Watching the world go by at Kapehan

FROM a vantage point at a lonesome table by the door of Kapehan, I see the world as it is -- young, old, spritely, decrepit, physically flawed, dusty, symmetrical, askew.

The San Diego Pro-cathedral in Silay City serves as a dignified backdrop for the stream of humanity passing before me on the sidewalks of Rizal Street. The church that the Italian architect Lucio Bernasconi built pleads, "Give me your poor, tired, huddled masses." And all the imperfect characters that make people, people.

On cue, a midget trudges by. Then, a man hobbles on two height measurements -5'3", 5'4". An old woman with dowager's hump meekly clutches a younger woman's arm for balance. The not-so-young servidora cum cajerahas symmetrical feet - the fourth digits are consistently shorter than the others and all toenails are painted a trendy teal to match her trimmed down fingernails. Nature is a prankster.

A small cup on my table is three-fourth filled with sharp, scalding native coffee innocent of sugar that the city produces. It has a bitter tobacco flavor at first sip; an anti-Alzheimer's cure that this non-coffee connoisseur sought after a panic attack early that morning.

Tandang-tanda ko pa. Parang kahapon lamang. I was putting on a pair of corrales earrings when the gardener arrived. I left my room to meet him in the backyard and to give him instructions for the day. We were gingerly stepping over the pineapple plants when I instinctively pulled on my earlobes and found only one earring. I told him to help me look for the lost article where we were while I checked the front yard. Nada. I retraced my steps back to my bedroom and saw the other earring right on top of the jewelry box. This spelled trouble.

So, I woke up and smelled the coffee. And also ordered sapin-sapin and "meat sandwich." P12 each.

If a cup of java early enough can save me from forgetting my name in my old age, I will spare some time sipping caffeine. The iconic Kapehan has a certain ambience that enables me to down my bitter medicine without a spoonful of sugar.

Brewing since the 1960s, this coffee shop at Rizal-Zamora Streets is known to be the venue of many informal meetings. The latest piece of political news or household gossip is said to make the rounds here even before it reaches the man on the street.

Its unpretentious surroundings let your guard down. Surely something as ordinary as a kapehan housed in a wooden pre-war building for decades feels as safe as one's dining room at home.

Well, you know, in fifty years, wooden walls tend to grow ears sharpened by cups of native coffee with or without milk (P14.)

People were streaming in and out that day and kept the place abuzz with conversations between both flies and people.

I could just make a guess at the number of customers in a day. The place opens at 4:30 or so in the morning and closes when no one's there anymore. Next year, though, regular patrons would have to look for another coffeehouse when Kapehan closes down and makes way for a new occupant of that familiar corner address. Sigh. 'Tis life.

Just when I'm just beginning a P14 coffee habit, Fate decides I should get my coffee somewhere next year. Somewhere more expensive, air-conditioned, without flies and faux sapin-sapins and "meat sandwiches."

Where gossip will pass from mouth to ear over a cup of overpriced latte. And a P14-tip that will have the waiter smirk the next time you visit.

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