I hate rush hour.
After a whole day of graduation practice, the least the world can reward us with is a swift ride back home. But judging by the crowd of people also waiting along the sidewalk for a ride, it’s not a likely outcome.
“Grabe, Eve,” I hear my friend Anna say beside me, “kung nag-dorm lang tayo, we wouldn’t be in this hell.”
“Uh, I think it’s a bit late to say that.”
“But you agree, right?”
Thankfully, Anna and I take the same route home and are pretty much sick of each other’s company at this point. But... this is probably the last time we’ll be commuting home together.
My mind aches at the thought. I’ve only known her for two years. I shouldn’t be too sentimental. Kasalanan mo ‘to, Anna.
Relieved cries resound throughout the crowd as it parts immediately for an empty UV Express van. I quickly check the placard on the van’s windshield. SM North. In a flash, I grab Anna’s arm and pull her through the mob of commuters.
We make it to the van’s backdoor with mere seconds to spare, Anna gets in first. Eyeing the one vacant space left, I shove a fellow Grade 12 student out of the way and climb into the backseat beside her. Before I can feel guilty, I pull the door shut.
My friend shakes her head and laughs. “Ang sama!”
I shrug, “I just wanna go home.”
When the van begins to move, I reach into my shirt pocket and pull out a 20-peso bill. “Bayad po!” I call out and watch my twenty pesos reach the driver.
I lean back in my seat, my head thumping. There’s got to be a way for me to make this last ride memorable. Maybe we could have that nostalgic conversation about senior high, then talk about the future and how we’ll see one another in an alumni reunion before telling her—
Stop. I rub my eyes under my glasses. This isn’t like me.
“Hey, no long faces,” I hear Anna say softly, silencing my thoughts. I lift my head to see her smiling.
“Sorry,” I try to return the smile. “I just can’t believe graduation is tomorrow already.”
She leans her head on my shoulder and closes her eyes. “You will come visit me, right?”
I roll my eyes. “C’mon, it’s not like I’ll have the luxury to go all the way to Los Baños often.”
“Of course, the ‘T’ in Taft stands for Trimester right?”
My mind goes blank. Who knows when we’ll be able to see each other again.
“You could’ve been a train ride away though.” I mumble.
“And study a course I despise?” she scoffs. “Sure.”
“Well, I’d rather have you be my doctor than my accountant.”
“You do realize I’m taking Vet Med.”
“I stand by my statement.”
Anna laughs faintly before dozing off on my shoulder.
A few minutes pass before someone calls out “Para po!” The van stops by the side of a towering monument, a personal sign that I’m halfway home.
I don’t know when it hit me, but it definitely wasn’t during orientation or at one of her busking sessions along P. Noval. It couldn’t have been then.
I freeze when Anna moves a bit in her sleep, pieces of her short black hair falling above her eyes. Maybe it was when she cut her hair behind her mom’s back. Well, whenever it was, there’s no going back now.
I shake my head. Of all the ways I could disappoint my parents, it had to be this.
I look out the window in an attempt to distract myself and catch a glimpse of my old junior high school beyond the traffic. I grimace when unwelcome memories come flooding back.
“Hey, I need to tell you something…”
Never again. If I failed once before, it should be enough reason for me not to do it again. Besides, in the two years Anna and I have been friends, I’ve seen her practically treat everyone the same way. There’s no way I’m a special case.
But what if it’s different this time? This is Anna who’s always been vocal about who she is. I could at least try before it’s too late.
I take a deep breath before turning to a sleeping Anna. “Hey,” I whisper, my lips quivering. In the quiet of the packed UV van, my heartbeat resounds in an erratic tempo. I breathe deeply, trying to steady myself. “Anna?”
She stirs at the sound of my voice and lifts her head off my shoulder. “Hmm?” She looks at me through sleepy eyes, her face illuminated by the headlights of cars stuck in traffic.
“I... uhm, I need to—”
“May Delta ba?”
“Meron po,” I call back to the driver who stopped the van immediately.
Anna’s eyes widen. “Ay, sorry! Dito ka na pala.”
I’m not stupid. The last thing I’d want to do is subject her to a moment like this and end up losing someone I value deeply, the person who made me realize that I don’t have to sift through only a few colors to find the one that suits me perfectly.
With trembling hands, I swing the door open and take a quick look back at her.
Before I can step down from the van, she grabs my hand and squeezes it. I look back. Through the car horns and motors of Quezon Avenue, Anna’s voice rises above it all.
“See you tomorrow, Eve.”
I squeeze her hand back and smile. With an ache in my chest, I let go and close the door between us. I see Anna wave at me through her window as the UV Express melds into the evening traffic once more.