After scouring for books to be given to my friends celebrating their respective birthdays, I chanced upon my long-unseen friend Donna, who became prettier than ever. We met her sister Novie and we all gathered at Roma’s house for a triple party for Jopay, Donna’s sister and the host. One more November celebrant, Santa, could not make it. If Rhoda weren’t in Hong Kong as well as other former co-teachers like Julie Ann who works in Bataan, Ate Jotabs who manages fruit stalls in Las Piñas, and Mylin and Celia who have since migrated in the Middle East, we would have been complete. It’s very rare that I get to see these much-treasured friends of mine—last we gathered was during the town fiesta of Jopay’s Nueva Ecija hometown where we traipsed the rustic scenery in search of green mangoes—so I could not afford to miss the opportunity to be with them even for a brief time. Why, it’s the fullness of the moment which we are after, so I intently listened to them as they updated me with what’s going on with everybody. Ruel (alone at the bottom) said he’s saving for me a copy of Ricky Lee’s novel for autograph signing, Roma (the bespectacled one behind me) and Jopay (the one wearing black bolero) are classmates in a Math subject in UP, Zenkit (the one in gray, whose husband Melvin is in yellow) is as ever-doting to my godchild Sam, Leah (the one between me and Zenkit) was praised by her boss for being the company’s most photogenic, Rhea (the one in red) prepares for her much-awaited betrothal to her fiancée Jun, Donna (partly hidden by Ruel’s hair) has just wrapped up her master’s, Riza (the one in blue) regaled us with her terrifying experience as a witness to a pickpocketing, Novie (the bespectacled one next to Jopay) remains in her boarding house after Donna transferred near EARIST, Lyn (the one in brown) continues to be as timid as a nun while Rachel (the one in extreme left) is on the family way. Hay, the delight of bonding with time-tested friends!
I hold precious this circle of friends as well as that comprised by pamilya kumarab-as, that by my high school classmates in Nueva Ecija, that by my schoolmates in UP, that by my former University Student Council colleagues, that by the pink sisters, that by my childhood friends in Tarlac, and that by my present colleagues. These friends have stayed with me through thick and thin, through hell and high water, showing me their care and affection and faith despite other people’s deception, envy, opportunism. Destiny brought them all to me to teach the lesson that the world need not be lived in isolation.