FIELDNOTES: Naga Bus Terminal, at 4 in the Morning

Tito Genova Valiente

I AM early in Naga. The bus was crossing Mabulo Bridge at about four in the morning. I have alerted Joven, the cab driver that I am arriving by Bus X at five. But, as the passengers commented: there were not much reblocking and there were very few constructions on the highway because of the impending turnover of local and national officials. Remarkable how we learn engineering terms by necessity and how we are able to correlate events like election and infrastructure.

Even from the corrupt world, we earn wisdom.

But one must not think of the mundane in the early hours of the morning. Mornings are about dewdrops and guessing if the fresh mist lacing the distant volcanos are announcing a sunny day. For the moment, there seems to be rain in this old city.

I am thinking of those asleep at home. Perhaps, I can wait for the sunrise. I like the thought. The world is waiting for the sunrise. It is an old dixie music: Dear one, the world is waiting for the sunrise/ Ev’ry rose is covered with dew/ And while the world is waiting for the sunrise

And my heart is calling you.

There was no sign of sunrise as I sat looking at the buses lumber their way to this terminal. There seemed to be endless arrivals of people. Sleepy children were pulled by their mothers and fathers. I saw young men and women in various winter clothing. For those who know the bus trips to this city, blankets are needed to counter the chill in airconditioning meant for vegetables and meat.

Amazing how the type of bus – and the amount of fare – determines the kind of persons alighting from them. At four in the morning, women were fully made up, their buns and chignons in place. At this early hour, young men wore polished shoes and clean rubber shoes, their jacket looking snappy and smelling of OFW wealth.

I was not calling Joven. Not yet. I was viewing the morning in Naga. The data were rewarding me with new thoughts and truths about us. Home could wait. This world now unfolding before me could not. The universe had whispered: stop and look, and, why not, listen?

The buses coming from Manila stopped. Smaller buses from the other towns around the city began to crawl into this central terminal. The old women getting down did not sleep at all. They looked as if ready to work. Old shawls and frayed sweaters covered their bodies: one walked with a limp while another proudly carried a huge, plastic bag and a back curved from age and labor. Young boys walked behind them with slumber on their faces.

A girl with a lipstick as purple as kalamay strutted with a kind of a Louis Vuitton bag on her one arm and on the other short-circuited the arm of a young lover. A tiny backpack was a butterfly’s wing on the back of a thin boy with lips as thin as his waist. In another world, this boy could be hunger but for this morning, he was the most fashionable human being this side of the delayed sunrise.

The bus that carried these creatures of the farm and distant towns started to turn away from the parking area. On its side a label read “Ordinary.” One wonders why technology should create vehicles and instruments that are unequal. Before I could think of the varied theories about social stratification and structured inequality, two buses were easing gently to the empty spaces fronting where I was seated. These were, once more, the premium buses. One, in fact, had seats fitted with massaging features; another had beds instead of seats.

A different demographics greeted the slow sunrise. Shawls and blankets still displayed around shoulders materialized in front of me. Again, amazing how “pashminas” of different persuasions became part of our idea of what is elegant and correct.

The men in blue shirt with “Porter” written on their back ran toward the two buses. A long time ago, they were called “baggage boys.” These men knew that the passengers coming down from the buses were those who could pay others to carry their bags for them.

Technologies have worked around baggage boys and porters. Presently, pieces of luggage have wheels that allow people to just carry them. The porters know this but this morning, as with all mornings, they would try. A group of four porters started to fight for the few pieces of luggage and bags and boxes. In the end, they decided to service the passengers as a group. I saw them dividing the payment later. I wondered how much they got each for the service.

The sago vendor approached me, perhaps wondering why I was just sitting there, and offered me his “mainit-pa-na sago.” I politely said no. Behind me, a movement ensued. The table quaked and an old lady stood up somewhat in a rush to catch the sago vendor. I think she was asleep for a long time. She was frisking around her blouse and looking for the money to buy the sago. I looked at her. She could not find her wallet, it seemed. I wanted to buy her the sago. But this old woman looked fiercely independent. She was looking at me not because she was about to ask from me something but because she was thinking where she put her money. She smiled. I wished it was for me so I could finally offer her my coins. But no, she smiled as she turned to look at the small, grimy bag where her wealth was.

It was almost five in the morning. The sun was slowly, gently, calmly rising, its light reaching right where the gray sky was. It was time to call Joven and tell him I was already in the bus terminal, waiting.

I looked back at where the old woman was. She was not there anymore. She must have been waiting also for the sunrise. Like the world. Next time, next time, when the sunrise is as timid as I can be sometime, I will offer to buy her sago, or coffee, or even time.