For the Love of Zebra
I said I’m not going to write about love on V-day. I did; I didn’t. As much as I would want to pour out my thoughts, it does not seem fit to me to discuss love or being loveless on a day when almost anyone is expecting you to be happy, even when you are clinging on to an unromantic love to keep your solitary life alive.
I will not talk about him now. I will write about Zebra, instead. It was a codename I used to retain his identity. Zebra, because he loves shirts with stripes. Not that he is anyone of much importance now as how he seemed some years back, some fourteen years ago to be exact. I just feel he deserves some space in one chapter of my life.
I will write about him because I saw him today.
We went to the same school in college. We took up engineering courses but with different fields. I do not know him personally until now. And I doubt if he knew something about me either—apart from the fact that we were just school and ridemates.
I was never the kind who opens up about my life to others, except to a few good people I know would understand and tolerate me, regardless of how stupid I may have looked and acted at times. To most, I am a heavily-guarded fortress—strong, unyielding to the clamors of my own soul. I don’t let anyone crush my wall that easily. But to those who knew me by heart, I am far from being the strong woman I portray I am. I wore a mask that often sends people the idea that I am an island that can stand on her own, who can live on her own means without others. To me, it doesn’t take that much effort to show a facade that has long driven people away, especially men. But at the end of each day, I wished I ain’t that good at pretending. If I weren’t, perhaps, something good could have blossomed during those years and the years that followed.
I first saw Zebra in 2001—first year of the five years into the era of pretending and acting as a grown-up. He was not someone anyone might wronged for Mr. Campus Crush but he was to me, in silence, the most beautiful guy I had laid eyes on. Downright simple. Silent. Smart.
Through the years, I would glance at him whenever he’s not looking, during fateful moments when we would see each other anywhere. Once caught, I’d pretend I’m looking blankly at the open space, inexpressive. He was shy as me. We rode on the same bus and jeepneys going home and to school and talked about some trivial things everytime we are caught in heavy traffic. He would locked up stares at me and I would look away. If it did beacon something negative, that I will never know.
For the most part, I wished of seeing him everyday. But surprisingly, a part of me wants another. We became acquainted. He would shyly smile when we bumped into each other in the campus. I do the same most of the times, until that fateful day.
College life was taxing. Thesis, projects, reports, exams and the thought of where to lend money from for my tuition fees wrecked havoc and left my mind in clutter. I laugh when I need to but most of the times, I am engrossed into studying. How could you not be? Seeing my parents break their back to sustain my education was enough reason to keep up with my goal—finish my college degree and figure out what to do after.
To be honest, I didn’t have a life outside school and home. For five college years, I knew nothing other than the routine of getting-out-of-bed-and-prepare-for-school and going-home-from-school-and-do-your-assignments-then-sleep. The cycle was emotionally exhausting. I longed to vent out my frustrations. Three years into college, I did what was appropriate.
One time while I was hurrying along the corridor, I noticed someone looking at me at a distance. I tried to ignore and went on my way until accidentally my eyes locked on his sight. He smiled that familiar shy smile. It was Zebra in his stripe shirt—the simple man I have adored since the time I stepped my feet on that university. I looked at him with the usual inexpressive tone on my face, staring blankly but straight at him. He knew at that instant I saw him clear as day. Time seemed to stop… I looked away in haste and proceeded to jog the remaining distance towards the EE department. I acted like I did not recognize him at all. It hurt so much to have done that, especially that the act resulted on a spur of the moment. But then perhaps, it did us both good.
Much to my dismay and regret was what that moment seemed to transpire how he became distant and alienated days after. We would still see each other in the library, in the corridors, in the grounds, passed each other on the school’s gate and rode on the same bus. He would offer seat to mother on several occasions during peak hours and commuters swarmed the bus like bees. We only looked at each other but he no longer paint that familiar smile inherent to him alone. In a way like telling me, “I no longer know you, lady”. To a young romantic heart, that was a blow I needed years to fix.
Still, I accepted the challenge.
I went on with my life keeping both his presence and absence irrelevant. Months passed and we did not see each other any longer. Up to now, I do not know how it happened.
A month before their 2005 graduation, I saw him walking alone in the school ground towards the opposite side of the campus where their department is situated. We were having our bazaar in compliance to our Marketing subject. That usual shade of hue that told me it was him; the familiar sight of his backpack that have carried loads of books for many years; the sight of love fading into nothingness— bleak and veiled in the rays of the hot afternoon sun… it was totally heartbreaking.
I saw him. But he never saw me. That was sadly my last sight of Zebra.
With the hullabaloo about the year’s honor students, I came to know that he was indeed one of the cum laude graduates for the year. I was genuinely happy for him. But deep inside, my feelings told me to not let go of it yet. The thought of living a year more without Zebra strucked me as hard. I wasn’t ready yet. I could not let go of the love of my life.
Much as I would want to, I never tried to do anything to see him on his graduation. I reckoned with the truth that no matter what I do, nothing changes the fact that Zebra is leaving for good.
A decade later, I rejoiced at the truth that finally, for the longest time, he is no other than but a distant memory. What could have had been was no longer an interest to me. I have joy in my heart that whether I bleed in search of my own happiness, my soul will always be grateful for what I have been through and the people I met on the road.
However last year, after thirteen years, I think I saw him again. I do not want to believe it was my eyes playing a trick as I knew in my heart, it was the lost Zebra.
Like some sort of fate, I get off at the usual place where I waited for jeepneys bound for Liloan. Hurriedly tried to get on the first one in the distance, as I was already almost late for work when I noticed someone smiling at me, standing right at the same spot where I stood some moments ago. That familiar smile that has etched some bittersweet memories of what love has been.
I took on my mask and pretended I didn’t notice. He was wearing dark sunglasses so I hesitated to repay that smile. Seconds later, he was sitting next to me in the jeepney. Still, I could not figure out 100 percent his identity because of the sunglasses. But the whole time that we were in the jeepney, he was genuinely smiling at me. Perhaps, I blushed at that moment or maybe I did what I am used of doing—ignoring people. Idk.
Minutes later, he called on the driver to stop. He got off and stand at the side of the road before proceeding to walk away. He was still smiling as the jeepney started. I looked at him knowing that it will officially be my last sight of Zebra. I smiled in silent thinking how God allowed me to burn for many years just so he could give me the freedom to let go of the one I have tied my heart for the longest time. I smiled at the chance of a fresher start to explore new horizons where true love could be waiting for me from a distance.
That to me, was the last blot of ink of my chapter with Zebra. It ended in a good way. I am happy for him whatever he is up to at this moment. I am happy for the life he is making as I could sense that he was happy deep within.
I have freed Zebra and myself for the bondage that that poor love created years ago but I could not possibly unloved him. I still love him till now. But in a different way. The love for him is the kind that does not hold captive of emotions, of memories, of chances but one that liberates souls. I have loved him enough to not give myself the freedom to savor and experience love in the different lane, on a different bus or perhaps in a different setting.
So why am I writing this? I do not know for sure. The last time I did I said I am not writing about love again—or being unloved to be exact. But perhaps something more powerful is driving me into doing this.
I don’t know how it happened but I saw him again last night— in the same school where we first met. He seemed so real that I could still remember how he smelled that night.
The IE department of the school has sponsored a post- graduate seminar. Some college friends were there, so were some of my college professors whom I’ve never seen in a long time. Knowing myself, I could not grasp the reason why I relented to attend such an event. The college auditorium where the event was held is nowhere far from what it looked like almost a decade ago since graduation.
Apart from former colleagues, Zebra was there as well. I have no idea why he was. I knew I did not want him to see me again. Unfortunately, he did. As soon as the event ended, I started slipping away from my colleague’s sight on purpose. I entered the church and sat there alone, talking to myself and God. Why in that church? I don’t know. Moments later, I saw him again walking past pews nearest the altar towards my direction. Why he was there, I do not know still. I did not wait to meet his gaze. I left.
My friends were there waiting for me at the park across the old church. Perhaps, they knew about why I left school early. Tired and exhausted, I stretched on a bench while friends were busy chatting and laughing a few feet away when out of nowhere, someone whispered at the far side of the bench where my head rested, “why are you running?”. Surprised as I was, I said, “I wasn’t”, in an instant. He put his hand atop my head like big brothers would with their younger siblings. That touch was a sigh of relief. He said something to me while beaming his wide smile and patting my head and caressing my hair gently. His gaze was so deep I could get drowned in it once again. But then in a beautiful way. Suddenly, the words became rumbled among words that it was impossible to hear exactly what he said.
I got awaken to a beautiful dream. When I opened my eyes, I could still feel the lightness that dream has brought me. While I struggle to keep sane about work, it’s good fun to know that our subconscious mind will do wonders for you when you least expect it. I do not know what that dream means, nor would I delve into it in detail. Because no matter how good that dream is, it holds no value at all in the end.
Will I always love him? Yes, of course. Like how that touch on my head moved and affected me, I could love you on that same level of unromantic love.
One day I would look back again at these chapters and laugh for the mess I have made because of love. 🙂