I took my first jeepney ride alone when I was in Grade 6. I took my first out-of-town trip alone in my high school sophomore year.
Well, that is half-correct. Let me explain myself first.
My maternal grandfather, who lived in Bacnotan, La Union, had died then. I had to travel there on a weekend in the middle of the school year to pay my respects.
I remember it was the middle of the school year because it was raining when I got home to Metro Manila. The weather then wasn’t as dicey as it is now. I know that exam week was coming up. That’s why it was such a short visit.
The trip to La Union was fairly easy. My uncle’s driver picked me up from our house in Pasay City one night. I do remember they laid out a mattress inside the Land Cruiser, and I slept all the way to La Union. When I woke up, it was already morning. I was only there for a day.
The next day, they bundled me up into the same Land Cruiser to go to Baguio City where my uncle was based. He was then working for the Bureau of Mines; he had a meeting there that afternoon.
After a quick lunch with my aunt and cousins at my uncle’s place, I was off to the Victory bus station at the top of Session Road to take the ride home.
I no longer remember who bought my ticket, but I was left on my own after that. I was expected to find my place in the bus. It was understood that when I got back to Metro Manila, I already knew how to find my way home. Besides the Victory bus station is in Pasay City.
Here’s the catch. This was years before backpacks were fashionable for traveling. We had those colorful Khumbmela bags in school. But I don’t remember anyone traveling then with just a backpack. (We didn’t even call them backpacks then. We called them knapsacks.)
I was traveling with an old-fashioned Samsonite suitcase — it was blue — and a tape recorder. This was years before boom boxes came in fashion, and I had broken my Walkman by that time.
I was contemplating then if I should bring in my suitcase as I stood outside the bus. Should I have it stowed underneath with all the baskets of vegetables and other cargo, or was there space for it inside?
There I was deciding on the most important question in my life at that moment when a man came up to me.
“Do you think there’s space inside for my bag?” I asked him.
I don’t know what possessed me to ask a total stranger the question that afternoon. I guess I thought he worked for the bus company.
“Of course,” he answered, and he suddenly picked up my suitcase and took it inside. I followed him posthaste.
“Sit here,” he said, as he pointed to an empty seat by the window.
He raised my bag to the overhead compartment. It was too big for the space. He took out some rope from his pocket and proceeded to secure it tightly.
I just watched him all the time as I held on to the tape recorder.
When he was done, I whimpered my thanks.
Then, he stared at me.
“Hey. Pay up. That’s not for free.”
I was so surprised. I thought he was a good Samaritan, helping a teenager on his way home.
I could only mutter, “How much?”
“Give me twenty.”
I quickly fished out my wallet and handed him a twenty. (In the Eighties, P20 was a big sum.)
He then turned around in a huff, and went down the bus.
The vehicle was slowly filling up, and in a few minutes, it pulled out of the station. I was finally on my way home.
I never got off that bus until I reached the station in Pasay City.