Monday, November 29, 2010

Old Man

Manila City Hall in the absence of heavy traffic.

It usually takes me around fifteen minutes to get home from school. But last Monday, it was four times the duration spent in the jeepney. The traffic at sundown that day actually made the news. Here in Manila, like the decrepit sewage system that forms an underground city in itself, the roads are just as easy to clog with cars. It only takes a little fall of rain before the streets are filled with enough water to reflect the sky or the gloom. With it, all commuter life comes to a halt and the ruckus begins; the honking eventually becomes a collective tidal wave of sound massive enough to last for several hours and reach the heartlands of neighboring provinces. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the picture.

My previous record of 45 minutes, caused by a similar incident two months ago, just as easily fell apart, sat upon by an extra quarter of an hour. And as any loyal follower of this blog would now be able to deduce, I'm not here to talk about the traffic. (I think I already have... haven't I?)

In the world of jeepney-riding, 'full' and 'over-capacity' are virtually unheard of. My side of the vehicle was already stuffed by enough people that movement was already restricted. Out of the blue, with droplets of rain gently falling outside amidst a faint sunset, this old man climbed aboard and squeezed himself between me and the guy to my left. Exclamation point. Insert expletives.

One of the mortal sins that I recognize in riding a jeepney is squeezing oneself inside a vehicle that is already full. (Though I am guilty of this once.) I hate it/ abhor it/ detest it/ consider it an abomination to create for onself an imaginary space for seating where there is none! If he weren't only old and I, bound by culture, and if I hadn't been that weakened by the weather and the preexisting spatial arrangement, I might have had the balls to tell him off. But again, this paragraph contains incomplete information as to what really bothered me about the man.

One, he was emaciated. Seriously, gravely, seemingly dangerously emaciated. I could actually trace his jaw. His forearm was thinner than mine (no, his was centimeters thinner), and the muscles that hung onto it looked as if they haven't been fed for decades. The orbit of his skull seemed to me the winner in a competition as to which bone seemed the most obvious to the naked eye and least covered by skin. With what little hair he had, his cap made equally no effort to cover his balding head.    

Beyond the physical, he had a stench clinging onto him. I am describing him, thus, 'undesirable' adjectives cannot be avoided. If you think you would be offended by the end of this post, it's best to leave now. As I was saying, he smelled - and it wasn't the usual musk that a sweaty guy would emit. It was terrible, I tell you, and even the most accustomed noses of the 21st century would have noticed something eerie.

His clothes were also really wet. But that's not the bad part; it was that he did not make any effort at all to keep the wetness from crossing over towards the people beside him. I did not expect him to do so, of course, since I would not have expected anyone else to have done so given the situation. I myself would not have been able to do so. I realize at this point that I have been straying from the point. 

Anyway, he slept throughout his ride, or he seemed to be making an effort to fall asleep, and every time he'd go whoopy away from consciousness, he would fall over me like I'm some wall. That was the worst part of the ride for me. None of us would want a random stranger to fall asleep in the jeepney and make us their air bag. That's plain rudeness.    

He woke up after the third 'fall', and we were already at the Manila City Hall area. Then, he calmly asked the guy to his left where the jeepney was headed to. "Divisoria," the man said. Divisoria, the ever famous retail kingdom in Manila. He calmly stood up and got off - he had boarded the wrong vehicle, after all. He left without paying (because that's somehow what one's supposed to do after having been on the wrong jeepney for nearly half an hour). 

He just left. I got home after an hour, bothered. Was the man dying of some disease, was he plain penniless and starving, or is there a more mystical explanation to this?

Today, we remember the birthday of Andres Bonifacio - the Filipino revolutionary who was, to my kindergarten self, one of those Ninja turtles. I may be right.

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