Through the Glass Walls of Yusan

Photo by Franz Zoe Stoelzl Baroña/THE FLAME

I WOKE up during the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 2018 and barely found any sense of delight—the kind I otherwise felt on the noon of 2011 when the hallways of the 7th floor of Benavidez Garden would brim with neighboring children visiting each other’s units. Such a memory portrayed a younger self of me leaving the bedroom only to stumble upon my elder sister wrapping gifts that I could barely count. On the lamesa were once platters of spaghetti cooked to perfection, which tasted ahead of Jollibee’s.

Anticipating the same sensation was nothing more than just a fantasy anymore, and to long for it as the day went by felt like trying to seize hold of a possibility—even just a fraction of it—that could easily topple over each of the struggles and crises that I had held for the weeks and months before Christmas Eve.

I left my bedroom and went out to the living room.

“Merry Christmas.”

A small figure of a pine tree placed on a table gazed and spoke to me. I shortly felt the slightest hesitation to approach it and ask where my sister, the boxes of gifts, the bowls of spaghetti and fried chicken, and the noises of children were. Not witnessing them on the afternoon of Christmas Eve pained me.

I sat on the sofa at peace, enduring the silence of The Ghost of Christmas Past as tension became a much-needed conversation between us. After a few minutes of introspection, I stood and lashed at the thread that began to materialize between us.

Mother never liked hearing me say farewell whenever I left the house to go to my favorite internet cafe, Yusan, which stood at the tail end of Binondo. However, realizing the miserable atmosphere that plagued me on the very noon of Christmas Eve, I took the 100 peso bill I had requested and expressed my goodbye. I stepped out the door as if there were no impending Christmas in our household. Looking back, I traced what seemed to be a frown from her face.

Confining myself within the crowded atmosphere of an internet cafe was a coping mechanism that helped me, though not always, bypass setbacks. The noises of children competing with one another in their respective games felt like an authentic sense of peak happiness. The heated tension between groups of friends arguing about who gets to sit first on a single available computer unit was a sight to behold.

I entered Yusan only to witness an empty area that evoked a sense of shame. It was obvious that all the familiar faces I used to see in the VIP area were busy preparing for the holiday. Here I stood, preparing to sit in front of a computer to leave behind the fear of not experiencing the euphoric emotions I had during Christmas almost a decade ago.

“Maaga kami magsasara mamaya, alas sais, noche buena,” the cashier said.

I sat in an open unit and spent the next four or five hours indulging in online games. When my computer shut down, I removed the headphones that barred the carols of children occasionally breaking into the cafe.

Four or five hours had passed, and still, I was the only one wasting a quarter of my Christmas Eve by pouring my heart out into winning and losing games.

I turned the revolving chair towards the direction of the cafe’s glass walls and visualized strings of lights hanging on the lampposts of the street. Each light glared under the dusk, shining rays upon the street children who, I recall, were like the ones who immortalized my memories of Christmas from almost a decade ago—strolling along the streets of Masangkay and playing street games, exchanging Christmas carols and carrying gifts. These children were also the same ones who I often spent hours with inside Yusan.

I stood and reflected on my thoughts again; being a child during Christmas is a fortunate right that should never be neglected. Though I had long left the memories of being a young boy in front of a living pine tree, reminiscing and treasuring all those age-old experiences, again and again, was a sign that I had never neglected even a single aspect of it.

I walked towards home with a smile carved upon my face. F

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