“SHIPS are safest when they’re at shore, but that’s not what ships are for.” —Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

In Pagadian, waves of applause rushed towards Bernardo as he took over the podium. His eyes swam against the current of eyes from the pool of people in front of him.

“To my batchmates and to other distinguished guests, good morning,” he said.

Behind him, a banner screamed the red letters, “Welcome Hon. Bernardo Inampalan, Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom.”

“As you all know, I was, perhaps, the dullest person in this batch,” he continued.

Under the screaming red letters were written in humble black ink: “Model Alumnus, Pagadian City High School Batch ‘78.”

“I’m greatly honored to grace the celebration of our silver anniversary, although I believe that someone greater deserves to have this privilege. I am, of course, talking of none other than Johnny.”

Somewhere in Bicutan, a razor slashed through Johnny’s goatee. He swept his chin with his fingers to make sure that he would look flawlessly neat.

“You see, Johnny is responsible for all this success that I experience. His dedication to study hard inspired me. Back in the old high school days, I remember persuading him to flirt with some girls from the other section, but he was so busy studying that he did not even have time to trim his mustache!” Bernardo said.

Laughter started to ascend from the audience.

Johnny pulled up the zipper of his black slacks. He was secretly admiring his half-naked body, whose shape still remained intact despite the build-up of fat in his stomach. Some of the finest hairs in his body were in his chest; the ones on his head had turned gray. Nonetheless, a woman in her early 20’s, more than half his age, still found him attractive. She was sitting on the bed, naked, watching Johnny get into a white polo.

“The teachers liked Johnny very much since he was a Math wizard,” remarked Bernardo. “If he wasn’t the class president, he was the treasurer for he was great in budgeting.”

Osias Barroso hangs his dancing shoes

“Stop that,” Johnny told the woman who was kissing his earlobe. Their eyes met in the mirror. “I still have work to do,” he told her.

He pulled out his wallet, counted the money in it, and handed several bills to the woman.

“Is this all?,” she asked irritatedly.

“Sorry, still have to fix my business with Meralco. Now, get out before my wife gets home,” he said.

“Johnny always told me he wanted to become a doctor; but me, I had no dreams then,” said Bernardo.

Johnny picked up a black leather bag from a chair in his living room before leaving the house. The bag had a red cross at the center.

“Since I always get an ax for a grade, my teachers used to tell me that I’ll never go anywhere and have the chance to go in the city to study in a University, unlike Johnny. If my teachers were here right now, I’d like to tell them that since graduating from Cambridge, I’ve never been to anywhere but cities.”

Johnny opened the door of the Limousine, threw the black bag inside, and turned the ignition.

Bernardo then opened his mineral water bottle and took several gulps of fluid.

“You know, Johnny and I were really in good terms. But his mother was against our friendship,” he continued.

“She was advising Johnny to keep away from me since my reputation as the batch headache was a stain in his reputation as the batch gem. Ever since we were in high school, his mother was making efforts to make Johnny befriend Chito, the mayor’s son. Johnny and I never liked Chito since he was a hooligan. But when Johnny discovered that it was Chito’s dad who paid his tuition, he didn’t have the choice but to make friends with Chito and follow him around. After graduation, Johnny and I totally lost communication, so I presume he has already forgotten me.”

Thomasian CPA board

As Johnny reached a gasoline station, he drew out his wallet and searched for a hundred peso bill.

“That one was quite a vintage picture,” quipped the gasoline boy, who was able to sneak a peak at Johnny’s wallet while fuelling the car.

“My wife and kids,” replied Johnny.

“No, that one,” the gasoline boy pointed at the small graduation picture at the corner of the wallet.

“Ah. My high school best friend,” Johnny said.

“But even if we no longer talk with each other, I always go by his house whenever he’s in town just to check him out,” continued Bernardo. “Once, I saw him in an all-white uniform. The neighbors said he had gone into internship. I was then very happy for him. He was taking up a medical course in a big university in the city, while I was taking up an education course in a college nearby.”

After parking the car in front the doorsteps of a mansion, Johnny stopped the engine and pulled down his window. He took out a folded white lab gown from the black bag beside him and slipped into it. The name patch on the left breast of his gown said in thinly embroidered red letters: “Chua, M.D.”

“However, later on, there were rumors that Johnny stopped school and was put in a rehabilitation center with Chito. The neighbors told me that the toughness of the medical school might have pressured Johnny to take drugs. But I didn’t believe them; I believed Johnny’s mother, who told me that he was in Cambridge, taking up a post graduate degree. Since then, I’ve become determined to find him so I can prove to my neighbors that they’re wrong. I applied for scholarship abroad and took my masters there, yet I failed to find my best friend,” said Bernardo.

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Johnny adored his image on front mirror. Several minutes later, a stranger in white approached him.

“Ah… Johnny…there’s blood in your chin,” said the stranger.

“Oh, Doc!,” Johnny exclaimed in amusement. He pulled his side mirror and wiped the blood with his hand.

“Wherever Johnny is right now, I’m sure that he’s already a successful doctor,” Bernardo told his audience. “Who knows? He might be devising cure for AIDS or on a mission to treat the flu-infected children of Afghanistan. That’s why he can’t join us here today.”

Johnny immediately put off the white robe and went out of the driver’s seat to open the door at the back. Dr. Chua then got inside the car and asked for his black leather bag.

“You still don’t know how to shave,” remarked the doctor with a laugh.

“I can’t see well while I’m shaving. Meralco cut our service since we haven’t settled our dues,” Johnny said.

“Where’s Gilbert? I thought he’d be fetching me today since you’re invited to have a talk in Pagadian, aren’t you?” asked the doctor.

“Before I leave this podium, in which we once watched Elias deliver his speech during graduation, I wanted to tell you something that he always used to tell me,” said Bernardo.

Johnny gave the doctor a light nod, but he looked towards the road, away.

“And why again did they invite you?,” the doctor asked him again.

“We have ships called life, and we are our ships’ captains. Our task is to get into any destination, except the seabed,” Bernardo told the pool of people in front of him. His forehead glistened at the strike of rivers of light flowing in the auditorium.

“I am the batch valedictorian,” replied Johnny.

“Really, eh?” said the doctor, chuckling. His laughter hit as hard as the waves of applause that hit Bernardo as he left the stage.


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