I spent some of last year conducting social research in the Philippines last year, and Sadly didn’t write as much as I should have whilst there. I attempted to conjure some of my experiences the other day and give them to the page… This is something I wrote with several people I met there in mind, and an ode to one of the most distinctive forms of public transport I’ve experienced.
A Jeepney in Olongapo.
Pulling up fast the Jeepney’s wheels merely miss a street vendor. He feels the heat of the engine hover to him as he shifts out of the way quickly.
The horn soars maliciously into his dreamscape as he imagines for a second he is home with his wife and child, who he sees but twice a year.
From five am every morning and into the evening, he sees them clutching at his coins with hungry eyes, from three hundred miles away.
His bread goes stale in the sun, as he feebly fans himself with a banana leaf.
More people climb on, bent over at the waist. Single file, they plop into tiny spaces not big enough for their corpses.
On the outside the vendor looks up, discontented by the sound of the driver beeping his horn again as he strives for just one more customer.
Just one more.
The Jeepney sits stationary for a few moments.
Ten on each side, it has to be ten on each side.
When the Americans left the first time, they left this, jeeps that were stretched into commodities. The second time, a cohort of invisible children, their bodies cumbersome and misplaced. Both are now agelessly existing in the balmy Olongapo air.
A girl inside is cramped between bodies that are perspiring in the humidity; her tiny legs are bonded together in desperation and sweat. The smells are familiar to her, as they corrupt the aroma of her own freshly applied scent, given to her as a renegade gift from a fat American man last week.
She breathes in and her powdered nose goes to another place. One filled with the scent of her mother’s cooking, and the sounds of her brothers and sisters giggling as they chase chickens off the terrace. In each breath she is further away from the men who swear and pant over her with their whiskey gasps, away from the clumsy kneading and the reckless slaps.
Two more stops and another night of work begins.
The woman opposite looks straight through the girl, knowing what she is.
Fourteen years old, already lost to St Lucifer.
She pulls her skirt down at the front hiding in it the family she had always wanted but had been too ashamed to have. Her cross burns into her chest like a wound. Biting, calling, asking her to live and not suffer, suffer and not live. All at the same time.
She thinks about the boy she had known in Sunday school, whose lips she had met in a tricycle one afternoon. The man beside her was closer now, than the teenage boy had been all those years ago, his tobacco chewing forcing her ear to cringe and wilter, as she longs for the sound of the hymns they had sang during those Sundays together.
The jeepney driver speeds off again. Just one more, just one more.