While I was fighting the rough winds of typhoon “Juan” last October, I found a bus heading for Monumento. I stayed near the window and started reminiscing about my love life as I listened to the advice of a DJ for an overseas worker who was cheated twice by his girlfriend.
My mind was floating when I heard a man at my back screaming. My impulse told me to get down of the bus. I did not want to be in a bus with an insane and drunk passenger. But it rained forever and I did not know where to get another bus at midnight. I opened my senses and found out there was no drunkard inside the bus. Then, I noticed the passenger, on the opposite side of my row, was digging into his pocket. The woman on the right was taking off her earrings. I took out my wallet and I hid my brown shoulder bag under the front chair.
“Anong ibibigay mo?” He was wearing a worn-out jacket and a cap. His eyes were yellowish and his face had wrinkles all over. I handed him P350 from my wallet.
“Akin na yan.” He pointed at my wallet.
“Huwag po. Huwag po, ” I pleaded.
He already had all my money. I guessed he would not mind if I kept two valid IDs and my ATM.
“Ibigay mo yan. Sasaksakin kita.”
I surrendered my wallet. My heart sank as I saw my graduation picture in my wallet for the last time.
He then asked for my bag. Without opposing, I brought out my bag. He went to the middle aged woman and her face turned sour and bitter. The man on the left side of the aisle met my eyes. We were looking at each other. We were reading each other’s fear.
“Pasensya na po, ma’am,” said the man who threatened my life.
The other hold-upper approached the woman. “Punta ka sa likod,” he ordered. My heart beat faster. I panicked realizing I was wearing a dress and that we were the only women in the bus.
“Punta ka sa likod.” He grabbed my breast while he moved me out of my seat. They instructed us to sit in the right side of the bus. They closed the curtains. They turned off the lights. I shared the last row of the bus with a young man who wore a neat shirt and shorts.
I bowed my head. “Huwag ka titingin sa kanila,” whispered the man beside me. I imagined Mendoza’s bus hostage and Ampatuan massacre as the bus kept going. I predicted they would drop us in an isolated land. If they killed me that night, how would my parents know? I held the hand of the stranger beside me and I leaned my head on his shoulder for comfort.
The hold-upper inspected every row. I closed my eyes. I prayed to God that He would extend my life. I recalled the recent sins I committed. I remembered the last person I badmouthed. I hoped God would forgive me for that. I thought of the people I loved. I wished they could read my diary in my funeral. Memories flashed back. I made a mental summary of my life. I just received my college diploma. I was newly hired. I could not believe that after all the hardship, achievements and plans; my life was going to end like this. I was trembling. The stranger heard me breathed rapidly. He felt my shoulders were shaking. He held my hand tighter as if we had been lovers for a long time.
The four hold-uppers left the bus before we reached Monumento. I looked around to see if I had saved anything. I got back my bag. I found my make-up kit, my notebook, and my pen in my bag but my cellphone was gone. And it meant losing job opportunities, losing connections, and losing some hopes.
Tears were falling down in my cheeks. The stranger, said, “May natira ba sayo?”
My voice cracked as I said, “Wala.”
When he saw my tears, he smiled. “Ako rin wala. At least ligtas tayo.” He fixed my ponytail. And that was the end of our first conversation.
I learned from the other passengers that the suspects had long and sharp knives. I wanted to report the crime but what would I tell the police? None of us could remember their faces in full detail. Nobody wrote the bus plate number. When they declared hold-up, some were having a nap and I was there daydreaming.
Some witnessed the driver talked back to the hold-uppers. Others believed his bravery was fake. They theorized that the bus driver conspired with the hold-uppers. In the first place, he should have invited us to file a complaint in the police precinct. The police blotter could have been his proof for his boss.
For the first time, I felt life was real when I almost saw the face of death in my bus ride.
Now, as I see the crowd gets bigger in MRT stations and as I watch people rushing towards a bus, I wonder if they care about life. They think of earning money, establishing a career, improving their lifestyle, and saving for their future. But what about mending broken ties, spending more time with their families, thanking the ones who help them out, feeling sorry for their mistakes, and being safe and healthy to have a longer life? Till someone steps out of the crowd and scares them with a dagger, they will realize what life is all about. Like browsing pages of a book, they will recount the days of their lives. The atheists will say their first prayer. They will not plead for Heaven’s gate but they will call for God’s mercy to lengthen their lives on earth.
This was published in Philippine Daily Inquirer last December 28, 2010.