Earl Carlo Guevarra

Waking up to another day in the March summer heat, I hear the sounds of cars and trucks passing by the road. Occasionally, a fire truck passes by, sirens blaring towards unknown destinations. When I look carefully at the passersby, I see people of all ages wearing masks of different types and colors. Apparently, this is now the new normal: It’s a relief to finally be able to breathe after nearly two years of never-ending permutations of community quarantines and alert levels. Personally, not much has changed for me, except that my wife and I can travel more freely now. We plan to visit my hometown of Zamboanga somewhere in May to see family and friends after a year of living in fear of the thrice-cursed coronavirus.

I teach at a small private school in the heart of Manila. Located in San Juan, it’s not a very big school; it’s as big as two to three full-size basketball courts put up together. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, I have never seen my students physically. Our class meetings have always been on Zoom or Google Meet; while it’s true that these classes have kept everyone safe, there’s nothing that could beat the hustle and bustle of the classroom.

Early this year, in February, a couple of students started chatting about having a fun, hobby-related physical activity on the student council forum. I decided to set up a face-to-face “Nerf war” meetup with my students on a Sunday. Surprisingly, the school’s management agreed to the proposal.

For those of us unfamiliar with what a Nerf is, it’s a toy blaster (not a “gun”) that can shoot foam darts up to a distance of 30 meters. As far as the blasters are concerned, there are pump-action, single-shot, semi-automatic and fully-automatic iterations. Also, what matters is that it can shoot out foam darts: For instance, one can buy Chinese knockoffs for P300 on Shopee and still be on relatively equal footing against an opponent with a Hasbro blaster worth P3000. Thus, it is no surprise that Nerf is pretty accessible and popular as a hobby worldwide.

As far as I remember, many of my students weren’t fans of spending their time at school during weekends, pre-pandemic. I never thought that they would come on a Sunday. It’s usually the day when parents take their children to parks or malls. Besides, who would like to spend their day at school? Frankly, I expected 10 or 15 students to attend the activity. Still, I couldn’t sleep with excitement at the possibility of seeing my students. Amidst the flurry of preparations, time flew quickly.

Then, it was February 20. It was the big day that we were all waiting for.

I had just finished arranging the obstacles for the Nerf blaster battle when the first students came at around one in the afternoon. My students were surprised at the depth and detail of the playing field, as they saw obstacles and barriers made of different colors; some chairs were safely stacked as shooting holes for the players. Then, it quickly became a parade of toy blasters as some of my students carried gold-colored blasters, while others brought in long-barreled guns that would have been at home in a military simulation. Within seconds, hundreds of multi-colored darts were whizzing and flying inside the covered court, coupled with the sight of students running and jumping from one piece of cover to another. Not much later, multiple students started to raise their blasters and shout “Hit!” while going back to their respective starting points. No one minded the late February heat; everyone was all smiles as they hit their schoolmates with Nerf darts.

Soon, our school director arrived and took some pictures before going to his office to entertain the many parents who came that day. The rest of the audience took videos and photos of their children, who were running around shooting their blasters and shouting some child-friendly banter to their schoolmates. It was heart-warming to witness the beaming faces and energetic movements of my movements as they fired foam darts at each other. They have been cooped up inside their homes for nearly two years now; it’s a surprise they stood still for that long.

After two hours of playing, it was time to finish the festivities and send everyone home. Yet, my students wanted to continue; no one wanted to go out of the court! It took a lot of effort from the parents to convince their kids to step away from the field. I can’t believe that I was able to see these kids again. Seeing their bright and jolly faces that day felt like a dream, yet as I was hit by a Nerf dart on the back, I was reminded that it was all real. Later that night, I received a lot of “thank you” and “let’s do it again, Sir” messages from both my students and their parents. While I’m still unsure of what the new normal means for me, I’m sure of one thing: I would gladly do another Nerf battle again with my students.