Being in an all-boys school during elementary does have its benefits: I get to be as dirty, smelly, and sweaty as I want to since everyone else was doing the same. Downsides, however, also exist. Having so much young testosterone in a concentrated environment would eventually create tension, and tension there was, especially since where I came from, spicy isn’t just used to describe food. Tongues are as hot as the sili the province is known for, and it rarely excludes anyone.

I was a big kid. People called me fat all the time. All the other kids loved teasing fat kids because we generally sucked at those outdoor games like patintero and tayaan (tag). We were always the last ones chosen for every team. Once, while playing with our neighbor’s kids I tripped and fell. All the other kids laughed at me. “Eh kasi, ang taba-taba mo! Hindi mo na kaya ang sarili mo! Ha ha ha!” (“It’s because you’re so fat! You can’t even support yourself anymore!”)I looked around and even their parents were laughing.

It hurt so much.

I went home crying to my mom. She was in the kitchen, cooking even if she just arrived from work. She saw my tears and asked me what was wrong. “Mama, bakit ako mataba? Masama ba ang maging mataba? Bakit lagi nalang ako pinagtatawanan ng mga bata? Masakit na mama. Sobrang sakit.” (“Mom, why am I fat? Is it bad to be fat? Why do all the other kids laugh at me? It hurts, mom. It hurts so much.”). She’d hold me in her arms for a minute or two while she shed a tear. My mom was the type of woman who would get so anxious whenever her son was in pain. Looking back, I’m surprised she wasn’t crying a river. My mom said, “Hayaan mo na sila, anak. Hindi ka nila kilala.” (“Let them be, son. They don’t know who you are”). I got angry, my tears themselves wanted to put salt in their wounds. “Pero mama, masakit. Totoo kasi. Bakit nila ako ginaganyan mama? Bakit? Mas masakit pa sa palo ni papa. Gusto ko sila saktan din.” (“But mom, it really hurts. Because it’s true. Why do they do that to me? Why? It hurts more than daddy’s slaps. I want to hurt them, too.”). My mom then turned to me with eyes as teary as mine, “Anak, wag ka nang maging tulad nila. Alam kong hindi ka naman ganyan. Wag mo silang sasaktan. Wag na wag mo silang sasaktan. Ipangako mo saakin, nak.” (“Son, don’t be like them. I know you’re not like that. Don’t hurt them. Don’t ever hurt them. Promise me, son.”).

Opo mama.” (“Yes mom.”)

I was walking down the corridor, peacefully eating the baon that my mom prepared for me before I went to school. Every day at school there was this group of 3 kids who always teased me for being so fat. It would be the same every day. That day was no different. As I walked pass them they started shouting their usual insults. “Taba!” (“Fat!”), “Lechon!” (“Roast Pork!”), and “Orig!” (“Pig!”) were etched into my ears so much that they eventually just got used to it; numbed by pain until there was no feeling. Actually, there was something different that day.

“Alam mo kung bakit ka biik? Kasi ipananganak ka ng baboy!” (“Do you know why you’re a piglet? It’s because you were given birth to by a pig!”.

I stopped walking and started to clench my fists. “Ha ha ha! Yan lang pala kailangan naming sabihin, eh. Pamilya kayo ng mga matatabang baboy!” (“Ha ha ha! So that’s what we needed to say. You’re a family of fat pigs!”), one said. The other two laughed.

The numbness subsided. I felt a pain in my fists.

Before I knew it, I was on to them. I punched the guy who was talking in the face, and he fell down. The other two started punching me too, but I didn’t pay attention; the pain from the punches was nothing compared to the white-hot arrows they shot with their tongues. I just kept going, punching them all until one of the teachers saw us. He brought us to the office of the prefect.

Once there, I didn’t really pay attention to what all those adults were saying. They phoned my parents. I got nervous. It was a grade-schooler’s worst nightmare to have their parents come to school because of a disciplinary infraction, but that wasn’t what I was thinking of.

I was thinking of my mom, who made me promise not to hurt all those people who teased me. Who was crying when I was crying, who was hurting when I was hurting. My mom, who the kid seated in front of me insulted. My mom, who understood me but I didn’t understand. I started to understand as a child that society was unforgiving. That society will judge us based on things that we did control.

“Iyan na ba ang nanay mo?” (“Is that your mom?”), the prefect asked.

“Opo, ma’am.” (“Yes, ma’am”).

Published by Jadi Castroverde