An interesting thing happened on my way to the theater the other day.
The commute was as expected: crowded, rude. I was relieved that I had my music on to calm me. Each time I felt shoved, stepped on, or a damp back lean on me, I tuned in closer to what was playing. I breathed in a little deeper and stared out till the view blurred. No fantasies of me brandishing a shotgun and blasting offenders to pieces surfaced.
Getting down the station’s steps, I lit a cigarette. My music kept on, drowning out all the noise. Beneath the canopy of the train’s tracks was Taft, the cramped avenue teeming with vehicles and pedestrians in some frenzied thicket.
Walking past the whitewashed walls of the World Health Organization, I took several more drags from my cigarette. I caught several people staring, and it made me wonder how I must have looked. Was it perhaps that I may have had a smile on my face? Or did I look intimidating and serious again? Was it because I was wearing black; and, as according to many friends, made me as pasty as the walls I walked beside? Was it my skinhead, pallid under the gray sky? Dare I think that I looked attractive that day?
Whatever. The questions did not seem to matter much. I was calm and that was good. I continued smoking my cigarette. I kept walking, my stride dictated by the beat of Wolfmother’s “Vagabond.”
Then the pedestrian lane began to get uneven. I found myself dodging random holes either filled with gravel, trash, or murky water. The music was still on, but I felt my rhythm beginning to waver. No bother really, I was nearing my destination anyway.
Passing the police station, an old man caught my attention. He was in a tattered yellow shirt, dark and dusty jogging pants that reached his shin, and ashy toes spilling over his slippers. Though he had a dirty red cap on, he seemed bald underneath.
The moment our eyes met, I saw his widen. Not really one to stare at strangers eye-to-eye, I looked away and kept walking.
In the softer parts of what I was listening to, I heard somebody yelling from behind me. I kept walking thinking that maybe some person was having a conversation with someone else across the street. In the silence between track changes, I heard the yells more clearly. It was a raspy bellow; and it spat out the words, “maangas”, “putang ina mo” and “kalbo.”
I kept walking. But the cruel words persisted. My music, as loud as it was, seemed to ebb as I focused on the blatant crassness behind me. He seemed to scrape every insult from the bottom of his gut as I imagined him shaking with each shout. As my steps quickened, I began visualizing scenes of him charging like a bull, maybe throwing stones, or kicking the murky water at my direction.
But I kept walking.
Interesting that, while smoking, I continued my pace. Interesting that I still heard the music. Interesting that I never looked back.
As soon as I got to the theater, past the guard and metal detector, I went straight to backstage. When the doors opened, the smell of coffee hit me and reminded me of home. In the inner corridor I saw my friends, smiling. As soon as I put my duffel bag down, I went to the coffee dispenser for a hot cup.
After the first sip, I smiled. Then I sighed in wonder at such a calm day.