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A Spurt in the Grass
by Alegria Imperial

Being tiny, Elena and I headed the line—as if it were an honour—during those flag ceremonies in high school. The truth was we suffered as the sun seemed to blaze on our faces. But Elena hardly moved, hardly shifted as she glued her eyes to the ground. I swung my head, twisted my neck, fidgeted with my ribbons, never looked up to the flag, and rarely watched my classmates sing or dance on a grass-covered mound surrounding the flagpole, which served as a stage for those Monday programs. Elena gained high marks in Good Conduct; I received stagnant grades.

One chilly morning in our second year, I decided to mimic Elena. I, too, stared at the exact spot on the grass she did. Dew glinted as if in the night a fairy tale princess tossed diamond chips.

"Like gems, can you see that?" I whispered to Elena. She smiled wryly without shifting her gaze.

"Look at the grass," she said so softly as if afraid her voice could wake up some unseen nymph between us.

"What do you mean the grass? Of course, I'm looking at the grass," I whispered back, catching some hoarseness in my voice.

She kept still. It was then when I saw what she did. First, a blade of grass twitched as if in spasm. Next, it wriggled as if tickled. And then, it sprung straight up, now standing higher than the rest, its tip pointing to our irises; it had grown.

We never did get to find out if it was the same blade of grass that spurted each time. We never did get to measure how many inches it grew. What we learned in science class about the burgeoning of cells did not seem to match the simplicity of that kick in the grass and so we erased it in our notes. As Elena and I kept vigil for the miracle each Monday morning, my grades in conduct improved; as we shared other secrets Elena began to smile more often when I chattered.

Elena and I must have grown only a few inches more until we went to college. We hardly saw each other those years but we exchanged letters, braiding inanities. But words and delays in between, the often impeded paths in our replies, soon showed up in thinning pages. I felt Elena and I were growing apart.

We sat beside each other on a bus years later. It took me ten minutes to recognize her. She had cut the hair she always wore into a pony tail. Her cheeks had filled out and this deepened the slits in her eyes and puffed a stiff jaw line. What I recognized was her steady gaze at the floor of the bus on the random line of feet—her eyes seemed to wash the tight space with stillness.

She turned to me blandly when I called her name in a querying voice. What could she have seen which did not match her memory of how I looked? I had wondered. I told her about my job; she told me about hers but also about her first-born who died and a husband who just had a stroke. We scoured our memories but could not clear out a spot to revisit our secret. She got off in front of a hospital; I continued the trip to the newspaper office I worked in.

At the entrance before the automatic door parted for me to step in, I met who Elena saw: a bedraggled journalist in khaki pants and knit shirt, a leather belt bag where once ribbons cinched her waist, and a threadbare cloth bag slung on a shoulder that curly ends of shoulder length hair once grazed. In my black-rimmed glasses for my extremely astigmatic eyes she must have caught a grimness I had since acquired in my police beat. I wondered then if Elena had glimpsed that a calm would slip in during my meditation, which I began with the memory of a blade of grass. I worried then whether or not she had forgotten an epiphany we once shared that all growing is hidden but can be perceived.

A seeker of truth and peace after tangled pathways, I have also found a voice in my search. A retired journalist, I have since focused on poetry and fiction. I launched my first book in Manila before migrating to Vancouver last year and recently received two honourable mentions for poetry.

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