It was a Saturday and a payday. The sun was asleep that day and the dim clouds hinted rain, but I was up early for my Master’s and I had to beat the previous night of writing a thesis proposal and singing lullabies for my one-year old girl. My sleepy face invited a debate from my wife whether I should go to school or not. I won so I took a freezing bath and packed my bag. San Isidro was a one-hour drive from Mati City and the ride entailed enduring the meandering road that I had gotten used to.
My classes proceeded with lectures and hasty reports prepared by my preoccupied classmates. For fairness’ sake, I hoped they also struggled on the way to school.
I could not go back home without buying groceries and pasalubong for my six-year old girl so I had to join the rush at the supermarket. I went out of the market still alive, gladly. I carefully tied my box of groceries to the back of my motorcycle and headed home. While I was on the way, I was so mindful of my load that I checked it with my left hand from time to time. I was worrying that the knot was loose. I tied the box with the interior of a motorcycle wheel cut into a strip, a sort of a rubber tie, which got tighter while I travelled. At the time, it had grown a bit short.
I was worried that my load would unravel by the time I reached the road construction at Badas. The repair had been taking forever. The government seemed to have a lot of money to spend. The sky was also growing dark, like cellophane filled with water and would burst any time.
I thought of stopping by a vulcanizing shop to buy some rope. It took no time for me to find one. When you travel by the roads Davao Oriental, especially along the municipalities and the barangays, you could never miss the signs “Volcanizing shop” or “Vulcanizeng shop,” or worse “Volcanizing Shap.” I stopped one that spelled the phrase correctly.
A shirtless man was working on a wheel. He was about early twenties, but his calloused hand suggested longer years of hard work. Improvised vulcanizing equipment was burning next to him and the smoke smelled of diesel and rubber.
“Bay, papalita ko’g pisi o goma ba kaha diha,” I said as I walked towards him, telling him if he was selling a piece of rope or rubber band I could use. It turned out that his house was only meters from the highway.
The house stood in the middle of two huge gemelina trees. Attached at the foot of one tree was a piece of wood that served as bench. The house was made of varied materials. There were pieces of wood in awkward sizes, cut G.I. sheets, amakan, tarpaulins from the previous 2016 elections, and plywood. The open door showed me the dirt floor. The variety and color of the materials somehow managed to resemble a house.
“Tay sa bay, lingkod sa,” he smiled at me and pointed the piece of wood at the foot of the tree.
I removed my helmet and bag and placed them on the bench. I had been sitting for four hours, and I had enough. I looked curiously inside the house but I can only see just as what my position would offer me. I noticed a hammock inside the house and realized there was a child sleeping. Embarrassed, I ran to my motorcycle and turned off the engine.
“Hala ka, sorry, naa man diay bata,” I said apologetically.
“Okay ra bay. Naanad na man na’g samok bataa,” he said, explaining that the child was used to the house. He was still searching for something in his box of tools. I noticed that the child seemed to move and made a crying sound.
“Timplahi nang bata,” he said. It was then the I noticed that his wife was also in the house.
“Wala na ma’y gatas,” his wide said. “Last na to ganina.”
“Wala na ka diha?”
“Gibayad baya nako gaina kang Jojo, naningil sa arawan.”
As much as I would not like to listen in on their conversation, I had no choice. I didn’t know where to look and place myself. I opened my bag and looked at nothing. When at last, the precious rope was found, I thanked God that I can continue my journey home.
“Naara bay,” he said handing me the rope.
“Salamat bay, naara pud,” I said handing him a twenty-peso bill.
“Ay na bay, okay ra na,” he refused the pay.
“Ayaw uy, salamat kaayo,” I insisted. He received the bill in the end, his head shaking.
I tied the rope and looked at the skies. It will rain in a minute, I thought. I must hurry. It was still an hour drive.
“Diri sa ko. Salamat,” I thanked him after I started the engine.
“Sige. Ayo-ayo, kaulanon baya.”
As I rode the winding road of Badas, I thought of my box containing the formula I’d bought for my one-year old. I thought of the couple and wished I could spare some of the milk for their child. But how do I do that? I did not know words to use when you want to offer help out of kindness. I did not want to boast and or make a person feel awful.
I thought of our house and my complaints about the kitchen not being well lit and the small holes in our roof that leaked when it rained. I thought of our bedroom and my constant desire to extend it to make it more spacious; our television and my groans every time we lose signal during a storm; my motorcycle and my wish to sell it so I could buy a new model. I thought of the couple’s conversation and thought of my disgust every time my salary was delayed. I thought of these and I felt emptiness. I was sad, but my heart was pounding as it seemed with excitement and happiness, as if something new would come.
When I was approaching Manikling terminal, the rain began to pour. I stopped by a waiting shed and wore my raincoat. Only a fifteen-minute drive remained, but I can’t wait to see my daughters.
Born in Davao City, Kenneth John L. Flores studied BSED-English at Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology. He is currently a Senior High School teacher at Manuel S. Nasser Sr. NHS where he teaches Creative Writing.