ON MY WAY to Ortega Street to take a tricycle out of BF Homes, I met a man who looked like he was neither coming nor going. He did not make me wonder long for he approached me and asked where he can get a tricycle. I said he had more chances where I was headed because where he was going, most of the tricycles would have already collected fare from the School of the Holy Spirit or the construction site thereabouts. He walked with me and, when we got to the corner of Ortega and Sotto Streets, initiated an idle chat.
Which I did not mind because he looked new to the place, acted like he was finding its pulse yet seemed friendly. It was a little after 2 in the afternoon. Siesta time for the drivers whose predilection after a meal is to take a nap. It felt like we were in for a long wait. I was only going to my barber so did not mind if waiting took forever and he was there to wait with me besides. Then he started to fret and told me he was also hoping to catch a cab but since he recently got here from the States and was briefly staying with a relative on Pelayo Street, he didn’t really know how to go around it. He was starting to get frantic because he was going to the LTO to have his recently-expired driver’s license renewed, at least before he goes back to America. He did not want to be late for an appointment he wasn’t certain about. I appreciated his candor and sincerely gave him an ear, nodding every now and then to indicate I was listening. He paused at certain intervals to let me put in my share of what has shifted to a conversation. Then a roving, bicycling security guard passed by. I asked the guard if he could kindly radio the gate to get my companion a cab. He smiled agreeably and started to work his radio when along came a tricycle. We both thanked the guard for being nice and trying to help and got in the trike whose driver suggested that it would be easier to get a taxi at the BPI area; I agreed and said to the driver to take him there first for I wasn’t in a hurry anyway. The man was so thankful he paid for his fare and mine. He was too quick at it all I could manage to do was say thanks. We parted without knowing each other’s names, not that it mattered. The driver exclaimed, “Ang bait niya!” “For a total stranger,” I told him, “Yes!”
The next day, as was my wont, I was in the parish office riding on its wifi when a man entered and asked how to offer a novena Mass for their dead. Ate Ime accommodated him and, as is customary for the staff’s gracious client-handling, engaged him in small talk. The man, visibly encouraged, responded eagerly to her. There was an exchange of how Catholics respect the dead through various rituals and traditions. The man bluntly said he is not like those traditional Catholics who are rigid in observing ritual, especially, but less benevolent when it came down to basics like, and his voice assumed an edge, his Mom. Neither Ate Ime nor I dared ask why. There was no need. For immediately following what he said, he rambled, ranted and raged about her and his four siblings. About real estate, property, structural construction on borrowed land, conjugal inheritance, family factions and every which topic confined to domestic squabbling. He confessed he was also living with a relative, whom he chose to stay with rather than his Mom or any of his siblings, and is only visiting from the States. Inwardly, I thought it odd that I should be a shoulder again to another soul that is more laden than the first. For I had a gut feel that he was a geyser spoiling to gush at the slightest nudge. Like we perceived his agitation, Ate Ime and I were silent. We knew what was coming up next.
More fixed in his seat than when he came in, flexed, fluent and gesturing alongside his animated hand-and-eye language, his monologue assumed an attitude more pathetic than vitriolic. Ate Ime was growing alarmed as he simmered. I had a feeling he has been long wanting to find a venue to vent his lament in. For after his litany of woes, he sobered, merely frustrated that he had a family he cannot unchoose. Nor talk sense with. So he ventured on telling his tale to two strangers whom, because in the office of the church, he hoped would at least listen, and he’ll deal with understand later.
When he remembered to ask, I told him of my circumstances. That I feel where he was coming from. And understand what he meant by “he believes in God but not theirs.” I commended him for isolating his family from the other Catholics (which would have been wholesale condemnation) and not selling out his principles (they were too personal to disclose) and said I’ll pray for him, his Mom and siblings (his name was on the receipt issued by Ate Ime). I liked him best for believing in Christ’s greatest two commandments about God and neighbor. Silently praying that if our paths do not cross again, may he bump into another soul kindred to brethren. Who will again listen.
The smile that crossed his face was the first and friendliest of all the gesticulations he made in the course of our more than an hour-long, three-way dialogue. He no longer reacted. He became responsive. And appeared relieved. There was even a lilt in his gait as he stepped out of the parish office.
by Abraham de la Torre