Gravitational Pull

by Michael John Otanes (Fiction)

Gravity is one of the four fundamental forces of nature—but the weakest, actually—that pulls things toward one another. In the universe, all physical objects have gravitational pull since gravity gives weight to them. The more mass an object has, the stronger it attracts things. Take, for instance, the sun. Because the sun is so huge than any other planets in the solar system, it has greater gravitational pull, making the planets orbit around it.

Like gravity, he is weak in many ways, as his classmates would often say. He lags behind his peers when playing ball games. He can’t even solve a simple Math problem. When asked a question in class, like ‘How will you define Algebra?’, he would often stutter answering one, which makes his classmates burst into laughter. Once, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “I wanted to be the best rock climber in the world.” With his, his classmates laughed at him again. “But you’re fat,” they said in chorus. “Very, very fat.”

Which is a fact that he can’t deny. He knows he’s fat, and he realized this when, looking at the mirror once, he saw himself far different from other people. At the age of fifteen, he weighed sixty-two kilograms. When he turned seventeen he gained ten kilograms. Now that he is eighteen, he weighs seventy-nine kilograms. From time to time, he starts liking heavy meals and begins on eating four times or so in a day. He has developed breathing problem, as a result. This interrupts his sleep throughout the night, and causes him to be sleepy during the day.

Such as now: as he gazes at the blackboard—beside which is the teacher discussing about the nature of gravity—through narrowed eyelids and half-closed eyes, he immediately pinches his thigh to fully wake himself up. “Gravity—I know what gravity is,” he says to himself. “Gravity causes things to fall down to the ground, instead of up.” Then his eyes turn outside the window, at the lone tree—perhaps a hundred meters away from their classroom—standing in the middle of the plain, situated before the mountain. He doesn’t know its name but he loves the sight of it. There, sometimes, he would sit under the shade of the tree (facing the stem—away from the sight of the mountain—instead of his back against it) to recharge his battery, when utterly drained from school activities. Back then, he could climb the tree and perch on one of the branches, unafraid of falling; but now, because of his weight, he could no longer reach even halfway up the first branch.

His eyelids start to feel even heftier, so he pinches his thigh again, rolling his eyes upward, like he’s stretching them. Then he stares at his chubby hands for a moment, and then lifts his head up, his eyes wandering around at his classmates. The difference, he thinks, is so obvious with just one glance. “Something’s wrong in me,” he says. “Something’s wrong, and I’m nothing.” Three minutes later, gravity yanks his head down onto his desk.

 

LAST NIGHT, he and his friends played Buwan-buwan in front of the covered court, in their barrio. It was nine in the evening, and the full moon was up in the clear night. Tado was the it in the game, and he had to touch one of the people inside the circle, without having to enter it. But during the game, though, he ended up constantly revolving around the circle, like a planet orbiting the sun. The circle, he complained, was too big he could not reach them.

“That’s game, Tado,” Lina said. “Be sport.”

“The circle, it’s just too big.”

“You’re too big, too. Remember?” She snickered. “You’re just actually the equal size of the circle. It’s fair enough.”

“That’s hyperbelly.”

Hyperbole,” Jordan corrected.

Tado repeated “Hyperbole” under his breath. Then he sat on the ground, drew his knees up, and embraced them with his huge arms.

“And may I remind you?” continued Lina. “You’re the one who drew the circle this big.”

“Did I?”

Lina nodded and looked from side to side, at her friends.

“Right,” Tado hesitated. “You’re right then.”

“What’s your weight?” Biboy interposed.

Tado pondered over this. Fifty-six? Sixty-two? Sixty-five? He wasn’t sure, really. How come he didn’t know his own exact weight? “Ninety-eight kilograms,” he lied.

“And your height?”

“Five flat, I think.”

“See?” said Jordan. “That’s also an issue. Your chance of touching us is dependent on your speed and your stride.” He stared at Tado from head to foot. “Since you’re—“

“—too fat,” Biboy finished.

Jordan nodded. “Yes, toooo fat. That means your weight lessens your speed. And since you’re short-legged, you can’t—of course!—chase us because you can’t stride wide enough like how we do. You see, you’re just nothing….but” —he rolled his eyes— “Tado.”

Then they ran off as fast as they could, laughing hysterically this time, saying dumb out loud from a distance. Tado remained from where he was sitting, his chin now on his knees, glaring at the spot where his friends had once stood, examining the circle for a moment. He picked up a rock—nearly the size of his fist—from behind him, hefted it to his chest, and gripped it so hard, while listening to the sound of the moving bamboos being swayed by the breeze. The sky darkened even more, and the moon was obscured by the dark clouds. He feared rain; he always feared rain. “I have to go,” he said to the ground.

When he arrived in their bahay kubo at nine, he immediately laid on the rattan sofa, his fist—with the rock still crumpled in it—resting upon his chest. It was partly dark inside, and the candle was already half consumed; Tado knew the flame would soon burn out. They had no television inside. No radio, nor phones. They had no electricity, either.

His parents were already sleeping on a handwoven mat, spread across the floor. From outside the open window, the stars twinkled in the sky, and Tado stared at them in a state of awe, wondering what would it feel like to grasp them with his hands, instead of the stone he had been holding. The quietness reigned inside for quite a long time, broken only when he sneezed out of nowhere and accidentally dropped the rock on the bamboo floor. Both his mother and father’s eyes popped open; then they propped themselves up on their elbows. His father asked him if he was fine. Tado said, “Yes.” Then he was asked to get inside and lie between them. As soon as he did his mother said, “Are you okay?”

When his father had gone back to sleep, Tado nodded.

“So how’s the night with your friends?”

“Terrible!” He turned his head away. “Nay, am I too fat?”

“Of course not,” his mother said softly. “You’re just big-boned, you know.”

“Euphemism for fat: big-boned. It doesn’t make any difference at all.”

“Does it really matter, say, if you are?”

“It does. You see, I’m being bullied because of my body. They told me I look like—I look like a pig. They treat me like I don’t belong here. I’m nothing, Nay. I’m nothing. I don’t exist. I have nothing special inside me. I’m just..…Tado.”

“They tease you because of what they see, not because of your actual weight. Nak,” his mother whispered, running her fingers on his hair, “you must know your weight better than anyone else.”

 How can I if I don’t even know my exact weight? Tado thought. He took a deep breath. “I’m huge Nay,” he said, “that’s my weight.”

“Yes, of course. You’re huge. See?”

“You don’t understand.”

“People sort things out into categories and create meanings out of them. Look around: the world is full of definitions. But no one can define your weight. That’s why you have to make your own.”

“I did. I lied to Biboy. When he asked me what my weight was, I said I weigh ninety-eight kilograms.”

“But you lied,” his mother sighed. “You don’t understand, do you?”

He was speechless; he kept looking at the night sky. At this moment he no longer heard her mother saying something. It was when he turned to her—on the verge of asking, What do you mean?—that he realized she had fallen asleep. He didn’t want to wake her up. He knew his mother was drained from the work. Maybe tomorrow morning, he thought. But he had overslept the next day, and he was already late for school. His unasked question remained a mystery.

 

“RIGHT, TADO?” his teacher says. Tado is sitting near the window, his temple still pinned on the desk. Ms. Carisma slips in front of Tado and thumps the textbook on the edge of his desk. She says, “Tado!” No response. “Tado!”

Tado’s head tilt up, his eyes full of wonder. “Wh-what? he says, wiping the saliva streaming down his left cheek.

“Have you heard me?”

“Uhm.” He stares at the floor then glances up. “What—what was it again?”

“That Newton discovered gravity when he saw the apple fall from the tree.”

Tado nodded. “It must be, uhm, painful to be hit by an apple in the head.”

“Perhaps you need an apple to hit yours to realize that the apple didn’t fall right straight on Newton’s head.” Ms. Carisma walks back to her desk and sits cross-legged on the top of it. “You’ve been sleeping in my class almost the whole time, Tado,” she says. “The next time you do it, I’ll call your mother straightaway.”

Tado lowers his head. He feels his classmates’ words and laughter snaking behind his back. He feels hefty.

“Juan Tamad—you’re like him,” Ms. Carisma continues. “You recognize him, do you? Be like Newton, Tado.”

Tado knows about Isaac Newton and Juan Tamad. Newton was the scientist who discovered gravity when he observed an apple fall from a tree. Juan, on the other hand, was a lazy boy who had come upon a guava tree and spotted a ripe fruit hanging on one of its branches. Too lazy to climb the tree and pick the fruit, he laid down, instead, beneath the tree, and let nature’s gravity do the work. There he waited for the fruit to fall into his gaping mouth.

Ms. Carisma faces the class. She says, “Any question?”

Three of the students raise their hands.

“Lina,” says the teacher, and Lina says, “Can you repeat the explanation why planets don’t go away from the sun?”

“Like I said,” Ms. Carisma starts, “gravity is a force that acts between two objects with mass. This force is always attractive: meaning it always pulls things closer together. The sun has stronger gravitational pull than the planets in the solar system—and this explains why planets keep on revolving around it, without flying away.” The students listen well. Mrs. Carisma turns her head right. “Yes Jordan? I saw you raise your hand.”

Jordan stands up with his arms crossed. “Do you know that Jupiter” —he looks down at Tado— “is the biggest planet here in this solar system.” Everyone roars into a series of laughs. “Do you, Tado?”

“Sure he does,” Ms. Carisma says, walking in the middle of the classroom. “But do you know there’s a recent discovery that Jupiter doesn’t actually orbit the sun?” Everyone gapes their mouths open. “The reason is because it’s so huge. In fact, it’s three-hundred eighteen times the size of the Earth; and it has two-point five times the sum of all the other planets in our solar system. It’s big enough that the center of gravity does not reside in the sun, but outside, just above the sun’s surface. Jupiter’s size causes the sun to revolve around this slightly off-center point.”

Jordan claps his hands once. “Wow,” he says as he sits on his desk. “That’s so huge. You mean, like Tado?”

“Jordan!” Ms. Carisma snaps. “That’s rude. Sit on your chair. Now!”

“I’m just telling the truth.”

“That’s still rude. Say—“

“Why would I? Lina, how long does he take to revolve around the sun?”

Lina says, “Eleven…point…six…years.”

“Imagine? Slow as a turtle.”

Ms. Carisma narrowed her eyes. “Even though the planet Jupiter revolves around this slightly off-center point once every eleven point eighty-six Earth years,” she resumes, her voice spiky, “it spins on its axis so fast. It completes one rotation on its axis once every nine hours and fifty-five minutes, and it has the fastest rotation of all the planets in the Solar System.”

So even though Jupiter, Tado thinks, is the biggest planet in the Solar System—and takes eleven point six years to revolve around this slightly off-center point—it is the fastest planet to spin on its axis. He shivers in his chair.  It spins rapidly on its axis.

It starts raining outside, and the cold wind blows some of the windows open. A chalk falls from Ms. Carisma’s desk to the floor. She doesn’t notice it herself, and neither does the students. Tado remembers how last night his father and mother were awakened by the rock he accidentally dropped to the floor (it was a huge rock, almost about the size of his fist.) But why does the chalk’s impact to the floor left unnoticed by the ears? he wonders. He picks a book out of his bag and drops it to the floor from above his head. No one sees and hears it, but the teacher does. Ms. Carisma shoots him a puzzled look. “Yes, Tado?” she says. “Any question?”

“All objects have mass, and it’s the gravity that gives weight to them.” Tado buries his freezing hands in his pocket. “What if there’s no gravity at all?”

“Without gravity, we’ll be weightless,” Ms. Carisma says. “Everything would definitely start to float. The atmosphere would drift away into space, and so would the ocean, rivers, and lakes. Then what’s next? We’d all die.

“However, the absence of gravity is very impossible. The Earth itself has a mass, and it causes to have gravity within it. The more matter an object has, the stronger is its gravitational pull. Therefore, everything succumbs on Earth’s gravitational pull, keeping them to the Earth’s surface.”

“So gravity only attracts and never repels.”

Everybody listens. Behind Tado, Jordan and Lina roll their eyes.

“Exactly,” Ms. Carisma assures.

“Does distance affect the gravitational attraction between two things?”

Ms. Carisma nods. “The closer the distance, the greater the gravity; and the farther, the weaker.”

Tado drags his chair in front of the classroom—one meter apart from his classmates—and sits down on it, cross-legged. “What about the size?” he says. “Does size matter when it comes to compelling an object?”

“Of course.”

“Then how can scientists measure a planet’s mass?”

“Astronomers measure the distance between the planet and its moons, and how long—and how fast—it takes for the moon to revolve around the planet.”

How can scientists accurately measure a planet’s mass just by basing the objects’ rotational period around it? Tado thinks. Scientists themselves once thought that all planets orbit the sun; now they’re wrong. Then he says, “What if a very huge object can’t compel small objects around it—is it possible?”

“Of course not,” Ms. Carisma laughs. “Small objects are always gravitationally attracted to larger ones.”

He remembers the chalk that had fallen from Ms. Carisma’s desk, and the book he had dropped from above his head. Heads, he concludes, didn’t move after all. That’s it, he thinks. He then picks his body up, stands on his chair, and looks around. Everybody looks up at him. Lina says, “Look how big you are, Tado.”

“And how dumb,” adds Biboy.

“Get down, Piggy,” says Jordan. “You might break that chair; you’re too heavy for it.”

Tado isn’t listening outside, but inside. He hears his voice and his mother’s words, whispering in his ears. For a brief moment he closes his eyes, inhaling deeply through his O-shaped mouth. Then he leaps into the air, then lands on the floor with a dull thud, slightly on bended knees. Biboy cups his hands around his mouth. “That’s what we call Big Bang,” he yells. The whole class burst out laughing again, this time uncontrollably. Ms. Carisma’s face turns bloody red. She shushes everyone—nothing happens. She slams the book against her desk—nothing happens still.

“You’re huge,” Tado mutters to himself. “You’re huger than you think.” He feels his huge body drowning in a tub, water rising up to his ears as he stands up straight and exhales the wind out of his lungs. When he opens his eyes he screams, “Eureka!”  He stares outside the window, at the tree positioned in front of the mountain. He smiles and laughs to himself. He then storms through the door, out of the classroom, runs as fast as he can towards the tree, saying Eureka repeatedly, leaving the voices behind him, instead of circling around them. For once he turns around—while still running, raindrops streaming down his face—and sees his classmates from afar peering over the window, like planets stuck in one side. When he arrives in front of the tree, gasping for breath, he faces the mountain without turning his head away from it. He feels lighter. You should know your weight better than anyone else, he remembers his nanay saying. You’re huge. No one can define your weight. “No one!” Tado screams to the mountain. There’s no apple in the tree about to fall on his head, to discover something. There’s no waiting for the guava to fall into his mouth, either. Just within a minute he climbs the tree with all might, and this time gravity is no longer pulling him down.

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