Benny, I’d cover myself if I were you,” someone from the crowd teased him, “half of the girls in class would be asking for a date next Monday.”
Benny just smiled and waved. He had always been proud of his heritage, even when other people had looked down upon him. He stood tall among his peers; his sinewy muscles, bulging in the right places. He had a handsome face – dark fringed eyes, sensuous lips and a slightly crooked nose that complimented his other features to perfection. He was almost naked, except for the g string around his waist and his private parts.
They started beating the gongs and Benny led his barrio mates in the “taddok” (native dance). His g-string undulated with his every movement and the crowd cheered excitedly as his group of dancers circled the plaza. It was a joyous and festive, cultural dance. When it was done, there were rivulets of sweat on Benny’s face.
“I think you need this,” a voice from behind him intoned.
He turned and stared at the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. For the first time in his life, he became speechless.
“C’mon, use it,” the woman smiled reassuringly, proffering the handkerchief in her hand.
He reached out for it and wiped his face with one swift motion. His racing heartbeat slowed down a bit. “ Thanks, I’m Benny Lomiwan, Miss…” he extended a hand.
“ Call me Julie, Julia Santos,” she grasped his hand firmly.
The contact sent shivers through his spine. “Good God,” he thought to himself, “this is not me – going all weak over a woman.”
“ Your group was good,” she was saying. “I am sure, you will win the grand prize.”
“ We danced to share our culture not for anything else,” he replied with a smile.
She flashed white even teeth at him. “ Well, nice meeting you Benny, see you around,” she said, and she was gone.
Whew! what was that? He shook his head in amazement. He had never imagined himself going gaga over a woman. It was a strange feeling and he was totally taken by surprise by the new emotion. He would have wanted to know more about her. He released a long drawn sigh to calm his nerves. Well, he had to forget about her, he had more pressing priorities to think about.
February came. It was the coldest month of the year. He was growing accustomed to the gelid, city air. He had anticipated that it would be cold, but not these bone-freezing temperatures. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought he was abroad and not in a tropical country. He had layers of clothing on; but still, the cold air permeated his skin and gnawed at his bones.
The University’s first semester went according to his plans. He was able to maintain his academic scholarship well into the second semester. Fr. Belucci took charge of his board and lodging in the University’s dorm for boys. He also deposited in the bank a monthly allowance for him. He knew he was lucky to have a benefactor in the person of the priest and had expressed it openly the last time the old priest hugged him goodbye.
“ Get a good education and look after your own people,” the generous and benevolent priest had said. “That would be enough payment for me.”
And that was what he wanted to do that Saturday night. He had been secretly contacted to a meeting as a Youth Representative regarding the building of a dam in the Chico river, which may pollute its clear, pristine waters . It was a clandestine meeting as powerful political forces were bent on pushing through with it. The dam- supposedly- will provide electricity for the neighboring towns.
“ Are you Benny?” his train of thought was broken.
He eyed warily a burly man accosting him.
“Yes, “ he replied.
“Come, they’re waiting,” he said and started to lead him to a parked car.
He was about to demand an ID from the man, but thought, “What the heck, if it’s time for me to go, I’ll go, no matter what I do.” and he quickly followed him.
(to be continued)