This year’s Fictory is in partnership with BRUMULTIVERSE, a fictional multiple universe with dimensions, realms and parallel realities where amazing stories happen. All fics use the prompt: “The Main Character wakes up on the first day of school, late for their classes in a university to which they don’t remember enrolling.”
“Why is everything so pink?” murmured Mira as her eyes squinted at the bright morning light filling the room. Her eyelids were too heavy that she had a hard time focusing on what she was seeing. All she could make out of were blurry pink hues.
It took a few more seconds before her eyes were able to adjust. Her gaze shifted from one corner of the room to the other. The entire wall was covered with cream-colored wallpaper with alternating pink floral patterns. The drapes on the windows were also pink and cream.
Did I part those drapes? No wonder it is too bright here. Wait, I don’t have drapes!
Mira’s eyes shifted from the bed cover to the lamp shade on the bedside table, which was also pink. She could see a pink wall clock on the far side of the room shaped like a peach or a heart; she could not tell at the moment. Why is everything so pink? Mira closed her eyes and tried to remember what happened the night before. Where exactly am I? This is not my room! Her hands started to get clammy. With her heart racing, she got out of the bed. She felt something furry touch her ankles and she shrieked. It was her bunny slippers. A loud knock on the door made her shriek a second time.
“Who’s there?” Mira asked as she took a couple of steps back. She scanned the room for something she could use as a weapon. Not finding any, she grabbed the lamp shade.
“Who’s there?” she repeated.
“What are you doing there?” the person outside the room yelled. It was a woman. “Why are you still there? You’re late, young lady!”
“Who are you?” Mira asked, inching towards the door while clasping the lamp shade with both hands.
A loud crashing sound followed as the lamp shade she was holding fell, breaking into fragments. Mira was astounded. She looked at the broken lamp, with its cord still plugged in the outlet.
“Alright, that does it! I’m going in!” the woman outside the door announced. A jingle of keys followed, and the doorknob turned.
“Don’t come closer!” Mira warned, this time holding a chair. Her eyes searched the room for something lighter.
The woman who opened the door was probably in her mid-forties. She was tall and fair-skinned. Her eyes were deep set, and her lips were nude. Her graying hair was tied in a tight bun that hung down onto the back of her head. She was wearing a white apron on top of a black dress, the collar of her white inner blouse adding an accent to her long neck.
“What have you done?” the woman asked almost in a yell.
“You haven’t answered my question. Who are you?” Mira demanded.
“I’m the cleaning lady, Manang Ising. I was cleaning this floor when I heard someone scream. Nobody should be here at this hour. You should be at the campus tour!”
“I have no idea where I am,” Mira blurted out. “This isn’t my room!”
The two stood there in silence a little longer than what should have been, each one trying to make sense of what the other was saying.
“Where is this place?” Mira asked again, this time in a much softer tone.
“What do you mean where is this place? You are in the dormitory. Where else could you be while in your nightgown?” Manang Ising replied, not a bit surprised with Mira’s bewilderment. This had happened before to a lot of students who attended the Acquaintance Party the night before the campus tour. Some students would sneak out of the campus during the party and go to the nearby clubs instead. “Kids these days,” she murmured.
Mira looked at her attire. She was indeed in her favorite yellow nightgown with sunflower prints, but everything else about the room did not make any sense to her.
“I, uhm, I really don’t remember my room being, uhm, pink,” she stammered. “This isn’t my room. I think. I don’t really remember—”
“All of the rooms here are pink by default.” Manang Ising did not allow her to finish. “You probably did not remember it being pink because you, together with all the residents, checked in last night when the power was still out in this building. Apparently, a rat found its way in one of those electrical boxes and caused a power outage in the building. No worries, everything was restored after the Acquaintance Party.”
Mira was about to say something else but decided not to.
“Now, if you do not have any question, I shall start cleaning this mess. You would probably be charged for it, but I don’t think that would matter much. You should hurry to the Grand Hall. You are already thirteen minutes late,” said Manang Ising, while pointing to the wall clock with her lips.
Mira glanced at the clock. It was neither heart nor a peach. It was a strawberry. Mira groaned and went to the drawer to get some fresh towels. She groaned again as the floral scent of the fabric conditioner used on the towel reached her nose. The strong aroma reminded her of those spring commercials with falling cherry blossom petals.
“Ugh! Why does everything have to be so pink?”
At least the uniform isn’t pink! Mira went down the incline and landed into the dormitory’s lobby, where the two wings of the Berkeley Residence Hall merged. From the entrance going to the right was the Kamagong Wing for males, and the left was Sanggumay Wing for females. Manang Ising told her that the turnstiles in the whole building were operated using the student biometrics. That way only students occupying their respective wings were allowed to enter. Manang Ising also gave her instructions on how to reach the Grand Hall.
Mira stepped out of the residence hall and into a sprawling lawn of carabao grass with cobblestone pathways. She glanced at the digital display on her yellow wristwatch and ran towards the tree-lined avenue leading to the Grand Hall. She ran past the infirmary and the chapel and turned right at the corner of the observatory. She knew that she was nearing the Grand Hall because she could hear the crowd. A hymn was also playing softly in the background, broadcasted through the main speaker at the venue.
Beads of sweat rolled down her cheeks but she did not show any sign of exhaustion. At nineteen and with five years of experience in the track team back in her high school, Mia knew that running towards the Grand Hall was a good way to start the day. However, since it was already thirty minutes past eight in the morning, the sun was already glaring at her as if scolding her for being late. She removed her black coat, revealing a white long-sleeved shirt. Her blue checkered necktie, which matched her above-the-knee checkered skirt, flapped side-to-side with her every stride. She folded her coat in half and carefully tucked it under her left arm as she continued to run towards the Grand Hall.
When Mira arrived, she noticed a lot of students grouped per uniform. The group of students closest to the entrance of the Grand Hall wore almost the same uniform that she was wearing, except it was in red instead of blue. The group on the far side wore it in purple, and the group closest to her wore it in blue. The males all wore ash-colored slacks and white long-sleeved shirts with a necktie matching the color of the female uniforms. Mira casually joined the group matching her uniform.
“You’re late,” someone whispered behind her.
Mira turned around to see a young lady her age. She was wearing the same uniform and she had her flaxen hair in twin pigtails. A well-kept fringe covered her forehead up to her brows. Her eyes were like almonds, and her pupils were deep purple.
“You have very beautiful eyes,” Mira couldn’t help herself blurting out.
“Thank you,” the young lady said. “You’re late!” she repeated.
“I know,” Mira said, still transfixed on the lady’s eyes. She shook her head to get out of her trance. “I know. What is it to you?” Mira crossed her arms. Whoa! Her lips are also nice! And that philtrum could hold a drop of water!
“Are you for real?” the lady scoffed. “Well, in case you already forgot, I’m Jessica, the Senior Class Governor of the Biology Program, and it is my responsibility to monitor everyone in our program.”
“Wait. What? How did you know which program I belong to?” Mira asked. She unfolded her coat and looked for a nametag or any identifying mark. She found none. “And what’s that you said? Biology? I’m in the Biology program?”
“Yes. Oh, my Godfrederick!” Jessica stepped closer to Mira and reached for her forehead.
Mira sidestepped before Jessica’s hand reached her forehead. “What are you doing?”
Jessica squinted. “Are you sick or something? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Mira answered. “So, how did you know that we are in the same program?”
“You told me last night. We live in the same dormitory. Your room is just right next to mine.”
Mira was about to ask another question when she was cut off by a woman’s voice through the speakers.
“Good morning, everyone! Thank you for your patience. We shall now continue with our program. I won’t keep you waiting. To formally welcome every student here today, let us all welcome Dean George Whitman of the Office of Student Affairs.”
Mira glanced over at the Grand Hall entrance and saw an old man, probably in his fifties walking towards the podium with a cane.
“Good morning, everyone!” the dean remarked. He was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt with gold ornate patterns at the cuffs and collar, his white hair pulled back neatly and his beard of the same color trimmed nicely. One could tell from a distance that his black slacks were freshly ironed, which added a dignified look to his attire.
“As the Dean of the Office of Student Affairs, let me welcome everyone to Berkeley-Reagan University. This year we have twenty-five new senior high school students,” he continued, motioning to the group in red uniforms, “fifty new students under the Reagan cluster of programs”—he nods to those in purple uniforms—“and thirty-seven new students under the Berkeley cluster of programs.” The dean looked towards the direction of Mira.
“Since this is your first day here in the university, I asked all the Senior Class Governors to conduct a campus tour. You probably met some of these bright, young men and women at the Acquaintance Party last night. Anyway, I won’t keep you waiting. Let the campus tour begin, and I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here in Berkeley-Reagan University.” With that, the dean turned around and went inside the Great Hall.
Last night? Mira recalled that Manang Ising also mentioned the Acquaintance Party.
Mira snapped from her thoughts. It was Jessica who was calling her.
“Mira, are you listening? I said all those from the Biology program should follow me.”
Mira jogged towards Jessica and joined her group. “Wait, how come there are only four of us?” she asked in disbelief.
“Most of the new students were accepted during the first semester. All of you deferred your enrollment last semester so there’s only a handful of you.”
“I deferred?” Mira asked in disbelief. She took a mental note of everything that happened so far. First, there was the nauseous pink room, the Acquaintance Party she did not remember attending, and now she is in a Biology program. If it were a Human Kinetics program, then she would just let things slide off, but Biology?
“You probably did,” Jessica answered. She flipped a page on a clipboard she was holding and wrote something on it. “There are no entrance exams for the second semester, so I don’t think you are here by chance.” She shifted her gaze from the clipboard to Mira and gave a weak smile, almost a smirk.
“Yes, you probably deferred your enrollment,” the young man standing next to Mira seconded. “The name’s Minhwan. I’m taking Biology just like you.” He made a slight bow.
One look at Minhwan and Mira could easily tell that he had Korean blood. His name was also a giveaway. Mira was already familiar with most Korean names from all the posters her younger sister collected and displayed in the room that they shared back home. Minhwan was tall, good looking, with very fair skin, and jet-black hair held in place by a styling product.
“I deferred my enrollment because I wanted to study in my hometown in Korea. However, since my father’s business is here in the Philippines, he forced me to take Biology in this university so I can go to medicine after four years.”
“I also deferred my enrollment,” the last member of the group chimed in, raising his right hand. “My real name is Andres, but please call me Andrew.”
“My name is Mirasol, but you can all call me Mira.” Mira felt the need to introduce herself this time.
“Great! Now that we all know each other, let us first head to the library,” Jessica declared. She clicked her retractable pen and closed the cover foldover of the clipboard. “Let’s go!”
Mira’s jaw almost dropped to the ground when she saw the library. It was a rectangular building with doric columns located at the back of the Great Hall. The façade of the library reminded Mira of the Parthenon had the latter not been in ruins. The building was constructed from white marble quarried from the mountains of Romblon. There were eight columns in front, four on each side of the main door. These eight columns held an entablature carved with what looked like leaves. The gable was finished with a triangular pediment with sculpted figures of what looked like a bird, a serpent, and a crab holding something round.
“Those are the Bakunawa, Minokawa, and Tambanokano,” Andrew said, snapping Mira out from her yet another trance. “I noticed you’ve been looking at it far longer than usual.”
Mira looked at Andrew. To her estimate, he was probably around five feet and ten inches tall, and she noticed that his pupils were pale brown. His brows were slightly crooked but not awkward, and his nose bridge was a little wide but high. Overall, Mira could say that Andrew was going to be a campus heartthrob. Her eyes shifted from his eyes to his chest.
Mira felt her ears burn. Oh my.
“I mean, what were those that you said?” Mira asked, averting his gaze. She nonchalantly placed her right hand on her chest to calm her rapidly beating heart.
“Oh, those were the moon-eaters in Philippine mythology. My father is a culture-bearer, so I know a thing or two about Philippine mythology,” Andrew replied.
“Interesting,” was all Mira could say. She had no idea what Andrew was talking about. Moon-eaters? She was merely admiring the façade of the library because standing in front of such a work of architecture felt like she was teleported to another place, Greece to be more specific. She knew a thing or two about Greek architecture and history because she was very fond of the history of the Olympic games when she was young.
“As a son of a culture-bearer, what made you choose Andrew over Andres?” Minhwan asked while staring at the three figures of what Andrew called moon-eaters. He shifted his gaze from the building to Mira who gave him a look as if to tell him to drop the question. “I, uhm, I was just curious,” Minhwan immediately said in defense, holding up his hands in surrender. He realized that his question could be interpreted differently.
“That’s alright. You were not the first one to ask,” Andrew said, sitting on one of the steps of the marble stairway leading up the main door of the building. “You probably heard of our clan, the Banyuhay from the Southern Tagalog region.”
Mira and Minhwan also sat on the marble steps, with Minhwan massaging his legs. Jessica remained standing, tapping something on her mobile phone with one hand while her other hand held the clipboard.
“Members of the Banyuhay clan are known folklorists, preserving the myths and legends of the Philippines,” Andrew continued. “My grandfather’s grandfather, Andres Banyuhay the Senior, was known for his book entitled Alamat, a compendium of local myths and legends of the Tagalog. His son became a university professor and made a second volume focusing on the myths and legends from the Bicol region. And I guess that was how their sons found the inspiration to continue their work. My father is the fourth generation, and he is currently in southwestern Mindanao for his cultural immersion. All the culture-bearers in our clan were given the name Andres, and I’m supposed to be the fifth generation.”
“But you didn’t want to,” Minhwan interrupted.
Andrew just gave a slight nod.
“Oh, I get it.” Mira’s eyes widened. You didn’t want to use Andres because you think you’re not deserving to be called a fifth-generation culture-bearer!”
This time it was Minhwan who gave her a knowing look. “Nice! You really had to rub it in, huh?”
Red from embarrassment, Mira apologized to Andrew to which the latter said, “No worries. I told my father about me pursuing Biology instead of Literature and he was okay with my decision. He was probably a little disappointed at that time— and he probably is still, but I must make decisions for myself, right? I use the name Andrew because I want to make my own path, and not just become a shadow of all the Andres in the family.”
“So does that mean you do like Biology?” Mira asked, gathering back her composure.
“Yes!” Andrew exclaimed. “To be more specific, I am very much interested in Entomology,” he added, his voice filled with excitement.
“Insects?” Jessica asked, this time joining the group. “Are you one of those boys who are so obsessed with tarantulas and scorpions, to the point that their room looks like the jungle?”
“Hmmm… maybe that’s a little too extreme for me.” Andrew stood up and walked to the backpack that he placed on a bench earlier. He opened the main pouch and pulled up a camera. “I’m more into photography. I like taking pictures of insects in their natural habitat.”
The four stayed in front of the library for a few more minutes, browsing the photos. As they flipped from one image to another, Andrew gave some information about each insect, its morphology, habitat, and the settings he used for his camera. When the bells of the Grand Hall announced that it was already ten in the morning, the group walked towards the next building with Jessical leading the way.
Half a kilometer away from the library was the museum. It was almost half the size of the library, and the Greek-inspired architecture was also evident. However, unlike the bare front lawn of the library, the museum’s lawn was filled with various installations.
“Now this is what I’m talking about!” Minhwan rushed towards the museum like there was no tomorrow. “Look at this!”
He stopped in front of an installation called Every Human. “Come here, everyone. Look at this!” he repeated. “If you are going to view this installation from this direction, you could see the face of a baby, and if you are going to move clockwise, you would see it change from a baby to a young boy.” He continued to move clockwise around the installation. “Here you could see the face of a young man, then an old man, and finally a skull! This installation here shows the lifespan of every human.”
“How did you know all of these?” Mira asked while following Minhwan’s lead on how to view the art installation.
“I’ve always wanted to be a sculptor and a master craftsman. That is why I wanted to go back to Korea. There is a great school there specializing in the arts.”
“But?” Mira asked, her head moving side to side as she tried to figure out how to view the skull.
“But my parents wanted me to become a doctor. They said there is no money in the arts. I need to be an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor if I want a good future.”
“You should do whatever that will make you happy,” Andrew suggested, his hand still holding his camera. “They will understand.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Minhwan replied. “Not all parents are as understanding as yours, Andrew. My cousin was disowned by his family because he pursued his dream to become a painter. He now works part-time at a grocery shop.”
“That’s terrible,” was all Mira could tell as she finally saw the skull.
“I know that my parents genuinely care for me and that is why they are thinking about my future, and I really can’t blame them for thinking so.” Minhwan sighed. “The generation before them lived during wartime, and their generation grew up after the war in my country. It was during those times that there was a high demand for workers in the legal, health, and infrastructure departments. So those people who pursued careers in those fields relatively had better opportunities to succeed and live a pleasant life.”
“But times have changed.” That was Mira’s poor attempt to make the mood lighter. She could feel the sadness in Minhwan’s voice as he spoke.
“Does it?” was Minhwan’s reply. He forced a smile and added, “Maybe someday.”
“You are in Berkeley-Reagan University. They also offer degree programs in the arts and literature here,” Jessica interrupted. “You just need to apply for a transfer after a semester of residency.”
“I’m not sure if I’m ready to disappoint my parents,” Minhwan replied, before he chuckled. “But I will take note of that. Thank you, Jessica.”
“How about you, Mira? What’s your story?” Jessica asked, diverting everyone’s attention to Mira.
“Me?” Mira was caught by surprise. “Actually, I don’t know. I once dreamed of being a singer because I wanted to sing. Then when I witnessed how nurses and the other healthcare workers attended to the wounded in one documentary film I watched, I wanted to become a nurse. Then a little later, I wanted to become a journalist and make documentary films. Then after that I wanted to study human nutrition so athletes can perform well in sports. I love sports!” Mira paused for a moment then she pursed her lips. “Come to think of it, I never really knew what I wanted.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean by that,” Jessica replied, trying to make any sense of what Mira said.
“So why are you in Biology then?” Andrew asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” was Mira’s quick reply. She considered telling the group what was going through her mind but decided not to. She only met them today and they wouldn’t probably know the answers to her questions as well. “How about you, Jessica? What’s your story?”
“Not as exciting as your stories. I’m here for my pre-med course. I’m going to be a pulmonologist someday.” Jessica twirled one of her pigtails with one hand. She ran her fingers through her hair until it reached the tips and she inspected them for any signs of splitting.
“Your family owns a hospital?” Andrew asked, more like stating an assumption.
“I just want to be a doctor. It has been my dream since I was little. My mother would buy me a doll and I would dissect it in two using a kitchen knife—” Jessica paused. She looked at the three people standing in front of her, their looks frozen in disbelief. “Just kidding!” she exclaimed. “Oh, my Godfrederick! Did you honestly think I would do something so horrendous?”
It was Minhwan who first spoke. “Well, if later you turned up to be so twisted then you might get away with it. Nobody would suspect that you could do such a thing.”
“Frankly, it did not cross my mind that you were capable of joking,” Mira added. “I mean, when we met this morning, you almost shaved my head for being late. Then when we were at the library and Andrew was telling about his clan, you were just standing there uninterested and playing with your mobile phone. Then you made that comment about the tarantula and scorpion. Come to think of it, you did not really participate in any of the discussions.”
“Wow! You really noticed all of those?” Jessica’s eyes widened with amazement. “I did not know it was such a big deal.”
“No, it wasn’t a big deal. I was merely surprised you could pull off a prank like that.” Mira explained.
Jessica laughed, her cheeks almost ached. “That’s alright. It was fun while it lasted though,” she finished with a wink.
“Among the four of us, you probably had it the easiest,” Mira said, careful not to sound offensive. “You also know what you want, and you know how to get it.”
“Now, now, those are all presumptions,” Jessice replied, facing the group. She held the clipboard close to her chest and added, “While it is probably true that I don’t need to seek my parents’ approval or that I already know what career to pursue at such a young age, things were not as easy as you think they would be.”
“What do you mean?” Mira asked, curious on what Jessica had to say.
“Most of the people I interact with only see me as a figure of beauty, some even remarking that I should just marry into a rich family than waste my time pursuing a career. Some even said I would have a difficult time finding a partner once I am already a doctor.”
“That’s not true!” Mira interjected. “Not in this era.”
“I know that. But some people still think that way.”
Mira fell silent. She had to agree with what Jessica said. She felt a little embarrassed and guilty. The reason she disliked pink is because she associated the color with too much femininity, and to her that meant being weak.
“I guess some things are difficult to change,” was all Mira said before Jessica announced that they finished the campus tour of the Berkeley side before lunch.
“What a day!” Mira exclaimed as she plopped in bed, tired from all the walking that they did around the campus. Though there were forms of transportation available around the campus, they opted to walk from one building to another. It was exhausting but the beautiful scenery they saw made it all worth it. Andrew even set up his camera on a tripod so they could get a group picture. He promised to give them copies once the images were printed out.
Mira laid on her back on her bed and smiled. Waking up with fragmented memories sure was a challenge. She had a lot of questions in mind which remained unanswered, but at the end of the day she was happy she met new friends. She learned a lot not only about the university but also about Andrew, Minhwan, and Jessica. Somehow, it gave her hope that in the next few days or probably tomorrow, she could ask them what happened during the Acquaintance Party. She wanted to ask Jessica about a lot of things since Jessica mentioned that they were together the night before. She would know the answers to her questions in the succeeding days. Something to look forward to. Maybe pink isn’t so bad at all. ☁️