That Wednesday evening I had no choice but to hail a cab to take me home. Coming from out of town and then from the office, I was exhausted and was carrying two big bags aside from my regular bag.
One passed by almost as soon as I started waiting. I noted with some disappointent that the white cab was an older model - the aircon may not be that cool. But this was not a time to be choosy. I flagged it down; it stopped.
With all the social media warnings against criminals masquerading as vehicle drivers, I immediately noted that the driver was big and burly and had outlandishly thick hair that came down to his waist—he used a headband to keep it out of his face. When he lingered for a while asking me about my destination and rested his hand on the wheel, I saw a tattoo—some feathered animal—at the back of his left hand.
But then he said, “Sure, but you have to tell me which route you want to take” and I took that to mean that I would have to assume control—that was a little comforting.
I got in and started giving instructions.
While we were making our way through the maze of container vans in Port Area, the driver started texting. Immediately I said: “Kuya, please do your texting later.”
“Ok ma’am. But may I just call, then? I would not be holding my phone.”
I did not answer because I would not like that, either, even though it seemed safer. Before I could think of anything to say, the driver had dialed a number and had put his phone on the chest pocket of his shirt.
“Please go ahead and buy medicines and Gatorade. You cannot skip it. I will reimburse you later.”
The woman at the other end of the line—the driver had put the phone on speaker mode—seemed relieved that she would get the reimbursement. She sounded less weak and more cajoling as she asked him: “Okay. So what time will you come by?”
The driver scratched his head. “Ugh, I don’t know, babe. I’m working.”
By this time I had concluded that since his hands were both free, it was just as if the driver were talking to somebody inside the car and so it was okay to let him proceed.
“Got to go. I will bring the 500 to you perhaps tomorrow.”
“Thank you. I love you,” the woman said.
“Love you,” the burly man crooned.
Before I could tease him about how sweet he was to his lady, the driver had dialed another number and perched his phone in his pocket, on speaker mode, again.
This time, a child picked up. “Papa!!!”
The driver then made a roll call of at least two other names, asking the child where the others were. One was watching television, one was out, according to the little girl who sounded as though she may be three or four years old.
“We have to pay Meralco, two five!” said the child.
The driver seemed concerned. “How big! Don’t use the aircon the whole day, tell your mother.”
“We are not selling anymore. There is nothing to sell.” added the child.
The man sighed. “Is that so? Aren’t you supposed to see your heart doctor soon?”
“On April 25. Mama says we need to pay the doctor four thousand.”
“Ok so you will need two-five plus four equals six-five, is that right?”
“Papa we still neeed to go swimming! When are we going swimming?”
“Ugh, maybe in May, baby. Papa does not have a lot of money now.”
“But it will be cold in May! Where are you now? Do you have a passenger? Boy or girl? Is she pretty? Papa my crayons broke, please buy me another set!”
The man asked his daughter to give the phone to her mother.
“Hello. Good you’re home. You don’t have a drinking session tonight?”
The woman at the other end of the line was defensive. “No. Hey I don’t drink that often.”
“How are your job applications?”
“Still processing my documents.”
“You’ve been doing that forever! Why don’t you just get married to a rich man?”
The woman laughed. “You’re really crazy!”
“I’m serious. And maybe you’ll be so happy that you will let me see my children. I’ve never spent an entire day with them. Why do you punish me so? I do everything you ask!”
“Let’s talk about that in the future.”
“No use talking to you. Please give the phone back to the child.”
“Hello again, Papa. We will be eating soon.”
“Oh really? What are you having for dinner?”
But the child had already hung up.
It was my stop. I had just enough time to read the disappointment in the driver’s eyes. Suddenly he did not look so menacing anymore. He was just...ordinary. Conflicted, even, like the rest of us.
“Your kid is adorable,” I said after I had paid and given a 30-peso tip, wondering how much a box of crayons costs these days.