Today on my way to work, the jeepney I was riding came to a full stop at the intersection of wilcon and vivere. Don’t ask me the streets coz I don’t know. Anyway, I was busy fumbling with the I-pod inside my bag, looking for the track I like. And then there were these grubby-looking kids, aged 9 to 12 probably, who asked to get on the jeepney. The driver tried to shoo them away, but two girls were able to get on when the traffic light turned green. One girl, maybe 10, had this little strap bag on her with lots of par avion envelopes. There were scribblings on it that I didn’t determine to understand. I know they were some kind of solicitation, but I didn’t have the chance to read it.
Commuting to work everyday gives you a good picture of people who are either too indolent to eke out a living from hard work, or are incapacitated to get themselves a decent job. So they resort to faster ways to make money, and this is one of their operandi. All year round in Manila, you encounter different people who would get on public transportations and make all sorts of solicitations ranging from unemployed men who are perennially on strike, quasi-religious people who wear long skirts and neck ties and would read verses from the bible and warn you of perpetual doom while their companion makes the round with a white leather pouch, surreptitiously sucking on your unwitting catholic guilt so that you couldn't stand not dropping in a precious peso for the sake of inner peace.
Then, there are men who would sing Christmas carols with their pathetic little rattles, and street children who ply the streets, come rain or shine, to beg for a ride or for money…I could go on and on, but my point is I don’t trust them. And hardly do I have any sympathy for them. Except perhaps for the children, but not for their morons of parents who leave them be. Which brings me back to my story about the girls....
So, this girl hurriedly placed the envelopes on the passenger’s laps and signaled to her friend, who was seated on the estribo, before my feet. Then this other girl, the friend, started to bass beat on the makeshift bongo drums she was carrying (by makeshift I mean crosscut pvc pipes with the other end of the hollow covered with a cellophane wrapper from a corn snack and stretched tight with cheap rubber bands---so ingenius I swear it could make a steve gadd kit pale in comparison [exagerration really]).
She started to make rhythm for about 30 seconds, and then broke into a chant. I know that I didn’t understand a thing she was singing but, it just blew me away. The girl-woman voice, the unkempt corn yellow hair, the bare feet, the closed eyes and quivering lips, as if she was on a trance, the fact that she was sitting on the estribo without anything to hang on to….it tore me away from my ipod that was playing louis armstrong’s what a wonderful world.The stark contrast of the words from that song, and the little girl’s, whose every inch of body represented dearth and poverty….I could not help but ask what indeed is wonderful with this godawful world.
The strangest thing is, while she was singing, there was a writhing of passion, and a sense of elation in her face—like an ecstatic feeling of being freed from the shackles. I mean she could try to look sad and pitiable right, and hasten the pesos in their envelopes--seeing that she and her companion are strapped for cash, or food, or a home, and everything material…but there was none of it. What a character!
I would have liked to hug her like a long lost sister, or give her something at least, although I’m reminded that today I’m broke and have only a pack of kraft crackers in my bag. Tee hee…. Nonetheless, I would have emptied my meager possessions right in front of her if only to make her know what I feel. But she, well what do you know…she only smiled like everything’s okay with the world. Fuck, I thought. She did not deserve this kind of life, and neither do I— I, with all my hostility and condescension to everything mediocre. She ought to live in a castle, and me in the remote mountains of the himalayas...
Seriously, if I could only be half as strong and content as her, then I could go to the office penniless and barefoot, and she could have my pair of fake suedes to use for wandering the streets, whilst haunting whiners like me with the unforgettable act she just did.
But…she was gone with her girl-companion before I could shake myself off and do what I should have done.