A Quarter of Change

Art by Anjellyca Villamayor/THE FLAME

THERE IS an aching, blinding hue of orange in the sky as the sun rises. It is not warm like sunrises should be—it is almost as if the sun is swallowing the world whole, and it is just a quarter to six. The streets are also deafeningly quiet, in contrast with the usual chirping of birds and chicken cuckoos.

As if there is a sudden change in the setting, how is that so? Jade is in the same house, in the same room and the same town. It is still quarter to six in the morning, and she has yet to come to their living room. Yet, she thinks something does not feel right.

And so that morning, when Jade comes down and stirs her cup of instant coffee, change is gradually coming at her.

“Ma, may babayaran po pala kami. P150 po, fee raw po para sa grad photos.”

“Hindi ba sagot na ‘yan ng school niyo?” her mother asks. Her mother’s tone is laced with annoyance as she irons her younger sibling’s uniform. “Ang daming bayarin sa school niyo ah. Oh s’ya, doon ka humingi sa papa mo.”

With reluctance, Jade heaves a sigh and turns to her father, whose attention is on the newspaper in his hands.

However, instead of proceeding with her initial intention of asking him for money, what she notices first is the small part of the newspaper discussing the coming EDSA anniversary.

“Hindi na holiday ang EDSA anniv?” Jade asks, bewildered.

Her question caught the attention of both of her parents, an eyebrow raised at her from how surprised she sounded.

“Oh, eh ano naman?” her father says. “Weekend naman ‘yan ngayong taon. Wala pa rin kayong pasok,” he continues.

“Iha, bilisan mong kumilos. Anong petsa na!” her mother scolds, nodding towards the house clock.

“Wag ka na makipagtalo sa papa mo, kumilos ka na lang d’yan! Male-late ka na sa klase mo!” her mother scolds, dismissing her incoming debate.

Afterward, Jade scrolls on her phone as she walks to school, with news flashing from all social media platforms about the removal of the EDSA anniversary from the list of holidays. She arrives at her home room, the P150 bill long forgotten, the now-removed holiday clouding her mind.

Throughout the day, the sun remained blinding, so much so that it gave Jade and her classmates a headache. By the time Jade arrives home, the sun sets, and her headache slowly subsides.

“Wala pa bang results mga pinagpasahan mo ng college application?” her mother asks, setting the tiny dining table as she speaks.

“Wala pa po,” Jade answers, removing the cooking pot lid to let the rice cool down.

On the old mahogany rocking chair in the living room sits her father, a newspaper still in hand. There is only the faint sound of the television and the clashing of kitchenware in their dimly lit dining room— nothing out of the ordinary. There is, however, a lingering heaviness in the air. Suddenly, the rice in front of Jade looks a little dull.

“Ano nga bang course kinuha mo?” her mother asks again.

Jade pauses; her hand hovers over the lid. She whispers, “Sociology, po.”

“Ano namang makukuha mo dun? Walang pera diyan, ‘nak. Dapat nursing na lang kinuha mo. Tingnan mo ‘yung anak ng kapitbahay, matalino ‘yun tapos nag-nursing pa.”

“Nursing po ang second choice ko.”

Jade’s father stands up from his seat, walks towards the dining table, and pulls the chair next to her mother. He calls for her younger son, who is too occupied with his comic books Jade got him from the nearby Pandayan bookshop.

Dios mio,” her father starts, placing the newspaper down the rocking chair. “Taas presyo na naman mga bilihin. Imbes na maging bente pesos na bigas, nagiging sesenta pesos na.”

“Kita mo ‘yan, kaya dapat mag-nursing ka. Mahal ng mga bilihin ngayon,” her mother says.

Jade lets the conversation die as they settle into their dinner. They eat in silence. The television is still running. But how can Jade fully digest the rice she is eating at the thought of rice becoming a luxury to them? She remembers her mother’s complaints about her aching back due to doing the laundry for their neighbors and how her father’s medical maintenance is piling up each check-up at the hospital.

Sure, prices change over time, but when it hits an all-time high, and P50 and higher becomes normal, how is she going to just sit back? Jade feels so blameless it chokes her, but she cannot waste the rice going down her throat.

“Anak,” her father calls.

“Po?” she answers, snapping back to reality, blinking a few times as if to adjust from the shift.

“Hayaan mo na nanay mo.”

“Po? Bakit po? Ano pong hayaan?” Jade asks, confusion etched on her face as her father breathes in carefully, as if weighing his following words.

“Alam ko naman gaano mo ka-gusto kumuha n’yang—ano ‘yun—sociology? Basta ‘yun,” her father says. “Pasensya na kung kailangan mo mamili sa gusto mo at sa kailangan natin. Gusto lang naman namin na hindi ka maghirap sa kinabukasan,” he added.

Jade raises an eyebrow; what is this sudden conversation? Where is this headed? She ponders for a moment as she files away the plates that need to be washed.

“Pasensya na rin kaninang umaga. Napagtanto ko kanina habang nasa school ka: hindi gumagaan estado natin sa buhay kung ang nakaupo mismo ay palpak.” Her father states, surprising her from the sudden change of attitude coming from her stoic father.

“Mas may tiwala ako sa’yo. Kahit hindi ka mag-nursing anak, alam kong makakaangat ka rin. Hindi lang para sa’min, kung hindi para sa’yo. ‘Yun ang pinakamahalaga— makaangat ka para sa sarili mo.”

Jade looks over her father’s shoulder—her mother watches the television while they converse about the unexpected topic, the hues of the sunset, a soft, light orange peeking through the window.

“Ano ba iyang mga pinaga-aralan n’yo sa klase? Ikwento mo rin sa’kin.” her father tells her with a grin.

It is quarter to six again. But the sun is setting. During their early dinner, Jade realizes a lot of things. In return, Jade’s father thinks about how his children are going to school with less than P150 in their pockets and how rice prices go up each passing day. Perhaps a quarter of his thoughts is enough price to pay for his children’s future. F — Alyanna Ysabel Sacramento

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