Sunday, July 18, 2010


1.30 am on a Saturday morning, and the road is pitch black, the only consolation coming from a few street dim street lamps and the occasional headlights. No one uses this road much, not as much as some other thoroughfares at least. There is something about driving home in the ungodly hours that somehow makes it easier for your priorities to reach convergence. The radio had been playing crap for a few minutes now, so off it went, and I had to put on one of my dad's CDs to fill in the void.

Three things I saw that night that made me shake my head in absurdity. The first: a thick bundle of tattered black and gray firmly planted on an island in the middle of the road. I shone my headlights at the curious bundle, and discovered a few beer bottles next to it. The bundle shone, the material reflecting my lights to a degree. It looked like a massive but curiously splayed trash bag. I followed the length of the shiny black material until it came to an end-- and from that end protruded a pair of darkly tanned mounds of flesh terminating in calloused, bruised feet. It was a man inside the trash bag, apparently, and judging from the almost imperceptible movement in the trash bag, I could tell, thankfully, that he was alive.

The second instance occurred a little over half an hour after that. A rickety box-like thing was crossing the middle of the highway. It was a kariton, a wooden cart on wheels which, depending on its usage, was either a very poor man's version of a garbage truck, or in some cases, a mobile home, a few items of clothing and shelter, and sometimes even a pet dog for protection, finishing it. Behind it, a tiny old woman, bent and skinny and heaving, was pushing it, oblivious to the oncoming rush of cars at that ungodly hour.

Finally, I entered home stretch, that is to say, the last ten minutes of my drive home. For some strange reason, my stomach was churning, rebelling against the food I had earlier deposited there. It is now ten minutes after two in the morning, and what better way to cap off a minor spasm of hunger than with pan de sal, that ubiquitous Filipino breakfast bread. I parked the car next to the bakery, got off, bought my bread, when my shirt was accosted by an unseen force. A child, probably no more than 7, dressed in tatters, his face muddy, but you could see the hopefulness in it. He offered me sampaguita. 10 pesos for a strand. I bought one strand, handed him 10 pesos -- two brass coins just slightly bigger than my thumb. And he walked off, running to his friend in the dark who I presumed was probably around his age as well.

If you ever want to get rid of even the most insignificant hangover, I suggest a drive through the streets of Manila. There's horror and poetry there to do just that.

1 comment:

Rita said...

This has reminded me of something that happened to my husband this winter. He'd been to confession in Oxford and his penance was to perform an act of kindness (not involving money) on a stranger.

The Oxford equivalent of what you have described hobbled past the car. We just didn't feel we could stop and disrupt the flow of traffic.

Sobering is the word, nothing happens without a reason, stay alert.

Prayers for your family, extended family like Ines are family, we had a lot of grief when our housekeeper (back in Penang) went back to a poor part of China, we felt so helpless.