Monday, July 16, 2007

Three Wheels

The drunk, the limp, and the psycho
The day was half done. She went into the convenience store for some cool air before taking her last ride home. Inside she decided to buy a pack of chips before the attendants noticed her loitering. Outside it was hotter than ever and she felt a warm breeze seep through her skin. "I need to get home fast," she thought, while moving past the shade. The sun rose higher up the cloudless sky and its heat pierced everyone walking down the street filled with little food stalls and karaoke bars.
At the first crossing inside the small barrio, the pedicabs lined up the left curve. But she always took the tricycles, their competition, staying at the right turn of the main street. And by reason not less absurd, there were two tricycle associations, one on each side of the street where they fall in line waiting for passengers. On reaching the crossroad, a businessman dressed like a driver began selling her a good (really) ol' tricycle seat across the street. "Nah!" She turned and got inside the first one at the right lane. Out of loyalty, she always took the right lane of tricycles.
Noontime meant less traffic and being the first one in the vehicle, she still had fifteen to twenty minutes to wait. She sat at the front seat where she was most comfortable, then looked at her wristwatch. "12:15. About fifteen minutes. 12:30. Laundry. Read dynamic programming paper. Write special problem proposal. Study abstract algebra. Damn."
A minute passed and not one passenger crossed her eyes. "C'mon. Three more to go and we'd be off." Two minutes. She rummaged through her backpack and holding on to a small purse made of canvas, took four one-peso coins. Her hand moved for the driver's arm. The man took the coins, glanced at them for awhile, dropped it in a bigger purse hanging down the handlebar, and then proceeded with his conversation with another driver.
Now two ladies are seen walking from the highway --- one carrying a bag of vegetables probably just came from the nearby market, the other one in uniform, a college student from a reputable school. Everyone's behavior changed the moment the ladies were spotted, including her --- anxious to get the other seats filled. The drivers on all corners started their business talks again, boasting of their vehicles, dirty and rotten. But they weren't just talking. Each has to make sure his voice drowned the others. The result was a sea of voices she found so irritating, what with roaring the same thing over and over. It annoyed her more as the ladies drew nearer. She knew, by the way they moved, that the pedicabs were going to win.
Sure enough, she watched disappointedly as one pedicab went off. The older lady was too tired to be waiting. The younger, well, most college girls in uniform take pedicabs.
When you're alone in a tricycle, there's nothing else you can do but stare. Stare at the driver if you dare, stare at those who do not choose to ride with you, or marvel at the dust rising and falling when the wind blows. She did exactly the same thing, only differently. She would turn her head to the right now, then almost immediately, to the center, to the left, cover her nose when a car passes, then back to the center, right, and so on. But on turning her head to the left at one time, her eyes caught sight of a middle-aged man about to stand outside one of the barrio's karaoke bars. He was swaying like a drunk.
The man then tried to walk. Now it was obvious, but this drunk was different. He was moving towards her. At least that's what she thought. He took some small steps every now and then, stopped, and saluted, walked, stopped, then saluted. This he did while swaying from left to right. It seemed like everyone's got some routine going on.
Finally he reached the driver. Sigh. He was not, in any way, after her. Out of boredom, she stopped looking at him and tried to think about something else. But she couldn't find a good subject, so she went back to the drunk.
He was now moving for the pedicabs across the street while the other drivers were cheering him. But then he observed a brand new looking car moving his way. He then crossed back the street. "So I could see him," she thought, while covering her nose with a hanky. A line of pedicabs approaching the crossing stopped the car. The car moved a little to the right so the pedicabs could pass by what remained of the street. This gave the drunk a chance. To do what? To pay respects to what was inside the car --- or his reflection? He looked at the tinted windows like someone delighted by the sight of him, drunk or not. He was the happiest man in the world. If intoxication brings out man's true color, this man was the happiest in the world.
When she took her eyes off the drunk, she suddenly became aware of the person sitting beside her. Then another woman entered and sat at the back seat.
Looking for the last passenger that might just be walking down the street, she glanced to the left again. But the only thing that caught her eye was a wheelchair. The wheelchair moved by itself, or so it seemed. It was moving with the back at the front. "How could that be?"
She waited until the operator was visible. At the time she could see him, she remembered. It was the limp who owns a small stall near the highway. He lost two arms and a leg. The remaining leg was responsible for the movement of the wheelchair. The leg steps on the ground and pushes so the wheelchair moves the other way around. She thought it was cool. It was way cooler than having to jump around with one leg from one place to another, which the limp did before. And in the corner of her mind, she saw the limp brag about the way he was doing things. "Look, no hands!" She followed him till he turned to the street where the tricycles lie and was lost from her sight.
And she lost track of time. It was already ten minutes after she first looked at her watch and there were only three of them in the tricycle. They still needed one more. She hoped for one more. So she got one more.
"Oy!" exclaimed the driver rather unexcitedly.
A man was walking towards the tricycle. He stopped and showed something to the driver. She moved her head a little bit forward so she could see what it was. She saw coins on his hand and the driver was counting it.
"Two fifty. Okay. This is enough. Just sit at my back."
"He looks fine to me," she thought.
But the man walked farther, turned and slipped his head inside the sidecar.
"No, not there. Here at the bike's back seat."
Too late. The woman sitting at the back suddenly went out and briskly walked to the first pedicab she could get across the street. Suspicious of what made the woman act that way, she slowly removed the hanky still covering her nose. She was right. The man smelled awful. However, she decided not to cover her nose back.
"Ter, transfer here. Here. Why didn't you go home last night? Transfer here."
For a moment, the man came to his senses and followed the driver's instruction. The driver was relieved and because of another driver's questions, he told Peter's story. Meanwhile, she continued eavesdropping.
Peter was a scholar according to the driver. He studied at the best university in the land, but then failed something. He can still understand conversations, though his mind goes off to places most of the time. And he rarely pays his fare!
The talk was ended by an approaching passenger. Seeing that the tricycle was almost full, he chose to turn our way and sat at the back seat. The driver was about to start the motor when a commotion disturbed him. All the other drivers were having fun. She turned to look at what they were pointing.
"'To, don't let go of him," exclaimed one pedicab driver.
The drunk was holding on to a man as if begging for money.
"Don't let go, 'To," the same pedicab driver repeated.
While laughing, the tricycle driver finally started the motor and off they went.
She smiled.

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