“Do you celebrate Christmas?” she asked, glaring at her as she held the signed slip of paper.

“Yes, we do,” she answered.

“Hmmm….does your family believe in God?” she further queried in a voice that was betraying her disdain of her.

“Yes, we do,” she replied.

The teacher, Ms. Esguerra, looked at her incredulously and addressed the class. “She doesn’t have a religion.”

She kept repeating it like a mantra to ward off the evil spirit that she felt had descended upon her grade two classroom. Her dark beady eyes said everything – the revulsion coursing through her veins that a pagan was in her midst, in her classroom. Her classmates gawped at her as if horns had sprouted on her head and a tail wagged behind her suddenly.

Her mother had explained to their decision the night she handed the slip of paper informing the parents of catechism class in her school.

“Your father and I don’t subscribe to an orthodox religion although we don’t deny the existence of an omnipotent deity. I don’t see the reason why the school is holding religion class. What happened to ‘learning to be free’? The late Mrs. Gamboa must be turning in her grave!”

She knew she had ceased to exist that day. She felt a shift as pronounced as tectonic plates rearranging their geographical location at that very moment. She could understand – perhaps forgive – the seachange in behavior in her classmates, as they were young, but she was perplexed at the puerile behavior of an educator.

In class, Ms. Esguerra’s haughtiness caught on with her classmates who ostracized her like a leper in their midst. At recess, they averted their eyes quickly as if burned by the mere vision of her and during religion class Ms. Esguerra closed the jalousie windows of the classroom while she was told to remain outside. She peeked once but all she saw was darkness.

She still remembered their last meeting – she was around grade six (or was it seven?) then – when she dropped by for a visit. She had resigned from school earlier on.

“Ah, it’s you,” she remarked with a hint of derision.

She met her gaze steadily and then turned to walk down the corridor to her classroom. Pleasantries were not necessary.


A decade later, she found herself back in her old school. She was brimming with optimism like any young twentysomething in her first job until she met a clone of Ms. Esguerra.

“Hi, I am Nonoy. Are you married?” was his first probing question when he chanced upon her at the cafeteria having a drink.

He was short, almost dwarfish for a man, with curly hair and an unctuous air to him. He taught Social Studies I was told. He heard there was new English teacher and anointed himself the official judge to ascertain her suitability in becoming part of the faculty.

 “No, I am not. Why do you ask?”

“Ah, I’m just curious. Why aren’t you married? I am. You should be by now, you know. That’s what the Bible said,” he declared, an aura of self-aggrandizement enveloping his doughy face. “By the way, what is your religion?”

“I’m agnostic,” she replied. She could feel it rising and striking her face – that same sanctimonious attitude she endured from her teacher when she was in grade two.

“You don’t believe in God?!?” he exclaimed in abject horror.

“I didn’t say that. You need to work on your comprehension skills,” was her sardonic reply, as she gathered her bag to leave.

“Uh, where are you going?” he asked after her innocently.

She walked off shaking her head in disbelieve. There really was no escaping the harridan.


“Are you a practicing Moslem?” she was asked for the nth time that day.

She never asked people questions about what they were, their religious beliefs or marital status. It was appalling that these new colleague of hers had the audacity to think they had a right to such line of questioning. She could nod in agreement to end the interrogation but that would be completely dishonest. If she said no, she’d have to explain why she didn’t eat pork, didn’t drink liquor or didn’t smoke, which was becoming tedious.

“If I were Moslem, what would you do?” she asked in return. “You seem to be hinting with that tone of yours that there is something ghastly about being one. Besides, it’s not just the Moslems who don’t eat pork or drink liquor.”

 “So you’re not Malay, right?” he continued with his obtuse questioning.

“What does my being Moslem or Malay have to do with anything?” was her quick rejoinder. “And if only to satisfy your curiosity, I’m a Filipino born and raised in the city.”

“So you’re a Catholic then!” he exclaimed loudly as if hitting the jackpot.

“Noooooo,” she said, her patience wearing thin. “I may be Filipino, but it doesn’t automatically make me Catholic.”

“But the Philippines is a Catholic country. How come you’re not Catholic? I’m a Christian.”

“I’m agnostic,” she said in a low voice as her eyes looked up from her plate to hold his gaze. “Don’t worry I haven’t lost my compassion for people or my scruples, not yet.”

She knew what was next and she wasn’t going to suffer this fool in front of her.


There was no escaping the question on religion. The easiest was to fib and say she subscribed to a structured religion but she wouldn’t be true to herself. She didn’t see the need to convince people that she talks to God and that her family more often than not turned to the deity for counsel intermittently. And she knew that He listened especially when she was heavily burdened and when she questioned His motives on the paths he was leading her to.

Her mind was racing with thoughts of how people, for example, automatically assumed that her father was an atheist just because he read Karl Marx among other things.

“If only they get past their preconceived notions. He just wasn’t easily fooled; he saw through the sanctimonious posturing of the self-proclaimed messiahs on earth who had mastered the art of dissembling,” ran her mental soliloquy.”

The question came again but the creepy holier-than-thou behavior didn’t. To her surprise, they didn’t flinch in aversion, smirk or showed contempt when she said she’s agnostic.

“We would like to invite you to our Sabbath worship at JISDAC (Jakarta International Seventh Day Adventist Center),” he said. “You’ll meet some of our friends. There’ll be singing, sharing and a feast at the end.”

“We leave around 8:30am. There are a lot of people who are not Adventists but they attend the service. All are welcome,” added his friend.

“But no worries if you don’t want to come,” quipped the one who extended the invitation. “Anyway, we’re off to Hartz Chicken Buffet for dinner. Would you like to join us?”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by atomo on September 23, 2009 at 3:52 am

    more reasons to leave that place then stay then.


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