The chicken that crossed the road
MANILA, Philippines -- Being a 1986 EDSA People Power baby, my pet name is Ayan Boy, from the word "bayan." Actually, I was christened Juan Fidel, after two key players of the Edsa People Power Revolution: Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos.
I am now in third-year college, and I am trying to drop Ayan Boy in favor of a simple Fidel. Ayan Boy simply connotes "totoy," and now that I measure 6'3" I feel uncomfortable answering to such a boyish moniker. But let me add that shedding Ayan Boy does not only mean abandoning a boy "thing." I want to be called Fidel because I think the name reflects the real me.
I came to realize this after going through a rite of passage that became a turning point in my life. This was how I found the true Fidel I am supposed to be.
Let me go back a little. Back in my early grade-school years, I was one of the favorite objects of class bullies. I never really fought back for the simple reason that I was a self-confessed chicken. I was afraid to get hurt. I had witnessed several instances when bullies would menacingly grab a frail kid's collar and thunder, "Kanin o kamao?" ["Your food or a fist?] to force him to surrender his precious "baon" in his lunchbox. There was really no way to avoid their intimidation because reporting them to the teacher would just attract other more atrocious bullies. So I had no other choice but to quietly give in to their coercive demands and surrender my "baon."
My fear of the bullies was really a fear of stepping out of my comfort zone, a fear of pain. I was raised in a relatively calm, quiet and peaceful home. Hence, the presence of these pesky bullies in school caused a disequilibrium in my otherwise sedate existence. To be able to retreat peacefully to my conflict-free existence, I had to give in to the bullies. And this went on until I encountered my first farm camp experience in Davao.
During the summer break after my seventh grade, I took a short vacation at a farm in Davao where my uncle, a cockfight aficionado, raised fighting cocks. One morning, I was suddenly awakened by a familiar sound that I had longed to hear for some time: the thud of a bouncing basketball against a concrete floor. I rushed to the window and saw five young, lanky lads about my age, half-naked, wearing tattered shorts and worn-out "smagol" [rubber slippers]. They were alternately shooting hoops on a makeshift court in the backyard.
I hurried to put on my rubber shoes and decided to join them in what I expected to be a friendly game. They gladly welcomed me. For a second, I wondered why they were all grinning from ear to ear. The answer came all too soon as Pards, a diminutive but lean and muscled boy, passed me the ball that landed like a missile on my stomach. My knees weakened instantly, but I gave no hint of it. Then as I attempted a jump shot, another boy came flying from nowhere and smashed his elbow against my jaw and snatched the ball away from my hands
I was appalled by the boys' extremely rough and highly physical manner of playing the sport. Obviously, they only cared for the "balyahan"-style of street basketball that violated every rule of the game I learned by heart from a Milo basketball camp. When I asked for a foul, they would give me a quizzical look. And then they casually went about their basketball routine, merrily elbowing my nose, tripping my feet, and ramming their bodies against mine. Heck, they were not playing basketball with me. They were clobbering me. No. They were bullying this young Manila boy to submission.
But there was no "baon" to surrender; it was just me and my manhood on the line. For some strange reason, at that particular moment, I became intensely determined to stand up for myself. It was not just out of embarrassment. There was something in me that shouted, "It's now or never!"
I heeded that call and decided it was time to play hardball. Why then and why there is really very hard to explain. Maybe it had something to do with being pushed too hard against the wall. Anyway, with the theme of "Rocky" playing in my ears, I mustered all my energy, summoned every single muscle and adrenaline in my body, and pleaded with all my guardian angels not to fail me this time. "Let's get ready to rumble!" I repeated to myself, trying to psyche myself for battle.
What ensued was a brawl. After which, my lips were swollen, my nose was bleeding and I was limping. But I swear I never felt better. I had done it! Finally, I was able to break out from my protective cocoon beset by irrational fears. What was there to fear? Gashed brows and broken bones? Nah, they heal in time.
After learning about the incident, my uncle was quick to apologize for the boys whom he referred to as the "Texas Boys" after the fierce breed of fighting cock. But we both laughed it off as if we had just finished some outrageously playful game. He advised me to expose myself more often to rough play. That was how he trained his young fighting cocks for "sabong" (cockfighting), he said. He allowed his best fighting cocks to inflict severe harm on defenseless young chickens during a practice match until they were forced to fight back on instinct. This was how they gradually developed their skills. In every learning process, he reminded me, the principle is always no pain, no gain.
When I got back to school, the bullies never bothered me again. I could not say exactly why. Maybe it was the confidence I exuded. Or maybe the bullies had undergone an awakening and decided to mend their ways. Whatever the case may be, I was not about to pick fights or get into brawls. That's so Ayan Boy.
I am prepared to face life's challenges, to take a leap into the unknown, beyond my comfort zone. This is because the chicken has crossed the road. Finally, I have become Fidel, which means faith. I have learned to believe in myself and in what I can do, and can be. I believe that nothing is impossible.
Now, nobody calls me Ayan Boy anymore. (Except my Mom, when she feels like cuddling me, but I guess that's ok.)
Juan Fidel F. Nograles, 20, is a third-year management economics student at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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