NANAY tends a small store underneath a skywalk.
When I’m waiting for a jeepney ride in the morning, I see her already arranging the banana leaf-wrapped puto maya she sells to early risers.
In the afternoon, if I’m not yet running late, I stop and buy whatever she’s selling. Usually, it’s fried bananas. If she happens to be in the midst of frying a batch, she’ll finish a few pieces and wrap these without rolling the bananas in sugar.
I’ve never said anything about my preference but she must have seen me choose the ones less coated with the sweet grains.
At other times, when I’m in a hurry, I just look out for her when we drive past her stall. Whether it’s the peak of lunch or the crawling hours before afternoon dismissal at the nearby schools, the familiar white-haired figure is often relating with someone.
To be sure, she’s also selling. But to see how she treats each person—whether it’s a child buying one of her mini-meatballs, sold for P2, or mini-ngohiong, sold for P1, or a worker choosing a bananacue, which, at P7 per stick, is the costliest of her goods—I hardly think of Nanay as engaging in “only business.”
She sees each person. She waits for the public school students to pick this or that bola-bola after handing them a plastic bag to wrap around their hand. She listens to the small ones’ stories, making me once think they are probably her neighbors. (If that were the case, she knows a lot of her neighbors’ kids, quite a feat in this highly urbanized city.)
Once, I was too early for the bananas and decided to try what was left in Nanay’s basket.
While I played dodge-‘em with other pedestrians in the sidewalk, I munched ngohiong and bola-bola. At least, they were not made of meat. Being tiny, they disappeared quickly. But I wished for my favorite bowl of lomi to wash away the oily aftertaste.
Then school broke for noon and three girls materialized beside me. Each one received a plastic bag from Nanay. Two chose ngohiong. The third girl took her time before settling for ngohiong, too.
Nanay squirted what looked like banana ketchup into the bags the girls held out. I noticed the baon of rice one of them placed on the table. Nanay carefully knotted each bag before giving it to the girls.
“Balik sa skywalk (go back up the skywalk),” she reminded them.
“Salamat, ‘nay, sa sabaw (thanks for the soup).”
Where else can your peso get more?
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 22, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” column