The Man Under the Shade
My mom’s words had been ringing in my head since I walked away from the store. “Never give alms to beggars on the street.” I was supposed to go straight home from school but I decided to buy egg pie from a bakery around the block. I still had P20 in my pocket and I was planning to grab two slices. My daily allowance was P50 but I had spent P30 for lunch. I was in High School.
There was a man, whom I had never seen before, sitting on the ground, under the shade of the tree in front of the store. Wearing a worn-out sleeveless shirt and a pair of dirty shorts, he looked like he spent the night outside. One thing that was unusual to me, though, was that, unlike most beggars I had encountered on the road before, he looked strong and perfectly capable of pulling some muscle. Despite that, I gave him the benefit of the doubt along with my P10 bill.
As I waited for my egg pie, the man, got on his feet, grabbed a pack of menthol cigarettes, and took five or six sticks out of it. He, then, left at the counter the exact P10 bill I gave him, walked back to where he was, and lit a cigarette using a match lying beside him on the ground. I froze as I watched him smoke my P10 away.
The man was probably in his forties.
The Man Who Spat
There was a Dunkin’ Donuts stall a few yards from the shuttle terminal and I decided to stop by and get my niece and nephew a little bunch of munchkins each before boarding. While the saleslady was preparing my boxes of donuts, a man on crutches emerged from nowhere and asked for alms. He was around 40 years old. He did not look homeless, to be honest. His clothes were clean and flawless. Without the crutches, he would look like your average middle-aged man.
He pulled my shirt a little and asked for money. “Wala po, Kuya,” I told him and continued waiting for my donuts. He stayed behind me, pulling my shirt, still asking for money. Partly because I cared and partly because I felt uncomfortable with him behind me, I bought him one bavarian-filled donut.
He refused to accept it, saying “Wala kayong pera?”
I told him that I would not give him money. Still, he stayed put, standing behind me as the saleslady handed me the change. After the transaction, I walked away from the stall and the man on crutches followed me, saying out loud how he needed money.
I decided to not look back. The man started shouting angry words and curses at me. Still, I went on. All of a sudden, I felt a wooden stick slam my back. I was terrified. When I turned around, the man spat on the ground and walked away.
The Lady with a Bag of Fruits
The sun was demonstrating its immense power of frying everyone under it when I hopped out of the bus. I just arrived in Batangas from Manila and waited for my ride in front of a 7-Eleven store. From where I sat I could see a woman walking towards the convenience store — little by little, step by step. She was agonizingly slow — painful to watch. Under the intense heat of the sun and across the burning asphalt road, her only protection was a kerchief covering her head and a pair of wooden slippers that clanked gently as she trod
She was only three meters away from me when I noticed the big plastic bag she was carrying. I approached the lady and offered to carry the bag for her but she refused. She said, “Malakas pa naman ako,” something that I found difficult to believe, given that she looked like she was counting her steps as she walked.
She sat beside me and opened a conversation.
“Kinse (P15) lang ito, utoy,” she said.
“Alin po?” I asked, looking at her bag.
She, then, opened the plastic bag and revealed green and purple avocados cradled in it. They were smaller than the usual avocados I see in the market.
“P15 per kilo?”
“Hindi, utoy. P15 itong lahat,” she clarified. “Dalawa’t kalahating kilo ito. Halos tatlong kilo.”
“Ang mura naman po,” I blurted.
“Sa puno namin yan kinuha kaya ganoon.”
I whipped out my wallet, took out a P20 bill, and gave it to the lady. She then extended her arm and handed the bag of avocados.
“Naku, wag na po,” I said. “OK lang po. Sa inyo na lang po yan.”
“Matam-is ito,” added the woman. “Tsaka hindi naman ako namamalimos.”
The woman gave me P5 change and smiled. I refused to accept the change and asked her to keep it as a tip. I encouraged her to take a tricycle to where she was going next because the heat was just unbearable.
“Sanay naman ako sa init, utoy,” her last words as she walked away. She kept the P5 coin.
A month later, while waiting for my ride, I saw that woman again. She was already standing in front of the convenience store when I alighted the bus. She had a plastic bag of Indian mangoes, this time. Like the last time, however, after I bought from her, she walked slowly not minding the harsh sunlight. She did not remember me.
Every time I waited for my ride home on a Saturday afternoon, I would always see her walking in the streets with a bag full of fruits. It was always Indian mangoes but sometimes, avocados and atis. It was always a fresh conversation with her. She never did remember me. She never accepted any tip more than P5. She never failed to amaze me.
It’s astonishing how, despite her severely bent spine and old age, she remained firm in her relentless drive to work for every single penny she earned. If my guess is right, she’s probably 90 years old.
I’m not sure if she earned enough money but something tells me that in her many years in the streets, working hard, she had earned so much more, something you can’t put a price tag on. Like admiration. And respect.
It had been months since I last saw her show up in front of that store.