Friday, May 25, 2012


IT’S a word she unconsciously, instinctively uses to get around.

“Bossing,” she addresses the man waiting first in the queue of tricycles. She hands over the fare, “Bossing, Bicutan.”

She’s back in this city. Nothing changes in its sprawl, disorder, cacophony.

She’s still a stranger. The moment she boarded a jeepney here, she realized that having a destination and knowing the fare did not equip outsiders for these streets.

In the cities she loves, she hoards discoveries and secrets in her feet.

This city has refused to lay bare its feral heart.

While scanning and memorizing the scenery, she picks up words. She repeats the words to herself, sharpening them into talismans. She arms herself with words, hoping to gain passage.

No one but the naive would think these streets respect a trifle like words.

“Bossing” becomes the first disappointment. She talked to a worker assembling hospital equipment. He was full of “When ‘Bossing’ returns…” and “When ‘Bossing’ lands this contract…”.

The same word falls from a corporate communication expert, deferring to her local and expatriate heads (“mga Bossing”), and from the gas station attendant who rushes forth to serve a jeepney “Bossing” who pulls in to fuel up.

Why not “Boss”? It’s shorter.

Too stiff is her guess. The English word is too foreign, too prissy, too bossy in a way Filipinos might exist with but will never invite to act as godparent to a christening.

“Boss” is not in street use because of the unbridgeable power distance. “Boss” might be mistaken for The Supreme One (a heresy: is he God?). Boss is The Man Who Hires and Fires. In a country where no employee seems to be ever contented, it’s the wrong title, conferring respect with a crown of thorns.

Now, “Bossing” is fine. This local version has the right blend of deference and intimacy: I know the boss and he knows me.

So when she lines up for an “ikot” jeepney that will take her from the MRT in Quezon Ave. to the state university, she blurts her first: “Bossing, UP.”

It’s not needed, she realizes too late. This is the queue after all for all “ikots”.

Yet when the driver does not look at her, she feels camouflaged, her disguise in place. Within the campus, the jeepney stops at designated places. No one says anything before disembarking.

It’s the same in the MRT, a flowchart of transit that works through signs, schedules, routes and routines. Nearly succeeding at doing away with words, there’s even a queue for people holding the exact fare. Just a destination, no more, no less, crosses the cut in the glass connecting cashier and traveler.

Confused by MRT exits, she asks directions from the guards. Their uniforms, though,scuttle “Bossing”. She falls back on convention: “Sir,” “Ma’am”.

Beyond the MRT, it’s a “Bossing” world. She has heard “Mamâ” used in place of “po”: “Mamâ,para (Sir, stop)”.

Yet, she finds this manner of address awkward. Is she entrusting her destination to a man whom she calls, by a slip or an incident with inflection, “mother”? She has yet to meet a woman driving public utility vehicles. Would it be easier to trust a woman?

For now, she contends with “mga Bossing”. She thinks it’s an incantation. Once, expecting a UV Express to take her from Taguig to Bicutan, she sees, instead of the cement and glass high-rise blocking out the sky, a wide expanse of blue unfurling over a desolate shore.

The shock of being let down by a “Bossing” has not yet worn off when she finds another “Bossing” in a barangay outpost. He explains where she can find a tricycle behind the public market. Two more “Bossings” later, she pushes open the gate of her quarters.

Most people do it with maps; some with GPS. In her journal, she counts eight “mga Bossing” to round off her journey that day: eight is a pretzel, a figure with no beginning and no end but which a “Bossing” can unwind.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 13, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

No comments: