Nothing could have been worse than listening to the 4-year-old boy crying at the top of his lungs. There were too many people and too little space. I was standing with my arms above my head, grasping a metal bar. The boy’s mother was nowhere to be seen; the boy himself was holding on to another metal bar below.
My watch read 6 p.m., but the weather outside made the view of the city look like midnight in a Batman movie. Then the doors slid open and the violent pushing and noisy clamoring of incoming and outgoing passengers of the Metro Rail Transit began.
Before the train came to a stop, men, women and children inside the second MRT coach were packed together like fish hauled out of the sea in a net, each one struggling in his/her place, fighting to get free. I looked around and noted the various species. A senior citizen was trying hard to keep his footing as he stood in the middle of the coach, a middle-aged businessman in a fancy suit was raising his voice on his handheld at one side of the bench, two high school students in uniforms wet from the rain were laughing and making fun of their teacher standing near the doors, a seated middle-class, soon-to-be mother was glancing guiltily at the old man standing directly in front of her, and the 4-year-old’s mother was ordering him to behave. The pouring rain had seeped into the air-conditioner and drops were falling on my forehead as I awaited our arrival at the next station.
The train did not come to a smooth stop. It was as if the speed jumped from 10 kilometers an hour to zero in a split-second. Some passengers were caught off guard and lost their balance even as others were already inching their way to the doors as if it were already their station. No sooner had the train stopped than the space near the entrance became packed with women and mostly men who were eager to make their appointments or dinner with their family at home.
The coach passengers most probably expected what was going to happen next. They did not, however, make any changes in their battle tactics as they waited at their side of the battlefield. The doors slid open and there appeared another urban army facing them as if it were early-generation warfare. The people inside the coach started pushing outward as the people outside started pushing inward. The voice emanating from the train speakers was drowned out by the din of people shouting, doors buzzing, and the kid crying. The army leaving the coach was no match to the quickly growing horde pushing its way in.
As I was being pushed from all directions inside the coach, I was dreaming of falling asleep on a comfy bed with no distractions and no noise. My sympathy grew for some of the passengers. I thought that were it not for uncivilized and self-centered people pushing and shouting, the MRT train ride would have been a much more pleasant one. Those pushing workers with healthy salaries surely have never experienced the poverty being pressed on the other passengers. Without those pushing workers, the kid would have been sleeping on his mother’s lap on the bench, both the old man and the pregnant woman would have been seated, and there would have been no one needing to stand for the whole ride.
At that moment, I realized that the main problem of the MRT was the number of people using it, or rather the sheer number of people forcing themselves inside coaches already bursting. Why can’t the MRT authorities control the number of passengers allowed inside the coaches during the everyday rush hours, for the sake of the crying kids and frail old men standing all throughout their train ride?
The train arrived at my destination after 15 minutes. When the doors opened, I didn’t have to move; I found myself being pushed out of the coach by the other disembarking passengers, and I just had to go with the flow. As we walked out of the station and onto the street, I noted each one heading to different directions and scattering into the city. They went into malls, office buildings, restaurants, and even other modes of public transport.
I then realized the importance of having the initiative to compress myself inside the coach in order for it to accommodate more passengers. These “MRT pushers” have families, offices, and their own roles in society. Through what they earn, they make sure their own children are safe and their aging parents are healthy. Through their work, companies grow, roads are paved, operator hotlines work, students are educated, ailing patients are treated, and even more MRT stations and trains are put up for the country’s progress.
The country will grow in many aspects because of the continuous hard work of these people, I thought. Judging them was a wrong move. Instead, there are small ways of improving MRT rides, such as instituting synchronized arrivals and departures in each of the stations. In this way, the passengers will be able to plan ahead and not rush.
I realized that one’s sympathy for people who use the trains will mean nothing if it will be extended to only a select few and not to every passenger.
As for the boy, he was no longer crying; his mother held him as they went down to street level on the MRT escalator. Who knows, his experience might have taught him a lesson or two about train rides, and he will patiently sit beside his mother the whole time during his next.
Jose Maria Rafael Tañada, 19, is a sophomore electronics and communications engineering student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.