19 January 2011

Ohmigod! It’s A Man!

I was tired from training with the college team for three straight days, and just wanted to go home. I was first into the jeepney bound for Batangas at the station outside of Rob. In no time at all, other passengers came rushing to board.

I was sitting wearily at the rear end of the seat when what I first thought was a child came to board as well. At second glance, I thought he was a midget. My reflexes were slow from fatigue, so even though I instinctively tried to move inwards to make way for him, the body did not respond as quickly.

Besides, the little man was too quick. Pretty soon, he was comfortably seated as well.

And he wasn’t a midget at all. I try to avoid staring at people, particularly those with physical handicaps, but this one had me intrigued. So, I tried to observe him as discreetly as I could.

Head down to his buttocks, he was perfectly normal. Seated, he was the same height as just about everyone else on his side of the jeepney.

But his limbs were so badly malformed. The arms looked like mere stumps. If his legs weren’t so short and so obviously deformed, I would have guessed there used to be arms where the stumps were and that these were amputated.

I cannot help but admire human dignity when I find it in its purest form, such as in the little man in the jeepney. I will not even bother to guess what my state of mind will be if I were handicapped in such a manner, but the little man carried himself without a hint of inferiority at all.

Although he had a boy with him, he needed no assistance in digging out a handful of coins from his pocket, balancing these on one stump and then counting these dexterously with the other.

I don't even know if the word “dexterous” applies, since he had no hands.

When what was obviously a friend boarded without noticing him, the little man poked at the new arrival with the stump to call his attention. “Eh!” the friend remarked when he recognized the little man, “Akala ko’y kung sinong katang areh!”

I abhor it when people make fun of other people’s physical defects, but the little man took no offense whatsoever. In fact, from the tone of their conversation, I could sense that the other man actually meant no disrespect and that he regarded the little man as an equal.

When the jeepney went on its way, the little man raised his arm to hold the overhead rail for balance like any other passenger would… except that the stump barely reached up to the rail; and, of course, he could not grab it like normal people could.

He spoke with a Batangueño accent, but there was a touch of something else. My guess is that he came over from one of the Bicolano provinces.

I dunno… I had to suppress this urge to reach out and shake his hand, but of course he didn’t have one… I just know I wouldn’t be as brave if I were in his shoes…

[This story was first published on Facebook on 2 April 2008.]

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