My short story The Feud is a reading assignment at Ateneo. It must have been from the time I did a reading for the PEN Conference. What can I say? I'm flattered!
Now it so happened that one of the students to whom it had been assigned was the cousin of Emily's cousin. She asked if we could arrange for an interview. What can I say? Doubly flattered.
We met at Gonuts Donuts in Abreeza, said choice owing to its student-friendly price. I had a good chat with A-- and her groupmate J--. Their first question had to do with one of the minor characters in the story, and I confessed I had forgotten that that was even her name. "I don't remember," I said, "and you should probably quote that to the teacher." "Did she die?" "Uh, I don't think so; nobody died in the story."
Over coffee and donuts we talked about many things. J-- had an experience with a flood similar to the one I described, the water reaching the second floor of their home. I encouraged her to write it up and submit it to Dagmay. We took a detour to Laudato Si and Christian theology (yes, I am a bad influence that way, don't tell the teachers at Ateneo). I brought up The Iliad as one of the allusions I attempted in the story.
"What's that?" they asked.
"You know, Helen of Troy?"
"Huh? They don't teach you about the Trojan War in school?"
They said no. I was shocked. What do they teach kids these days? The Iliad is one of the cornerstones of Western literature, for crying out loud! I gave them the rundown on the banquet of the gods, of addleheaded Paris, and of vengeful goddesses. "And read up on the rest! It's a great story!"
We wrapped up our conversation by talking about the bombing incident. It was shocking, being so close, they admitted. And every day for them, a grisly reminder that it happened just across the street. But overall they seemed to be holding up well.
I was grateful for the experience to be talking to young folks again. This is the part of teaching I miss the most, exchanging ideas with students.