(I return to this piece written years back, in response to a friend’s observation that my recent columns were “all serious physical injuries,” meaning they lack humor. Having watched on TV the funeral mass for the late president George Bush, I take refuge in this old piece, in the same token that those who eulogized him took on the power of humor to cope with America’s and the world’s loss. – RD))
THE reminder started coming 17 years ago at the city market. That was long before I obtained dual citizenship.
At the city market, I asked a woman vendor how much a bunch of ampalaya leaves was from her “bilao” pile.
“Sangapulo, Tang (Ten pesos, old man),” she replied with casual certainty. She was 200 percent sure I was as old as her father.
The tang of it all was truly pungent, sharply painful and jolting. With her flowing white hair and desert-like wrinkles, I swear she was, by conservative estimate, no younger than 75. Old enough to be my mother even as I presumed her father had long been gone.
I was 50 then, young enough to be her son or, at least or at the most, her “ading”. Still, she surprised me with that unbelievably thick wedge she placed between our years on this mortal plane.
I surprised myself. I held my temper, hid my discomfort and discomfiture. From nowhere poured on me an abundance of tact and propriety, patience and perseverance that only a young man wooing the girl of his dreams could muster.
“Maysa man ngarud, nakkong” (Let me have one bunch then, my child), I replied, as nonchalantly and matter-of-factly as she had addressed me.
That lifted her to cloud nine. She was smiling almost ear-to-ear, believing I had just proclaimed gospel truth. Having caught her drift, I also felt good toasting her beauty and youth both long gone.
It took me time mulling over the brief encounter. In-between musings about my own aging, a thought intruded. My response should have been more calculated and subtle, towards a cheapskate’s bargain plea: “Mabalin kadi, nakkong, nga lima pisos laengen? (Will it be all right, my child, to have it for five pesos?).”
This reminder about aging is getting more recurrent nowadays, sending me to intimations about my mortality. That was what Domcie Cimatu, a year my junior but my senior at the University of Baguio Science High, was suspected of doing for being out of circulation for some time due to arthritis.
Two years later, after delivering a basic journalism lecture for students, I took the front seat of a jeepney at Km. 4, La Trinidad, Benguet, then asked the driver the rate to the city proper. He looked at me and remained unsure.
“Seben pipti no regular, siks no senior citizen (Seven pesos and fifty cents for regular, six for senior citizen),” he replied.
Being short of the age for fare discounts, I handed him P7.50. He counted the coins with his eyes, shifted gears and then resumed speed. I was pretty sure he would have re-examined my face, but reined in the urge. From the corner of his eyes, he saw me staring at his doubtful own.
“Pakited mo man plitik (Kindly hand over my fare),” I asked a younger passenger inside a jeep bound for home. That's all I said, no “ading” or “nakkong” or any other qualifier.
He got my P20 bill and told the driver for everyone to hear: “Maysa kano nga senior citizen.”
That’s why I try to make it a point to have coins in my pocket. If you don’t have the exact amount and hand over two fives, the driver sometimes deliberately forgets to give the change, be it P2.50 or P4.
I'm afraid to ask, lest he would ask: “Senior citizen?”
It’s hazardous to my wallet, but I’d rather flag down a cab. More than the convenience of having no one to overestimate your age, it used to amuse occasionally seeing my older brother Joe walking the three-kilometer route to and from where we both work.
One morning I found myself at the end of a long queue at the former PCI-Equitable Session branch. I inched my way to the teller for, I guess, an hour. Finally, I was in front of her glass. She told me my withdrawal – a
Samaritan’s donation for the sick – was still being processed.
Perhaps calculating my age, an off-and-on alert guard manning the heavy human traffic flow told me to sit by the senior citizens lane. By the time I saw my withdrawal papers were ready, the guard had forgotten me. I took the initiative and returned to the same teller’s window.
Without looking at me, she told the guard, “Sabihin mo sa kanya, do’n s’ya pumila sa linya ng senior citizen (Tell him to take the senior citizen’s queue).”
I didn’t budge, peeved that she didn’t tell me directly. I almost choked blurting out the truth in my fractured Tagalog: “Di pa ako senior, my tatlong taon pa.”
She kept quiet, neither asking nor looking for proof of my birth date which was not reflected on either my office ID or the GSIS eCard that the government insurance system seems to want to change every year.
Lining up at the senior citizens’ lane would have been a lie, which she must have thought I had committed for my non-compliance of her order to the guard.
Being reminded of one’s aging is hardly funny. Okay, I’m like anybody. We all wish to reach that age of dual citizenship – Filipino and senior. But not as fast as others had wanted me to believe I had become before turning 60. They make me feel clumsy. And old.
Not Mike Santos, the ageless, lanky folksinger who had gone to the great folkhouse in the sky. He once swore he’d always be younger than his mother-in-law. He handled aging with grace and even found humor in the morbid.
“Alam mo,pare, tuwang-tuwa ako nang mabasa ko yong Midland Courier,” he told me over coffee. “Binuklat ko yong obituary at laking pasalamat ko dahil wala yong retrato ko’t pangalan do’n.”
“Dapat palagi kang bibili hanggang makita mo,” I suggested.
He stared at me and then smiled like a 10-year old.
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