Rotating number nine

Boredom beckons, and I find myself watching a channel I don't usually watch. It's a rerun, a fact made obvious by the fact that the channel has cut some parts of the game, but it's still intact to tell me that one team is ahead two sets to one, but the lagging team is ahead on the fourth. My eyes were trained on the girl - a tall one, with the number nine on her back, tossing the ball, two arms seemingly in flight, and finally hitting the object in question with the left, if I remember correctly. Play commences, and I don't see number nine anymore.

It was my first time to watch Celine play on television. I wasn't really able to catch any of the Shakey's V-League games on television, mostly because it's on when I'm in class (and when she isn't). Lately the UAAP games were also televised, and the first I wasn't able to catch because I didn't even know about it; I only heard from Leslie two days later, with the sad news of defeat. Celine told me about the second but I never got to watch it. I never knew if they won, but I'm implying they did. "Pero 'twas a good game!" she'd reply to my concession.

I eventually proved my theory correct - Celine's hair, tied back, still had the red streak that surprised most of us when she first had it. She used to have really long hair, until she had to cut it, but her coach allowed the team to get it dyed. Two terms later, the red has somewhat vanished, and although her hair hasn't grown back - obviously - we've grown accustomed to it. For some reason it adds to the sense of vulnerability, as if she needs it, or we need to put one on her. Besides, these girls are tall, as the frantic female sportscaster was saying.

I never really read her name on any copy of The Lasallian - it's always Maureen Penetrante. Sounds fitting, actually, since she's the star player and her last name reflects what the balls she tosses or throws can do to the opponent's defense. There was one time when I saw her name on, of all place, the Inquirer, but she was quick to refute it. It wasn't her, she said. And that's why I knew that she's sporting number nine.

It's the closest we can get to celebrity, I think. There's something with how much we revere our athletes - imagine the reception during the victory party. It's one thing to suspend classes, and it's another thing to act as if the athletes are deities - pulled out cameras waiting to get the perfect angle of someone's particular smile. But distance distorts, and these things don't happen when they're on your backyard, and are perfectly used to it. I mean, nobody among use finds the urge to pull out a camera and take candids of Celine precisely because she's an athlete - although it helps that other sports don't really get much notice here, aside from basketball.

Celebrity is probably one of the most, if not the most, overrated thing people live with. Children spend their lives dreaming of becoming one. Teens spend their lives becoming one, and living with the gossip. Those with more experience spend what's left of their lives - either a successful, accolade-laden one, or one wasted and devoid of other opportunities. It varies with the level of popularity you achieve, which is why we're all probably used to seeing people you'd otherwise see only on television. We know Celine for the air of quirkiness in the way she speaks. We know Huey - otherwise Charlie in Math-Tinik - as one with slightly sentimental and introspective qualities. We know Kor - otherwise Brigitte in the film adaptation of Cedie - for having these, well, offbeat hints in her personality, one others wouldn't really realize. It's a fact she'd most probably play with - "I used to be a child actress," she wrote. "Wow!"

The time I realize Kor's name was a familiar one, I was still slightly overcome with excitement. Cedie was being aired and just in time for the opening credits. The moment I saw her name in royal lettering - Korinne Lirio, it simply said - I immediately texted her in the most discreet way possible: telling her I saw her name on television. I think she knew what I meant, but I wasn't about to budge. Later in the conversation, though, she relented. "Ako nga yun!" she replied. "Anong channel?" Eventually, I caught her bit when I got home. The next day, I couldn't live it down. It's still a running joke between us. Months later, it isn't really a big deal - we eventually get used to it.

The game between DLSU and Lyceum lasted for five sets, and on the fifth, my attention fluttered towards the next channel, showing an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants that I haven't seen before. I presume they lost, since one from the redbacks was player of the game. I then reflected on the Celine Hernandez I saw that afternoon - a slightly different one, with the hair slightly tossed up, reflecting two hours of play, or work. It's a bit shriveled, but still manageable, with the look in her eyes as if she's worked on thesis for an entire night. Although I probably wouldn't see her spike like a bird until the next game is shown, I realize that there's nothing new that I learned from watching the girl in number nine play - it's everything I've seen before.

Next time, I guess, we shouldn't be acting differently whenever celebrity beckons. For one, I've been slightly indifferent to the fact that the captain of another morning show on the radio is a Lasallian like me - it takes getting used to, but it will happen, unless you won't let it. That's celebrity syndrome for you.

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