by Esther Elizabeth Suson
When I’m in the car with my family, I don’t pay too much attention to the outside world. If it is early morning or late at night, I am usually asleep. I know I am as safe as I will ever be (“safe as life!”), and that either Mom or Dad or both will protect us to the death. I can sleep in security.
Commuting, however, is an entirely different story. Every sense needs to be on the alert, all the wits alive. Which is partly why I love commuting: I love the sheer adrenaline high of it. I also absolutely love all that I can snapshot in my head because every sense is on the alert. If my memories of the outside are a soothing blur while I am in the car, they are full-color HD 1080p when I am commuting.
One day, I ran off to the Pasig City Hall to pay taxes (eeeeehhh #GrownUpThings) and stuff. The commute is only one jeepney ride, but it is quite long – when I timed it before, one hour to one hour fifteen minutes was quite normal. Today it took an hour and a half, but I stuck my nose in a book most of the way, since the traffic permitted.
On the way home, I was rattling around alone in the front passenger seats of the jeep, and there was practically no traffic. It was that magical hour between 9 and 10am after the office workers are off the streets and before the trucks come out. I couldn’t read – the jeep was too fast – so I leant out to feel the cold air, and my memory grabbed snapshots of life for me to take home.
A young man, wearing a jersey and baggy long shorts with his top-hair pulled back in a tiny tail, held a tiny baby in his arms. A young woman, dressed in a tight t-shirt and short shorts with her hair bunned up, arranged and rearranged a pale pink baby blanket on his shoulder. While even the young people felt swallowed by that colorless dinge that clings to backstreet residences, the baby’s light-pink clothes and blanket had been washed and bleached to immaculate perfection.
Two women were each holding a little boy by the hand, guiding him through the live poultry-market street. One of the vendors was holding a magnificent gold-and-green rooster so that it could do nothing but sit in his broad hand. The vendor swooped and with a graceful, gentle gesture lowered the rooster in front of the little boy so that he jumped in surprise. Then the vendor smiled and just as gracefully and gently lifted the rooster up again, as the women laughed and the little boy stared up at him with round eyes.
As our jeep zipped around Pasig Palengke, our driver leant over me and deposited barya (small change) into the hands of various men, who seemed to expect it. “That’s how you avoid getting caught [by the police],” he laughed to his friend at the back. “Ten pesos or so.” Huh, very neat, I thought. Later, as we passed One Oasis, I saw an MMDA officer and a jeepney driver laughing together as the driver closed his wallet. The quickest, slightest glimpse, and we were gone.