Erlando Almaez- Ayuste Finds Solace and Strength
In His Volunteered Spiritual Undertakings
By Apolinario Villalobos
Orly, as his friends call him has been living along F. Torres in Sta. Cruz district of Manila for more than 50 years. He used to occupy a small studio-type apartment on the second floor of an old building that unfortunately got razed more than 20 years ago. The incident made him sleep on the sidewalk for several months until a friend took him in temporarily while waiting for the vacancy in another old building. He moved on to the new studio room and with a found makeshift table, sold coffee and costume jewelries that he assembled out of beads from broken ones that friends give him or he buys from junk collectors. The owner of the small building allowed him the use of the studio room for free but the electricity and water are on his account.
The portion of the street along which he lives is where one can find sellers and buyers of second-hand cellphones, watches and jewelries. F. Torres is stretched parallel to Arranque St, the famous “thieve’s market”. At five in the afternoon a short portion of the street teems with the curious and ambulant “merchants”. To them, Orly sells coffee, and from some of them he buys broken jewelries. The earning is meager, just enough to buy him three meals a day and replenishment for sachets of coffee and small bags of sugar for his business.
The first time I saw him, I thought he was some kind of an office worker who just dropped by the place to buy cheap jewelry or cellphone. He was then attired in a collared shirt which was neatly tucked giving him a sleek countenance. The next time I saw him, he was in walking shorts that exposed the varicose veins in his legs. And, as it was early in the morning, before 8AM, he was washing a couple of shirts in the makeshift lavatory in front of the slim table where his coffee mugs and some plates were stacked. As he was aloof, I did not bother to talk to him while ordering a mug of coffee.
As I felt that his life could be colorful, I kept on observing him, until after several mugs of coffee and days of dropping by, he sort of trusted me with a modest smile. That broke the ice. During our talks, I led him to open up and share his experiences when he was just a stranger in Manila. According to him, he arrived in Manila from Tacloban during the 60’s when Ramon Magsaysay was the president of the country. He initially worked as a houseboy. He did his best to save out of his earnings so that in no time, he was able to get a small room and supported himself by selling snacks and coffee on the sidewalk.
I was surprised to learn that despite his meager formal education, as he finished only Grade Five, he is able to speak a sprinkling of German, though with fluency of Spanish and English. He told me that he is a fast learner and a voracious reader. Another surprise is that he can read musical scores despite the lack of a basic music education. He plays the piano and organ but admits that he needs musical sheets to guide him. He learned to read music during the early years of his membership in the Sta. Cruz parish choir, as he was then, fond of observing their pianist. In this regard, he has been singing with the Sta. Cruz parish choir for more than twenty years now.
Orly’s sister, Lydia lives in Masangkay with her own family, and which is not far from F. Torres where he lives. Today at 77, he dreams of owning a piano so that he can put to life the melodies that have been bugging his mind. He dreams of translating them into musical scores. I told him to go on dreaming for this blessing, as it is free anyway…for who knows, some day, we might meet a musician who got tired of his Weinstein that needs just a simple retuning of strings.
Every time I drink at least two mugs of Orly’s coffee, I wonder if others can muster life just like he does sans bank account or just a few pesos stashed away, and only with a few decent shirts and pair of pants to wear on Sundays for his scheduled singing with the choir in honor of the Nuestra Seἧora del Pilar. That’s Orly …strong and gutsy guy, who at 77 sings and plays the piano for the glory of the Blessed Mother!