A Philam Life Building romance

Many years ago, armed with a fresh degree in creative writing, I responded to a job ad I'd found in a newspaper. I don't remember anymore what the exact position was, but the job was for Philam Life and the role required writing skills. 

I wasn't too excited when I got their call, and whatever excitement I had left fizzled out when I found myself in the Philam Life Building in Ermita one early Saturday morning, taking a series of tests with hundreds of other applicants in the auditorium.

It's all hazy now, but I remember the test involving a lot of math and me with my Math 1 only curriculum struggling, wondering what on earth this had to do with writing and already hating the job that wasn't even mine yet.

After the first test, we were told that those who would move on to the next phase would be called and those who weren't were welcome to take another test for insurance agents. 

That wasn't what happened. But during the wait, I stepped out and walked to Orosa and bought Skyflakes and Mountain Dew from the vendors under the trees. 

Maybe I met him at the building's entrance, easily my favorite spot the few times I'd been to Philam Life, where I finished my snack; maybe he asked for the time or asked when we were due back. He recognized me, maybe, because I was dressed like a job applicant and was carrying a plastic envelope with my one-page resume and transcript.

I wasn't in the mood for any conversation with a boy, not when I knew some strangers were at the same moment discovering how bad I was at math and using that as basis for how well I might do writing for them, but this boy was persistent and when the waiting time went beyond an hour and a half, I started warming up to him.

Both our names weren't called for the next phase of the recruitment process, but we were called for the exam for insurance agents, as if it were no longer optional but another path to success in Philam Life.

"Do I want to work here?" I thought, and the answer, which was no, became a yes when I looked around the building.

He asked if I wanted to take the next exam. I was going to say no, but he said he wanted to try and while I was sure I didn't want to sell insurance (I was super shy then; I'm just less shy now), he convinced me to join him. 

The exam had even more math. We both didn't make it. I was ready to go home, but he insisted on walking with me along UN Avenue to Taft and then invited me to lunch. He suggested Chowking at Times Plaza.

He was friendly and also forward in a way that I needed him to be, so even if I was upset about my first jobhunting fail, I thought, well, here's to meeting your first boy outside UP. So I said yes.

Over lunch, we got to know each other. But whatever romance I was imagining soon faded because he told me he'd just graduated from Don Bosco seminary school. 

Are you going to be a priest, I asked.

He said that he wanted to. Many are called, but few are chosen, he explained, so after graduation they are given some time to experience the real world--find jobs, girlfriends, even--and then come back only when they are sure priesthood is their calling.

Then he asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said I had none. He got my phone number and I gave him my landline.

He called me once or twice, we talked about jobhunting, about meeting up again, but soon I was hired to work as a writer for a media company, and we never had the chance to talk again.

Sometimes, when I remember him, I like to imagine that God won and he's now a priest somewhere.

The Philam Life Building was the host of that core memory. My first day out in the "real world." My first foray into jobhunting. My first "lunch date" with a stranger. My first boy outside of UP who asked for my number. 

Years after that, I went back to DLSU for graduate studies, and my classmates and I would frequent Malate, sometimes staying up until sunrise at the then-rare 24-hour McDonald's on UN Avenue.

We'd always walk past the Philam Life Building and I'd always say to anyone who cared to listen that I loved that place. Then I'd remember him. Depending on who I'm with, I sometimes tell this story.

I can't remember his name or his face anymore, so there's no way of looking him up. And the Philam Life Building is gone as of today.

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