“Saan ang daan natin, ma’am?”
“Kahit saan, Kuya. Kung saan tingin niyo pong walang traffic,” I answered thoughtlessly, with the air of a seasoned commuter who takes the cab every day.
A Boyzone song played softly in the background while the dashboard of the tattered Corolla rattled uncontrollably, making the incessantly nodding toy dog look pitiful as it struggled to stay in place. After locking each of the doors out of pure habit, my eyes rested on a petition paper that hung around the headrest of the passenger’s seat. It had a DepEd logo somewhere. On top is a pixelated photo of a gradeschooler with a neat haircut. The paper was brimming with hastily written signatures, which I assume were written while the cab was swerving around EDSA, dodging the merciless busses that swarm the area.
“Para saan po ba ‘to, Kuya?” I wondered out loud.
I’ve been in cabs with DVDs hanging around as if one were in a portable Greenhills stall, as well as cabs that had ancient spoons that replaced what you would normally call a door handle — but I have never been in a cab that had a paper for a petition, much less one with a photo of a cute child in his uniform.
“Ah,” he chuckled with a hint of embarrassment. “Para lang iyan sa anak ko. Para magkaron na sila ng multi-purpose covered court sa school”
While I understand that the self-deprecating humor of Filipinos is mostly a result of our culture of humility, I just had to blurt out loud, “Ah, anak niyo po pala siya! Ang pogi naman.” He gave a hearty laugh.
“May pinagmanahan,” I quipped.
“Maganda po kasi ang misis ko,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
I smiled to myself. When was the last time I heard a husband speak so lovingly about his wife?
“Sige Kuya, mamaya yung tip ko po sayo, para na yun sa school ng anak mo.”
He thanked me, and handed me a bleeding Panda pen so I could write my name. It turns out that it was actually a signature campaign — ten pesos per signature. I made a mental note to give him twenty, which was my usual tip anyway to friendly drivers who don’t drive recklessly and won’t dare give me coquettish winks.
Just then, as we were waiting for the stoplight at the Shaw intersection, the familiar intro of my favorite song by Train blasted from the speakers. If there was anything that could make me stop in my tracks, it’s a favorite song playing on the radio. “Your lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left-side brains…” I hummed along to the song, daring myself to remember the lyrics. It’s been a while since I last sung songs that weren’t by Verdi or Poulenc, with text in English instead of Latin.
He cleared his throat. I immediately stopped singing, wondering if my apparent lack of practice got the better of me.
“Alam niyo ma’am, singer kayo eh.” He said. It took me a while to realize that he was stating it as a fact, and not as a question. “Nagbeblend yung boses mo dun sa melody. Tapos may style pang kasama, may halo pang improv.”
And like a kid who discovers that her playmate prefers red M&M’s just like her, I found myself thrilled to be in good company — with that of a person who undoubtedly shares the same passion for music.
“Noong araw, singing coach ako ng mga soloista. Madalas nagpapadala kami ng mga singer sa Japan. Maganda nga dun eh.” I nodded in agreement, recalling that some of my great aunts used to be singers in Japan. He added, “Sayang lang. Ngayon, iba na and hinahanap nila. Dapat mga professional talaga, mga nag aral talaga ng music.”
When I mentioned I was part of a choir, he excitedly talked about his knowledge on the types of voices and classified himself as a baritone, often singing kundimans in his younger years. I found myself simply relishing the joy that this unassuming cab driver had as he shared how singing and knowing how to teach singing are two completely different things, and that he excels more in the latter. He further stated that he doesn’t have enough stellar qualities needed for a soloist — with the same self-deprecating tone he exhibited earlier.
Today, he drives people to their destinations as the sun rises, and sings to amuse his family as the sun sets. What a completely different life he held in the past — it made me wonder, will the time come when I do what I have to do by day, and do what I want to do by night, dreading the monotonous day that is about to come? And not just that, is he even happy with what he’s doing? With my graduation nearing, I couldn’t help but go through the kind of mid-life crisis that occurs when you’re not even in your mid-life.
Before I got the chance to ponder on these things, he caught me off-guard with his next comment.
“Alam niyo ma’am, ang mga taong magaling sa music, hindi nadidisgrasya.”
I suppressed a laugh and feigned curiosity, so as not to offend him.
“Totoo, ma’am. Sa lahat ng kaibigan kong driver, ako lang ang hindi pa na disgrasya. Mas magaling kasi tayong mga musikero tumiming (mag timing) — marunong tayong tumantsya.”
There is actually a sort of wisdom in that trivial statement. Nevermind the lack of scientific background — the point is, I realized he was able to incorporate his passion in his job. He found a way to love it. I saw it in the way he drums his fingers on the wheel to the beat of whatever’s playing on the radio, and how he hums along today’s music with a vibrato reminiscent of the love songs from the past. I saw it in the way he drives carefully, and how he smiles apologetically at passengers who mistakenly thought that his cab is unoccupied. His friendly demeanor exudes a sense of satisfaction in what he’s doing.
Not long after, the vehicle tapered off with a smooth decrescendo to my stop.
As I struggled to count the bills and coins I have in my purse, I realized that everything boils down to the very first question he uttered:
“Saan ang daan natin, ma’am?”
Where, indeed, am I headed?
And more importantly: which road do I take?