Tuesday, December 29, 2015
1:09 AM |
The Man in Shadows Walking Towards Me on a Dark Road Late at Night
From a distance, as I was walking along a stretch of dark road tonight, the man walking towards me looked like a furtive figure in shadows. I didn't even have to think twice about crossing to the opposite side of the street to avoid a direct encounter, the way we have been taught to sharpen our instincts in navigating city streets past midnight. I was on my way to the center of downtown from an evening reading a book and having coffee at Bo's Cafe at the Boulevard. By the way he walked and was dressed, the man struck me as a vagrant, possibly someone capable of mugging. I avoided him. And then suddenly, I heard him greeting me in a familiar tone. He knew my name. "Ian!" the man said. "Mamasko ko nimo!" That surprised me, and when he came into the light, I saw a familiar face that had become ragged at the edges. The hoodie he was wearing seemed unkempt. He looked like he hadn't taken a shower in weeks. His eyes were sunken, as were his cheeks. When he tried to smile, I could see the decay in his front teeth -- his lips concaved around them. "What happened to you?" I asked, and he told me a little bit of his story as I walked towards ChowKing, seeking the bright lights as a cocoon of safety and comfort. My instinct was to be curt and to run. This was easily done, but it was the holiday season, and it didn't seem like the most Christmassy thing to do. So I told myself to listen to his story. It was the least I could do, and I knew him after all. I had known him since grade school. And when we were in college, he had taken up Education at Silliman University. We were both editors in the yearbook staff during our senior year. The last time I heard of him, he was teaching at Foundation University, and then had become a trainer at one of the local BPOs. He had always been a bright and articulate man. So what exactly happened to him that he looked this sallow, this defeated? He was living on the streets, he said, without a tremor of shame to his confession. He was homeless. And he was just on his way to the pier, where he had been sleeping for the past three weeks. "What happened?" I asked again, because life can't possibly derail just like that, can it? Eventually he confessed: he had been using shabu and, in his words, it had destroyed his life. "But I've been free of the stuff since October this year," he swore. If only he could start his life all over again, he said, perhaps go to a different city where nobody knows him, maybe even Cebu. "I can work menial jobs," he said, "Even wash dishes, I can do that." But not here in Dumaguete, he said. Nobody here would give him another chance. He couldn't go back home to his family, he said. They had kicked him out -- him, this former student leader and campus writer. I didn't know how to help. But a hundred peso bill seemed reasonable, so I gave it to him. I thought it was enough for a small meal, but perhaps not enough for a shabu hit. I balanced things in my head like that. Even generosity can come tinted with doubt. "I'll write about you," I finally said. "That's the best way I can help you. Perhaps someone can read what I've written, and be more equipped to help you out, if in fact you're desperate to be helped." "Please do. But don't use my real name, though," he quickly said. "I won't," I replied. Then he left. I stood at the corner of San Jose and Perdices Streets for what seemed like forever, gathering my thoughts, thinking about the seismic vagaries of life. A thin line separates us from darkness and desperation, and no one can ever truly say that this can never happen to you or me. Because it can.
A sad post-script, 1 January 2016:
A few days ago, I had a nocturnal encounter on the streets with an old friend who seemed to be in need of help. Life had become hard on him, because of shabu. So I did what I thought I could do to help in my own little way -- I wrote about him and his plight (see above
), which I initially posted in Facebook. I was hoping somebody would read it and be in a position to help him more. I was astonished that so many friends -- people from all over the world -- messaged me wanting to help. But it turned out there were many other hidden layers to his tale -- and some of them frankly untruths. I don't want to elaborate anymore on these untruths, because it's his life and it's really none of my business. The only business I have with this is the post I'd made, but he had began messaging almost everyone who liked that post, asking them for money for him to be able to go to Cebu "for work," or "for "rehab," among other reasons. When this came to my attention from several friends, I realised what was happening and I took the immediate recourse: I took the post down. I felt used. I apologise for the bother I've made in your lives. I wanted to help him -- but I guess he needs to help himself first.
Labels: drugs, dumaguete, issues, life
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