Thursday, November 24, 2005

“Patricia?” Gerald called out, deciding the only way to know if it was her was to try. Never mind if it was more likely that she wasn’t Patricia and that he was embarrassing himself by calling out to a total stranger. The risk was worth the humiliation. The gamble was worth the prize. “Particia?”

The school girls turned to look at Gerald and giggled in unison. Two of the three school girls quickly and animatedly began whispering to one another. The third on the other hand turned to look at the direction where Gerald was facing.

Patricia still did not respond. Her mind was far away, back at Kantong Kuba where she replayed the conversation she had with Carlo. How could she have been so blind to his attractions to him. Were all women prone to such blindness?

“Patricia?” Gerald called out a third time, his heart slowly sinking on the depths of giving up. He was starting to feel the urge to give up and accept it was someone one else when one of the girls waved her hand at him to catch his attention. Turning to look at them instead, he noticed the three school girls were giggling. And one of them was whispering to the muscular dark-skinned man nearby. The man cocked an eyebrow, stared at Gerald, and broke into a smile.

“What?” Gerald asked aloud, his voice sounding a tad more irritated than he really was.

“Yes, it is him!” the dark-skinned man grinned and the three girls exchanged a few hand claps and dance steps. The dark-skinned man gave Gerald a toothy grin and offered one hand for a handshake. Gerald reluctantly took it and forced a smile to fill his face.

“Yes?” he asked, wondering what was going on.

“You’re him, right?” one school girl asked, blushing as she did so. The two others were digging their hands into their things, pulling out small notebooks from their evidently packed bags.


“The man on television,” the dark-skinned man replied and began singing, though most of the words were hummed since he seemed to forget the lyrics, “… ng mata… ang nakita…”

The three girls and the man broke into a song in unison, “Sa Batibot! Sa Batibot!”

Gerald tried to say something but felt his voice stuck somewhere in his throat. It was like he had swallowed a golf ball. And he had no water to help him drink it down. “Oh god please no,” Gerald could only gasp.

The others in the train began to look their way. The dark-skinned man, perhaps in a misguided attempt to be helpful, turned to the closest person who looked at them and explained, “It is him! It’s Kuya Bodjie!”

The three girls continued to sing the show’s theme song, dancing as they did so. Other people in the train began to hum along, or bob their heads with the melody. Two actually gave Gerald a handshake. One asked if he could pose for a picture beside him.

“Sa Batibot! Sa Batibot!”

Patricia “woke” from the din of singing voices and gave a half-interested glance towards the source of it all. With the people gathering at the side of the train just a few feet from where she was, Patricia realized she wasn’t feeling that interested with showbiz personalities and decided to make for the more spacious opposite end of the train. Excusing herself, she slowly began to slip between bodies and singing commuters to move to the more distant side where people seemed to be more content to stare in curious contained interest. She did not notice Gerald cringing and covering his face with both of his hands as the three schoolgirls ran up to him and hugged him in unison, squealing about how much they always had a crush on him.

“What’s happening there?” a commuter asked her as she finally reached the opposite side of the train. Patricia shrugged and leaned against the glass wall as she crossed her arms over herself, “I have no idea. Kids.”

* *

The train came to a stop at Quezon avenue station.

Like the floodgates of a damn breaking, people surged out the train’s left side as the doors slid open to allow the commuters to step down. Amidst the racket of the security announcing safety precautions and the throngs of people either rushing to leave or making calls as they walked, Patricia made her way through the long lines and quickly arrived at the turnstile to slide her card inside. Somewhere behind her, she could still hear the cheering and laughter of people who were singing the theme song to an old children’s show called Batibot. She found herself musing that one of the show’s stars was probably there, but then realized she never was a fan and decided to move on ahead.

She pushed past the turnstile and noticed three street kids who were sleeping at the steps that lead out of the metro rail station. Approaching one, she dug out a few coins and slipped it into the boy’s cup.

Her heart yearned out towards the children. Poverty was rampant in the country. And all the money seemed to keep flowing towards the rich. It was a fact of life. A painful one that she had to live with. Some things, it seemed, were too great to be fixed by one person alone.

When the calls for Kuya Bodjie became more audible, Patricia realized the crowd was looming closer. Not wanting to find herself swept away with them, like a pitiful buoy amidst a terrible typhoon, Patricia began leaping down the steps, covering three to four steps at a time.

* *

“Kuya Bodjie!” the voices were rising and the crowd was growing. Now, even the security guards and the three women who were behind the counter selling the tickets for the rail transit were stepping out of their booths and waving at Gerald. Unable to convince them he wasn’t who they thought he was, the crowd had begun singing the theme song of the show he was mistakenly believed to host over and over again. Cellular phone cameras clicked and took his picture. Some shook his hand. A few even gave him a salute. It was a bizarre moment of mistaken popularity. And it was not even one Gerald wanted to have.

“I’m not, please… you have to hear me,” Gerald pleaded but the crowd simply laughed, taking his admission more as an inside joke than a truth. The three street kids woke up and began looking around excitedly as they heard the people cheering and laughing. They began jumping about, singing along and waving at Gerald. One kid ran up to Gerald and leapt to him, hugging him with all his might that the crowd fell silent. Gerald looked down to the kid and noticed tears streaming down his face. A plastic cup in his hands was crushed by the hug, and upon tearing upon, a few coins fell down to the ground with a tinkle announcing their escape.

Gerald bend down to pick the coins up and looked at the teary-eyed young boy. He smiled as Gerald handed the coins back, eyes wide open in surprise.

“Where did those coins come from!” he asked aloud and Gerald looked at him not knowing what to say. “Those weren’t there earlier!”

Before Gerald could offer the many possible sources the coins could have come from, the boy hugged him again. The boy began to cry, his eyes pouring out tears that seemed to carry with them the weight of the many burdens the child has to bear. Gerald heard him softly whisper, “Thank you Kuya Bodjie,” and found himself suddenly unable to find it in his heart to correct the boy.

The crowd was moved by the scene. And like some strange moment of synchronicity, people began moving closer towards the two. The three school girls, being closest to Gerald and the boy, pulled out their tiny purses and offered the boy a few handfuls of loose change. More people in the crowd began pulling out their wallets and coin purses. Money began to pile around Gerald and the boy. It started as small change, but it began to grow very quickly.

The boy pulled away from Gerald, looked around, and began crying with a smile on his face. The two other kids began laughing too. And the crowd continued to sing the theme song louder and louder. Gerald, speechless, could only smile.

Word Count = 1,420
Previous Count = 24,428
Total Count = 25,848 of 50,000


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