THE JEEPNEY driver did not stop for him. He continued to roll the vehicle towards the next commuter when a tricycle did an overtake and the chase was forced to a halt.

Taking advantage of the faulty gas pedal, Gabby took his chance to get in one of the jeeps that hustled along the polluted streets of Quiapo. He needed to deliver the envelopes that he was assigned to distribute.

He ran towards the jeep as it started to run and nearly stumbled. Luckily he was able to grab hold of the steel handles that help passengers get on. The driver was mumbling furiously; it was apparent that Gabby was an unwanted passanger.

As soon as he placed his foot on top of the worn-out rubber padding, everyone in the jeep looked at him with narrow eyes and immediately looked away. The gentle morning sunlight that gleamed on his head through the jeepney windows seemed to be the only thing that welcomed him.

Ever since Gabby had learned to ride the jeep, he had already received the same disgusted look from different faces. It wasn’t something new to him, though it would have been better if one day those smug looks would just disappear.

The seats weren’t all taken. There were only about eight people there and it was a relief. Usually people had to occupy seats in a capacity of 18—sometimes even 20.

The girl in an all-white uniform who was previously busy playing games on her cellphone hid the gadget in her Jansport backpack and held it tightly between her arms. She also covered her nose with her pink cotton handkerchief and glared at Gabby as he scooted to sit beside her on the edge of the vehicle.

He stammered to pull out the envelopes that he hid inside his half-torn pocket and started to count it.

“One, two, three, five, four, six, seven, eight nine, ten,” he counted aloud as a mild chuckle was heard from one of the passengers inside the jeep.

Gabby started handing one of the envelopes to the girl who still had her handkerchief on her nose and continued fighting inertia as he continued handing the envelopes to other passangers.

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One of the passengers feigned to sleep to avoid the awkward confrontation. He tilted his head every few seconds with only a squinted eye to check if Gabby had already passed by him. He had hoped that the young boy would just leave a sleeping guy alone, but Gabby saw past his ruse as he could’ve sworn to himself that he was awake when he got inside the jeep. Gabby stood in front of the hoax for a good 30 seconds and waited for him to nudge, but the stench of unwashed clothes that wafted from the young boy gave the guy a pretty good hint that Gabby was already in front of him and his pretentions were an utter failure.

The passengers looked at the chaotic handwriting on the front side of the soiled once-white paper envelope. Most of them didn’t bother to read it, for it was not their first time to receive such a letter. Written on the cover of the envelope read: “Pahingi po ng kaunting barya. Pangkain lang.”

For the naïve, it was a mystery how a child, who seemed as if had never been able to attend proper schooling, was able to read and write what was written on them.

Usually, it was pity rather than compassion that forced us to hand out even the smallest amount of change, though one can never be considered compassionate if the act wasn’t sincere.

An old lady who had just been from the market carried a large market basket filled with chicken legs, carrots, potatoes and other ingredients used to make Afritada searched her pockets for excess change. She handed a five peso coin with two ten centavo coins to Gabby. She didn’t even bother placing it inside the envelope.

After Gabby had delivered the “mail” that was practically intended for anybody his greasy little hands could touch, he raised his hands up to his chin with both fists clenched. He moved to the right and left, as if defying force and gravity singing, “Teach me how to dougie, t-teach me how to dougie,” as his whole body commenced a dance while inside a moving vehicle.

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The driver glared through the rearview mirror, silently imposing an end to the boy’s little performance. But Gabby knows that whatever happens, the show must go on.

His audience didn’t give him the standing ovation he so sorely deserved. Though it seemed that the old woman was pleased, smiling as he danced—the same time a corny worn-out joke played on the radio.

When Gabby retrieved the envelopes, the guy in the red jacket who resembled to belong to a more than well-off family, condescendingly threw the envelope back at the boy, causing it to fall on the ground and get smudged by the unknown gunk left by earlier passengers.

Gabby bent over to pick up the envelope when the jeep was once again hauled to a stop.

The screech of the brakes wasn’t loud enough to cover the sound of Gabby’s forehead as it hit the metal railings that separated the driver from the passengers. If only the jeep was entirely filled with people maybe some of the envelopes he had didn’t fly straight out of the jeep and maybe someone could have caught him—maybe somehow prevent getting the gash on his head.

Though his head was profusely bleeding, he still silently but hurriedly collected the envelopes one by one even though most of the envelopes did not contain money.

When he was about to get off the jeep when there was a sudden burst of heavy traffic, the nurse grabbed him by the hand and stopped him.

The girl didn’t speak much but she did make Gabby sit beside her. She wrapped her handkerchief around the boy’s head and told him to sit with her until they both reached the nearest clinic and got treated.

Though she planned on never seeing the boy again, she spoke to her before they parted.

“It’s one two three ‘four’ then ‘five’,” she said. “Not the other way around.”

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The nurse felt a compelling force shouting in her subconscious. But could it have been compassion? Could it be the innocent, yet empty stare of Gabby? Nevertheless she slowly reached inside her pocket and gave him a 50 peso bill. It was her lunch money, but for her, that was the least of her concerns. She was on a diet anyway.

The encounter of two unlikely people is a wonderful, yet unexplainable phenomenon. The nurse began to wonder if what was happening was fated event, or was a mere consequence of the many choices that she had to make in life.

Gabby delightfully waved his newly earned cash in the air. He didn’t even say thanks but it didn’t bother her. As soon as the boy was out of sight, the girl pulled out a bottle of hand sanitizer and rubbed some on her hands up to the creases of her elbows.

On his way back, he stopped at the old sari-sari store that was about a few meters away from his home.

“Stick-O,” he said in an impolite manner and slammed the 50 peso bill on the thin plywood counter of the store. He had no idea how many wafer sticks that amount would produce. He wasn’t supposed to use any of the money he earned for his own, but he didn’t buy the Stick-O for his worm-filled bloated belly—at least not only for himself.

Although his total earnings were just below one hundred pesos, his foster father who liked to be referred to as “boss” didn’t get mad. The boss didn’t even bother to ask about the bandage wrapped around Gabby’s head.

He went to his bedroom which he shared with more than a dozen children and saved three wafer stick for each of his roommates and ate all the excess.

As the others arrived that night and enjoyed Gabby’s little surprise, he sat on the corner, only then feeling the effects of the gash on his forehead and counted how many envelopes were left in his possession.

“One, two, three, four, five…” JAN DOMINIC G. LEONES

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