Eric looked up from his music player and realized that the series of speeches was over. He removed his earphones and handed them, along with his music player, to one of his classmates. Clad in their white judogi and black belt, he and Dennis marched to the centre of the quadrangle and cued for their background track to be played. Eric limbered up when he heard the first beat of a Mortal Kombat theme song, while Dennis approached from behind and was soon pretending to attack him. In defense, Eric swiftly turned around and grabbed Dennis’s upper arms and threw him over his shoulder. He followed through with another shoulder throw, a basic martial arts routine which nonetheless drew loud cheers. Eric carried on oblivious to the cheers, wishing he could fast-forward their number. It could have been worse—Mr. Santos had initially suggested that they perform their routine to Eye of the Tiger.
After their performance, Eric and Dennis dashed to the farthest bleacher. Eric put his earphones back on. A few minutes later, the emcee announced the exhibition game line-up: Warriors versus Tigers, billed as THE basketball match between the strongest teams. “How did basketball become so popular here? These guys are half the height of NBA players,” Eric whispered to Dennis, who rolled his eyes in response.
Just then the Warriors’ cheering squad, in orange costumes, emerged chanting, “We are the Warriors, never the worriers! Warriors mean victory and Tigers will soon be sorry!”
Eric closed his eyes and wished, once more, that he were old enough to have stayed back in Manila. Instead he had to come with his parents to the North, where his father was now a plant manager for a carbonated soft drink company. Just last year, Eric was at San Lorenzo College, his school since nursery. The students there also played basketball, but they could dribble and rebound better. Most importantly, there were no grating routines from Warrior Princesses. Back then, Eric and his friends could easily troop to his family’s nearby apartment after class. This had served as the group’s unofficial headquarters— sports and music paraphernalia were strewn all over the third floor den, under his father’s billiard table, beside the antique jukebox, and just about anywhere there was space. Though he and friends used to pretend to be bored, in reality there was always something to do from board games to video games to swapping comic books.
Eric was engrossed in his song selection when Dennis tapped his shoulder. “Dude, the Tigers won, it’s 72 to 68.”
Before Dennis could finish, the Tiger Squad shouted, “Give me a T, give me an I…Tigers! The best ever! Together for Tigers, Together We Win!”
“Oh Lord,” Eric grimaced, dragging Dennis away from the quadrangle.
In the afternoon, Eric and Dennis joined their classmates at the auditorium for the Miss Saint James pageant. Eric whispered the escape plan to Dennis: They would exit quietly as soon as the class secretary had checked their attendance, and would then return just before the announcement of pageant winners. Soon the lights were switched off, except for the spotlight on the stage. The first contestant, clad in an all-silver fencing suit, introduced herself, paraded across the stage, and waved at the audience on her way out. The next three contestants came in motor-biker costumes, followed by Steffi Graf wannabes in their tennis whites. The latter held their rackets limply, as though swatting flies instead of hitting balls. Finally contestant number thirteen strode in, wearing an all-black leather ensemble with elbow, shoulder, and kneepads. “Here comes the female version of Michael Schumacher,” Eric murmured.
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