Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Pleading

He went home to a cold bowl of arrozcaldo.

Leo thought he could put it on the stove to simmer a little bit but his empty stomach just couldn't wait any longer. It's almost midnight now and that's all there is for supper. He found a spoon and quickly dug into the porridge that by now was beginning to get bland and sticky, which is what happens when food meant to be eaten freshly-cooked is left untouched for several hours. The probing spoon found a chicken leg deep into the bowl the hungry father of three immediately cleaned up to the bone. Had he come home in time for dinner, Leo thought he would not have missed the fine meal and cheerful conversation, the arrozcaldo would have been delicious as always, the comfort food that he would always crave during the harsh stormy days like this. But now he had to eat in the dark. Alone.

Outside, flood had already engulfed part of the town with no sign of subsiding, the massive blackout and whiplash howling wind and vicious rainfall on the roofs reveal the making of yet another potential disaster.

The announcement came just before noontime earlier today. Immediately, everyone at the firm rushed to pack his belongings hoping to reach home before the super-typhoon makes landfall directly into the city. There were loud angry complaints at government officials sleeping on the job again when they could have suspended all work and classes in the early morning hours so that the people would have not have risked getting caught in horrible weather like this away from home. Late as the announcement was, Leo welcomed the thought of coming back home early to cuddle up in bed with his wife and children to pass up the storm. He couldn't wait to head back to Aileen and the kids but he was summoned to the office of the boss.

"Leo, this pleading must reach the De la Cruz Law Firm in time. A multi-million peso contract depends on this so we can't afford to blow it. Make sure you deliver this no matter what happens. I don't care how you do it but I want this pleading to get there, you understand? You screw up like the way you did last time and you might as well start looking for another job. Don't say I didn't warn you, Leo. Here, take a cab".

Atty. Joven De Leon handed him a wad of bills before the boss himself rushed for the door, raring to get home while Leo lingered a moment, lamenting his terrible fortune. At least he thought to himself, he can keep the cab money and bring it home to Aileen by taking the jeepney instead, which is exactly what he always does to save up on transportation allowance every time he is sent off to serve a pleading. With two large envelopes pressed in his armpit, he walked through the door with the other scurrying employees eager to leave the high rise Makati building.

One look at the surroundings the moment he stepped out into the streets showed Leo he wouldn't need a cab, or a jeepney for that matter. A massive flashflood brought traffic to a halt, the vehicles stood still bumper to bumper, transforming a long stretch of Ayala Avenue into an extended parking lot. He waded into the flooded street, and made his way to the post office to mail the first of the two envelopes to the court then he rushed to Manila to deliver the other envelope to the Dela Cruz Law Firm.

He had to twice take the elevated train to make it to his next stop. And while flashfloods and traffic jams were never a problem as far as traveling on the train goes, the journey was anything but fast. The crush of humanity that would inevitably gravitate towards the train stations when all other means of transportation become impaired by the weather would always reach unbelievable proportions. This time, Leo was shocked to find something worse than he expected. The queue stretched all the way down to the street, a mob of disgruntled hundreds shoving and pushing for space while trying to inch their way one agonizing step after another through the stairway and then upstairs into the security checkpoint and finally after nearly two hours of supreme punishment, the boarding section where every coach that would open at every stop, already filled to capacity, would have one or two passengers stepping out, and ten others trying to squeeze in. A riot was practically threatening to explode at the mere sight of an approaching train.

When finally Leo managed to step into one of the coaches or rather after he was violently pushed inside by the jostling crowd, he found himself squeezed in the middle of what seemed like a human wall of tired perspiring bodies. Within seconds, he was dripping in perspiration himself, and almost suffocating, the smell of his own sweat adding to the already explosive cocktail of human stench permeating the cramped oven-hot train.

If getting inside was a struggle, getting out in one piece was just as difficult as the crowd waiting at every stop seemed to get bigger and bigger, and panic would hang in the air as soon as the sliding door would open so that when his turn came to disembark, Leo had to walk through the gauntlet like a neophyte in the initiation rite taking a beating from a phalanx of fraternity masters. And when finally it was over he paused to check if his ribs were intact and his vital signs still working. The envelope containing the pleading was moist with sweat and crumpled notwithstanding the heroic effort he put up to protect it.

What had been a drizzle earlier had become by now a vicious rainfall prompting him to seek cover at the canopy of the establishments lining the sidewalk. Leo fought the urge to buy an umbrella from a passing vendor, telling himself the money must be put to better use than a temporary respite from the rain but it turned out he never had a choice even if he changed his mind because when he reached for his wallet, all he found was a slit the pickpocket had skillfully cut to take his money.

He hugged the envelope close to his chest and contemplated the long cold road ahead while watching the rain.