Monday, July 10, 2006

The Notebook

Image “I have to take a dump,” Jessie whispered.

“What? You mean, now?”

Jessie winced; I saw desperation in his eyes. It made me shiver. It made me mutter to myself, Oh, shit, indeed.

This was in third grade. Our teacher, who was heavy with child and terribly cranky, was introducing a new math concept that required us to work with strange symbols. I was straining to understand the whole thing when Jessie, who sat beside me, tapped me with an icy hand and winced and said he really, really had to shit.

“What did you eat?” I was trying to keep my voice down, hiding my embarrassment over this shitty conversation. “Why now? Couldn’t it wait till the next decade?”

Jessie tried to speak, but he suddenly stood up with that strange gait as if he had a small animal coming out of his butt. He went to our teacher, whispered something, then off he went. He walked out the door like a duck in pain.

I felt guilty somehow. Jessie was, after all, my best buddy. I had other pals, but Jessie was my Heavy Artillery; he was one of those Luca Brasi types who were brutal to enemies and loyal to friends and a weapon you only unleashed to destroy countries like the former USSR. Jessie was very useful when, for instance, one of the nasty kids from another grade level wanted to smash my face because I had committed the terrible mistake of playing in the seesaw that the kid apparently “owned.” It didn’t help that I tried to give the corny explanation that only “God could own the seesaw.” I would have been dead had Jessie didn’t intervene on my behalf; he had that ugly scowl and those fists that would force the copious birthing of second thoughts even in the head of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Jessie became my loyal friend because he was sort of slow. It would take him a while to understand the lessons, and often he’d rely on me to supply the answers during spot quizzes. I was not really smart, but I was not daft, either. Maybe I just knew my way around little tricks. When you think about it, the world is just an endless Easter egg hunt; others stumble in the grass and use brute force to look for the eggs, while others just sort of feel the right places where to look. Jessie fell in the former category, while I probably belonged in the latter. Or maybe I was just lucky in some strange way.

But the point is, Jessie regarded me as some sort of savior for “academically” saving his ass so many times. There was one irritating moment when I was even tempted to call him stupid to his face, only that I suddenly remembered Jessie’s strategic role in the schoolyard’s system of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the wisdom that you never, ever call your “nuclear warhead” stupid.

So when on that shitty morning Jessie sallied forth to crap, I felt a pang of guilt. It was one of those feelings that suddenly blanketed you and made you remember all those shining instances when Jessie the Good Guy stood beside you to battle the schoolyard monsters. It was an ugly feeling, something I’d probably never get used to. So what I did, I also went out and followed him to the restroom.

I have to tell you about the restroom. It was a place where the word “rest” was as alien and awkward as Eddie Gil in Malacañang. It had that sticky stench that would cling on your skin and clothes, and its walls had ugly rust stains that must have been there since the Cretacious period. Entering the restroom felt like entering the maw of some huge beast that had severe halitosis.

I found Jessie in the last cubicle that the rest of the world usually ignored. I knocked softly on the door and, to lighten things up, said something like, “Did you eat over-ripe pineapples? Because your shit smells like The Sickness.”

Jessie opened the door a bit and stuck out his sweaty face and said, “I need water.”

“Water? You wanna drink here?”

“No, no,” he said. “I need to wash my—”

“Okay,” I said. I looked around. I tried turning the faucets but they coughed out air. There was a plastic drum in a corner, but it was much taller than me and there was no way I could get anything that it contained. Exasperated, I gave Jessie the bad news.

Jessie frowned. “I’m dead.” Then something flashed in his eyes. He said, “Get me some paper!”

“Toiler paper? I have no—“

“Any paper! It doesn’t matter,” he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. All this while he’d been sitting on the toilet and sticking his head out the door. “Get me some scrap. Anything… Or get me one of my notebooks.”

My mouth fell open. His notebooks? You know you’ve hit rock-bottom when you’re beginning to sacrifice dear things like school supplies. Jessie loved his notebooks because they served like some sort of status symbol; while the rest of us kids had notebooks with pictures of local movie stars on them, Jessie’s notebooks were the expensive types that had pictures of the Transformers and Voltron, which were way cool. It was a mark of Jessie’s stature in our universe. Besides, he loved his notebooks so much he rarely wrote on them.

“You can’t be serious. You’re sacrificing them in the name of some crappy—”

“Oh shut up! Just get my notebook, okay?”

I said nothing. I frowned and decided he must be insane. But I had never been in the kind of shoes he was in, so maybe I just didn’t understand the magnitude of his dilemma.

I ran out and went back to the classroom, only to find the class in the middle of a spot quiz. Everybody was in the heat of answering their papers. I quickly forgot all about Jessie and how he must have festered in that cubicle for an hour more. I only remembered him and the notebook he needed to wipe his butt when the quiz was over. But then, it was too late. Jessie appeared at the door, an uneasy smile on his face. When he came over, he even thanked me.

“Because you didn’t come,” he said. “You just saved my notebooks from my desperation.”

I stared at him. “Don’t be corny,” I said. "You're making me want to take a dump, too."

Later that school year, Jessie would crap once more, and it would be worse because he’d do it right on his seat—right beside me. I would be so ashamed of him that it would mark the end of our “friendship”; in the budding self-consciousness of people in the third grade, there were few things you could get away with, but defecating in the classroom was not one of those things. Literally shitting in class marked you for life in our small town. And by “life,” I mean, until high school.

“I used all my paper money,” he said. “Say, can you lend me some money for my fare home?”

Sure, I said. I felt so tired and sick to my stomach. This whole business was making me wish I should have flushed Jessie down the toilet bowl—if only I had water.

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