Every day I get up at 6:30 in the morning. I eat breakfast, take a shower, get dressed for work, go downstairs, put on my shoes, check myself in the mirror, say goodbye to my mother, and walk out the front door. I stroll down our street, then another before reaching my usual waiting place. There I stand for about a minute before the right jeepney comes along. My hand makes the slightest wave, and the jeepney driver sees it and immediately steps on the brake to let me get on.
I take a seat as near to the entrance as possible. Once I feel comfortable, I take my wallet out and count P12 for my fare. I hand over the money while announcing, “Bayad po!” I wait for one of the other passengers to hold out his hand so I can place my money on it. He in turn places it on another passenger’s hand, until it reaches the driver’s own.
The jeepney stops for somebody. She is a middle-aged woman who expertly gets on board while balancing her shoulder bag and files and closing her umbrella at the same time. She takes a seat across me and extends her arm to give her fare. The student nearby does not budge. The woman has to try twice before she finally catches the attention of the student, who reluctantly reaches out to receive the fare.
In this short span of time, the jeepney has managed to move once more.
As I face the wide-open window on my side of the vehicle, I see a man smoking on the street a short distance ahead. He is waiting for the right jeepney. When he sees it, he gives a small wave and takes one last puff on his cigarette before flipping it casually on the street.
I narrow my eyes, but before I can give him a piece of my mind, something distracts me. It is the sound of a drum. I spot a boy in his mid-teens, walking on the street. He has dark skin, and his striped T-shirt and shorts have turned gray from use and dirt. He is trying to catch the eyes of the driver.
He gets on the jeepney and starts handing out white envelopes to the passengers. He then sits on the step and starts playing his makeshift drums made of cans, plastic, and rubber while singing in a tongue I do not understand. I have seen his kind before, but never experienced riding in the same jeep where they played.
I look at the envelope in my hand and see some writing on it. “Konting tulong lang po para sa Badjao,” it reads.
I remember placing a pack of soda crackers in my bag that morning and take it out to put inside the envelope. A girl sitting near me sees me do this and gives out a small laugh. Maybe she isn’t used to seeing people give food to strangers. I smile at her, hoping she has a pack of crackers to give as well. It seems she doesn’t.
The young man seated beside her pulls out some coins from his pocket and drops them into the envelope. I smile again.
The boy playing the drums stops, gets up, and goes back in to collect his envelopes. He stops in front of the middle-aged woman who just ignores him. He nonchalantly reaches out to take the empty envelope beside the woman (he is used to that kind of treatment).
The girl gives back an empty envelope too. The young man next to her gives his envelope of coins, while I give mine stuffed with crackers.
I smile at the boy before he taps on the roof of the jeep, a signal to the driver that he is getting off. The jeepney slows down enough for him to safely jump off before speeding up again. I smile and look out of the window again.
Badjaos. I am sure I have heard of them before. Perhaps I studied something about them back in high school, but I can hardly remember. I am glad I finally met one.
Using one’s talents to entertain other people is a perfectly good way of making a living. Actresses and musicians and writers get paid for doing their thing, so why not drummer boys? I promise myself to write about them. Something about the beat of the makeshift drums and the boy’s unfamiliar words cling to me. I smile and for a while, I am at peace amid the hustle and bustle of the rush hour.
Other people may not understand it, but I find joy while seated inside a jeepney. Though the smoke threatens to spoil the pleasure, almost everything else contributes to the appeal. Jeepneys have an almost magnetic charm for me. In exchange for a handful of coins, you get an authentic and rich insight into the lives of real Filipinos—and intimate peek, if you will. No, the jeepney isn’t exactly squeaky clean. Neither is it all pleasant and inviting, which is perhaps that is the reason some people hate it: we cannot all yet own up to the fact that life isn’t perfect. It is what it is. And depending on how you see things and what you make of what you have, it can be good.
(Katrina I. Martin, 21, is a research assistant at the UP Manila National Institute of Health and a mission volunteer for Youth for Christ Campus-Based.)
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