I took the NMAT last December 2 and I would know the result before the year ends. I managed to stifle all sorts of feelings for the past week, consciously tugging the rein each and every time my mind soared back to that promising but equally daunting day. Now, I’ve decided that this is a head-on collision that I could not dodge any further. I would go back to those precious hours, not to reprimand myself for each point that I may have lost to time and to lack of knowledge or to worry at how bad-or maybe good-I had made my conjectures, but to take a second look at all the things that I had laid my eyes on but were never really given the justified interpretation primarily due to the overwhelming anxiety that I had at that moment.
The night before:
I was extremely nervous I was on autopilot. I prepared my things and packed my stuff in a knapsack – 2 Mongol pencils, sharpened and capped with improvised paper cover, Notice of Admission, two IDs (PRC license and passport), NMAT Identification form, bank receipt, wallet, and jacket. Yes, I didn’t have an eraser. I thought it would prompt my indecisiveness. Of course my pencils had stubby erasers but I vowed never to use unless it was for a frame shift error and not because of a change of heart in my answers. While I was moving around, Justine, my sister was blabbering about whatever it was that she was watching on TV. I think it was Mickey Mouse, or maybe Ben 10, or perhaps Word World – okay, I don’t really remember. The test was scheduled to start at 8am but all takers were asked to be at the venue not later than 7 am. Estimating my travel time to be 2 hours at most, I figured I need to be out of my bed as early as 4am. I was keen not to oversleep and so, without checking the unread text messages, I set the alarm of my phone – first time in a long while. With all my nerves on fire, I closed my eyes and lulled myself to sleep. It was past 9.
12 am. I woke up, checked the time, and closed my eyes.
1 am. I tossed and turned. Checked time, tried to go back to sleep.
2 am. I was frustrated. How could time be so slow.
3 am. I decided to end the futile attempt and prepped myself up instead.
After an hour, I was all dressed up and ready to go. It dawned on me that it was still too early. My daily heroes – tricycle, LRT, jeepney – were nowhere to be found. I had no choice but to wake my poor father up and beg him to drive me to UST. He obliged but not until after another half an hour of his precious “pahabol” sleep.
While waiting for my father, I devoured the Lucky Me Lomi that Ate Julie Mae, our house helper/baby sitter had cooked for me following my mother’s request. I have yet to thank Mama for being so thoughtful. She was busy with our bakeshop that would open at that hour, but she didn’t fail to realize what I had completely neglected – I had eaten next to nothing the previous night. After the light breakfast, I tinkered with my netbook and wrote down an entry for my journal, which I failed to save, thanks to my uncooperative battery and nowhere-to-be-seen charger. With the help of JDark Room’s auto-save, I managed to salvage a bit of it.
We were about to leave when I heard someone call on me, “Ate, san ka punta?” It was Justine. She was halfway the stairs, with her plump diaper and baggy pajamas, slowly working her way to where I was standing. It was a Sunday and it would cause no harm if I tag her along. A few wash here and there with a swift change of clothes, I had my biggest fan with me on my way to one of my biggest tests ever.
In the car, I took out the school map provided by CEM. I had had it for a week but I never really looked at it thinking it would add to my anxiety. I stared at the paper as hard as I could but it bore no fruit. I was overwhelmed by lines and boxes and letters and shades of grey. First thought: O Perceptual Acuity, I’m in the brink of failing you.
I was startled when my father asked, “San tayo? Malaki ang UST.” It was a cue that somehow made me feel better and worse. I was not alone in that test. My parents had their fair share of support. If I fail… No, I better do well, for them. I told him we were off to Gate 1, along Espana Blvd., the entrance nearest AMV Accountancy Building.
The 35 minute-drive was filled with silence interrupted by a few incoherent words, care of my ever verbose sister, which in any ordinary circumstance could have broken the ice if only I was lucid enough to follow through.
The air was crisp and the sky had started to show some shades of white and blue. I stepped out of the car uncertain where to go next. There were groups of people here and there, students or test takers, I really could not tell. With the most cheerful face I could muster, I approached the security guard, “Sir, san po ang accountancy building?”. With his slightly over-animated response, he gladly showed me the way.
I had to walk a good 75-meter distance (or so I think) with a green whiff of air gently blowing against my skin and my rubber shoes letting a soft squeak against the pavement. One thing I learned from a forum in PinoyMD.com was that my building assignment would be near the university car park. The moment I saw a line-up of Vios, Civic, Mazda and God-knows-what-else not too far along, my heart went from a steady walkathon to a fast-paced sprint.
Few seconds more and I could see them – hundreds of aspiring doctors. Some were merrily sharing thoughts with their friends, or maybe new acquaintances, while some were all by themselves, relentlessly rocking their legs or shifting their weight, with their faces at more or less 180 degree angle to their mobile phones, tablets and reviewers. It was a surreal sight to witness.
Just like all the newcomers, I scanned the whole place to find a tiny spot where I can spend the remaining minutes of solitude before the storm. A tree surrounded by concrete benches was straight ahead; that’s where I opted to nurse my growing anxiety. I sat down and let my eyes do more walk. It fell from one face to another. I could see the restlessness. The strain was palpable. What made it even more apparent was the presence of some of the takers’ parents in the area. “Chaperone much.” I told myself. A number of them are dressed well, professionals – maybe even doctors – lending their support to their unico hijo/hija. There was a lump in my throat. One can only take as much pressure.
6am – I had had enough of my ogling delight and I still didn’t know where exactly I should go for the test. I was alone, which was a good thing. I’ve always been audacious when I’m all by myself.
“Miss, ito ba yung AMV Accountancy Building?” I hesitantly pointed a finger to the 4 or 5-storey structure next to us.
“Oo, 4th floor daw. Nagtanong ako kanina. Anong room ka ba? 422 ako. Anong surname mo?” she blurted in one breath.
“Energetic gal.” I told myself. “406 ata ako.”
I didn’t knowingly tuck the room number in my head but I managed to recall it in a snap. Good sign. My mind remembered what’s important.
“Nagreview ka?” she asked.
“Review-reviewhan.” I answered.