FOR someone who has only been to the city five times (at most) during the last ten months, it had felt like being in a new place all over again.
Nope, the sensation had none of that childish, open-mouthed awe, with eyes wide in wonder.
On the contrary, it was actually more like the tight-lipped contortion that went hand-in-hand with uneasy glimpses that go left and then right, like a stray dog on unfamiliar streets.
I do not also mean the usual happy reaction of oohs and ahhs that one gives out when you realize that this and that place had at last been renovated or, “Oh they have finally paved this pothole-filled stretch, thanky lordy lordy.”
Alas, during my latest foray into the city for needed business, a strong scent of fear and uncertainty had replaced my usual sense of wonderment and looking up to what’s ahead.
The long confinement, coupled with a pandemic phobia, can do that to anybody. If it’s any consolation, the same sentiment has been echoed by some close friends, most of whom had been true-blue all night goers during that golden era prior to the coming of COVID.
My first leg of the trip, at least, had been worry-free, a short car ride when my son dropped me off at the bus station outside the subdivision. Then, the bus ride to the city, wherein passengers were required to leave the alternate seats vacant, was a-okay for this oldie despite being seated inside a closed air-conditioned space.
Social distancing has finally gone to dogs, so to speak, when it came to the third and last leg of the trip to the city. For Dabawenyos accustomed to riding in public utility cars called multi-cabs, the plastic or wood divisions that separate each passenger, offer no guarantee whatsoever, if we’re talking COVID here.
For one thing, as you enter the small jeepney, you are instantly in contact with the knees of the already-seated passengers. To add to that, your entrance will likewise depend on their sizes and leg lengths, which means bumping into legs and torsos as you make your way to your vacant seat.
The worst thing is, because of the low ceiling, it almost feels like smelling butt time for every seated rider whenever someone enters. In all, the same thing awaits when you alight from this tight car. With all the occasional body contact, the only mantra as you go down the multi-cab might as well be “whatever you do, don’t touch your face,” repeated over and over.
On the way home, the first impulse had been to hail the first taxi that I saw, but the cowardly dog in me bubbled a warning in my head, you do not know where the last passenger had been.
So, because the next bus in our direction was scheduled hours away, I had no other choice but to flag the closest near-empty long-chassis jeepney that was headed up our mountain retreat. No problem with that.
While the same plastic divisions between passengers were farther apart this time because of the wider cab, contact was limited to a minimum. In the end, I just thought, “well, that’s how far we can stretch it folks.”
Compared to other cities and countries even, this way is much better. After an hour of travel, the COVID coward is finally home, none the worse for wear.
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