Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mission possible 2

WALKING is an exercise in shedding.

For two days, while waiting inside the Vhire to bring me to Cebu City, I watched the same man walk by, balancing a banana trunk on his shoulder.

I presume he was bringing this home to feed pigs he was raising. If I try to imagine his figure now, I cannot exactly describe how he looked, where his bolo was, whether the trunk rested on his left or right shoulder.

I just thought, looking at him, how naturally man and burden blended. He was not dragging his feet; he didn’t hurry. He looked as I said he did: a man on his way home to feed the pigs.

I thought of the man while walking to work on my second week. It’s an hour’s walk, which I’ve since shortened to 49 minutes. It takes me about the same time to walk in the early morning and in the evening.

Every time, I reach my destination. Every time, I imagine taking out a pedometer and checking the distance traveled and counting the rewards for health and environment. Each time I don’t think my face expresses the look glimpsed on the face of the man carrying home a banana trunk.

At first, I considered excuses. The morning sun made my sweat pour. At the end of the day, more folks were out on the sidewalks.

On the fifth day, I realized walking is far from solitary and cleansing.

Just as contact with the outdoors makes me more aware of the subtleties of pleasure created by grass or gravel, sheltering canopies or naked sky, spending time on the streets made me realize there’s a pyramid of users enjoying their rights on the streets.

Ranked first is everything with wheels. Or perhaps that should be rephrased: anything consuming petrol rules the road. Petrol and roads were invented to enable us to travel far distances in record time.

That means, those of us who regard being in a certain place at a certain time as less valuable than getting there have to accept our place in the periphery. It’s not just about following road regulations and street signs to stay on the right side of law and civilization. It’s about staying alive.

The half-raised head of a dog, frozen in the violence of a road kill, remains a parody of street survival, gazing with sightless bloodied sockets at vehicles whizzing around it. The animal in death attracted more consideration from the “kings of the road” than when it still enjoyed its short, interrupted life.

Dogs, cats and the four-footed have it only slightly worse than the two-legged. On sidewalks renovated for tourism, I still don’t let down my guard. People sleep here. Children hunt in packs. Helpers or fish sellers casually fling tubs of water, flavored with canal extracts and fish guts, to wet the ground and cool the day.

During snarl-ups, pedestrians should expect company, stepping aside to make way for motorcyclists and bicyclists that are also escaping endangered existence on the road. Are our roads merely lacking in motorcycle and bicycle lanes?

Or are they just full of drivers intent on teaching with extreme prejudice the rightful place on the roads of those who power their journeys with two legs?

When I was younger and slimmer, I owned a T-shirt whose humor was even better than its graphics.

A steaming pile of poop was in the line of an oncoming set of monster wheels. The print read: “Endangered feces”. My younger self never felt compelled to walk anywhere except to a bookstore and the toilet.

Alas, I now possess the wisdom and the will but not the wit to wear a shirt that was long ahead of its time.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 22, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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