It was a humid afternoon when I took a cab home. Like many others in the city, the cab didn't look too clean and comfortable to ride on. And like many others in the city, I didn't mind because I was used to it and I wanted to go home already.
From the client's office, we took to the back streets--the many little arteries that support life in this dirty city--and within moments we were already along the expressway to the suburbs. The ride was uneventful until the cab driver embarrassingly told me that he did not know the way to Alabang.
Initially I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what to say. The person driving this dirty white box on four wheels didn't know what exit to take on the expressway. It took me about two seconds to respond to his statement. Told him which exit to take, the directions he needed to get me home.
I was tempted to ask why he didn't know the way, but first I asked him why he took me as a passenger.
"It's my job," he said. "It's my job to take passengers to where they need to go."
I'm not one to strike a conversation with a complete stranger, but his answer made me want to ask more; to understand why he didn't say no like the many cab drivers in the city; to get to know the man behind the wheel better.
Unfortunately I didn't get his name, but I called him Manong.
Like many others in the city, Manong began as an overseas Filipino worker. He was an OFW and he worked as a family driver for a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia for 10 long years. It was a difficult decade for him because he rarely got to see his family. He gets to see them in the Philippines when there was a break from work or when he could afford the trip. Usually Manong would be with his family in Rizal for 2 weeks. Sometimes he'd stay for a month. And every time Manong left, it was the most terrible thing for him. But he knew then that leaving was necessary to feed his family, which was thousands of miles away, and bring his children to school.
But everything didn't go as well as he hoped. Like many others before him, Manong was cast out and jobless. Seeing that staying in a foreign place whilst jobless hardly made any sense, he decided to go back home with what little money he had saved almost two years ago. He was the only breadwinner and his eldest child was a Mass Communication student in her third year in UP Los Banos. Manong also had his other children to worry about.
Unfortunately, the vicious system commonly accepts the young, the new graduates, the idealistic, people like me, to work from the wee hours of the morning until late at night. Manong was already old, and even if he had experienced working abroad and a pretty decent English, too, he knew that he wouldn't stand a chance against the younger, thirstier, hungrier generation. But he sends his resume to companies regularly hoping he'd get a break.
When I asked him why he didn't hesitate to take me to Alabang, he said that it's his job to take me to where I want to go.
"I can't be choosy. These are difficult times and if I choose the people I take, I might lose an opportunity to earn something or learn something from those I didn't take," he said. "Besides, I'm doing this for my daughter in college. I want her to finish her studies."
Manong's daughter is currently a scholar at UPLB. Although she's doing extremely well in her academics and she's not paying a single centavo for her studies, it's the rent and daily allowance that she's asking from her father every week. Most of us have been through this and we know how difficult it is to budget our money and pay the rent when we're living away from our family. Manong still has a year to support his daughter. Another year before he sees her on stage with her diploma. And he will gladly drive his cab any time, anywhere just to see that beautiful day.
When we've reached our destination, I thanked him and gave him an extra 100 pesos. I gave him that much for three reasons:
1) For taking me to Alabang though if he didn't know the way;
2) For being a good father to his family and an honest person to me;
3) For the journey home.
It's not every day I get to meet people like Manong who is both honest and hardworking. We're all hardworking, I believe, but not all of us are as honest. And sometimes when we do get to meet someone who's honest enough to admit that he does not know the way, but has worked hard enough to get us there, he deserves a pat on the back and a tip to make him realize there are people who care and appreciate him for his efforts.