10 January 2011

Three Bundles of Suman

Away from football for a change, I was leaving Chow King after having had lunch at midday today when I was accosted, at the steps leading to the restaurant, by a wizened old nanay who pleaded with me to buy her last three bundles of suman so she could be on her way home. I took one good look at the nanay and my heart turned immediately to mallows.

She was remarkably small, perhaps a little over four feet. She stooped forward as she stood, probably from osteoporosis. Her complexion was dark and her face wrinkled and leathery. She spoke in a squeaky voice through toothless gums. I initially thought she was a mendicant.

I used to be fond of sumans but not so much these days. Even so, I immediately knew I was buying some from the nanay, even if I had no plan whatsoever to eat these.

I could have the three bundles for 100, the nanay told me, trying to be convincing that she was, in fact, giving me a discount. Or each bundle for 35… This was when the simple matter of wanting to help suddenly took on an unwanted complication.

I have not been in the public market for the longest time. Neither have I purchased a bundle of suman for the longest time. Therefore, my basis for judging whether a bundle of suman is cheap or not were prices that used to be standard for the longest time.

Why Economics even went into the picture when all I wanted was to help the wizened old nanay I will have to put down to this just being me. I have this manic aversion to being ripped off, a trait – I imagine – I inherited from my Mom.

So, even when I was in a situation when I was about to purchase sumans that I had absolutely no plan to eat, anyway, I still had to be careful that the nanay did not get a chance to put one over me. Besides, would I not have been the strangest sight walking down the road carrying three bundles of suman?

“Dal’wa na lang pô,” I told the nanay; albeit, she continued to plead with me with her eyes. It was not, of course, as though I would have looked less strange toting two bundles instead of three. But I had already made up my mind; so, I handed her a 100-peso bill.

Nanay said she did not have change; so I knotted my eyebrows and wondered how she could have sold a basketful of sumans and not have change. Tsk! Nanay was being smart! A quick check inside my wallet, though, and I immediately saw I had a fifty and a twenty. There was no more need for change.

So, off I went with two bundles of suman that I did not really want; and, of course, I left nanay with one bundle that she did not really want, either.

“Ingat ka!” the nanay said to me in her squeaky voice. I smiled as I walked away. Aba! The nanay knew more about customer relations than many of the youthful sales assistants I encounter in my frequent mall sorties.

As I walked back towards school, I naturally debated inside my head about the wisdom – or lack of it – of my impulsiveness. Would it not have been better to have simply handed the nanay some bills and left the sumans with her to sell again to somebody else?

No, I told myself. That would have robbed her of the pride and satisfaction she would have gained from a day of honest endeavor. I admire her for her efforts to earn an honest living; especially since others who are more blessed physically find it more lucrative to simply beg for alms from strangers.

Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have just purchased all three of the nanay’s remaining bundles of suman. But then again, you would not be reading this silly story if I did…

I was having a quiet smoke outside the school when a friend and his wife happened to pass by. “Would you like some suman?” I asked the wife. In fact, she did! So I happily handed over the two bundles I held in my palms as she smiled her thanks and told me these would be her merienda later in the day.





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