I never expected me posting a photo of all the campaign materials I collected during four years of Shale Campaigns would trigger a shockwave of sorts amongst the people I met along the way. Folks from the yellow side - I'd like to think the reds have this problem too, but they didn't really comment on that collection - would beg me to sell them the pamphlets, because they've somehow lost their copies. In Mia's words, "I know a lot of people who's be willing to pay a good price."

I found that hullabaloo really odd. Sure, Ge's predicament - of termites eating his SPOA collection - was understandable, but the rest losing the very things they worked hard for felt really weird for me. I mean, they're the ones who drafted the contents, laid out the photos, had it printed and gave it away to supposedly apathetic students. Now, the candidates, the core and the ground workers don't have reminders of their hard work? They themselves?

No, I don't mean to sound angry. I meant it to sound a bit ridiculous. But honestly, for someone with an ego as needlessly battered as mine, the idea of people actually coveting something I own - something that others would consider as trash - warms my heart. But I still insist on my stand: they're my only souvenirs from four years of being "doggedly passionate" about student politics, and I'm keeping it.

That quote came from Y2K, who texted me last night, asking if she could borrow two of my SPOAs. Now, she was a candidate for two elections, and was part of the core for another one (if I remember correctly), and she sums up the very argument I made two paragraphs ago. Still, I obliged, because she's coming to Ortigas to get them from me. Again, it warmed my heart.

Or maybe not. She's headed to Ortigas anyway. She's headed to L'Oreal, the place where she used to work, to claim her back pay - apparently she left her job there a few months back.

In usual Niko fashion, I was texting her to confirm every little detail. I didn't know when she'll make it to Megamall, the designated rendezvous - I didn't know whether I'll have to leave early for lunch, or leave the office a second time to meet her. I know, it gets annoying at times, trying to confirm everything so I can plan how it will all go in my head, but that's how I do things. We set our meet-up at one in the afternoon,and later revised it to half past one. Nothing changed in my routine, then.

At twenty past one, she sent me a text message. "Saglit lang," she said. "Got caught for 'swerving'."

I felt a little antsy. Not that I wanted to get the meet-up over with - why would I? - but because the routine is slowly starting to crumble.

Well, not really. Turns out she was apprehended in front of the mall - she wasn't supposed to turn right when she turned right. I don't know what happened exactly after that, but we still met at the designated time. My plans didn't really go bust: in fact, I even got to our meeting place before she did, and I managed to pull off a surprise by suddenly walking beside her as she went to the ATM. Again, in usual Niko fashion.

Turns out she wasn't exactly borrowing my SPOAs for posterity's sake. After she left L'Oreal, she got a part-time job at a big advertising agency, and while she enjoys the benefits of being a freelancer, she's still out to get a full-time job. And anybody who works in advertising knows that, in her words, "a three-page resume isn't enough" - so she decided to create a picture book outlining her life. Since she was never fond of taking photos of herself, she decided to bring a lot of stuff to the scanners: her Santugon IDs, her seminar passes, Drea's Ad Congress pass, her high school yearbook (it's a privilege, she says, to be able to see photos of what I call "13-year-old Mara" and "teddy bear Sarah"), and my SPOAs.

I'm still surprised, though, that she left L'Oreal. Everything about it seemed perfect: the way she came to their attention, the way she got a job offer before graduating, the way I thought you couldn't possibly ask for more.

"It wasn't a job worth waking up every morning for," she told me later. "I still wanted to go to advertising."

"At least you know what you want to do," I said.

"Everybody says that."

I can't get a grip of the fact that I don't know what I want to do. Sure, I like writing, but I feel stuck where I am, and I feel like I can't really pursue writing as a career - especially in a world where knowing people matters more than being good at what you do. (More so when you see the same names writing the same things on different magazines, while sipping the same cocktails and rubbing elbows with the same circle of friends.) I told Y2K that I've been looking for jobs lately, and lots of it - from copywriter positions to the occasional magazine job. I don't think I told her that, if all else fails, I'll give marketing a try, even if I don't really know much about it - or, at least, I didn't study it in school, unlike her.

"I know what you feel," she said. Over and over again. She'd insist that we both shared the same sentiments at one point: feeling "rusty" after quitting her job, feeling that she won't be able to pursue her dreams again, feeling that she's stuck where she is. Pretty much what we'd all call the quarter-life crisis. I figured that if it is really what we're going through, then I'd die at age 84, and her, at age 92. We have lots of time.

But I don't really feel that way. I don't have a plan, sure, but it feels very much like earlier this afternoon, when I got her text message about being apprehended by a traffic enforcer. I was antsy. I wanted to do what I set out to do. I didn't want to spend many minutes going around the same magazine stores and feeling really insecure about who I am - a person who turned down every opportunity to advance, in hindsight, because of that deadly focus on academics - and who I want to be. If that's who I want to be. And there's not enough time to change directions, or even figure out where you're headed. This is the path, no matter what.

In usual Niko fashion, I proceeded to quietly drag myself down. At least she knows what she wants to do.

I bought an envelope, presuming she'll take the SPOAs home. I didn't know she'll have them scanned at the mall - that's all fine, since it gave us time to talk, time that we didn't have when we bumped into each other in Boracay. In the end, we accomplished what we both set out to do, unwittingly or otherwise. We left the shop with a revelation - that I, oddly, get confused between "talyer" and "tailor" - and went up to the third floor, where we exchanged hugs before she left for her next stop. It happened to be, by the way, a car repair shop. Yes, a talyer. And she didn't get her back pay yet.

I realized I spent an hour and twenty minutes on lunch break. Not that anybody's looking for me. There is, after all, a lot of time to get to the work I left behind.

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