He moved tentatively in the bus, taking two steps toward the driver. He smiled sheepishly and asked if it was okay to solicit. “Ok lang po ba magsolisit?” was his exact question. I am not sure how or why, but I read his lips. I did not hear him talk, but I knew what he said. The driver just nodded, and he thanked the man maneuvering the huge vehicle around the usual Gil Puyat traffic.
I felt a mix of emotions when I realized that he was going to ask for solicitations. My paranoid side told me that he may be another bible wielding religious preacher that will tell us about the devils of everyday life. He could also have been a shameless beggar who asks for money and then buy smokes or alcohol.
He moved a bit closer to the middle of the bus, when he accidentally hit a passenger with his bag. He immediately said sorry, motioning with his right hand, to signal something similar to a stop sign. Fingers pointed upward, palms facing the stranger. I heard his voice, and the anguish was detectable, like he had gone through a lot, not only during the day, but all throughout his life. That did not stop me from doubting him.
He took two more steps forward and leaned on the chair I was sitting on. I clutched my bag tighter, even if I did not have anything worth stealing. I only had a few coins with me, a P1,000 phone, a charger, an umbrella and my running shoes. Still, I did not want to lose anything that day. I wanted to make sure that if he was a thief, and if he had accomplices with him, that I would not be a target.
My thought was interrupted when he started to talk. The despair in his voice did not fade. He wanted to ask for help for his two kids who were sick, cough and colds. “Manghihingi lang po sana ng kaunting tulong para sa mga dalawa kong anak na may ubo at sipon”. He continued on, answering whatever question I had in mind, like why does not he work to help his kids. He said he had been fired because he was declared “not fit to work” because of his high blood pressure. He spoke sincerely, erasing any remaining doubts I had. I looked behind me, noticing that he was holding a plastic bag. Again, like he read my mind, he mentions the answer. It apparently contains his solicitations for the day, all P140 of it.
The bus halted to a stop due to a red light. He almost fell, but he was able to hold on to my seat. The plastic bag hit my head. He said sorry, and moved to collect coins, or whatever he could get. P140 did not feel much when it touched the top of my head. It’s like a symbolism of what the amount really is: not much.
I was torn between helping him, or ignoring him. I have watched and seen too many scammers, and too many donations going to waste, that I was hesitant. I kept my eyes locked to the seat handle, pretending to not hear him. His “thank you”s to everyone, even when they don’t give any help, seemed real. Like he was thankful for even being able to ask for help.
I was still frozen in place, thinking too much of my monthly budget (I was already over my target), that he went passed me. I was waken up from my mental computation by his hand, tapping me on my shoulder and giving me the warmest “thank you” I have ever heard. I did not even give him anything. I could only look at him guiltily. I felt sorry about not being able to help, not even a small amount. I could have given him P1, or any other amount, but I didn’t.
He walked over to the exit, his plastic bag’s contents seemingly unchanged. He gave the driver a friendly tap, similar to what he gave me, and said “Salamat”, Filipino for thank you. He went out of the bus and gave a quick glance at the passengers and waved, saying another “thank you” for everyone who helped, if any. He did not even wait for the bus to come to a complete stop. He might have been worried about disturbing the driver’s schedule.
I watch him from the window. Like a bad follow up, rain started to fall, giving me more reason to feel guilty. He did not have any umbrella with him, just a thin handkerchief over his head. He jogged to the nearest shelter, a gasoline station. A few seconds later, he boarded another bus.
I hope I don’t get to that point, having to swallow my pride and admitting that I was too weak for anything else, but still strong enough to ask for help. With too many people with bad intentions, and the economy being what it is, it’s difficult to give money to anyone, even if I feel like they really deserve to be helped, just for the reason of survival. Every little amount is important.
I just hope they survive too.