by Esther Suson
As I mentioned in an earlier post, sitting in the front seat of an fx means you either get the best seat in the world, or something like the worst. If you’re against the window, most of the time, it’s comfortable and there’s not much to worry about (plus, you get most of the aircon, even if you try to share).
On the other hand, being in the middle has more unpredictable results. We hope for a nice fx driver who keeps his hands to himself (one would even twist his wrist so that the back of his hand would not brush my thigh).
This trip to university, I was one seat away from the best: that is, the middle front. On one hand a lovely view of the street; on the other hand, all those unpredictabilities running through my head. And less aircon.
As we started out, we were about to cross a pedestrian lane when the driver stopped abruptly and waved at two high school-age boys to cross. I hadn’t even seen them.
And – I don’t know how he saw it – the kid on the off side of us was limping. As the boys crossed, the near boy raising his palm to the driver in thanks, I noticed that his right arm was braced and slightly bent. The other had bent his arm to a right angle and was supporting himself on the near boy’s braced arm. Together they crossed, one leaning, the other supporting.
As I admired the sensitivity of the driver, he reached for the stickshift, and his curved pinky swept against my thigh. I wriggled a micrometer away, and shifted my leg, so he’d know I noticed. What good was a bit of kindness if he had wandering pinkies?
Later, we were waiting at one of those ‘stations’, I suppose they can be called. They are composed of waiting sheds with mayors’ names stenciled across the roofs, and a whole lot of MMDA police – “blue boys”, the fx drivers call them.
While at that station, one of those kids who goes into the jeeps and solicits contributions for relations long-dead (that or more relations dead than might be sustainable) came up to the driver door. “Ano? Ano?” (What? What?) the driver called through the closed door as the kid made his pitch, then laughed and handed a twenty through the door.
A twenty! Five-to-ten pesos is the norm, and as much as a twenty – with a laugh and a smile added – is wildly rare. And as the kid passed in front of the fx, he waved a cheerful hand to the driver, who grinned back.
Then there was one of those men who belongs to that informal sector that does an amazing job of organizing commute stations. The station-master called himself semi-hoarse, and only managed to get one passenger in our fx. But when he went over to the driver’s side for the…’tip’ you might call it, the driver handed over a twenty.
Again, a twenty! My experience with fx drivers tipping station-masters consists of a few coins and mutual dissatisfaction. There was even one fx driver who left a station-master standing at the driver door muttering his annoyance.
Our station-master called some more, got around three additional passengers. When he went back to the driver’s door, the driver said, “Pagbalik ako! O, sige.” (When I come back! Oh, very well). And a fifty disappeared from his center dashboard. A FIFTY. That man, I decided, was just plain crazy. Crazy generous, that is.
And then as we set off, his wandering pinkies went back to work.
Having nothing else to do, I ended up waxing philosophical on the odd balances in human beings. He, kind, generous, was also clearly capable of objectification and disrespect. The only difference was circumstance.