Saturday, April 24, 2010

The ride to the airport

It's almost noon, and my brother Sean has just texted me that they've safely landed. They're 30 minutes early, my family, and I'm imagining my mother's impatience growing by the second as she waits for her son to appear in the airport.

I'm supposed to meet and bring them to my brother's huge apartment. Thankfully, I'm with Kuya Imay, Manong's housemate, since my brother has to settle something in court and can therefore not make it.

"We're retrieving our baggage now," reads Sean's message. The traffic is slow, pretty much like my brain after a long day in class. Or my classmate Hazel who gets my jokes eons after I crack them—I say that lovingly.

"Can we make it on time?" I ask Imay.

"Of course. Don't worry. Tell them we'll be there in 20 minutes."

I secretly wish the cab can fly.

I'm seated beside the driver, a stout man in his forties, the type who likes to talk. Taxi drivers are naturally noisy, but this one is a notch higher. I can tell: his voice is warm, his chuckles hearty, his expressions engaging. Why not make the most of this trip?

I do a classic conversation starter.

"You've been driving for years now?" I ask.

"Twenty years," he says, smiling, showing off his dentures could fall off if he's not careful. "I can drive around this place even with my eyes closed."

"You drive around Manila more often?"

He's busy looking at the road and doesn't seem to hear me. He's figuring out where to take a U-turn. "Bayani totally made a mess around here," he says angrily before he turns to me. "What did you say again?"

"You drive around Manila more often than, say, in Quezon City?"

"Oh! I like going around the Metro, but I know Manila more than I know all the other places, so I stick here more often."

"But Manila is much more crowded," I say.

"I've gotten used to it. I'll choose this place over Quezon City. I got kidnapped there once, you know?" he says. I am surprised. I've heard about these things in the news, but here is a living testimony.

"Do you remember how they looked like? Did they have guns?"

"They were three of them. One was seated beside me. The other two were at the back."

"Were they in black?" I ask. I've always had this notion that thieves always wore dark clothes.

"I don't remember, but they looked pretty normal. So there we were, driving along Scout—I forgot the name of the street already! They pretended like they were lost, but the truth was they were only looking for a spot where there weren't any people."

"And then what?"

"They pointed a gun at me. They pushed me aside and took control of the car. I couldn't do anything. They had an ice pick aimed at me. If I didn't do what they said, they could kill me anytime."

He recounts these events as if they happened yesterday. After all, the best—and worst—of memories are the ones that remain in us the most.

This conservation doesn't happen everyday, so I asked many things: like what happened to him after, what things were stolen from him, and how he survived the ordeal.

"They took everything from me—the cab I was driving, my wallet, my t-shirt, my pants, and heck, even my briefs. They tied my hands so I couldn't move, and they thew me off a dirty creek."

I say "Ewww" at this point.

"I was glad it was shallow," he continues, "but it was so dark I couldn't see a thing. I thought, as long as I wasn't drowning, I should be thankful."

"You were naked the whole time? As in . . . nakalawit lang?"

He laughs so hard before he answers. "Yes! Can you believe that? Good thing there weren't too many people around. So I got out of the creek, found a decent neighborhood, and I knocked at one gate. A maid opened it. I cried for help. Her boss came outside, invited me in, and gave me a pair of pants. I was just so thankful."

"That was some adventure," I say.

"Well, it's a dangerous place—the place you don't know so well—so you should be careful when driving around unfamiliar territory."

We're now entering the airport premises, and by then, the story has reached its end. I feel my pocket vibrating.

It's Sean again. "Where are you? We're at Bay 3," the text reads.

Imay and I thank the driver and wish him well before we rush past long queues of tired passengers. After a few minutes, we find them: my parents smiling heartily, my aunt and uncle and grandmother embracing me, and my brother Sean landing a kiss on my right cheek and whispering, "You are dead meat."

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