by Monica Felizardo

I cram my hand inside the back pocket of my tattered backpack, feeling for that sharp plastic edge past the crumpled notes, make-up, candy wrappers, and half-filled tumbler. I fish a familiar lace and as it slinks past, I freeze halfway as red fills my vision. I stare at my old university ID for a breathless second. The guileless face stares back beneath. The ding of the elevator pierces my ears and I bury it back beneath, hands grasping for the solid black of my company ID. Hurrying past the security check, I squeeze myself in with a couple of stragglers into the only elevator in the entire building with access to the 6th floor. The elevator operator barely spares a glance at the IDs hanging down our necks—the same hooded faces—before pressing the button to the topmost floor. The doors close and we begin our ascent sluggishly.

Softly caressing the glossy print of our company logo’s professional navy font, the blocky letters of my name, and the serious face dwarfed by the white empty spaces, I couldn’t help but compare it to my old ID from UP, whose stickers and dates and numbers filled the card in cramped detail. I scoff. Well, it’s pretty much a blank canvas compared to that. A new start.

From the elevator doors, I stow my bag in my locker and speed past the pantry to the production floor. Fumbling with the lace of my ID, I tap the white plastic on the electronic lock, impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. A blink and I’m in. I spot a couple of my teammates and scramble on an empty seat. Quickly booting the computer up, I type in my log-ins, and launch my tools and programs. Typing in a series of passwords memorized by routine, I open up a couple of tabs, neatly rearranging them to my liking. I crank the lever beneath my black office chair, sinking a couple of inches and lounging back comfortably. To my right, my teammate is shouting expletives while on mute. I snicker.

10:00 PM. Adjusting the headset close to my ears and positioning the mic level to my mouth, I hear the echo of my unsteady breath bouncing back the line. Beep. First call.

Six months in, I believe I’ve adjusted well enough with the call center life. Sure, my sleep cycle’s still a mess but I’ve just gotten regularized two weeks ago, received my health card, and enjoyed the month’s incentives atop my fixed salary. The team’s still pretty high on ocean mist, shared secrets, and smoky booze from our recent teambuilding activity. All is well.

Tucked inside my cubicle, I wait for a familiar beep. Barely three seconds in, the top left icon of my screen blares red from idle green, with another icon popping in to indicate a transferred call. Thank God I get to skip the tedious hunt for accounts with misspelled names and barely remembered phone numbers and addresses. A click and:

“Thank you for patiently waiting! This is Monica, how can I help?” 

Two cubicles across mine, Ate Anj waves at me, then curls her hands into fists as if clenching an invisible stick and splitting it into two. I lift my left signaling OK and wrap up the call in pretty tones. As the timer dies down, I press on an icon within seconds, blinking as it fades from green to yellow signaling the start of my fifteen-minute break. I lock my computer and trudge a few cubicles past, catching a parting greeting in her signature husky voice at an apparently satisfied customer.

We make small talk about our current stats and the month’s new goal which was almost 5% higher than the last, and lament about the stricter metrics implemented by the QA, making it much more difficult to transition a call into a valid sales call. Stopping by her locker, she fishes a Marlboro stick and hands me a pack of Mentos candy. We walk out the lobby, IDs swinging wildly as we rush to the parking lot where a box of raised concrete sits littered with cigarette butts and ash. 

I remember the first time I went with her to the yosi area. It was the place to properly meet and greet your coworkers, away from the prying ears of your team leaders and the demand of timed conversations. It was typical enough. Yet when talk touched upon courses and alma maters, mine was met with a couple of raised brows and stares of incredulous surprise.

“Bakit ka nandito?” They ask. Why not, I jokingly reply and laugh awkwardly. It was one of the times I was genuinely ashamed to be from UP. Why am I here? I could see them reiterating it in all caps. University of the Philippines. I could practically hear it in their faces. UP ka pa naman. Sayang. What a waste.

I see it mirrored in my father’s face the last time he asked when I’d go back to school—if I’m even planning to. I don’t look him in the eye. I can’t. In my current line of work, my ears have trained themselves to decipher customer mood within a single sentence, gauge receptivity between pauses, and calculate a response based on tone. I was prepared for the disappointment, used to it even. I know I’ve broken an unspoken word of promise between us. The promise of a daughter to repay her father’s painstaking labors with a piece of paper. Still I couldn’t help but recoil at the soft, “Kelan ka babalik?”

Worse than disappointment, I heard the fatigued resignation lining those three simple words, festering in the silence, and clinging at the tail-end of a sigh. Disappointment implies a degree of expectation. Resignation meant that I’ve lost my chance at redemption, that he has given up.

Palming the cold, hard plastic of my ID, I tell him the job is only temporary. 

Image source: https://tagaupako.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/150/