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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

the day Kuya Ando passed away

7:00 am; Sunday
this is Baclaran
its stalls and people
its church and people
its buses and “jeepneys”
and people…

I get on a air-conditioned bus
the driver and his conductor are smoking
and reading a message on a mobile phone
the sign on the door has a cigarette tied in a knot
I cover my nose and tell myself,
“I’m going to report these two to the management.”

says the tiny conductor in his twenties, “Kuya Ando passed away!”
the middle-aged driver with dyed hair, “Is this true? It’s unbelievable!”
“It’s here, let’s read it again…”
they read the text message again
“He died in his sleep. How could that be?”
“I just saw him last night…
That’s probably why he was quiet, without the usual storytelling
He loved to tell stories.”
“Let’s go to his house later.”
tongues click.

slowly a dozen passengers fill the front seats
and the driver lets the bus crawl in the crowded street
the conductor flips his cigarette butt outside the door
he walks the aisle, hands out tickets, collects fares
and goes back to sit next to the driver who says,
“He probably doesn’t know it yet
a dead man realizes he’s dead during the third day.
That’s when he would let people feel his presence”
the driver flips his cigarette butt outside the window.

the bus makes a right on Buendia and continues to crawl
the conductor barks and passengers fill the middle seats
the conductor walks the aisle, hands out tickets, collects fares
and goes back to sit next to the driver and says,
“He’s such a good man.”
“Yes, and good men are taken away soon.”
“It’s hard to be good…”

the bus heads for Cubao where I’m meeting dear old friends
the driver honks his horn and the bus ahead pulls over
the driver pulls next to the other bus
the conductor tells the other driver, “Kuya Ando passed away!”
“It’s true! We received the text message. Here!”
he shows his mobile phone to the other driver
“What happened?”
“He died in his sleep.
We’re going to his house later.”
the other bus moves on, slowly this time
said the driver, “Now he feels bad, too.
Look how slow he drives.”

the bus stops at the red light
the conductor remains seated next to the driver
“The Lord did it just in time, right?
His kids have grown and are ready to support his family”
the driver finally decided, “Let this be our last trip
Kuya Ando might think we don’t respect him.”
“Yes, let’s get back to the garage after this.”

the bus pulls to the side
the conductor barks, “Araneta Center! Cubao!”
I stand and get off the chilly bus
forgetting about reporting the smoking driver and conductor
to the management.


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