“Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes,” Yeren informed from the kitchen.
I thrust my head out, peeking through the closet door. “Sorry, I’ll pass for breakfast.”
“But we didn’t have dinner yesterday night, aren’t you starving?”
I slipped the uniform, black slacks, and white polo, out and grabbed a towel. “I woke up by three am. I went out and got myself something from the convenience store. I’m pretty full right now.” I dashed to the bathroom, locked the door then remembered something. I stepped out and snatched a jacket from the closet.
“Ian,” Yeren called out when I opened the door. I turned my head sideward, giving him a ‘what?’ look. A pained expression surfaced on his face. “Did something happen?”
I almost lost my balance. “What do you mean?” I asked, feigning a puzzled look.
He shook his head, “Nothing.”
The cold shower didn’t last too long. Soon, I was forced to switch into a warm shower when my body started to tremble. The temperature was far too cold than I hoped it to be. I stared at myself in the mirror after wearing my uniform, realizing that my eyes were brimmed in red. I fixed the collar and splashed water on my face. I donned the jacket and glanced in the mirror again. For someone who would come out of the bathroom, I felt overdressed.
After wearing leather shoes I pulled beneath my bed, I grabbed my bag and readied myself to leave. “Ian,” Yeren called from behind when I was about to open the door.
I spun back, giving him a querying look. He held my right hand and opened my palms. “Here,” he said, putting a sandwich in my hand. He grinned, “You can talk to me anytime. I’ll always be here.” He rotated my back and pushed me out of the room. He beamed another smile.
“Good luck on your first day,” he added and closed the door.
My lips widened into my ears as I stared at my hand for a while. I took a bite from the sandwich and it tasted wonderful.
The rain poured heavily when I got out. I opened an umbrella from my bag and hoisted my gaze. The sky was dark, the sun hiding beneath the thick layer of clouds. A sigh parted my lips, the time on my phone read, 8:28 am. I didn’t want to be too early for my nine am class so I slowly walked to the University. A rather odd decision, the wind brushing through the nape of my neck, sending shivers to my skin. I couldn’t hate it, however.
Much of the seats were occupied when I entered the room even though I was still ten minutes earlier than scheduled. I sat at the chair just beside the window of the last row. Some of the people had started talking to each other− perhaps familiarizing themselves with the people whom they’d take the subject with.
Tension filled the room. Everyone was anxious. Failing would mean the end of our journey to be a doctor. While the university was renowned for producing globally competitive health professionals, rumor has it that not even forty percent of first-year students would graduate with a medical degree, and only about half of those would ultimately become a doctor.
The tension doubled when a with refined stature professor stepped in. He was tall and lean, his face− firm and serious.
“The dean?” someone whispered. And like a domino, everyone whispered the same thing.
The professor slammed the table three times, silencing everyone inside. “Listen, you got it right, I am Shouri Kashima, the dean of this department.” He looked at the student who started the commotion and smirked. “I only have two rules while you’re in my class. First, no chattering with your classmates while I’m talking. Second, no late come−“
“Sorry, sir, I’m late.” Althea interrupted, storming in the doorway.
He shook his head, his brows knitted together. “Time isn’t your friend, miss. I’ll let it slide this time but remember this…” he paused, giving her a stern look. “There are no second chances.”
She nodded, her face was bright red.
“Take your seat.”
She nodded again and scanned the seats. Her eyes found mine and the next thing I knew, she was sitting next to me.
“Again, I have two rules. First, no chattering with your classmates while I’m talking. Second, no latecomers. Understood?”
Everyone in the classroom nodded and said− Yes, sir− in unison.
He ran his gaze across the students. “Good. Because if you want to be an excellent doctor in the future, the first thing you should learn is self-discipline. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how high your skill and intellect are. Just go home and forget your dream,” he said, giving out the class cards and asking us to briefly fill them up.
“It’s good to see you again, Ian,” Althea whispered as I scribbled my name on the card. I gently turned my head, looking at her in the corner of my eyes. She half-smiled and sucked a deep breath. “Though I kinda feel bad to be scolded on our first day. Can’t be helped. It’s my fault.”
I couldn’t think of anything for an answer so I simply nodded. Her lips parted into a grin. “I like your handwriting,” she suddenly whispered, staring at my class card. Blood rushed to my cheeks as I covered it with a hand. She laughed as I passed them in front.
After mentioning that the official lecture would start on Wednesday, Mr. Kashima shuffled the class cards when he finished collecting them. He slipped one from the middle.
“Reyes…” he paused, staring at the card. My ribs throbbed, hoping he’d mention a different name. “Ian.” I almost fell from my seat when it came out of his mouth. Everyone turned their attention to me.
I turned my gaze to the dean, realizing that he was staring directly at me. He didn’t move nor blink. He froze from where he stood, his face filled with familiar sorrow. For a brief moment, I saw something glistened in the corner of his eye. His right hand wiped it after immediate awareness. No one seemed to notice what just happened.
He lifted his hand, signaled me to get up. I hesitantly stood, my feet trembling. He smiled and it surprised me.
I took a deep breath. “I’m Ian Reyes… seventeen years old,” I said while instinctively moving my gaze. “…from San Roque, Magsaysay Province. Graduated from Eastern Academy of San Roque.”
He nodded and I saw that everyone’s attention was still on me.
“Any reason why you pursue this degree?”
I bit the back of my lower lip, “I wanted to be a doctor.”
He let out soft snickers, causing everyone to turn their eyes back to him. “Everyone here aimed to be a doctor, Mr.,” he said and some students also laughed, lessening the tension within the room.
“Moving on…” He cleared his throat. “Why do you want to be a doctor?”
There was a moment of silence before the words escaped my lips. “My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer… almost two years ago. I think… I think that influences me a lot.” I couldn’t be more talkative and honest at the same time in my life as I stared down at my desk. I sucked a breath. “I wanted to be someone who’s trying to cure my mom. He’s not simply a doctor, he’s one with passion.”
I heard Althea clapping. It seemed out of place at first but some people started to follow her lead until everyone in the classroom was clapping except me and Mr. Kashima. I couldn’t understand why they were doing that. But the thumping of my heart and the surge of blood on my cheeks was so overwhelming that I wanted to get out of that room, as fast as I could, without looking back.
Mr. Kashima signaled me to sit down. I did and he slammed the table once. Everyone stopped and turned their eyes on him. I breathed out in relief. He didn’t say anything, instead, he shuffled the class cards again. He picked one and read the name out loud. The girl in front of me stood up. She introduced herself and he asked her a barrage of questions. The whole class clapped again when she finished. He also signaled her to sit down and he slammed the door again, once, shortly after.
Everyone in the class was called before the three hours were over. Time flew excruciatingly slow as the students introduced themselves. I heard but didn’t listen. No one particularly interested me.
“Ian,” Althea called as I left the room.
I looked back, raised my brows, and half-smiled.
“Do you have any class after this?”
I shrugged, shaking my head.
She nodded and gave me a hopeful stare, “How about lunch with me?”
I averted my gaze, finding the words to turn her down. Then the phone suddenly buzzed from my pocket. I read a message from Yeren, ‘I have a sudden change of schedule. They moved my 3 PM class until noon. No lunch for MWF Sorry’
I looked again at her, who’s still waiting for my answer.
Althea insisted on going outside of the University for lunch though I was pretty reluctant about it. The rain− from this morning− still poured heavily. I had no way of winning against her.
As much as I wanted to walk in silence, she was a natural chatterbox. She kept me busy with her endless idle talk. I heard every word but only a few had remained in my memory. I simply feigned a nod most of the time.
“Please, not here,” I whispered to Althea when we entered the steakhouse that Yeren talked about yesterday.
“Why not? I heard their food is one of the best in town.”
“Yeah…” I nodded, “But too expensive.”
“Come on…” She grinned amusingly, her hand grabbing my wrist. “You know, it’s our first day. We should celebrate.”
A young waiter approached the table as soon as we settled in our seats. He gave us a menu but Althea didn’t even look at it and asked for their best seller. Following her lead, I did the same. When he left, I looked at the place uncomfortably. Everything was intricately designed from the walls, the wooden tables, the lighting down to the floor.
The food was supposed to be great but I tasted nothing. My chest throbbed, thinking of how much a single meal would cost me. I told myself to relax but it didn’t help. Althea looked so different, she seemed happy. I watched as she gracefully sliced her steak and talked in between. She must be used to this kind of lifestyle.
It was a surprise but we shared an identical schedule on Mondays and Wednesdays. A class with Prof. Kashima− Basic Human Anatomy, and three supplementary subjects − Biology, Physiology, and Psychology. She sat next to me for four and a half hours− straight and without any breaks− from one thirty onwards for minor classes. Her company made the first day a bit bearable. The teachers simply introduced themselves. They demanded the students fill up their class cards, then made us talk about ourselves over and over again. Her discreet whispers were far more enticing than anyone’s story in the classroom.
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