Looking for Words

Nonfiction by | February 21, 2016

  1. Mother (noun) – Ina

Growing up amidst small hills was a gift flipping pages of books and getting wrapped with orchestras of words each time.  My mother told me once that she placed a souvenir of my first haircut inside an English- Tagalog dictionary, the sole book in the house three years before the world hit the millennium mark. A friend suggested that to her, so the baby would love books.

I remembered Papa in his school uniform, standing by the door. My brothers, Brandon and Patrick, ended their Pokemon card battle. The three of us raced toward him, placed his right hand on our foreheads one by one, and grabbed the bag of candies from his left hand.

“Let us eat first,” Mama said, gazing at us from the kitchen.


  1. abide (verb) – umalinsunod

Mama enrolled me at Calinan Central Elementary School since she worked there as a teacher in Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan and Musika, Sining at Edukasyong Pampalakas. The class adviser greeted us with her kindly smile. She placed a Manila paper on the blackboard and asked us to repeat after her, pointing the stick on the first word, “ab-ide”.

“Make sure you’re at the top of the class.” Papa was kind and patient, but he expected much from us in terms of our studies. Despite the hardships he faced , he was an honor student all his academic life in Surigao del Sur. During meals, he would narrate how they needed to wake up at three in the morning, do chores and prepare for school, otherwise they would be forced to kneel on the floor with outstretched arms.  He also shared how fishing helped him with his studies until he became an educator. “You are provided with almost everything. All you have to do is to ask and study,” he would frequently tell us.

When the teacher posted the class ranking, I didn’t know what to say. I was second.


  1. page (noun) – pahina

“I’m disappointed. Your mother told me. ” Papa said.

“I’m sorry. I did what I could. But Troy was proficient in all subjects. I kept struggling with Math.”

“But the school sent both of you to the Math contest, right?”

“They did, because they knew you were my father.”

“What’s not to understand?”

“I tried. I was second.”

“You could’ve just asked for my help.”

“You were busy. ”

“Why were you afraid to approach me?”

“I asked you once about a word problem Papa. You taught me how, but I wasn’t able to get it. You got angry.”

“What? You know… all that I did and said was for your own good. I hoped you will see that one day.”

Papa went out of the room. I cried. It wasn’t 65 or 75 but having the grade made me feel like I was falling from a cliff. The fog blurred my sight.  The rocks pierced my back.

I opened the notebook and let fear and sadness scribble themselves. In writing, I never had to ace all tests.


  1. sea (noun) – dagat

Summer arrived in a flash. I woke up at seven, drank milk, and walked toward the living room, avoiding to create a sound.

“Good morning Ate,” Patrick said, holding the remote control, eyes glued on the scene where Batman was chasing a thief. I wanted to watch fairytales.  Should I exercise my power as the eldest child?  I thought.

Brandon came out of the bedroom, grabbed the object from Patrick and raised it in the air.  Patrick reached for it but he couldn’t, so he covered the television button instead.

“I want to watch Sineskwela, “ Brandon said.

“You too, stop. Brothers should not quarrel with each other. Give me that,” I said.


“I’ll tell Mama and Papa about this.”

Brandon gave me the remote control.  He went back to bed. The show ended, and Patrick decided to play basketball next.

I watched Grimm’s fairytales on television. The episode was based on Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Little Mermaid. Sirenetta exchanged her voice for a pair of legs since she wanted to be with the prince whom she  had rescued from a shipwreck. When the prince took her to the palace, she found out that he was already engaged. In her sorrow, she went to the shore, and there she heard her sisters’ voices, urging her to kill the prince with the dagger so she could return to her old self.  However, love and pity conquered her. She ran and let herself be one with the sea once more. Fairies saw her and they carried her body as they flew to the skies.

Tears formed bubbles around.  I wanted to give Sirenetta a happy ending she deserved.  Writing gave me power to change and create, to make the impossible possible.


  1. walk (verb) – maglakad

My parents enrolled me at Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School under the Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP). I didn’t know of schools here in the city that offered Writing curriculums, so I obeyed my parents’ wishes. The first few weeks were fine, but learning science required the skill and precision in doing laboratory experiments, which I lacked.

“Class, I will divide you into five groups. You will present a chapter of Ibong Adarna,” the Filipino teacher said. That was the sweetest news I heard for the day. The teacher assigned the last chapters to us the part where Don Juan chose Maria to be his wife and queen of Berbanya.

Writing helped me fare in the program.


  1. candle (noun) – kandila

I was confined at Brokenshire Hospital, the only place with vacant rooms during the outbreak of dengue around July 2010.  Every now and then, medical technologists would get blood samples. None of my fingers were spared.

“You were being prayed for. But you should also pray for yourself,” Papa said.

“But who could pray at this state?” I said in a low voice.

The next day, Mama left for home since my brother had a fever also. I was scheduled for a heart examination that afternoon. A medical technologist came into the room two hours earlier than he was supposed to.

“Her platelet count dropped to four and we need to get a blood sample right now.

We said our prayers. The schedule for blood transfusion was cancelled. People never had the ultimate control of their lives, I thought. No one knew when would death break in or knock on the door. I realized I had to make the most of every minute, and make the right choice.


  1. rose (noun) – rosas

The classroom seat plan changed by the time I came back to school. I was transferred to the fifth row. Ian, a tall lean guy who I met last year in a spelling bee contest, greeted  all of us at the back.

Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince was the next reading material for our English class. The teacher tasked us to read and perform a scene from the excerpt. Christine and Ann already had their partners, so I asked my seatmate Marie instead.

What is essential is invisible to the eye. I pondered on those words. This world needed peace, I thought.

“That was good,” Ian said.  He was a literary writer from the school paper. The way he used mundane objects — the leaves, for instance as metaphors for his thoughts fascinated us.

Ian would share his poems to me every lunch break. That started the bond only the two of us had then.


  1. detour (noun) – magditur

Classes in ESEP ended at six in the evening. Almost all jeepneys were filled with passengers. By the time I reached home, my family was already in their bedrooms.

“Are you all right?” Mama asked.

“We were thinking of transferring you to a nearer school.” Papa said.


  1. gift (noun) – regalo

Adjusting to a new environment in Davao City Special National High School was not that difficult since I had known some of my classmates there from elementary.

I joined the school publication in Filipino, and worked as a News writer. It paved the way for more writing opportunities for me. My Filipino teacher sent me as the school’s representative for the University of the Philippines Mindanao Communicator’s Guild First Mindanao-wide On-The-Spot-Essay-Writing-Competition in Filipino.

The topic was about our stand on the government’s decision to pardon suspects of the Maguindanao massacre . I said in the essay that I was against it because it was unjust, and I showed how the youth could take part in this issue by raising awareness, for instance. Results came out after a couple of days. I received a medal and a cash prize.  Being the champion made my parents happier, and proud of me once more.  God willed it, I was certain.


  1. face (verb)- harapin

“Take up Architecture.” Papa’s words made me think.  I sketched a little but I still doubted whether I could do it.  I feared contradicting him.

They enrolled me at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. From a distance, the building looked like an unfolded scroll. This was the start of my new journey  the road to the future.

Being in the Architecture program made me feel like I was a fish out of the water. Orthographic projections, for instance, tormented me. Analyzing how a three-dimensional object’s top, front and side view would look like in two-dimension was hard for me.  The rest of my classmates were receiving A+s in their plates. My usual grades were B-s.


  1. zone (noun)- sona

It was about seven in the evening when I came home. The T-square, triangles and tracing papers waited for me. I stared at the  Bachelor’s pad plan for almost an hour. Perhaps I could add spaces like a bar or a library. I was crying inside. I lifted the technical pen and sketched a zoning diagram — similar to an outline of a piece.

Mama entered the room, bringing a cup of hot chocolate, biscuits, and storybooks. She placed these on the table by the bed.  The warmth of her palm soothed my shoulders.

“You should rest.”

“I just have to finish this.”

“Okay then. Please read this in your free time and write additional questions. I will give this as an activity to my pupils.”

I left the tracing paper by itself. I picked up the book Why the Town Is Sleepy. Reading it reminded me who I was, what I could and could not do.


  1. shift (noun) – turno

I gathered my courage and opened the door to my parent’s room. My chest was pounding. Mama was lying in bed, watching a television show.

“Mama, I have something to tell you. ”


“Ma, you have seen the days when I am almost sleepless. I cannot draft fast and accurately at the same time. I want to shift.”

“You are already there. Your father would not want you to do that. Try to work faster, do not mind the pressure.”

“I can’t. I tried.”

“Did they fail you?”

“I did in Math. Almost in Drafting.”

“Why would you give up? All courses are difficult.”

“I know Ma and it seems harder for me because I lack the skills.”

“Did they kick you out?”

“No, Ma.”

“The expenses.”

“I cannot go on like this”

“What course are you planning to shift to?”

“Creative Writing.”

“I’ll tell your father about that.”


  1. voice (noun) – boses

“Why?” Papa asked.

“I’m sorry Papa. I did what I could.”

“I’m sorry I did not ask you.”

“I’m sorry I did not tell you. I was afraid to go against you.”

He embraced me tight. I felt I was a young girl once again.


  1. force (noun) – pwersa

I remembered making Newton’s cradle for our final project in Integrated Science in my first year in highschool. I asked Papa to buy me a piece of styrofoam and string. I picked up thin pieces of wood in the backyard and borrowed marbles from my brothers.

I attached the thread of the string on the hook at the top of the marble. Then, I glued it on the wooden horizontal bars, and placed it on the styrofoam. I pulled the first string and released it. The last ball was supposed to move but it did not. For several hours, I modified the length of the string and tried until the last ball swung, moving at least an inch. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Isaac Newton once said. The cradle taught me that one’s decisions lead to more of it, pulling and then releasing three balls meant that three balls would swing forward in return.


  1. flow (verb) – dumaloy

Carlos Angeles’s “Gabu” was one of the literary works that struck me most.  The poem depicted an image of a wave coming back to the sea as soon as it reached the shore. It reminded me of the moments when I had to return to where I came from, and to face, examine, and conquer the pains of the past, in order to find purpose in this life, and to move forward.

Joanna Paula M. Cagape majors in creative writing at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

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