Chapter 1: Lost and Found
Ana was lost. In this vast expanse of books and knowledge and history and disdainful strangers looking for peace, Ana felt lost and out of her wits.
The library of her university is a big place after all. She stood in the doorway of the library’s lobby just looking at and absorbing the impressive structure before her. The impossibly high domed ceiling, the paintings of historical scenes on the walls, the intricate columns and shelves that looked like they were taken straight out of the architecture books, and the books. She has never seen so many books in her life. Books of every shape and size imaginable and then some. Her high school’s library—where she spent most of her young teenage life—was nothing compared to this.
She read the plaque right next to the doorway:
“St. Anthony Central Library houses one of the largest, oldest, and rarest collections of books in Southeast Asia and some of the country’s most treasured artifacts. The oldest books can be traced back to earlier than the 16th century...”
She made her way to the murals near the librarian’s counter. One showed the founding of the school. The one next to it showed the hanged Indio friars and another about the execution of the national hero. The oldest painting depicted a scene of boats docked on a beach with 10 men and women dressed in gold surrounded by what looked to be like soldiers. She walked up to it to look at the man in the middle, calling the attention of all the people around them. In his raised hand, he was holding a pearl the size of his hand.
“Excuse me, miss?”
Ana was startled by the raspy voice of a woman behind her. She looked back to address her. The woman looked like she was in her late 30s, maybe early 40s. A smile grew on the librarian’s kind face. “May I help you?”
She has always been the shy girl even back in high school. But this is university. She told herself that she’ll be a different person when she gets to college. Her story will be different now. She just doesn’t know yet who she is or what her story will be about.
“Hi! I... uhm… I was looking for a book…” Ana stuttered, pushing her glasses up her pale face and pulling at the end of her long black braided hair held together by an emerald ribbon. Today, she wasn’t any different.
“My dear, this is a library,” the woman patiently answered. She noticed that Ana had been examining the painting. “That painting went through a lot before it was brought here. Most historians have brushed off the history it depicted as a hoax. ”
Ana looked at her. “What do you mean?” Ana asked curiously.
The librarian put her hands behind her back. “So much of our history is shrouded in mystery. Our own country’s story only goes as far back as when the first written word was brought here. And yet our stories from way before the first written records lived on in song and epics passed on from our ancestors.”
“But this painting, how could the artist make this if this scene never happened in our history then?” Ana asked, looking intently at the pearl as if it was shining in the light.
“Maybe there are people who still remember the story,” the librarian playfully answered. “Or there are some people who just let their imaginations run a little too wild.” The librarian smiled, which made Ana smile back.
“So you’re looking for a book then?” the librarian said, gesturing for Ana to follow her towards the librarian’s counter. Ana obediently followed, taking one last look at the painting before she went. The librarian sat in front of the computer behind the counter. “May I see your class card?”
Ana reluctantly handed the woman her class card. “Ah, Ms. Analiza G. Leyes, History. First year. Very good. You must be looking for The History of The Filipino People. Fifth floor. Aisle 15.”
The woman returned her class card. Ana just stared at the woman, mouth agape. “Just Ana… But… how did you… how....”
“I know your professor. He always requires his students to get this book for his class. Every year. No fail. The man can get very dramatic, but he knows his history,” she began. “You’re the first one to come here actually. You must have gone straight here after class. So off you go then, before your classmates take all the copies.”
Ana mumbled the librarian’s instructions, “Fifth floor. Aisle 15. Fifth floor. Aisle 15,” over and over as she went up the stairs all the way to the fifth floor. Ana was not athletic, and going up five flights of stairs took the wind out of her. In her head, she thought she was lucky that she lost a lot of weight in the summer and was lighter on her feet now. Still, at the top of the stairs, she was panting and gasping for air.
When she had caught her breath, she walked along the balcony lined by bookshelves on the other side. It was overlooking the lobby from which she saw the paintings and the librarian’s counter. She never asked for the librarian’s name, and a wave of shame swept her. She looked for the librarian at the lower ground counter, but a younger male librarian was there stamping on the back of books. She took a note in her head to look for the helpful librarian again.
She made her way past this floor’s librarian’s table on the other side of the floor, the rows and rows of computers and study tables, and made her way to the bookshelves. A weird feeling bubbled in the pit of her stomach, but she walked it off, thinking that she should have eaten breakfast on the way to school.
Ana has always had a knack for finding lost things. In high school, Ana’s hobby was finding the owners of the things that ended up in the lost and found box. She smiled, remembering that time she found a diary filled with poems written by her batch’s king jock.
She took another mental note to find the lost and found box in this library on her way out.
It didn’t take a while for her to find the book all the way in the back of the library hidden from view by the other taller bookshelves. There was one copy left of the book. The book was leatherbound and embellished with gold filigree in the corners. The title too was embossed in gold and underlined with more filigree. It had a big white iridescent pearl in the middle.
“A History of The Filipino People.”
The pages were yellowed with age, and the text inside were handwritten, some in letters that she recognized from archeology books.
She flipped it over “Is this really the book?” she asked herself and looked up to check the aisle’s number. She didn’t find any markers or signs. She checked the other bookshelves and she noticed that the bookshelf where she found the book was different. It was older and was filled with other books with blank spines.
She remembered the plaque on the front. “This must be the rare books collection…” she concluded and carried the book back to the librarian to check it out.
On the way out, she saw a familiar face who smiled back at her. It was Tori, her best friend, sitting comfortably in one of the desks of the study hall. She stood and walked up to Ana.
“Ana! Where have you been?! I got the last copy of the book!” Tori yelled excitedly, her high-pitched voice echoing in the library’s quiet halls. She earned a shush from this floor’s librarian.
Tori shrugged and mouthed an apology to the librarian who gave her one last glare before going back to stamping on the library cards.
Tori turned back to Ana. “I got the last book,” she said waving the thick paperback book in her face. Ana took the book in her hand almost abruptly with her free hand.
“Hey!” Tori exclaimed, earning her another round of shushing, this time not only from the librarian but also from the other students studying on this floor. Tori shrugged and mouthed sorry, this time with a roll of her eyes. She reached up to fidget with the emerald pendant hanging from her neck.
Ana looked the book over and compared it with the book she found. “That can’t be. I’m holding the last copy of the book,” Ana mumbled showing Tori the leatherbound book.
“Girl, if you think I screwed up finding this book, then you’re wrong. I had to fight off another girl from some other section to get this, but I got it for us!” Tori said proudly, her slender fingers reclaiming the book from Ana. She took out the class syllabus, already crumpled inside her bag. “See! The History of The Filipino People just like the syllabus said! Yours say ‘A History.’”
The librarian shushed Tori again, an angry tone lacing her voice.
“Alright. Why don’t we borrow both books just to be on the safe side, Tori?” Ana said. “We should go. I don’t like the glare that the librarian or the other students on this floor is throwing at us.”
“Girl, they don’t know us. Who cares what they think?” Tori said nonchalantly, rolling her eyes, hooking her arm in Ana’s free arm, and leading the way to the librarian’s counter to take out both books.
“Is it just me or are the stairs going up here feel higher than five floors?” Tori joked to ease the librarian’s mood, which was answered with another glare.
Ana looked back at the shelves where she got her book, but curiously enough, the path wasn’t there anymore.
Ana looked out the window of her classroom when she felt the warm daylight touch her face. She had been skimming through the mysterious leather-bound book as she waited for this class’s professor to come. Based on the words she was familiar with and the illustrations between long narratives, it told the story of 10 datus who had escaped from a cruel king and founded a new united kingdom in a new land.
She sat next to Tori, who had been animatedly talking to their other classmates, specifically to the boy the class voted to become class president.
Tori was the total opposite of Ana. Ana preferred sitting in a corner of a room full of people hoping that no one would approach her. Tori liked being the center of attention. Ana wasn’t the type who easily makes friends like Tori. Ana liked to braid her hair and to keep her uniform immaculately clean. Tori liked to dress up her uniform so she doesn’t “blend in with the masses”—her words—with fancy jewelry like the emerald pendant she wore yesterday.
Tori was everything Ana wished she could be with her sunkissed skin, her uniform in a disarray, and her voice louder than anyone else’s in the room. Tori was both the moon and sun, and Ana was a blade of grass watching and taking in Tori’s light.
Suddenly, the door burst open, and a man in a pink silky shirt, graying long hair, and what looked like light foundation on his face entered almost theatrically. He was carrying books and piles of paper in both arms and dropped his things on the teacher’s table in front. The room became quiet, even Tori sat straight at the sound of heavy books plopping on the table.
“Who are you?” the professor asked in his deep voice. His five o’ clock shadow and the lines on his long face deepened as he looked seriously at his class. “I ask you again. Who are you?”
The class remained quiet.
The professor walked down the middle aisle in front of the table cutting between the desks, his shirt flowing back behind him. “One of the most fundamental questions that you must be able to answer at the end of this class is this question: Who are you?”
He looked at the class as if examining each and every face he sees. “Anyone?” He stopped to look at Ana, tilting his head for a split second before moving his attention to the boy who had boldly raised his hand.
“We are your students,” the class president answered in half-hearted jest. The class laughed, and the professor’s face lit up and joined the laughter.
“Good one, boy! What’s your name?” he asked the boy.
“Arthur, Sir… err Professor…”
“What’s your story?” the professor asked as he approached the boy.
“Sir? What do you mean?” Arthur asked, confused and mouth agape.
“Who are you and what is your story?” the professor said, a little louder.
“I… uhm… I guess I’m the class president, and I’m studying to become a historian like my father.”
“Ah-ha! Family history! Good. Good! Anyone else? How about the lady in the corner?!” the professor said laughing before redirecting his attention to Ana whose eyes widened at the sudden attention given to her by the whole class. “Who are you?”
Ana stood up almost too quickly, and Tori patted her hand to make her feel better. Tori knew that Ana hated attention.
“I… I… I’m… uhm…” Ana stuttered. She could feel her body shaking at the way her professor had looked at her eagerly waiting for her to answer. Who am I? she asked herself in her head, but her mind drew a blank, her stomach filled with butterflies.
“It’s alright, my dear. Don’t be afraid,” the professor said, looking straight into her eyes and smiling gently.
She thought about the painting she saw in the library yesterday. She had told herself that she’ll be a different person, but who would she be then? Ana blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“I don’t know, Sir!” Ana stammered and sat back down, trying to swallow tears that had been threatening to fall. Tori stood up in defense of her friend.
“Sir, Ana is the bravest, smartest, and nicest person I know. And she would do anything for her friends,” Tori told the professor, almost in an angry tone.
Tori sat back down, and the professor laughed again, sounding like a beloved grandfather more than a history professor. “I like this class!” The professor walked back up to the front of the classroom.
“History is the story of your family. It’s the story of your friendships. It’s the story of places, the places people have been to, and the places that they’ll go. It’s the story of people, who they were, who they are, and who they will become,” the professor declared. “History is one long story. Simply put, it’s the story of people. Without these stories, we are no better than wild animals living day to day with no past, no present, and no future to speak of. So, class, I ask you now this: Who are you? How will history tell your story?”
The class was quiet, not wanting to disrupt the professor’s speech. “I hope you are able to answer that question if not at the end of this course, then maybe in the grander scheme of life. Now, open your books to page 10, we start with why we study the history of our people.”
Tori opened the book and shared it to Ana, placing it above the leather-bound book on Ana’s desk. “Forget what he said, Ana. I hear he does this speech for every class taking this course,” Tori said reassuringly.
Ana looked up at the professor who had written his name on the whiteboard in black marker and a feeling of need grew inside her.
“Professor, how about you? How would you answer your question?” Ana blurted out bravely, mentally slapping her forehead for being so impulsive. Tori looked at her friend incredulously and then switched her attention back to their professor who had stopped writing his notes on the board and looked back at Ana. He smiled gently.
“Well, a good start would be my name. I am Professor Crispulo Reyes,” he said. “And I tell the story of our people to young minds such as yours.” He laughed out loud and went back to writing on the board. “I have a good feeling about this class.”
Ana looked at her friend who had started taking down notes on her notebook and the book they shared. The gold filigree in the corner of the leather-bound book peeking from under the softbound book glinted in the sunlight streaming through the window. Ana looked out again, the professor’s question brewing in her mind.
“Who are you, Ana?”
Sharing a book with Tori proved to be a struggle for Ana who had better studying habits than her outgoing friend. She wanted to do advanced reading for the class, and Tori wanted to go out with their new classmates. Ana wondered why Tori wanted to study history in the first place when there was so much reading to do.
Afer class, Ana went to the library alone to return the leather-bound book she borrowed by mistake and borrow a copy of the book she actually needed.
She stopped by the mural of men and women shrouded in gold on a beach. She examined every corner and saw a boy in a resplendent indigo cloak that she didn’t notice the first time. He was hiding behind one of women in gold in the farthest corner of the image. The boy was holding onto the edges of the woman’s dress and looking at the pearl in awe and confusion. Another detail had escaped Ana’s first look. They were all armed save for the man holding up the pearl.
The painting felt more familiar now to Ana, and she wondered why. And then it hit her. She took out the book, the pearl embedded in the middle glinting in the incandescent light.
“This can’t be the same pearl, is it?” Ana mumbled to herself.
“Ana!” a voice called out from behind, followed by a round of shushing by the people around them. Ana turned her back on the mural and the book to look at Tori who had come running up to her. Ana closed the book and put it back in her bag, feeling the smooth surface of the pearl before closing her bag on it.
Ana smiled and in a whispered tone, said, “What is it? I thought you were going out with our new classmates?”
“I was, but I lost my pendant. It wasn’t in the classroom, so I figured it must be here,” Tori explained, smiling. “I need your superpower to find it.”
Ana stifled a giggle. “Stop calling it a super power, Tori.”
“Please. Girl, back in high school, your hobby was to find the owners of lost things in the lost and found box. You’ve never failed. You can find anything lost no matter how long they have been lost. It’s a super power.”
“You’re exaggerating, Tori,” Ana started, leading the way to the fifth floor, and Tori followed her up and along the shelves lining the balcony. “I’ve failed lots of times. And remember that I still haven’t found my parents.”
“That doesn’t count, Ana! You can’t lose something that does not want to be fou—” Realizing her tactlessness, Tori decided to change the topic. “What I mean is, your ability to find lost things is impeccable. You always know where to look first.”
“I’m simply retracing our steps and looking. I mean really looking…”
Ana stopped at the entrance of the study hall she went to yesterday. A feeling in the pit of her stomach bubbled up inside her. She placed her hand there and looked up at one of the study tables.
“Which is what I’m doing right now… You were sitting on that desk yesterday, weren’t you?”
Tori nodded, following Ana’s line of sight. “You know, if only you were this confident and comfortable around other people, then we could probably make money out of this superpower of yours,” Tori joked. “You almost made me believe that you were finally coming out of your shell in class today.”
Ana laughed. “Seriously, don’t exaggerate. You can do this too. Lost things are always in the last place you look,” Ana said, ducking behind the desk two rows down from where Tori sat yesterday and pulling up a gold chain with an emerald pendant. Ana put the emerald in Tori’s hand. “It’s surprising how many lost things are hiding in plain sight.”
Tori rolled her eyes and put the necklace in her pocket. “You should stop selling yourself short, Ana. You’re more special than you think. If only you could see what I could...” Tori smiled and squeezed her friend’s hand.
“Why are you hanging onto this pendant anyway? You have far more nicer jewelry,” Ana said, squeezing her friend’s hand back.
“It’s my favorite. Now, come with me to hang out with our new classmates? Please? We’re trying out the new milk tea place outside the campus.”
“No, I was actually going to check for a copy of our book for Professor Reyes’s class. I want to do advanced reading so I won’t buckle down anymore when he interrogates me in class again.” Ana laughed.
“You can borrow my copy!” Tori said a little too loud, earning her a shush and a glare from the same librarian. She pulled her friend’s hand as if coaxing her to go. “Come on, Ana! I don’t want to go home yet!”
“It’s okay. I wanted to check out parts of the library that I haven’t explored yet. Maybe I’ll find other lost things,” Ana explained.
Tori shrugged and sighed. “Fiiiiine. But promise me you’ll come with me next time? You need to get out of your comfort zone once in a while.”
Ana nodded. “Come straight home right after, okay? Your parents worry about you.”
“Right,” Tori said, sighing. “Whatever. See you at home, Ana.”
She watched Tori from the fifth-floor balcony as she made her way to the exit. That’s when she noticed the helpful librarian looking up and smiling at her. Ana smiled back and decided to go to her. She was still embarrassed for not even bothering to ask her name when she helped her yesterday.
She ran down the stairs, flight after flight after flight until she lost her breath. She stopped. She couldn’t tell which floor she was on. She had lost count of the flights of stairs that she had climbed down. She looked around and noticed that the staircase and the hallways looked the same as the previous floor’s. She climbed back up again, counting five floors, to check and found herself in what looked to be like the same place she was in five flights of stairs ago. She felt nervous, and the feeling in the pit of her stomach bubbled inside her again.
Something’s wrong… Ana thought. A strange feeling began to grow in her, and suddenly a random idea came to her.
She took off the ribbon that held her braid together and tied it to one of the railings lining the stairs. Her long black hair fell to her shoulders.
She climbed back up the stairs, counting five flights of stairs, until she returned to the railing with her emerald ribbon. Ana sat on the steps, feeling confused and a little scared. Her immaculately white uniform and black pleated skirt were drenched in sweat from all the running. She felt pain in her heel and toes inside her new leather shoes.
“There must be a logical explanation to all this. Calm down, Ana. Think. Think,” Ana mumbled, looking around her. “Okay, if going up and down the stairs is taking me nowhere, then maybe I should check for other ways to exit through these hallways,” Ana said out loud more to herself. Her voice echoed in the dark hallways on either side of the staircase she was sitting on.
From where she sat, she peered on the right side of the hallway and on the left. The right side hallway was dark, and at the end of it was a nondescript door with a “do not enter” sign hanging above it. On the left side, she saw a glass wall with a door in the middle, through which can be seen displays of old pots, weapons, masks, bones, and all sorts of artifacts she had seen in history books. She saw shrouds of gold and indigo hanging on the walls and weapons of every shape and size imaginable. One glass casing was empty save for a stand that looked like it was meant for a big book.
She cautiously walked up to the glass door and carefully opened it. Inside, the smell of old and lost things wafted in the air and the strange feeling in her stomach bubbled up inside her more powerfully than ever before.
She saw a door adorned in gold at the end of the room and wondered if it was the exit that she was looking for. She approached it with a single-minded focus that she would have when she knew she was about to find a lost thing. As her hand reached for the big round hollow spot where a doorknob should be, another hand pulled her back, waking her up from what felt like a trance.
She saw the person who had pulled her back. It was the mysterious librarian from yesterday.
“How did you find this place?” she asked.
“I was lost… I… I was… just… looking for… for a way out…” Ana stuttered, taking a few steps away from the librarian. The librarian looked different, like she had aged in reverse from yesterday. She looked younger and stronger, battle-worn even.
“Impossible! Nobody can find this place unless…” the librarian stopped mid-sentence and looked at Ana’s face as if looking for answers. “Who are you really?”Ana could not answer. She was simply lost.