The stores in the mall are closing already when a woman in her early twenties pretty and smartly dressed breezes out the door. Click, click, click. Her heels resound as she hurriedly walks down the stairs. She turns a corner and collides with a man—tall in long sleeves and tie. They hastily apologize and quickly move on—she, blushing, for he is rather handsome. She crosses the street and hails a jeepney.
As the jeepney moves away she looks at the familiar sight of office buildings, the market and the small ukay-ukay store which was so popular with her and her classmates during their college days. She sighs because it’s late already. She still has to start with her pile of paperwork. Inwardly she feels pressured yet proud at the same time. She is proud to be trusted so much by the bosses but with a small nagging voice telling her that she is simply being taken advantage of.
The driver stops in front of the whitewashed university across the old church and makes the sign of the cross while a pair of colegialas noisily climbs up. They remind her of her college classmates—sharing stories of their first jobs. Of course, she was the star of the conversation…what with her new look and impressive workplace. But for all her classy clothes, she is still one of the masses—riding a jeepney. It irks her to have to climb sideways because of her miniskirt and pointed shoes. “You are meant to own a car,” she tells herself.
The driver suddenly hits the break as another jeepney overtakes them…screeeeech! The passengers are jolted to the front amidst curses and screams.
“What’s your problem %$#@!” the driver shouts after it.
While settling in her seat again, she is disturbed by a nauseating smell. It infiltrates her recently sensitive nostrils. Involuntarily she looks for the odor’s source, and her eyes are confronted by a filthy sight. A man in ragged dirty clothes carrying a plastic bag which seems to be filled with trash and sporting a disfigured sombrero is about to sit beside her. She immediately covers her nose and moves away but the repulsive smell insists on bothering her. The man moves closer to her. She instinctively hugs her bag tight.
“This man’s getting on my nerves,” she murmurs to herself.
The dirty man, however, seems to be totally unaware of her aversion for he reaches out and taps her on the shoulder. She cringes and ignores him. She decides to pay her fare and transfer to another jeepney. But as she reaches in her bag, her wallet can’t be found and her cellphone is gone!
“‘Day, I wanted to tell you that there’s a slash in your bag,” mutters the dirty man. True enough, a wide slash is gaping at her and her mind flashes back to the handsome guy she bumped into.
“Oh shocks my wallet’s gone…” she groans.
The dirty man extends his hand, “Bayad. Duha na’ng singkwenta.”
Speechless the poised professional can only watch as the driver receives and gives the change. The dirty man hands her the change, “Ari ‘Day oh. You might need this for another ride. Next time be careful with your bag…Sa lugar lang,” he says and gives her a toothless smile.
She just sits there unable to react as her eyes follow the hobbling man leaving the jeepney. A waft of the nauseating odor lingers in the air reminding her of the stench in her heart.
Beulah G. Villaruel was born in Mindanao, grew up in Luzon, and got married in Visayas. She fell in love with literature in high school, and loved it so much she became an English teacher. She enjoys teaching at Philippine Science High School-SOCCSKSARGEN Region Campus on weekdays and revels in mom life on weekends.