Being a regular commuter of the Republic of the Philippines, I am well aware of the various gimmicks my impoverished countrymen pull-off in order to gain fast, tax-free cash. I often pass by homeless people begging on the streets on my way to school. I have been verbally harassed by pedicab drivers whose transportation services I have declined. I have seen pickpockets and snatchers in the act of stealing. I have witnessed potbellied policemen/traffic enforcers stick their hands in the driver’s side of jeepneys asking for their ‘share’ of the profit. I have experienced those Biblical lectures inside crowded buses – those ‘disciples’ reading a few lines from the Bible and then passing off white envelopes with messages asking for a little something in return. I’m used to this. It’s our way of life.
But yesterday afternoon’s encounter was something that pretty much rubbed me the wrong way – enough to have me write about it.
I was on my way to the meeting place for the interview that I was conducting for my TRED project. I was already riding the jeepney and it came to a stop to drop off a few passengers when three kids, around the ages 6 to 10, boarded. One of them sat at the step by the entrance of the jeepney while the other two sat inside, a girl across me and the other young boy beside me. I knew they were up to something and my suspicions were confirmed when the driver started yelling at the lad sitting on the step to get off else he might fall off while the jeepney started accelerating. The lad got on and sat beside the girl. By that time, I was anticipating that they were going to do something.
They started singing. It was a Filipino love song. I do not know the title but it rang familiar to my ears when they started singing it. The lad beside me had a pleasant voice with good vibrato. He wasn’t new to this kind of thing. A little into the song, the young girl across joined in with a high pitched squeal that hurt my ears. Everybody inside the jeep were already looking at them, the man seated across was smiling at them. I, on the other hand, was trying hard to avert my attention from them. I knew where this would lead – to begging. They stopped after repeating the chorus a few times. I knew the expected was coming.
Then I felt a touch on my right arm. ‘Ate, pahingi naman diyan,’ the lad beside me said. He was asking for alms. I shook my head and ignored him. He touched my arm again, a bit more urgent still with his thumb and small finger. He said, ‘Ate, dangkal ang lapad ng braso mo.’ My arm was as wide as the span of his thumb and small finger. Now, I’m not new to this kind of insult – I frequently receive this from almost all my guy friends – for it is true that I have thick arms. I shook my head again. And then he repeated the action of touching my arm! That’s when I told him not to touch me. It was annoying and intrusive. I looked at him hard but he wasn’t looking – like he knew he had to piss me off if it meant having it his way. Little son of a bitch, I said to myself. Trying to mind my own business again, he started firing insults to me saying I was ‘feeling maganda’ (feeling pretty) that I looked like a cow’s ass and all sort of shit that he could think of. Instinct pushed me to fight back and scare him off but etiquette reminded me that he was a kid. I was brought up never to pick nor quarrel with younger kids. So I remained silent the entire time, replying with insults of my own in my head.
For a while, it felt good mentally replying with my own set of insults to that kid. But when they finally gave up and got off the jeepney, I realized that it was a Friday and those kids should be on their way home from school. But they were wearing worn-out house clothes. I guess they didn’t go – or aren’t even studying at all. Then I thought of the government and how much blame is placed upon them for the misfortune of my impoverished countrymen. I also thought of my fortunate countrymen who have the luxury of almost everything. And then I thought for myself.
I’m a lucky kid for being able to be in between – to see both sides of the coin. I realized that being compared to a cow’s arse did not hurt as much as knowing those children will be off doing the same thing if not worse things to other people. I could have changed things that afternoon – knocked some sense into those kids but I was too annoyed after being touched on the arm without permission. At the end of yesterday, that serenade in the jeepney was nothing more than a new encounter for me in the world of commuting. I just hope that the next time I see them, they’d be carrying books and not ice picks.