Strange Commutes

I was inspired to write this while reading a book about the history of Negros.

The Historian

While the sun struggled against the night, already a jeepney was on its way to getting its full assemblage of passengers. On this cold morning, only the barker could be heard. His energetic voice and frenetic movements herded the people, silent like sheep, into the jeepney.

Each face was remarkably strained as if in silent refusal to be divorced from the bed so early in the morning. In the weak pre-dawn light,  everybody looked gray.

One young woman, however, was more reluctant than most to enter the jeepney. Perhaps lamenting over the injustice of having to wake up so early; perhaps because she is so young compared with all the rest; perhaps it was just about the pre-dawn gloom. Yet her movements were sharp and graceful–betraying an awareness so unlike one who was sleepy. Her motions were not at all sluggish like the others. Then the single light inside the jeepney revealed clear eyes and a fresh beautiful face. Those who saw her under the light briefly gasped without sound. They had the creeping superstition that the sun would rise much faster in sheer jealousy of the young beauty.

Moving down the vehicle, the quiet beauty was oblivious to how she affected her fellow passengers. She took the seat behind the driver, hugging the corner and it seemed as if she gathered the darkness closer to her, like a cloak protecting her. As soon as she faded into the corner, the other passengers proceeded to see to their own comforts, moving this way and that; reaching up to grab the handle bar above and burrowing their faces into the crook of their arms. Needless to say, the ride is bound to be long and everyone simply wanted to catch a few more winks during the journey.

As the jeepney started, the morning slowly got brighter and brighter. Some passengers had forgone the chance for extra sleep and began chatting in tones so low they were difficult to hear above the sounds of the jeepney trudging along the uneven paths. The road has yet to be paved and many rocks and ruts jostle the jeepney and its passengers. Each of the passengers have long since learned to move with the jeepney so as to avoid getting off-balance. The trick is to go with the motion instead of resisting because it’s easier to stay on your precarious seat that way.

After an hour, the morning light has blinded most into giving up their attempts to sleep and yet some were still able to burrow their eyes deeper into their arms, slumbering continuously. Also, the morning light had banished the shadows from the jeepney, revealing once more the young woman. Curious, many passengers turned a discreet eye to watch what she will do.

She got her bag and took out a thick sheaf of paper. Then without looking at anyone or anything else, completely absorbed was she with her task, she began reading. Every now and then she would turn the pages and regardless of what is happening around her, her focus never faltered.

All the passengers were amazed but one wily old woman admonished her about getting a headache and ruining her eyes if she continued doing that. For the first time since bringing out the pages of what she was reading, the young woman took her eyes off of the page to look at the old woman. She politely smiled but said nothing. She was clearly used to reading and even seemed capable of doing so in worse situations than the jostling jeepney.

Soon enough, everyone left the young lady alone especially since she was looking more and more disturbed with every page she turned. Her expression grew darker and sadder as she moved her hands. Some hours had passed and the jeepney had finally reached its destination. Entering the city, the young lady put away her reading materials and  quickly swiped at her eyes. The old woman touched her hand and asked her why she was crying. The young lady smiled softly and said, I’m too soft-hearted to be a good historian.”

That was all she could say because the jeepney had stopped and they all hurried to get down. The old woman, the other passengers and the young woman herself forgot what had happened. All were silently concentrating on the act of getting down from the jeepney.


Strange Commutes

Have you ever been to the Philippines? Have you ever ridden a jeepney (formally called public utility jitneys or PUJs)? For most Filipinos, riding a jeepney is a regular occurrence that doesn’t even bear a second thought. However, we all know that each jeepney ride is unique in the sense of the things that you notice, the things that you do and the things that happen. Whether it was an annoying seatmate, cramped spaces or heavy traffic a single ride is an experience worth going through for itself.


Clutching the white folder and the red plastic envelope in my fist, I could not care less about ruining what was in my hand. I gripped the handle above me and tried to hide my face. I was hiding my face because I am crying.

I see a woman across from me. She looks sympathetic. She’s the only one who knows that I’m crying. All the rest are minding their own business. I want to rip her judging eyes out so that she can stop staring. I’m grateful for my restraint that tears are not falling. However I know that my eyes are watering up…and that staring woman is making it worse!

Sitting in front of me, judging me. God I hate her. I stared back down at my hand and I see that goddamned white folder again. Along with my red plastic envelope. The envelope contains my life and the white folder is the ticket to my dreams. Unfortunately, the plane to the dream had crashed and there’s nothing I can do to save it.

That’s why I’m crying. And that’s why that woman keeps staring. She knows. Fortunately, she’s the only one who knows. And I don’t know her. So she doesn’t matter. Not really. But she knows. Who cares if she knows? I don’t!