I have this secret fascination about trains. Whenever I watch those sappy romantic films, I’ve admired scenes when the lead character is spending quiet moments or about to meet the right one, in her most unexpected train rides. Since then, I dreamed of creating my own perfect train moment. I may not necessarily meet The One, but I often imagined myself wearing that perfect outfit. Long black hair, my 120 lbs old self, dream bag from Kate Spade and sporting my most coveted Tory Burch flats. Reality unfortunately never fails to give me the perfect ruin for everything. I’m most of the time haggard, lousy and sleepy on my daily train rides.
In my country, the government provides three train lines. The most controversial is the MRT. It has been the subject of complaints and inefficiency over the last months. I rarely take the MRT because its service routes are away from my usual destination. The last time I took the MRT was December of last year. Yesterday, I came from an out of town work in the South. The easiest way to reach home is to take the MRT. I took the last station and was fortunate to gain access to the limited seats.
While I was settled to my seat, a security guard approached the passenger beside me. Because my mind was too occupied, I failed to notice the old man needing assistance. He was wearing a protective mask, gauze bandage taped around his neck, frail arms, and trembling legs, which is evident despite wearing thick yet worn out jeans.
When the train started to depart, I noticed his struggle to pull out something from his bag. It was a folded white sheet of paper. He handed me a paper that contained a printer generated letter. I silently read it and was rather impressed with the perfect usage of the academic English. The letter looks like one of those we see as examples in English textbooks.
I later discovered that the man was seeking financial assistance. He has been suffering from the late stages of lung cancer. I spared myself from the other details presented in the letter. I immediately understood his intention so I discretely handed him a minimal amount of money.
While confined on his seat, he continued to extend the letter among the other passengers. An old woman beside him expressed disgust and rendered rude words. A lady covered and protected herself with a handkerchief and pretended seeing nothing. The other passengers rendered the same attitude. Everyone decided to pretend blind.
I don’t want to persecute both the old man and the majority of the passengers. I admit that I cannot vouch for the real condition of the old man. I will not deny the possibility that he is likewise pretending his sickness. Despite the uncertainty, I gave him some money because part of me believes that he needs it. Whether he is suffering from Lung Cancer or not, he is begging because he has nothing.
As for the other passengers who pretended not to see, I will try my best not to judge them. However, the attitude of rendering rude words, covering yourself with handkerchief even though the man was meters away from your seat and denying the man’s existence cannot escape as a violation in my standards of respect. If you refuse to help, it’s not difficult to utter, No, I’m sorry. I respect that they are threatened with the infection and transmission of whatever disease the man is carrying. In my case however, I don’t see threats of transmission by exposing your hands to a piece of paper. We don’t know, your own hands may actually carry more threats of infections because of the excessive money you possess.
On the next station, a group of three ladies, based from their t shirts, I concluded as sales associates from this mobile phone service provider. While the other passengers rendered what seemed to be the normal attitude of ignoring; the ladies read the letter and handed out a few bills. What I thought as a showcase of rare compassion changed when one of them blurted, “babalik din sa atin ‘to, triple, doble pa sa quota” (That money will return to us in triple fold, more than our designated sales quota), followed by a chorus of what seems to be the sound of victorious laughter.
Oh dearest writers and producers of these sappy romantic films, I’m not blaming you for making me believe in feel good stories. But sometimes, it wouldn’t hurt to feed me with some taste of reality.