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1 Schrödinger’s Cat / Enchanté (la prèmiere fois)

7 June 2004

Can’t start the school year late for class, Patrick Cruz told himself as he walked into the Math Department building for his first ever university class. He had overslept a little, despite going to bed earlier than usual, and so he had had to rush out of his boarding house to school on an empty stomach. But through a series of fortunate events he had managed to arrive fifteen minutes before his classes began, and so he debated whether to stop by the ground-floor cafeteria to grab a quick breakfast before finally deciding against it. He had three hours of free period after this class, so all he had to do was endure his hunger pangs during the hour and a half of Algebra. Maybe less—the instructor might not feel like lecturing on the very first day, after all. He might not even show up at all.

He walked into the classroom full of cheer, which was his usual mood at the start of a day. (When he was once asked how he could smile so early in the morning, something that only babies seemed to be able to accomplish, he said that it was his way of enjoying the newness of another day, but his friends suspected it stemmed more from his mild but chronic forgetfulness, not having remembered anything to be ashamed of or sad about that had happened during the previous day. After some introspection, his friends thought that he was lucky to be that way.) As he scanned the room for an empty seat, he caught sight of Sarah, and the beginning of a frown began to tug on his smile. How unlucky, he sighed. Sarah Tan was his ex-girlfriend from high school. He had known that she had also intended to enter Universidad Central after graduating, and so he had steeled himself for the accidental encounter with her in the campus every now and then. But he had never imagined that they would be sharing a class. This is too soon, he thought. They broke up barely four months ago, right before graduation, after quarrelling one too many time. Animosity still flared strongly between them, as each side blamed the other for the failure of their relationship.

Taking a seat as far away from her as possible, he deliberately avoided looking in her direction as he scanned the classroom. More than half of the class was female, and some of them were good-looking. He might find a chance to forget Sarah here, he thought as his eyes darted from one pretty classmate to another.

‘Hey, so you’re in the class, too,’ said his neighbour. Patrick’s head turned left. It was one of his best friends from high school, Alvin Lim. He was a world-renowned artist, who rose to fame after his winning piece in a national visual arts contest had been praised by international critics in attendance during the awarding ceremony. His subsequent drawings had since been displayed in exhibits throughout the world. However, he found his fame boring; so, instead of focusing on his art career after graduating from high school, he took up Architecture in Universidad Central. During the special admission exam into the College of Architecture, he found himself in the middle of a lot of attention as everyone in the testing room, including the proctor, professed how much they admired him and his works. The proctor even told him that there was no need for him to take the special exam, a point that the dean of the College of Architecture, who had come to visit them after finding out about their celebrity student-to-be, agreed with, but Alvin insisted on being treated normally.

‘So what, everyone from San Lorenzo is in this class?’ Patrick asked, his head jerking in Sarah’s direction. San Lorenzo Academy was the name of their high school. It was, Alvin often joked, one of the few schools in the country named after a saint that was not run by either priests or the government. It was a fairly ordinary high school that achieved some fame during the past few years due to the efforts of students from Patrick’s batch. Alvin and his drawings won a national contest and international acclaim. Sarah and Christianne Ramos, a friend of Alvin and Patrick’s, had represented the school in many national science quiz bees and science fairs. Bettina Dizon (who preferred to be called ‘Bets’) was the team captain of San Lorenzo’s volleyball team that reached the final four in the last interschool volleyball tournament. Their successes continued after their graduation from high school; more than half of the students from San Lorenzo who took the notoriously difficult Universidad Central admission exams passed—Sarah and Christianne were among the top one hundred qualifiers. Patrick had expected to meet his batchmates from San Lorenzo all over the campus, but having two of them as classmates was a surprise, considering that he had consulted with none of them when he chose his classes.

‘Bets is in another class, different time, and Christianne passed the advanced placement exam, so she’s doing Calculus this term. As for the others, I don’t care about them, so I don’t know.’

‘I see.’ He grinned. Class would be a lot more fun for him with Alvin around. With some effort they did well enough in high school math, and whenever they encountered something too difficult for them, Alvin could always charm someone to help teach them about it.

From the corner of his eye he saw a lot of heads turning towards the door. He thought that perhaps the instructor had already arrived, and so he turned from Alvin and faced front. He was caught unprepared by the sight that walked before him.

She was mistaken for an instructor, so purposeful was her stride. She was a breath-taking sight—Sarah was quite a catch, being one of the prettiest girls in San Lorenzo, but this woman was ahead of her in a lot of aspects. Her long straight hair flowed past her shoulder, framing a thin face. She was wearing a white long-sleeved blouse and black slacks, cut in a way that accentuated her model-like figure as well as her earnest demeanour. She seemed the type who could take everything seriously, and would wish to be taken seriously as well. Patrick stared at her as she scanned the room for an empty seat—she really was beautiful—but he decided right then and there that he would have nothing to do with this intimidating woman if she could help it. But when their eyes met for a fraction of a second, it seemed as if his heart had skipped a beat. Her eyes betrayed a sense of brittleness, as if she could be shattered at any moment. After that fleeting moment of eye contact, all semblance of frailness dissipated from her, replaced by a sense of silent strength. Casting aside his previous intent, Patrick found himself captivated by this paradoxical woman.

She walked to an unclaimed seat with an aura of self-possession that made her seem taller than her average height. The seat beside her was empty, and Patrick cursed himself for not having chosen to sit there.

‘Did you—’ Patrick began to speak, turning to Alvin as he pointed at the newcomer, but he was brushed off.

‘Eh, pretty girls, they’re three for two pesos here in the university.’ He twirled his pen absentmindedly as he scrutinised what he had drawn on his yellow pad.

Patrick shrugged. International fame made Alvin a little jaded, anyway, thought Patrick. He stared back at the beauty. He was wondering how to ask for her name, how to get her number, whether he would even have a chance to form a coherent sentence in front of her. He often found himself tongue-tied and tentative in the presence of strangers, especially pretty ones. But when they have transcended the state of acquaintances into intimacy he was at-ease and direct with people, often tactlessly so. This abrupt change was one of the reasons Sarah often fought with him.

The instructor finally walked in, and everyone in class sat a little straighter, save for the beauty, who was already sitting properly, and Alvin, who persisted in his slouching. The instructor was silent as he sat down. Before he could open his mouth to speak a pair of voices interrupted him.

‘It’s time for the Wake-up Call with Shiela and Harry! On today’s program…’ Patrick’s cell phone’s radio alarm started going off, but, despite the loudness, he saw that the instructor kept on talking, and nobody paid him the slightest attention. Soon, the sounds coming from his phone drowned out all other noises—

Wait a minute. Algebra class starts at 8:30, but the Wake-up Call started at 7:30. What’s going on?

He opened his eyes. The dull grey paint of his room’s ceiling greeted him. He rubbed his eyes as his brain churned through what he had experienced. Was it a dream? It seemed a little too real to be one.

Suddenly he sat up: It’s 7:30 already! It took him about forty-five minutes from his boarding house to get to school. So to make it on time he had to be ready in fifteen minutes. Meaning he had to skip breakfast…

‘Wait, what’s happening?’ he said, as he clapped his hands to his face. ‘This is just like in the dream.’ He shook his head vigorously in an effort to dissipate the memory of his all-too-lucid dream—he had to get ready for school, and fast.

Fifteen minutes later Patrick was walking out of his boarding house. His real home was actually not too far away from school, a fact that prevented him from being accepted into the school-run dormitories that lay within the university grounds, since they were reserved for students who came from the really faraway provinces. But the distance was enough to necessitate his getting a boarding house that was closer to the school. Even under ideal conditions, two hours of commute separated his home and Universidad Central, and during rush hour, another hour was added to the travel time. That meant that, had he stayed home, he would need to wake up way before 5:30 am just to get to school on time. He’d rather die than have to go through that for an entire semester, so he spent some of his summer holidays with Christianne as they looked for a cheap boarding house less than an hour away from UC (Christianne found a women-only boarding house less than a kilometre away from his).

Near the boarding house was the jeepney terminal that ferried people to the metro station. Patrick would need to ride the metro and then take another jeep that went from the metro station into and around the university before he could get to his first class. As it turned out, the jeepney needed just one more passenger to fill it up when Patrick arrived. He was stunned for a moment before being hurried aboard by the jeepney terminal’s custodian.

Patrick looked around at the jeepney’s passengers. They were exactly like those in his dream. He was the last to arrive, and his seat was cramped. That man in the light blue long-sleeved polo, the one reading a tabloid, he was in his dream. That woman tugging at the hem of her miniskirt, conscious of the stares she received from the men around her, she was also in the dream. An old man sat nearest the driver, carrying a chicken coop that was placed on his lap. The chicken crowed as the jeepney left the terminal. They were all in his dream. Perhaps my dream was some sort of sixth sense? he thought.

When Patrick arrived at the metro station, one of the ticket booths had just opened, and he was the first one in line, thus avoiding the long queues of the other booths. This had also happened in his dream.

Getting off the metro and into the university jeepney terminal, he took his place at the queue. A jeepney then arrived, and the terminal custodian said that it seats nine. Patrick counted the number of passengers before him. There were nineteen, meaning he was the twentieth in line. Two would sit in the front beside the driver, nine on the left-hand seats, and nine on the right. Twenty people would get to ride in this jeepney, meaning he wouldn’t have to wait for the next one. This was exactly like in his dream; this was how he got to arrive in school with fifteen minutes to spare.

Patrick’s head was in such a daze as he entered the Math department building that he had not bothered to consider getting breakfast. Instead, he went directly to his classroom to check. He found Sarah there, quickly looking away when she saw him entering. Patrick was so shocked that he stared at her for some time, which made Sarah turn her head back to glare at him before looking pointedly away. He looked around until he found Alvin, wearing a slight smile while his right hand waved lazily in his direction. He was doodling on his yellow pad.

‘Excuse me,’ said a soft but firm voice behind him. He turned and saw the boundary between dream and reality finally broken down. It was the beauty he had adored in his dreams—it was not much of a stretch to say she was also the woman of his dreams.

‘You’re blocking the doorway,’ she said in a chilly voice. He grinned weakly as he quickly looked for the seat he remembered she would take. Having found it, he checked the one nearest it. The one on its left was empty, but… bad luck. It was also beside Sarah’s seat. Gathering his courage, he walked towards that chair, causing Sarah to stare wide-eyed at his approaching figure. He sat down beside her; a little afterwards the beauty sat down beside him, taking the same seat as in his dream. She took out a thick notebook from her shoulder bag; on its cover was written: Theresa Santos. 04-V5110. BS Physics.

The same course as Sarah, Patrick sighed.

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