***

"Uy, bagay," Roi teased as we got out of our room.

Fifteen minutes before the supposed announcement, a staff knocked on our door and gave us a set of clothes. Pinagbihis kami at nakita kong napangiwi si Arin dahil sa kulay ng damit namin. It was pink. Buti na lang at gray ang track pants namin habang sa guys ay black.

"Why pink?!" reklamo niya habang nakatingin sa suot niyang damit.

"Okay na 'to," sabi ko naman. "At least, pastel at hindi neon pink o fuschia."

"Sabagay." Tumingin naman si Arin sa dalawang lalaki at siya naman ang ngumiti nang nakakaloko. "Uy, bagay rin sa inyo."

Agad na kumunot ang noo ng dalawa pero bago pa sila magsagutan ay tumunog ang speakers sa cabin namin.

"Challengers, please proceed to the pavilion," a woman with a sweet voice announced.

Lumabas naman kaming apat at nakita naming color-coded din ang lahat ng teams. Kung tama ang bilang ko, merong fifteen teams ngayon dito.

“Elix!”

Nagulat naman ako nang may tumawag sa akin at paglingon ko ay nakita ko si Lessy, isa sa mga una kong naging kaibigan online.

“Uy, Les,” sabay ngiti ko sa kanya.

She was wearing a green shirt and her hair was shorter than her latest photo on her social media accounts. Nasa likuran niya naman ang teammates niya at napaatras ako nang makita ko si Brian, isa sa pinakasikat na writers sa site. His presence was quite intimidating, maybe because of his sturdy physique and expressionless face.

“Challengers, here’s your second challenge for this day,” the staff announced.

Nasa pavilion siya at pumunta naman kaming lahat sa harapan niya. The atmosphere was still awkward but it wasn’t as bad as before. Maybe we were slowly getting familiar with each other.

“Second challenge, huh? Ilang challenge kaya bawat araw?” one of the writers on my right side muttered. I glanced at her direction but I didn’t recognize her face.
“Hmm, siguro four or five,” sagot naman ng teammate niya.

Tiningnan ko naman ang mga ka-team ko at mukhang ini-i-scan din nila lahat ng nandito. Dahil sa ambiance at suot namin, para na talaga kaming nasa isang survival game na variety show.

“Your second challenge is,” sabay pakita niya ng bilog na bagay. “Find the Colored Balls!”

She explained the mechanics and it was simpler than the first challenge. We just need to find four balls, the size of an egg, with the same color as our team’s shirt. After that, we should arrange the thing inside the balls and write the answer on the big white board in the pavilion.

“The three fastest teams will have an advantage later on and the last three will receive a punishment. Good luck, Challengers! All the best!”

Pagkasabi no’n ng staff ay agad nagtakbuhan ang teams para hanapin ang kanya-kanya nilang bola. Nag-decide naman kaming apat na maghiwa-hiwalay para mas mabilis naming mahanap ang sa amin.

Ayon sa staffs, hanggang sa bridge na nasa likuran ng kubo, ang boundary kung saan pwedeng makita ang mga bola. Nasa gilid ko naman si Kuya Roy, ang assigned cameraman sa akin, at sinasabayan niya ako sa pagtakbo. After hours of following me, I somehow managed to get used to his presence but it was still quite awkward. Nag-advise din siya kanina na mas magandang sinasabi ko ang mga naiisip ko kaya kahit nahihiya ako ay paminsan-minsan din akong nagsasalitang mag-isa.

I tried finding the balls in the shrubs and there were other members of other teams who was doing the same when all of a sudden, Feliz, member of gray team, yelled excitedly. Napatingin kaming mga malapit sa kanya at napanganga na lang ako nang makita kong hawak na niya ang isang gray ball.

“Found it!” she beamed and she immediately put it inside her front pocket.

Dahil doon ay mas naging enthusiastic ang ibang nakakita na maghanap. Hinalughog ko na rin ang ilang halaman pero wala akong makita ro’n kaya lumipat ako ng pwesto. Tumakbo ako papunta sa bahay kubo at marami na rin ang nandoon.

“Yay! Nakakita rin ako!” sigaw ni Jean na puro dahon na ang buhok.

“Ako rin!” sigaw rin ni Les.

Na-pressure naman ako dahil halos lahat sila ay mayroon nang hawak na bola kaya kung saan-saan na ako naghanap. Tiningnan ko ang gilid ng kubo pati na rin sa sulok-sulok ng mga halaman pero wala talaga akong makita. I was getting frustrated when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Ahhh—!”

Lumayo ako ro’n at muntik pa akong matapilok dahil sa batong natapakan ko. Paglingon ko, nakita ko si Zion na nakatingin sa akin habang nakakunot ang noo. Bigla naman akong nahiya sa ginawa kong paglayo kaya tumingin ako sa kabilang direksyon.

“Hmm, pati ro’n nagulat ka?” he teased. I wanted to say no but that would just put me in a more embarrassing situation.

Lumapit na lang ako sa kanya at sinamaan siya ng tingin.

“May nakita ka na?” pag-iiba ko ng topic.

“Yup,” sabay labas niya sa bulsa niya ng dalawang pink na bola kaya napanganga ako. How did he find two of them?! Bakit dalawa na agad ang nakita niya?! “And you?”

Lalo lang akong nahiya at nainis dahil sa tanong niya. Dahil hindi agad ako nakasagot ay mukhang alam na niya ang ibig sabihin no’n. When I looked at him, he had this smug look on his face and I was sure that he was mocking me.

“Ah. I guess you’re not good at finding things,” he said with that irritating smirk pasted on his face.

“A-as if. I’m just . . .” My voice faltered. Wala akong madahilan.

“Well then, good luck.”

Tumalikod naman siya sa akin at sinamaan ko ng tingin ang likod niya. Seriously, how did he manage to find two in a short period of time?

Ipagpapatuloy ko na sana ang paghahanap ko pero bigla namang may tumawag sa pangalan ko pati na rin kay Zion.

“Elix! Zion!”

Pagtingin ko ay tumatakbo papunta sa direksyon namin sina Arin at Roi habang may hawak silang pink na bola . . . what?! Nahanap na nilang tatlo lahat ng bola namin?

Bigla namang lumingon si Zion at alam ko na agad ang gusto niyang iparating. He gave me a quick smile and I rolled my eyes in return.

“Hey, I won this time,” he muttered but I chose to ignore him.

Pagdating ng dalawa ay pinakita agad ni Zion ang nakita niya at tumingin silang tatlo sa akin nang nakakaloko. Ugh, stop looking at me! Yes, yes, I didn’t find anything.

Nagmadali kami papunta sa pavilion at pagdating namin ay nandoon na ang green team. We immediately presented the four pink balls to the staff and when she nodded, we sat on the floor and opened all of them.

than

to obtain what they desire

men go to far greater lengths

to avoid what they fear

Those were the words written on the paper inside the balls. I was reading the words in my mind when I remembered that book. Those phrases finally made sense.

“Alam ko na,” sabi ko sa kanila at agad naman akong tinulak ni Arin papunta sa white board. Halos sabay naman kaming natapos ng representative ng green team sa pagsusulat pero napansin kong magkaiba kami ng content. Sinulat ko ang nabuo kong sentence sa ibaba ng word na ‘pink.’

Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.

After that, tumingin kami sa staff at ngumiti siya sa akin. “If you know where the line was from and the book’s author, I will give you an extra point,” sabi niya kaya mabilis kong nilagay ang libro at author.

“Ah! Hala hindi ko alam!” sabi ng katabi ko pero dahil nauna siyang natapos kaysa sa akin ay paniguradong sila ang first place.

“Okay, first team to finish the challenge is green team!” the staff announced.

It's the little mistakes that lead to big mistakes.

‘Yon ang sentence na nabuo nila pero hindi ko rin alam kung saang book ‘yon galing. Buti na lang talaga at nabasa ko na ‘yong sa amin at natandaan ko ang line na ‘yon.

The Da Vince Code
Dan Brown

“Pink team, second place and extra point for the book and author!”

The green and pink team’s names were displayed on the monitor near the white board on the first and second slots, respectively. Pagkatapos no’n ay pinabalik naman ang mga natapos na teams sa cabin at i-a-announce na lang daw ulit ang susunod na challenge.

We were all tired after searching under the scorching heat of the sun. Tanghali na rin kasi. Pagdating namin sa cabin ay kumuha agad kami ng tubig sa dispenser at nag-cooldown. After a few minutes, may kumatok na staff. Si Roi na ang nagbukas ng pinto at may inabot naman na box sa kanya.

“Ano ‘yan?” halos sabay-sabay naming tanong nang makabalik siya sa couch kung saan kami nakatambay.

“The advantage, I guess?”

Inulit naman niya ang sinabi sa kanya ng staff. According to him, the tokens could be exchange for food, information, clues or even another advantage, depending on the situation and the amount.

“Oh, ayos ah,” Arin commented.

Sa ngayon, meron kaming dalawang bronze at dalawang silver na kasama kanina sa envelope na binigay sa amin bago makapasok dito. A silver coin was added after finishing the challenge at second place and another silver coin for the extra point we received a while ago.

“I guess the goal is to collect tokens every challenge and use it to our advantage,” dagdag ni Zion habang tino-toss niya ang isang bronze token.

Sumilip naman ako sa bintana at marami pa rin ang hindi pa tapos. Titingnan ko sana ang pavilion na nasa bandang kaliwang direksyon mula sa cabin namin pero nagulat ako dahil nagkatinginan kami ng babaeng nasa katabi naming cabin. Kung tama ang pagkakaalala ko, siya si Yena, isang fantasy writer. Tumango lang siya sa akin kaya gano’n din ang ginawa ko at pagkatapos no’n ay nawala na siya sa paningin ko.

I didn’t know that she also accepted this show’s invitation. I was following her on her social media accounts and she seemed to be an introvert like me. I wanted to say hi because I read one of her works and liked it. Ang hirap nga lang dahil nahihiya akong lapitan siya.

Nanatili naman akong nakatingin sa cabin nila dahil sa nangyari pero halos mapatalon ako nang makita kong may dumungaw ulit mula ro’n at tumingin sa direksyon ko.

It was Brian.

I didn’t know what to do because he was just staring at me for a few seconds. He nodded at me after that eye contact so I did the same but just like what Yena did, he immediately pulled his body back.

Okay, what was that?



***