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Whatever the mind can conceive …

This unforgettable episode revolves around an elderly kutsero (rig driver) and myself in my old hometown in Batangas.

I got to know the kutsero when I was in fifth grade. My parents had hired him for my daily rides to and from school. It didn’t take long for the 43-year-old kutsero and me to get familiar with each other. After a few weeks we had developed a closer relationship—like between a father and son. I knew I had earned a special place in his heart when he started calling me “Otoy.” I came to reciprocate this endearment by addressing him as “Tata Julian”—with as much affection.

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Tata Julian would go plying his trade after bringing me to school, just as he should be around when it was time to bring me back home.

Tata Julian had a strong, powerfully built, sturdy physique which enabled him to easily do heavier work. His brown skin had taken on a darker complexion from the sun, as he went around town to earn his livelihood. But it was a distinct facial mark—a pea-size black mole on the tip of his nose—that sort of made him easy to remember. I know that to at least one fellow kutsero of his, he was “Julian Taling.”

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Tata Julian always had with him two face towels—one for himself, the other for me. He would use “my” towel to wipe my forehead of sweat as soon as I got to his kalesa from the physical education class, the last school activity in the afternoon.

Tata Julian told me many stories about himself. He wanted to have a son, but his wife, Susana, died of leukemia two years after their marriage, before she could bear him one. He struggled with the excruciating emotional pain from the loss and never married again.

Our family moved to the capital town after my graduation from grade school. It was there where I finished high school and took a college degree. In the mid-1980s, I went to Manila and enrolled  at the University of Santo Tomas for a master’s degree in TESL (teaching English as a second language).

Before long, I was back in the capital town, which had by then become a chartered city, and landed a teaching job as a professor of English in a local college.

One afternoon, on my way to school, I dropped by a coffee shop just opposite the school gate. As I stepped out of my car, I heard a long, high-pitched sound that could come only from a horse. The neighing drew my attention to a nearby rickety kalesa that clearly had seen better days, its red and blue coat of paint peeling off in some parts—and to its kutsero.

He was reclining on his seat, with eyes closed, obviously tired. For some reason, I fixed my eyes on the lonely figure. My instinct told me he must be somebody I knew. And, yes, who would miss that pea-like black mole on the tip of the nose?! His hair had turned white, his bony face haggard-looking.

“Tata Julian!” I cried out. “I’m Otoy, why are you here? I’m Otoy!”

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He straightened up, rubbed his eyes, looked to my direction and saw my raised hand. He rose then and disembarked.

I hugged him tightly and I could see his eyes tearing up with joy. I could sense he was being careful not to ruffle my barong. He was wearing a slightly frayed striped yellow-and-gray T-shirt and faded jeans.

We walked to the coffee shop. The head waiter who knew me held open the door as we entered. Then he ushered us to a table for two in a cozy corner.  I ordered hot choco and Tata Julian asked for a local brew of black coffee.

Between sips, we talked about a lot of things, “just like the old times.” At one point, Tata Julian blurted: “Otoy. . .   I’m very happy for you.  Imagine, you’re now at the peak of success, while I’m still a hand-to-mouth kalesero. You drive a brand-new car, while I can’t afford even a second-hand jeep.”

“It was my childhood dream to own a car, Tata,” I replied.  “So, I strived hard to realize that dream.  Maybe you didn’t aspire enough to have one. It takes a persistent resolve to have a dream come true.”

“Ang peperahin ay peperahin,” (Those who are worth one centavo will always be worth one centavo), Tata Julian mumbled.

I took a card from my pocket.  I held the card aloft and read aloud the quotation on it, which I had copied from a book on positive thinking: “Whatever the mind can conceive and perceive, it can achieve.”

Tata Julian stayed quiet as we went out of the coffee shop. I surmised he must have been thinking of the relevance of positive thinking to senior citizens and other people of various ages.

Bayani G. Malaluan, 83, is a freelance writer and a retired journalism teacher of the former Western Philippine Colleges (now University of Batangas) and St. Bridget College, both in the City of Batangas. He also served as city councilor of Batangas for three consecutive terms (1990-1992, 1992-1995 and 1995-1998).

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TAGS: ambition, Batangas, kutsero, University of Santo Tomas
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