Sunday, January 30, 2011

Encountering a Different Kind of Cat

Cats are independent creatures—they feed on your plate, cuddle with you on the sofa, then go about their way: playing solitarily, cavorting with cats, hunting mice with total absence of human aid—that can only be half-domesticated. They are like tamed stallions from the wild whose instincts are kept at bay. They are neither at the mercy of no one, except of course, from the Almighty.

Winning their trust requires sincerity and determination that is the only time they allow themselves to be domesticated. But amidst of this there is an element in them that mirrors the untainted wild, which until now mystifies me; no wonder cats have been the symbol of the occult and the rogue that is adjacent to human contact.

One cat stays with us; he could come and go as he pleases, and one day may not simply return so I prefer the term “stay” than “have”. Like most kittens that we, my sister Bea and I, picked and salvaged from the torrential streets of Cavite—our oldest tenant and friend Claudius a.k.a. Cloud is one of them too—was found feeble, masticated by hunger, and whose cries echoes the looming voice of death. Here, in the same manner, I set to meet yet but another.

I was on my way to meet a friend to return the gargantuan statistics book to a friend around 4pm. When the bus was passing along Carredo st. I felt an urge to go down and walk my way through the busy streets of Manila. When the bus halted to abide the behest of the red light, I got up end leaped off. I ambled my way.

On the street, I pass kiosks and stores, combing my hair in front of the reflection of car mirrors that are parked in an astonishing jigsaw manner (I wonder how they will manage to get their car out). I saw students standing in queue as they busied themselves photocopying volumes of textbook materials, perhaps wondering how they could fit it all in their Prada and Louis Vuitton imitations. Others are jostling to and fro. All of which is enough a proof that I am once again a part of the picturesque Manila life. Then out of nowhere a man spoke to me.

Now, in Manila, people wouldn’t usually talk to you, not even a classmate who asked for answers during an exam. People who do either know you and takes a particular affinity towards you or they are either people who needs something from you: street dwellers asking for alms, merchants who wanted to sell, and worse of all, but perhaps most common in surveys, there are thieves and hustlers who will rip you off.

I looked at the man’s dusty face: he is far from being an acquaintance. Although his clothes are tattered and his appearance resembled flagellations of poverty, his aura felt too fierce and egotistical to be a beggar. Although his words are rehearsed, he is cloaked with cunning and his tongue fed by morsels of curses, he is not a preacher. Although he sells and talks grandiose materiality he is empty handed himself. Then, this man is, there could be no other, a thief!

I was about to brush him off with indifference and probably even a daunting glance to do away with him, but even Adam and Eve’s faith stuttered at the fruit of the serpent. For me it was a real fruit, it was Apple—a Mac computer. Aside from the Mac laptop he said he has other gadgets: Asus, Blackberries and a PSP. But all of these items sells for a fortune even for a guy like him he will charge at least a thousand, and a thousand is a price I frugally afford myself. Then, with a well-thought of plan, the man added, “One item, any item, for 850.00 Pesos.”

There are reasons playing in my head during that time, dialectic forces alluding to specific advantages. I remember the cartoons that we used to watch—I think it was Looney Tunes—were an angel and a devil pops out of nowhere debating just right before an important antic, the character in between torn, confused, and undecided.

Three things that I have to consider: first, the items were loots out of some bar in Las Pinas—the goods are stolen, however all of which were loaned for quick money somewhere near the vicinity; the man needed eight hundred and fifty pesos to bail out the items. Second, the items would be sold eventually and I needed a computer more so a laptop—I am borrowing one from my father and the one that I mutually share with my sisters is already at the brink of retiring; I am buying one myself soon and if I could save money then the better. So, if it would be sold to someone I asked why it should not be sold to me. Lastly, this is a gamble! And in gambling you either win or lose.

The man led me across the streets of Manila in a hurry, these are streets that I barely knew existed nor would I pry to go into. When we reached the store that he said he wagered the items to he asked me to stay inside a Mini Stop outlet. He said he cannot afford “people” suspect me as a snitch after all he said I had just entered a drug-dealing community, and I could lose my life in an instant; he cannot defend me if that so happens. I looked around me, and for sure, I would have attested that people were secretly gawking at me. And their presence reeked of malignant intent like dogs that stopped barking and ready to pounce. Fear engulfed me.

Killings on the street are a common affair if you read tabloids. What is appalling and saddening is that it became too common that people could simply shrug it off from their minds. It may even seem to appear like fictional subterfuge made for sales. And I don’t want to end up at the front page of a paper beside the picture of a naked young girl, atop from the nonsensical updates of actors and actresses as if extramarital escapades and courtships are beyond mortal dealings. The horror is true and that the curtain which death holds might unveil with any misstep. But right were my fear gripped me, I began to hear a voice that I kept subdued in this exploit—my heart spoke.

It told me, amidst of the cacophony of terror in my head, to get out of the place and reiterated not to stay for another minute. The man came back this time without the items asking for the rest of the money; he needs the full amount to retrieve the items. Then with some point of light that shoved the clouds out of my head I gave the 500-Peso bill and said, “alam kong kailangan mo ng pera, ngayon kung bumalik ka man o hindi dala ang gamit na sinabi mo sana makatulong ‘tong pera ko pantawid mo.” I know you need the money, now whether you return or not with the item you promised may this money help you to get by. He mumbled few words of assurance but this time I understood his ploy. He will not return.

After the man left I waited for a minute, a promise that I assured him before. Then, I left the store and strolled to where my friend was. I was shaking my head with smile and awe. I should have been furious. I should have got even with the guy, but this event taught me a lot.

 A lesson from the streets: if one gives consent to thieves and takes from their devious doings then one is no different from the hands that stole the banquet. And once one has assented to its caves one needs to pay the price for its exit but it is, nevertheless, a price to be paid—no one gets out without the price. More so, I consented because I wanted to get the purchase without paying its full price, it was the strands of avarice and sloth. 

The greed of man is present to everyone living, the only difference is that some men kept its seeds arid—left to dead, its waters drizzled over to the seeds of virtue instead. And I needed to cultivate those of virtues’ with more vigilance. I remember a quotation, “…Warriors of the Light never accept what is unacceptable.” as Paulo Coehlo stated. And to reject what is supposed to be requires strength and sobriety, which I need to work on. 

"Meeting people are never by coincidence.", a colleague of mine once said to me. I believe this was so too. Having met this man allowed me to be aware of the elements that warbles in me: the yin and yang. Even more it gave light to the things I need to improve on. And that it led me to listen fearlessly to the voice of my heart, which no straightness of logic could ever compete to its wisdom.

Yesterday, I met a man tattered, scarred, and old beyond his age. Perhaps he brought the laptop at the store or perhaps he didn’t. There is no way of telling. I am not passing down judgment to thieves nor harbor them. I do not blame him for what he has done. For in exchange of my ample savings a lesson has pierced my awareness. I should thank him if I meet him. But he said he doesn’t know me, or do I of him, after the deal is done. Maybe to remember his name is enough a tribute, what was it again? He said call him, for that was he is famous for on the streets, his name is Pusa or the Cat.

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