It’s a week before guys our age
go up the stage to receive the proof
that they’ve burned their brows,
they’ve bound their feet, for four long years.
So we sit here around the table
inside a kiosk, along a narrow street
at the back gate of the campus.
Migoy plays patron saint this afternoon,
godfather to the thirsty, boss of the bottles,
lord of the first round. The lucky guy.
Not a single red mark in his card.
Still, like the rest of us, he is wearing
his uniform an extra year. Our brother
didn’t receive any failing grade, Jess explains,
the best man in the wedding, the eldest son
in the funeral, Christ before the breaking
of bread. But just this sem, guys.
And that’s because he had taken
half his subjects before. Jess laughs,
leaping off his seat, slapping his lap.
Migoy keeps his cool, takes no offense,
for Jess finds all situations funny,
from a toddler tripping on his feet
to an old man lying in a coffin. We stare
at the golden liquid inside the rose-colored bottle
standing at the center of the table,
the center of the universe, searching
for answers to questions we won’t dare
ask one another. Jess reaches for the glass
and pours the content of the bottle into it.
We watch the liquid flow, listen to it slosh,
our parched throats itching for a shot,
untilled soil waiting for raindrops.
Jess raises the glass and clinks it
with unseen another. To brod Migoy,
he says. We nod in solemn assent.
To brod Migoy.
Jude Ortega was born and lives in Sultan Kudarat Province. He’s been published in the Philippines Graphic, the Free Press and Philippine Daily Inquirer.