Saturday, August 15, 2009

Curtain call

AFTER the second street performance, my fellow passenger—another woman—interjected: The crazies are crowding the streets. Someone must do something about the price of gasoline!

I was on board a jeepney, one of the many choking the route along the piers.

The heat and the dust had hermetically sealed us in our separate cocoons of catatonia when traffic stalled our jeepney beside a woman bathing at the curb.

With a canister that once held cookies, she was scooping canal water and splashing it on her torso, arms, head.

The man across snorted. Two fellows exchanged comments I could not catch; the grins on their lips did not quite reach their eyes.

The rest of us, mostly matrons wilted from errand runs and young office workers, looked at the bathing woman in silence.

She wore only a pair of shorts. After each pouring, she shook herself, fiercely, like a dog shooting off missiles after the shock of water. Her breasts lashed from side to side, the brown nipples like runny yolks about to slide off the quivering mounds.

One of my nightmares is to find myself walking without clothes among the Monday morning rush hour crowd. Across me, a mall employee used the traffic lull to retouch her face, her compact an open clam revealing small beds of color and glitter.

In those dreams, which I’ve entitled “Retirement Panic,” my nakedness is just one of the details. What I dread is the precise moment the drones notice I am not one of them and turn on me.

So the woman bathing by the curb converted one fan in our jeepney. No marionette could match her mechanical stoop-scoop-splash-shake before a canal swollen from the recent rain. Was this not a bravura performance, I wanted to ask my snorting neighbor: See how the sun lights her up, how the jet-black water clears away and softens.

Sweltering, fidgeting, mumbling, we crawled on. When we stalled again in front of an abandoned commercial building, a woman wiping her naked torso on the steps forced a fellow passenger to blurt out her theory on the mental cost of rising prices.

While her comment drew out the men, seemingly relieved to clutch at reason and argumentation, I watched the woman methodically apply her rag behind her ears, under her arms, beneath her breasts.

Flesh spilled when she stooped over two piles of clothes. From one, she removed an item of clothing, which she transferred to the other pile. Remove, transfer.

A person dressing up or checking out apparel before purchase will hold up an item to spot a flaw or imagine how its features will play up her virtues.

This woman was beyond pedestrian vanity or covetousness. She picked up and piled up as if she was: about to wash them, knowing how clothes are a neverending trap for dirt; planned to burn them, as fire would finally deal with dirt; or was sorting clothes into two piles on a Tuesday afternoon “just because.”

Before The Sorter could break her rhythm to give me a clue, our jeepney moved on. My fellow passengers were now on the proposed jeepney fare hike, arguing with the driver why only fifty centavos, not P1, should be the ceiling as many PUJ drivers were currently not returning the fifty-centavo change for every P7 paid at the present P6.50-rate.

When our jeepney entered the tunnel of dust leading to the mall, the lady snapped shut her compact and the rest of us covered our faces with hands or hankies. If I didn’t clap, it was only because applause is rude in between performances. 0917-3226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matama” column, published on August 16, 2009

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