This morning, in between fetching and dropping off frontliners to and from their hospital duties, I saw him shuffling on Mindanao Avenue near Trinoma. I had a few minutes to spare before my next pick-up, so I slowed down and asked him where he was going.
I told him to hop in and l’ll take him as close to his destination as I could, in the pocket of time that I had.
Turns out he does elevator maintenance work for Okada, but on a no-work, no-pay basis. The lockdown caught him at his lodgings on Coastal Road: out of work, dwindling money, and no way to get home to his two kids in Novaliches (wife was stranded in Butuan). Last night he was on video call with his kids aged 12 and 10. They were crying: “Uwi ka na, Tay...”
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So he decided to walk that night, with nothing but his frayed backpack and the last P200 in his pocket. He managed to get to Edsa a little past midnight, but his legs had given up and he slept outside Megamall. Half an hour later he was walking again, hitched a ride up to Quezon Ave on a hospital van, and by 6am he was turning into the street where our paths crossed.
He said I could drop him off anywhere, “kasi malayo pa po yung sa amin, Bagumbong pa po. Lampas pa po ng bayan ng Novaliches. Kahit sa susunod na stop light na lang po.”
I didn’t have the cold heart to do that. So I drove him all the way to his barangay, over his protestations.
“Paano po yan, wala na kayong trabaho?”
“May calamity fund daw po, pero ewan ko kung paano kukunin; pagkakasyahin ko na lang po muna itong pera ko sa aming mag-anak.”
I didn’t ask the question we both knew were on our minds: how long will that P200 last?
About 20 minutes later, he asked to be dropped off at a Puregold branch on Susano Road. “Okay na po dito, malapit na po bahay namin.” And then, softly: “Magkano po?”
“Naku, wala pong bayad!” Then on impulse I took the last P1000 bill in my wallet, while silently kicking myself that I didn’t have more. “Eto po, pandagdag. Sorry yan lang po pera ko sa wallet.”
He stared at me above the scruffy N95 mask that he must’ve been wearing for days. “Sir, sobra-sobra na po ‘to.”
I could see the tears welling up. I panicked. In a voice that I hoped was loud enough to barrel through the lump in my throat, I joked: “Sir, baka magkaiyakan pa tayo! Para sa mga anak nyo yan!”
I hurriedly made a u-turn, waved goodbye to him, and left him standing there at the corner, looking about ready to collapse from exhaustion or his emotions.
I pressed the accelerator and didn’t dare look back. Wala akong tissue sa kotse, e.
The author signed up as volunteer driver for Oplan Hatid Sundo laban sa Covid, Medpool, and #RockEdCarpool on Facebook, and for #INeedARide on Twitter. He usually starts as soon as curfew is lifted at 5AM until after lunch, just before he sits down to face his real job: as sub-editor and designer for the Straits Times of Singapore, where work usually ends at 1AM the next day. On his days off from the publication, he continues to drive for medical workers, and also security guards, and supermarket and construction workers who need rides to or from work.