The scene—a payday Friday evening, at a taxi bay of a mall at the heart of Manila.
I was delighted, at first, to see that the line was relatively short—maybe eight, not more than 10 people were in the queue. I hauled my duffel bag and took my place, anticipating a nice dinner at home. I was away for a few days on a project and was exhausted.
One cab drove up to drop off a passenger; the person at the head of the line got in. This would be a breeze, I thought.
That proved to be the exception, not the rule.
The taxi bay was located at the back of the mall, leading to its parking area. It turned out that not many cab-riding mall goers took this entrance. For the next 30 minutes, the line did not move.
The few passengers, like me, tried to be patient. By this time, I had already figured out that the line was short because not many people were lining up in the first place, or were leaving the line almost shortly after they got there.
Worse, several tricycle drivers were making their own pitches, hoping that they could turn the taxi queue to a trike queue. “It could take you forever,” they said to me or to another of those waiting.”Where are you headed? Perhaps I could take you there.”
I decided to trust the system. They must have put the taxi bay here precisely because they had made studies that this would be a good entry and exit point. And besides, I was not really that flexible to begin with. Aside from my duffel bag, I was also carrying a backpack.
A woman in front of me broke out of the line. I thought she was going back to the mall but she stood just a few meters away from the start of the line, waving at cabs that never stopped anyway. Irritated, I thought: it’s these attitudes that get us nowhere. Why couldn’t we all take our place, fall in line and await our turn?
I nudged my duffel bag forward to fill the woman’s empty spot. My bag would not budge. There was a chewed-and-spit gum that had stuck to its bottom. Ew.
Another 20 minutes must have passed by and the woman who had tried to get smart over the rest of us had gone outside the mall to try her luck there. The family behind me with a grocery cart had distributed the packages among themselves and carried them outside, as well.
I pondered: Until when should we trust a system that does not seem to work and which nobody seems to respect anyway?
I tried to amuse myself by making up stories about the people waiting with me. I looked at the young woman at the head of the line. She was about 18, slim, long-haired and very fair. She had a flat screen television set with her. Was she furnishing her condo near her university?
In front of me was a middle-aged couple who had been trying to keep cool. But cracks were showing. The man was taking occasional deep breaths, as of containing his impatience. The woman with him was saying, “we should have waited until rush hour was over. We should have asked so-and-so to pick us up. We should have gone to the other mall instead. You should have known it was a Friday. I should not have listened to you.”
The man’s sighs became deeper and more frequent even though he did not say a word.
A twenty-something in bright orange cutoff shorts in front of me, who seemed to have done some shopping for himself, appeared to have zoned out after all that waiting. Earphones on, he was singing aloud—some song I had never heard before.
The guards, instead of doing something about the tricycle drivers (some of whom looked menacing) approaching the desperate passengers, were even chatting with some of them.
Just then, the other woman who had broken out of our line passed by, inside a taxi, looking at all of us triumphantly as if to say, “so long, s*ckers!”
An epiphany: Did I have any obligation at all to stay in this line? I could go inside and have dinner. Or see a movie to pass the time. Or sit inside a coffee shop and read. Or impose on a friend to pick me up on short notice.
Or I could try my luck outside, despite my baggage. Which was what I did, exactly.
And not one minute passed since I started waiting outside—where it was a free-for-all and where there was no designated line or even loading and unloading area—that a brand-new Avanza cab stopped in front of me and agreed to take me home.
I tried to shake off the guilt and the sadness. I felt like I had compromised, for some reason, and that I should not be proud of giving up on the “system”, leaving the line and doing as the others did.
Can’t say I didn’t try, a voice inside me said. And it just felt so good to be home.