The purple drapes of the night sky descended over the metro as the rush hour swelled with the volume of people going home. The train rumbled on the railroad track with its rough, metallic melody. It was a Friday of a full, exhausting week; a Friday of sinews relaxing from being taut for so long, and I hadn’t experienced it in a long time. In so many ways, I was familiar with it: I knew the numbing commute in which you could lose yourself, knew the potpourri of smells hanging like a cloud of vapor in the closed air of the train, knew the aches of muscles flexed for so long, knew the relieved look on various strangers’ faces for they had survived yet another week in the grand, but often times drab, scheme of life.
With a jolt, the train finally halted at the terminal station and we people stepped out onto the platform in our haphazard ways. It was the scrambling of people eager to get home, and it made me happy—that we could be so excited for the domestic details of life: the communal dinner, the washing of the dishes, the television time. That even with our sky-high ambitions, we could be happy with something as grounded as home.
Going with the tide of people, I left the station. The highway leading to Antipolo was packed with public utility vehicles and private ones alike, their yellow headlights flashing in the dark of the asphalt and creating long trails of light. Barkers called to fill their jeepneys. I walked past them without thinking. I climbed the overpass and was once again confronted by homeless people wordlessly asking for alms, gesturing with their hands to their mouth, asking for money, for food. For both. And pity opened up like a well in my heart, as always. But with it came shame: what could I do for them?
The truth is that, whenever I encounter the poor, a wave of powerlessness overcomes me like a dark engulfing tide.
I walked past them with my eyes averted.
Having crossed the overpass, I trudged on and sat at the waiting shed. I sat with the pity gone but with the shame dredging at the bed of my heart, carving and carving as if to hollow it out.
Minutes elapsed. The night sky darkened, purple to black. Vehicles came and went, but the highway was never empty. Bicycles wheeled past.
And then a man, perhaps in his late middle ages, sat on the rail some distance from me. He wore tattered, blackened clothes and a pair of slippers too thin from all the walking. He carried with him bags containing various objects, but the plastic bottles grabbed at my attention. His hair, still black, hung in disarray. His skin was covered in black splotches: here was a homeless man who hadn’t had clean water in a long time, who had been walking the streets and rummaging garbage for a long time, who had been living on the scraps of society for so long.
The injustice of it all bubbled in the boiling cauldron of my chest. Was I going to ignore another homeless person yet again? In my 19 years in this forsaken country, what had I done to help these people? What use was my education? What use were my beliefs if I didn’t act on them? What use was I, really, if not an instrument to serve others?
Service. The word hit me like a punch to the gut.
Questions rolled in currents in my head. What is the government actually doing about the needy, the disabled, the poor, the sick? What is the government doing? Aside from the wealth of corruption that we Filipinos are forced to deal with, what else is the government giving us?
These questions need to be asked. I don’t pretend to know everything about this system in which our country lives in. What I do know is that poverty is real, and it needs to be addressed.
As I sat under that waiting shed beside a homeless man, I contemplated what my course of action would be. Beside me, the man sipped on an empty juice doy pack, and finding that his thirst was not quenched, he opened a plastic bottle and tilted it so that he could drink the last drops.
I stood up, went to the stores behind the shed, and bought an assortment of food and three bottles of water. I knew it wasn’t enough: more than food or water, every homeless person needs shelter. But I decided that at least I could provide some for his immediate needs.
The lady in the store handed a blue plastic bag to me and I thanked her.
I didn’t feel brave at all as I approached the homeless man. Half of my mind was distrustful and I knew it was a proper reaction, given that the man was a stranger, but still I didn’t heed to it. When I reached him, I greeted him, handed the plastic bag and waited for him to take it. He looked up at me once, his murky eyes bewildered, but he didn’t say a word. When he moved to take it, our hands made contact and he immediately moved it away so that he wouldn’t be touching me.
Was it not enough to be homeless that he needed to be shunned by society as well?
He took the blue plastic bag and I bade him “God bless” before leaving.
Look, I am not writing this to tell about my deed. I am writing this to talk about service, about the importance of helping those in need. Even with just a simple act of kindness, like giving them food and water. I am not exactly the best example of a public servant. But I aspire to grow into a person who will not be afraid of doing what is right, a person who will stick with this country because it needs help and work, a person who will reach out to the unreachable.
Please be kind to others. And please, don’t turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the needy. Do not be that person who walks past the homeless without remorse. Choose to be good to people regardless of your religion or your beliefs.
Kindness needs to be a universal goal.