Revisiting history could be an exhausting walk down memory lane. But for Lilia Pedrialva, the only way to appreciate the beauty of the past is to take it sitting down, literally.

At 55, UST’s resident “candy lady” for over three decades now not only sells sweets from her wooden rectangular box. She’s also a silent and patient listener of stories by young Thomasians who stop by her space near the Dapitan gate even for a while.

Lilia, who started selling candy at the age of 25, in the same corner was perched on her stool, when I chanced upon her on the humid afternoon of July 6. True enough, she was surrounded by candies.

Every few minutes, students would stop by the shaded entrance to drop a few coins into the plastic container on the upper left corner of her box in exchange for a handful of sweets.

“I initially thought about selling candy because it fitted my capital,” she said.

Ironically, the Willy Wonka female incarnate does not have a sweet tooth.

“I don’t like sweets that much. I just chew on some gum when I have nothing else to do,” she said.

Before she became a mainstay at the Dapitan gate, one of her friends, who also sold candy inside the campus, encouraged her to sell flowers along the UST rear entrance. That same friend, whose husband worked at UST, helped her obtain a permit allowing her to run her business inside the grounds.

During that time, the massive gate in front of the central library was the only entrance to UST along the Dapitan strip. It was where Lilia first marked her spot. Students often visited her stall and chatted with her while buying candy.

Out of the habit

“There was time to talk back then because there was a lot of space by that gate. Here, we do not get to talk too much anymore,” she said, pertaining to the cramped gateway where her stall is now situated.

From her post by the entrance across MiniStop, Lilia has been a silent observer to the events that were marked on the University’s records. She could attest that, unlike the violent rallies of the Marcos era, the rallies held inside the University were “organized and solemn.” She also had a ticket to see Pope John Paul II when the late Pontiff visited UST in 1981 but she forfeited her chance since classes were suspended during that day.

Lilia has also witnessed changes in the University and in the former students who came back as professors.

When she first sold candies in UST, the female students of the colleges of Medicine and Commerce donned shorter skirts than the ones worn by the students today. Lilia would be reminded of her teenage years when she looked at the maidens as they passed by her stall.

She became closer to the boys of that generation though since they also ranted to her about their professors and lessons while buying candy and cigarettes. Back then, UST had not implemented its smoke-free policy yet.

She would also sell flowers during Valentine’s Day, getting her bundle of long-stemmed roses from her husband who worked in a flower shop.

Hemlines and environment-friendly rules were not the only ones tweaked over time. Lilia also modified her goods, subtracting flowers from what she sells.

No to cowardice, no to terrorism

The rise of the flowers’ prices and the death of her husband from diabetes seven years ago caused Lilia to drop the buds that once adorned her wooden box.

“(His death) was a big detriment to the family. But the money I earn from selling candy is enough. When I have extra income, I buy a piece of clothing or two,” she said.

Due to Dapitan’s heavy floods, there are also times that her earnings are a few bucks short. When the street transforms into a river as it accumulates rain water, no one can buy candy from her because most of her customers are stranded. As a result, she would just leave early.

When it is not raining heavily, she just wields her umbrella to shield herself and her goods from getting wet.

“We can’t do anything about the rain so I just make up for the amount that I lost on the next day,” she said.

On that particular Saturday that I talked to her, however, the air was hot enough to drain all the liquids from one’s body. I wondered how she could tolerate sitting still for hours with that temperature.

“I’m used to the heat. I just always keep a fan handy,” she said as she offered me her fan.

Not letting the opportunity slip by without having experienced what it feels like to be in her shoes, I asked Lilia if I could take over her post for a while.

At first, I was excited to sell candy but apparently, the students trust only the real keeper of treats.

In between my conversation with Lilia, students would buy candy but would not give me their money, handing it to Lilia instead. She would then look at me behind her black-rimmed glasses, amused.

The English problem

For the next few customers I made a point of opening my palms before them while asking politely, “Ano ‘yon?”

The ones who always bought candy from Lilia ignored my question, picked a few pieces of their favorites and just tossed their coins into the container. In the past, some students even would drop dollar coins instead of peso coins into the container, much to her surprise.

As the minutes passed, I could not help but ask her if she ever got tired and thought about quitting her job.

“I never thought about quitting because selling candy is my life. Besides, I am happy whenever people pass by my stall,” she said.

For the past three decades, Lilia, indeed, has seen thousands of faces of passersby and still continues to see hundreds of new faces everyday. She has witnessed the boys and girls, who were then college students, become men and women who become successful in their respective fields.

Every now and then, they still make it a point to buy candy from Lilia whenever they come to the University. Who knows? The ones who bought candy during my brief moment with Lilia might be the next lawyers, doctors, and professors that Lilia would be pointing to in the near future as she says, “That person used to buy candy from me!” Joseinne Jowin L. Ignacio


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