Good morning, sir. C5 or Edsa?” the driver courteously asked as I got into his cab.
It was 5:15 in the morning. I had been up for almost an hour—bathed, dressed, and eaten breakfast. It’s been my way of life, as well as that of millions of others in the Philippine labor force. The tightest deadlines are not necessarily the ones set by our bosses, but the one imposed by traffic. Punching “snooze” on the alarm clock and doing so for just five minutes could translate to tardiness of 30 minutes or even an hour. Rest is only physical. That’s why I intentionally sleep very late at night, hoping to salvage some spiritual respite before hitting the sack then going back to the corporate grind in the morning. The lost hours of sleep translate to the copious cups of coffee I consume throughout the day.
But perhaps the taxi driver was oblivious to this. He’d been up since 6 a.m. yesterday. Most of us work 8-12 hours in our nifty cubicles; he’d been up for almost 24 hours, powered by energy drinks. In his anemic existence, he is enclosed in a vehicle made of cheap tin and expensive metal, crawling along in the Metro’s hellish traffic from one passenger to the next.
He was nibbling fries from inside a red carton stored in a pink plastic container. I assumed he bought the stuff via the drive-through yesterday. I rarely see cab drivers park their vehicles in the vicinity of fast food chains; sometimes I see cabs lined up beside a carinderia. But most of the time these vehicles are constantly on the move.
“C5, boss,” I replied to him, as well as to other taxi drivers I’ve had before. And just like them, my driver for the morning was innocuously talkative. This is understandable. Among the passengers he takes from point A to point B, the connections that he forges are malleable at best. Some words are left unsaid, sentences are not concluded, and thoughts remain abstract, hanging in the air—all because the journey comes to an abrupt end: The passenger has disembarked and closed the door.
Perhaps our 25-minute chat during the trip was left over from his exchange with the previous passenger. Maybe that passenger was unresponsive and, as a result, a chunk of our conversation was made up of the driver’s constipated thoughts. When you’re enclosed in a vehicle for certain days of the week, close to 24 hours a day, sentiments brew quicker and thicker than usual. With no one to talk to, you will have your emotions radiating to no one else but yourself. That’s why the syllables that came out of his mouth gushed like water from an overflowing dam, with every word carrying emotional heft. Because just like the rest of us, his soul can only be sated once he has expressed his thoughts in full.
Politics is the perennial topic. Cabbies’ default disposition toward politicians is that of fury. I never once heard a cabbie praise a politician except during the election period. And throughout this time, my considerate nature has been put to a test. I encountered cabbies whose voice had a timber of imposition. When some views were totally opposite mine, I gently nodded or snickered to let the driver know that his words reached my ears. I threw questions to evade the torpor or direct the center of attention away from me and back to his thoughts.
Some conversations are dictated by the blaring AM radio station, which not only functions to nullify the loneliness and castrate the silence but also becomes the hand that shapes his opinion. For the past months, the body count in the “war on drugs” always made it to the headlines. Some cabbies were iffy about it. One wondered why it was so easy for some to kill people as if they were ants. One was totally for it, and when a motorcycle popped out of nowhere, which forced us to a grinding halt, the cabbie pointed to the rider and said in so many words: Did you see that? That type of people should also be killed. I don’t know if it was said in jest or sarcasm. But half of me wanted to get off the cab, and the other half wanted to listen more.
If the radio is tuned to FM stations, it cranks out the most popular songs on the planet. Or the DJ holds a contest for listeners. Such FM radio gimmicks are crassly funny and never fail to produce a smile on the driver’s face. And they almost always lead to an exchange—not necessarily of sentences, but of conscious cackles. But the laughter eventually transforms into words. The words transform back into laughter, and then into deep thought. Because it is in this moment when the cabbie lowers the volume of the radio and we ruminate on the most trivial and vital things in life.
Some drivers hand out unsolicited advice on how to deal with women. Some share their personal history prior to being a cabbie. Some talk about the latest inventions in transport technology, which, they say, have been “robbing” them of passengers. It has forced not a few drivers to devise a strategy on how to harvest more commuters amid the tough competition which has the technological advantage, with hopes of making the “boundary” set by their bosses. Some express their desire to try it out. One with graying hair believes that such technology will be a passing trend.
Others, meanwhile, share the most heartfelt stories about their family. This driver in particular even showed a picture of his six-month-old granddaughter a few minutes before our journey ended.
“Diyan na lang, boss,” I said, pointing to a convenience store where I intended to buy a cup of brew.
We arrived at my destination sooner than expected. The cabbie’s disregard for traffic lights and refusal to stay in one lane was key. It definitely saved me time and money. But I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I was in a vehicle that beat red lights and caused distress to other drivers.
“Coding ako, boss,” he said. No wonder he pushed the pedal to the metal at every opportunity. I was his last passenger for the day’s shift. I handed him the fare, got out and closed the door, and he zoomed off to the company garage in Cubao.
I didn’t catch his name. Nor can I remember his face. The cab’s plate number dissolved in my memory the moment I disembarked. What’s firmly embedded in my consciousness is the image of a dirty white cab and its diligent driver, careening through life’s highways from one passenger to the next.
Virgil S. Villanueva, 27, is pursuing a career in film.
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