by Esther Elizabeth Suson
I was sitting in the corner of the jeepney back, my favorite spot to be (you’re being squished by only one person, and you can see where you are going. And you can get out quickly. And–).
We were not quite so squished in at the moment, there were slivers of space here and there. One would need to be rather shameless to squeeze in, but there was space for it if one wished.
As the jeep started off from the before-Floodway-bridge stop, two pairs of lean brown hands grabbed and clung onto the overhead bar at the entrance, designed for our jeepney barnacles to hang on to.
Jeepney barnacles (n.): [Origin: Esther’s brain] The men who hang onto the outside of the jeep when there’s no more space to sit.
The hands belonged to two students, with white short-sleeved school polos and long dark-brown school pants. It was early afternoon – the public school’s first shift had just been let out.
They were only about thirteen or fourteen, wearing that overstretched look of boys in their growth spurts. At least, they were both young enough to be shy of squeezing into the benches, even though they surely had Commuters’ Eyes, which see space where there is practically none.
Jeepney barnacles. I tried to think the term at them with my half-mocking affection, wishing I could try hanging out there just once, but the idea was stopped mid-thought. From where I was sitting, I had a clear view of the slender wrists gripping the bar, of the fine bones nearly painted through the golden skin. They seemed all too fragile, liable to shatter like glass at any moment.
The thought stopped my breath in my throat, and my heart in my chest. They can’t stay out there, I thought. They can’t.
To my left, the squishing became more intense as the passengers made the slivers of space into clear seats. Sit down, they called. Sit down. One boy pushed his companion inside, and remained out there, ducking his head and shaking it at the offers.
My bench-mates moved an impossible few inches closer together, some popping out a bit to create space. Sit down, they said.
The boy made his way inside and sat beside his friend.
The jeepney as a whole breathed an inaudible sigh of relief, and faces returned to their normal apathetic expressions. But for a few terrifying seconds, I believe we had all seen the same thing: fragile wrists clasping an iron bar, heads and bodies unprotected. And I believe that, for a few glorious seconds, we reached out together, and drew them out of danger.