Urbanized areas – Baguio City included – have their share of street people. But what simmers behind the minds of these unfortunates who are shunned?
Darkness clung heavy at 3: o’clock, dawn of Saturday last week when Ah Kong rose and caught a jeep plying La Trinidad municipality en route to Baguio. He wanted some vegetables sold along Kayang Street, upwards the Baguio City Police Office (BCPO).
Alighting at the unloading zone near Baguio’s Lower Market Section, Ah veered towards BCPO’s Sub-station 7, intending to pass at the back of the Maharlika Building.
Ah climbed the stairs at the back of Maharlika Building. There, he noticed a frail person huddled on the cement floor who, apparently, just woke up, her back at the cement wall. She stared at the Meat and Fish Market Section, but in actuality, her stare was vacant. The cold clawing at her body, she scrabbled to pull tight round her the soiled cloth she used as blanket.
She noticed not, the early activity of delivered butchered pigs, chickens, beef, fish, vegetables and other commodities that will feed an awakening Baguio and La Trinidad population. No, she brooded into nothingness.
Ah proceeded, then halted a few meters, didn’t know why, but something made him pause. He knew the person as a street person. That wasn’t what disturbed him. It was the woman’s vacant gloom.
Ah wheeled and headed towards the person and stood before her. Realizing someone in front of her, the person turned her stare to Ah, who then squatted besides the homeless woman.
She was in a bundle of tatters, held together by plastic straw, odds and ends. She clutched, with blackened hands, a half-filled plastic bag.
Her face was roughened, pinched, coursed and twisted by life’s experience. Her hair was matted. Dull eyes, not youthful anymore, stared from sunken sockets. Ravages of time hid her true age. She could have been from 30-40 years old.
Naked feet, once tender in childhood, once that frolicked and played, were cracked and dirty. Ah thought he saw dried blood in them. She was direly in need of bath.
A human being, a child who maybe never had been a child, an adolescent who may never have dreamed, a creature who could have been living to take the outward form of a lively woman, but who, within, would live and perish a mere human being.
“Kayat mo agkape, umay ka ta mapan ta agkape,” (Care for a cup of coffee? Come, let’s have coffee), Ah said, breaking the silence.
It’s believed some street people suffer mentally. There were reported cases of street people purportedly inflicting harm to citizens in Baguio and La Trinidad.
On the other hand, were also reported cases of verbal abuse and hate invectives heaped on street persons, short of their being harmed also.
Ah wondered if this person possessed the mental faculty to understand him at that moment.
For a time, the woman stared at Ah, suspicion, doubt, hesitation and fear fleeting from her face, torn to muster a decision of accepting Ah’s offer or not.
Thinking the person won’t budge, Ah placed his hand on his knee to rise from his squatting, when the woman gathered her tattered belongings. They both stood up. Ah nodded, hint for the woman to follow Ah.
They wended their way towards Baguio’s Vegetable Market Section, there where a cafeteria caters early to farmers bringing products daily to the city.
They sat before a table. The waitress who came over for their order pinched her nose and crossly said to Ah, “Anya met Sir, apay inkuyog mo isuna ditoy, pirme naka-ang-angot isuna!” (What’s this, Sir, why did you bring this person here. She smells!)
Other customers – farmers and “kargadores” – hearing the waitress, looked at us, then at the waitress, fell silent but kept their peace.
It was a natural action, so slight as to be hardly noticeable. But the street person, passed her hand across her forehead, and looked quickly around the room. She sensed the change in the atmosphere.
The watchfulness of her haggard look and the inexplicable distrust that darkened it escaped not, Ah’s observation, as the street person felt how the manner of her reception, varied in different persons.
She looked confusedly upon her hands, limbs, on the table, as if to assure herself somebody invited her for a cup of coffee and food. She mumbled to herself, her voice a cry of someone lost in a wilderness.
Ah switched his attention to the waitress and gently intoned, “Ala kadi adding, mangted ka man ti duwa nga tasa a kape. Ken nu anya mabalin a masaramsam para ken kwana. Ken pintas unay ti agsapa nu naka-isem ka.” (Kindly, sister, give us two cups of coffee and whatever food for her. And, say, how the morning gets brighter when you smile).
For a second, Ah thought the waitress would shriek demons. Instead, she brought out her tongue, pointed it to Ah. But she smiled. The farmers and kargadores grinned and slapped their knees.
Ah tried to start a conversation, asked the street person’s name. She first said her name was Ella, then Danying, then Kanita. No matter. Ah was more interested in making her feel at ease.
When asked “kumusta?” the woman answered in rambles. Ah had to sift through the maze of her incoherent rambles to get to what she wanted understood: “To live. . . since and then. . . all my cares and wants, times of sickness, all the hours of watching, I ever had, by one another, or by others, seem to speak to me, and say that I never might have been, any other than I am.”
Queried about parents, she said, “They are dead. All such things are dead to me.” Then she stopped midway, stared at Ah and intoned, “I am a dead person, walking.”
Ah was forced to think; time was it when this street person put a forlorn trust to trust her fellow man. Now it seemed, this was even gone.
Of relatives, she said, “Pictures of my life. . .come back to me in night’s dead stillness. . .happiness gone, extending back so far. . . fantasy illusion of relatives. Why is it my doom to remember them so well? The memory is my curse. I want to forget their remembrance, but to leave faint traces of them. . . to die from my memory.”
As she wolfed down the last of her food, her eyes wandered around the room, lighted on the tables where food remnants were still there. “Give me some of that? “she asked, covetously.
Ah winked at the waitress, indicating the left-over food. The waitress who watched the two curiously long enough to perk her interest, brought out her tongue again, pointed it at Ah but smiled coyly.
Given the go-ahead to get the left-over food, the woman bounded at the tables like a small animal of prey, gathered the food and hugged it, including her own rags.
The woman mumbled, “I shall be hungry again tomorrow. I have been hungry, ever since. . .” Ah was carried away by her honest vulnerability.
Outside the cafeteria, Ah bid fare well by asking, “Where will you go from here?”
Holding on to the food, the woman said, “I will go nowhere.”
For now, the nameless street phantom, was, indeed, alone.
The time had been, and not many years since, when such a sight as this would have wrung Ah’s heart.