The cab ride

“Where did you arrive from?” The airport taxi driver asked me as we left the airport.

“Hong Kong,” I answered.

“I thought you came from Leyte,” he joked, “because your luggage is so light, like you have hardly any clothes.” And then, as if to explain himself: “I just came from Leyte, to get my mother. She lost everything. When you’re there, you look forward, left, right, behind you — you see nothing, only debris.

“She didn’t want to go with me,” he continued. “I said I would make her, even if I had to carry her. ‘Why will I go with you?’ she told me. ‘I have no extra panties, just the one I’m wearing.’ ‘I’ll buy you new ones,’ I said.”

We entered Makati. He is careful at every corner. “I only started driving cabs recently,” he explained. “The rules are different here in Makati. If the traffic cops catch you, the fine is so expensive. It’s one day’s profit, gone.”

We talked a little about politics, the traffic.

“I used to be a seaman,” he said. “I went around the world. The other seamen asked me why I could be away from my wife for so long. ‘I’m tired of women,’ I’d joke. ‘I’m into men now.'”

I laughed. “That must be tough, though, to be away from your family and not come home.”

“Six to eight months at a time, and yet you’re the one in the wrong,” he suddenly spat out, defensive. “My son is spoiled. He took the money I earned and didn’t share it with his mother. He’s an addict, you see. You’d see his hand shaking when he holds a cigarette, like it was weed. His mother just kept going out with her friends. I earned so much money as a seaman, for what? It all went to my son’s rehab. So I might as well come home and be near them. That’s why I drive cabs now.

“Life is okay,” he concluded as we arrived home. “Driving cabs is okay. It’s a quiet life. Steady. Simple. Life can be okay if you’re ambitious.”

I paid him the fare. It was at once expensive and not enough.