“The day I was born I was born free and that is my Privilege.”


“You’re facing the wall. Are you Pissing (Piscine)?”
August 8, 2008, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

An excerpt from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

CHAPTER 5

My name isn’t the end of the story about my name. When your name is BOb, no one asks you, “How do you spell that?” Not so with Piscine Molitor Patel.

Some thought it was P. Singh and that I was a Sikh, and they wondered why I wasn’t wearing a turban.

In my university days, I visited Montreal once with some friends. It fell to me to order pizzas one night. I couldn’;t bear to have yet another French speaker guffawing at my name, so when the man on the phone asked, “Can I’ave your name?” I said, “I am who I am.” Half an hour later, two pizzas arrived for “Ian Hoolihan.”

It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names. Witness Simon who is called Peter, Matthew also known as Levi, Nathaniel who is Bartholomew, Judas, not Iscariot, who took the name Thaddeus, Simeon who went by Niger, Saul who become Paul.

My Roman soldier stood in the schoolyard one morning when I was twelve. I had just arrived. He saw me and a flash of evil genius lit up his dull mind. He raised his arm, pointed at me and shouted, “It’s Pissing Patel!”

In a second everyone was laughing. It fell away as we filed into the class. I walked in last, wearing my crown of thorns.

The cruelty of children comes as news to no one. The words would waft across the yard to my ears, unprovoked, uncalled for: “Where’s Pissing? I’ve got to go.” Or: “You’re facing the wall. Are you Pissing?” Or something of the sort. I would freeze or, the contrary, pursue my activity, pretending not to have heard. The sound would disappear, but the hurt would linger, like the smell of piss long after it was evaporated.

————————————————————————————–

It was near the end of the school year, a week after the finals, where we were just waiting for the teachers to give us their list of requirements for the clearance. Usually, a lessons-filled notebook, a result of endless copying from the manila papers taped on the blackboard end to end or what have you, will make the teacher stump his signature on your salvation paper. We had anticipated this tedium, so playing cards, when teachers were chatting about their personal lives, were played in the classroom. Others would entertain themselves on word games. Boys would be out eyeing for Venuses from other sections. I, on the other hand, inspired by an article that I’ve read in my brother’s old school publication that I found splayed on the bottom of my mother’s old lakasa, I began writing on the blackboard a few of my classmates names. One would be “Flordeliza Medalla – Honorable Name.” A friend, who was bored looking for three- or four-letter words, saw what I wrote and just laugh at my gag. He then picked up the chalk and started to throw his insanity on the board with his graphics.

————————————————————————————-

I was Zhel to my strict-sassy research professor in college. College research was my first course with her, who also taught our other major subjects, so I was a new face in her class, At the first day of class, I silently sat at the back. She came a few minutes after and then looked at her students.  Most of them she was familiar of.  She noticed me and asked what my name is. I uttered in a polite, soft-voiced manner, Jel, which she heard as Zhel.

“No, ma’am, it’s Jel.”

“Zhel?” Now, the class chorused, Jel.

“Oh, Jel, sorry.”

And for a week, I was Zhel to my blockmates/classmates, to my orgmates in our tambayan.

————————————————————————————–

I was Jen to a Chowking crew. She would ask, “May I know your name, ma’am?” which I kindly replied, Jel. She gave me my number and then asked me to wait for my take-out order on the side. Five minutes after, a crew went out calling for Jen to give her, her packed order. Nobody answered. Seven minutes, he came out again calling for Jen. Again, he was ignored. Ten minutes and my eyebrow could now be likened to Frida Kahlo’s. I approached a crew to follow up for my order.

“Ma’am, can I have your receipt.” I handed it over. “Oh, you must be Jen. Here it is.”

Oh, right, Jen. Yes, I’m Jen and I’m hungry. Give me that.

————————————————————————————–

“Why would you write your name in two words? You should be using what was written on your birth certificate.” Ma’am Grama, my English teacher, once said to me in a way like I caused the guava to fall on the ground. It’s gravity, ma’am, or blame the fruit, not me. I am Laurice Jel, Laurice jel after I got tired of capitalizing the J in Jel. Then all of a sudden I became Lauricejel. I was baptized thrice then.

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