I was a frequent taxi rider for the good part of 14 years. I ran after taxi units while balancing precariously on high heels, begged drivers to take me to the cities of Taguig, San Juan, Quezon, and Manila, and braved the road to hell guised as EDSA even in most difficult circumstances. During rush hours, taxi drivers turn into kings of the road and the concrete jungle of Metro Manila turns into a Herbert Spenceresque (Charles Darwinesque?) game of survival of the fittest. The drivers, who have the upper hand, have to be cajoled just to roll down their windows and listen to the financial perks (Kuya, plus P50! P70! P300!!!) the competing passengers offer. I was part of these illegal bidding wars more times than I care to count. The struggle to get to one’s destination is at its peak, and only the slyest of passengers emerge as winners. As the winners slide their bums in the confines of the air-conditioned taxi, the losers run after the next unit, hands waving frantically.
I am fortunate that majority of my rides have been stress-free, with friendly drivers (sometimes, a tad too friendly, but I let the friendliness slide as long as I am safely ensconced in my seat and the driver keeps his limbs to himself) who just want to earn an almost-honest living.
Since I relocated to another part of Quezon City, my taxi rides have been few and far between. However, due to an unforeseen situation, I had to take a five-minute cab ride last night. My short chat with the driver made me remember another taxi driver with whom I spent three hours on the road from Quezon City to Taguig City on a Friday morning rush hour.
Unlike some taxi drivers, he did not say “plus PXXX ha!”. He just asked me where I wanted to go and which road to take. While along Krus na Ligas, we started talking. I thanked him for not turning me down AND not asking for additional payment. He said it was fine and he saw how desperate I was. Teheeee. Then he laughed. With his hands on the steering wheel and in the direct path of UV rays, I could not help noticing his gold watch, bracelet and two rings, which sparkled like the sun. The tsismosa (I will use the term curious very loosely here) gene hardwired in my system prompted me to ask him if he worked abroad. He saw me looking at his jewelry (not in a malicious way), and he said that they were gifts. My curiosity got the better of me and seeing that he was a good-natured guy who welcomed my intrusive questions, I asked, “galing sa asawa mo?” (from your wife). Kuya laughed, said no, and ended up telling me a compelling story that made three hours of travel time bearable.
He told me that his family was in Mindanao. The distance and cost of travel caused him to see them rarely. Although he had physical needs, he did not resort to extramarital affairs. Not for a long while anyway.
One time, he needed money and his fellow drivers told him about this woman-lender. She was a widow who had grown-up children. That one-time loan turned into flirtation that eventually bloomed into a full-blown love affair. The woman made him her right-hand. He helped her in managing her businesses and in return, she showered him with gifts, which included the jewelry he was wearing, motorbikes and the taxi he was driving.
I had to be the bad guy and asked him whether his family knew or the children of the woman knew. He nodded. He said that his family was thankful because he could send them money regularly. Meanwhile, her children grudgingly accepted him as part of her life because he made her happy. He added that, the woman had a suitor who was an engineer. According to him, “mayaman, may pinag-aralan” (rich and educated). He beamed when he added, “pero ako ang pinili niya” (but she chose me).
When we arrived in BGC, I got a call that the meeting was moved in Quezon City, which was 15 minutes from where I hailed the taxi. @#$%&$@&!!! I told him that I had to go back to QC. I looked at the taximeter and realized that my fare was already through the roofs, so I asked him to take me to the nearest train station instead. He protested and said, he had more stories to tell me. He offered to give me a free ride just so he could continue talking to me. I declined after a picosecond’s hesitation. As much as I enjoyed listening to his tales, I did not want to spend my whole day on the road.