…The Old Lady Dispatcher of Divisoria
By Apolinario Villalobos
She is 64 years old but looks like she is only 50. She shouts destinations of jeepneys amidst the din of noise in the corner of Ilaya and Recto Streets of Divisoria (a bustling business district of Manila), as early as six in the morning. She does it until noon when she gives herself a respite while sipping a glass of buko (young coconut) juice. By this time, she would have earned about Php80 out of which she buys 1 serving of rice and half serving of vegetables that come with free soup – her lunch for the day. For each jeepney that she has filled with passengers the driver gives her 10 pesos. She resumes her job at 2pm and continues enticing passengers to take certain jeepneys until 6pm. Her afternoon routine earns her a lesser amount between Php40 and Php60.
She whiles her remaining time for the day observing the arrival of wholesalers of vegetables who come from as far as Baguio (summer capital of the Philippines) in the north and Batangas, a prime province south of Manila. At this time, kids who are waiting for a chance to be hired as porters huddle around her. With her earning during that day, she treats them to cheap bread and buko juice. For the night, she sleeps in a pushcart whose owner lets her use it while he and his wife sell re-bundled vegetables along the former railroad track. The pushcart is parked on the sidewalk of a side street. A portion of Recto bursts into a hectic, though, gay nocturnal life when wholesalers begin to unpack their loads of vegetables at 7PM which lasts until 7AM, the following day.
She wakes up at about 3AM, go to a pay toilet and bathroom where she answers the call of nature and does a quick bath. I found out that she leaves her backpack in the care of the owner of the toilet facility. The backpack that contains several t-shirts, shorts, two denim pants, six pieces of underwear, and a towel are all she has. That is her daily routine. She practically leads a Spartan life.
I saw all these because I spent one whole day with her in Ilaya and one night on the sidewalk beside the pushcart where she slept. To prepare myself for this I brought with me a dismantled corrugated carton that served as my mat to protect me from the cold of the pavement and a malong to serve as my blanket.
She told me that she is from Cebu (a prime city in central Philippines) and added that she is doubling her effort to save for her fare back home. She left the comfort of a cousin’s shack in Tondo (an old district of Manila) after finding out that her lover is a drug pusher in the area. Her cousin is a manicurist who plies her job in Luneta (Rizal Park).
She came to Manila to try her luck despite her age. She was a laundrywoman back in Cebu. Unfortunately, her daughter and son who have their own families seem not interested in taking care of her. She was able to send her two children through high school by doing laundry. Later, they practically drifted away from her when they found jobs. She has maintained patrons for her laundry service but earnings became meager when these patrons later paid her less than what she previously charged them. She had no choice, afraid that she might lose them. She thought her cousin in Tondo would be able to help her, so with a few pesos left after purchasing her boat fare for Manila, she packed up her meager possessions and took the risk.
Finally, she confided that she was apprehensive as to what would happen to her when she sets her feet again on the soil of Cebu. She did not regret coming to Manila, though. Philosophically she told me that life in Manila for people like her is no different from the one lived somewhere else. Her last statement lingers in my mind until now. She has no plan of contacting her children when she arrives in Cebu. She said that she would rather live alone than be hurt by their rejection. She has no regrets in working hard for her children so that they can go through even just high school. In doing this, she is practically left with no savings for her own future needs. Foremost in her mind that time was her being their mother and that she has an obligation to raise them up properly, the best way she could.
By the way, her name is Adela. She denied my request for her photo. To show my respect and appreciation for the opportunity she gave me, I did not attempt to take even a single stolen shot while she was doing her job or while she was taking the most needed rest in the pushcart. As an added show of appreciation, I treated her to a simple breakfast sold by ambulant sidewalk peddlers.
I wished her the best of luck when we parted ways after our breakfast. On my way to the corner of Ilaya and Recto streets for a jeepney ride, I thought of my mother who skipped meals while selling dried fish together with my father, until the business flopped. While my father offered his service as porter in the market, my mother tried her luck selling second hand clothes which flopped again. When my father died of cancer, my mother left us in town and lived in the farm of my cousin and opened a small store, aside from occasionally planting and harvesting rice and corn. She showed us the dignity in hard work. Just like Adela, my mother did not complain a bit. She persistently did her best to earn a living for our sake until she died of cancer.