|Imagine two swollen legs on a pair of denim shorts.|
It is around two in the afternoon, and I am not sitting alone in an air conditioned taxi. I am sardined in this four-wheeled oven toaster, and all 224,337 of us passengers are marinating in exhaust fumes and everybody else's body odor. These are hardly the best conditions with which to consider somebody else's bad health. I look around me, and I am surrounded by this wealth of opportunities to complain about, but no. I wonder what a leg full of of pus smells like, instead.
Damp with Pus continues to arrange the packs of cigarettes he's selling so they look tidy and organized. It's probably the least he can do. That and he tries to hide his swollen left leg to no avail since his plastic chair's big enough for his left butt cheek. His plastic umbrella's big enough for his right butt cheek, but he doesn't give a shit. He tends to his wares in earnest, his plump fingers mechanical as he separates the Golds from the Reds, the Menthols from the Lights, and his eyes are nowhere else.
It is around two in the Philippine afternoon, which is exceedingly punishing for someone with a long sleeved shirt on. My arm pits weep, not for Damp with Pus and his unrewarded dedication to his cigarettes, but because I'm wearing a black, long sleeved shirt in a crowded jeepney at around two in the Philippine afternoon.
Today he's got this purple shirt on, collared, and, with his dirty complexion, it made him look like an overweight tumor. Props to the shirt, however, for holding his stomach in, all of it, as its oppressive weight fought to fall down the street. Meanwhile, Damp with Pus' knee length denim shorts continue to puzzle me. How did he manage to wear denim shorts? It will brush against his frothing infection, you can bet on that, but what worries me is that his legs are thicker than his thighs.
Of course he has to remove his bandages, but they... One gets used to the glacial movement of this third world traffic, most especially when one is distracted.
He already color-coordinated his candies, and there are these impressive rows of Yellows and Reds and Greens that sold for a peso each. He then makes change for a ten, and he does all this without looking at his customer, a high school kid with a white polo and brown slacks on, worn leather shoes and a cheap back pack. Goomela, it said. This kid's probably 12, 13 at the most, but he dragged on that stick like a runner up. His girlfriend, obviously 12, took a puff like a God damned champion.
The traffic's not moving, which is expected, it is past two in the afternoon, and these uniformed delinquents are rushing out of school. I still can't get used to the smell of poor and exhaust fumes, but such is the life I lead in the third world. I might as well. I took out my handkerchief, spread it on my palms, horizontal and smelling like fabric conditioner, covered my nose with it, and I decided to look at Damp with Pus some more.
His cigarettes should look tidy. And he ignores the curious stares of strangers as he commits himself to his work. He quits hiding his left leg, and continues to organize his wares. Why, you will detect a defiant spirit in how he goes on with his cigarettes and his candies. And you can tell he'll continue doing this even after both his legs were amputated.
His cigarettes sell at five pesos a stick, eighty pesos for a pack, and his candies are a peso each. He will keep selling them until he has enough money for maybe a kilo of rice and a can or two of whatever. His insulin shots will wait. And those will wait until his legs are gangrenous and then ripe for that saving amputation. That will be nice, real nice, and I don't think that will happen.
It is not a happy picture now. But if he meets his 16-hour work days and saves enough money even after the rice and canned whatevers, his future could be bright. Why, if he worked harder than that, which he probably will because he doesn't have a choice anyway, then his future's even brighter, illuminated even, with the blinding fluorescent glare on that operating table. And I see an oscillating saw in that same future, and it reflects a steely glint that makes Damp with Pus' future far brighter. And I doubt that.
The jeep begins to move, and Damp with Pus makes change for a twenty. I will probably see him in that same spot tomorrow.