People who regularly commute by bus in Metro Manila like myself have encountered these individuals a few times while enroute. The ubiquitous peanut vendor, the junkfood/chicharon/bottled water vendor. There’s the young girl who gives you a slip of paper that tells you her name and how she’s sending herself to school by selling sweets at P20 per pack. Every now and then you get the Agono drivers’ union representative telling you how they have gone on strike because of non-payment of benefits, imploring you to help their cause by donating any amount that you can. More infrequently you get the Christian missionary who says she can help you mend your ways if you will listen to the radio broadcast of their ministry on DWJC or some such station.
Last week I encountered a new one.
He got on the bus at the Coastal Mall stop like any other commuter on a Tuesday morning, but a little more casually dressed—cargo shorts and navy tank top. He looked reasonably clean, a bit overweight, in his late thirties, the kind of guy you’d share a sari-sari store counter with late in the morning. But this one stood at the front of the bus and started his spiel:
Mawalang galang na po sa inyong lahat. Narito ako ngayon para humingi sa inyo ng tulong. Ako po ay mayasakit at wala akong perang pang doktor. Hindi nyo po naitatanong, ako poy naging isang macho dancer sa aking kabataan. At dahil napariwara nung akoy bata pa akoy nagkasakit. Hindi ko lang po alam kung AIDS ba ito, dahil wala po akong perang pangbayad sa doktor. Kung mayroon po kayong maiaabuloy kahit na magkano, makakatulong ito para akoy makapagpagamot. Isipin nyo nalang na akoy nakatatanda nyong kapatid. Maraming salamat po sa inyong tulong.
(translation: Pardon me. I am here to ask for your help. I am sick and I do not have money to pay a doctor. If you may ask, I had been a macho dancer in my youth. And because I lifed a profligate lifestyle I became sick. I do not know if this is AIDS, because I have no money to pay a doctor to tell me what I am sick of. If you can spare me some change, it will help me get treatment. Just think of me as your elder brother. Thank you for whatever help you can give.)
And he walked to the back of the bus and held out his hand to the left and then to the right of the aisle, repeating Mawalang galang na po, isipin nyo nalang na kuya nyo ako. All the way back to the front of the bus. When he got to where I was sitting (alone by my favorite place the tire bump near the door) I ignored him as I did all bus speechmakers and solicitors. He moved in closer, almost touching my arm and at this point I became very nervous. Normally solicitors tried not to intrude too much on your personal space, but this one looked like he was ready to grab my arm. Or maybe I just felt like that because I thought that a guy that looked as healthy as he did had other plans. I imagined a metallic flash and then blood spurting from my side, take that old woman, that’s what you get for ignoring me.
But since I’m blogging this now, obviously nothing of the sort happened. He gave up trying to get anything from me, although he did get a few pesos from the people behind me. He went down the bus at the Heritage Hotel stop just before the right turn to EDSA, lightly tossing the coins in his hand, his eyes on the next likely bus to board and tell people his story.
And if he’s thinking it’s true, there’s really one sucker born every minute, even as he listens to the tinkling of the coins in his hand, he’s probably right, because he just left a busload of people wondering what if he really had AIDS, if he indeed may have been the least of the brethren to whom we should have done whatsoever, and we would have done unto Him?