It was a humid night in June and a guest with semi-formal attire had arrived in the hotel with a black backpack strapped on. Some women stared at him, while some kept chatting in the hallway that was relatively free. He had a dark polo and some navy blue jeans on, and blended well with the unlit part of the reception area. He sat in a corner after laying down his bag.
He had known absolutely no one, and didn't expect such a bare reception when he arrived a bit past the meeting time. He was someone who sometimes missed quizzes and was sometimes berated for having a different concept of early, so it was a surprise to him that he was among the very first people to arrive.
The meeting place only had lights filling it save for a professor he talked to. She was waiting for her son, who was currently a first-year medical student. After some polite small-talk he simply left his bag and walked around the city's purported party area, finally stopping by the nearest convenience store-bar because most people used that to purchase relatively more affordable beer. He bought a bottle of Extra Joss.
In between sips he sauntered around, while waiting for the programme to start. He couldn't sit comfortably among people he was unfamiliar with, so he walked around the block twice before the program finally started. Since he was partnered with people from different year levels that he wasn't really interested in, he gave them due respect, and then watched as the program ploddingly moved on.
He talked a bit with the people in his table, and then started once again into the program. It took hours that were reflected in minutes by his watch, but there was finally a game where people sought to introduce themselves by playing rock-paper-scissors after telling their opponents where they came from. He wanted to go out of the room.
Then he saw that same girl wearing that gray sweater walking in the dying light of the afternoon sun towards her car that seemed to be invisible for the most part because he had never seen her for nearly a month in school as she wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with a pink (or was it red?) ribbon on her head standing aloof, as if unsure who to partner with. He gravitated toward her with a piercing gaze as he told himself 'don't go back, don't go back.'
Upon reaching her, however, a tall and dark guy asked to be her partner. He had lost his chance, and had to settle with a fat girl who was a close friend of one of his friends. He lost the game, of course, and had to tag along until someone he didn't care about won the whole game and no one really knew each other anyway.
His friends had invited him to escape the program and he obliged, not because he loved drinking, but because they were his friends and the program was dragging, anyway. There were less cheers than the year before, and even lesser in the year before that. Acquaintance parties served little more than as ceremony anyway. It would be miraculous if people knew more about the other batches than their own. They were merely re-acquainting with themselves.
He would have been more acquainted with beer than with the other batches, and so he decided he could be a bit loose, because he didn't really drink that often.
Off he went to look for his friends, who cryptically left him a message that he couldn't really decipher.
'We're here, at the store near the parking lot.'
'I'm not from around here, June, can you tell me where it is?'
'Just walk a bit from that convenience store.'
'You said you'd be here.'
'Well, it's cheaper there.'
'Okay, I'll try to find it.'
He saw Ms. Gray Sweater coming out of the yogurt place with a friend of hers as he was just wrapping up his phonecall with his friend . She looked all right, but she paled in comparison to the unassuming whiteness, no, puritanical beauty, of the sweater-girl. His hands were slowly filling with sweat. He didn't even know whether he was flushed.
But he went to her, probably shaking, and said:
'Hi, I'm Sal. I'm a third-year medical student, from Ateneo de Manila U, Biology, and from Philippine Science High School. Feel free to ask me any questions about school.'
'Hi, I'm Elle. First year, St. Paul's, Nursing. Nice to meet you.'
Her hands were cold and clammy while he shook it, but he kept on shaking it anyway, because he felt that his was the same. He also introduced himself to her friend but he only looked at the girl. As both of them walked away, he looked at the sky that was turning blacker by the second, walked around the block once, and tried to look for his friends.
He'd never done that before.