6/18/2013
So as not to inconvenience anyone

Things are looking up.

You are in a shopping mall. Actually, an extension of a shopping mall. Newly opened. Signs around you say "we are on soft opening". None of the shops are open - it is, after all, a soft opening, but the billboards look promising. Aeropostale: soon to open. Stradivarius: soon to open. Banana Republic: soon to open.

You're not the sort of guy who knows a lot about fashion, or even cares for it, but at least you now know where to go if you want to impress someone with your style. Somebody would compliment you on your outfit and asks you where you bought it. You no longer have to answer "sa Singapore", but rather, "sa Ortigas".

You walk around - it's the only way you can get your exercise, what with the long hours at work - and you make mental notes. You buy your clothes here, you treat your girlfriend here, you try that new item here. Fancy-looking restaurants and obscure labels and novelty shops. Things you can buy now (or at least until the stores open), things you only used to hear from your rich uncles and aunts who've been to places. The only thing missing, you think, are TV dinners and imported bottles of lemonade.

It just happens that they are available at the supermarket nearby.

Things are definitely looking up.

You have just walked out of your office building, with a "sod it, I'm leaving!" attitude. It's just five in the afternoon, but it's as dark as eight in the evening. It's raining hard, and nobody is daring to go outside, and the building's lobby is filled with anxious workers who only want to go home, not to get their feet wet.

Armed with only an umbrella and a thin jacket, you walk the streets, water flowing down gutters and past it. You're getting wet, but sod it, you're leaving. You cross the street without realizing that the water is particularly high, and the next thing you know, your shoes are soaking wet and your socks, more so. You did not bring slippers, but then again, you didn't know it'd be raining this hard.

Ten minutes later you enter a shopping mall, the same one you were in days ago, soaking wet and definitely filthy. You look for the nearest toilets  - pay restroom, ten bucks per pop - and lock yourself in a cubicle and squeeze your socks dry. There is a lot of water. You wear them again, as if you had a choice, and your feet still make a sloshing sound.

Ten minutes later, you're in a bus, a surprisingly empty one (yeah, you still got lucky). You take a seat by the window. You can't resist pulling out your phone and checking your Twitter feed. Your friends are flooding, with chatter about floods, and traffic ("just add water" being the most popular), and how nothing changes even if people say there are changes. "Whoever said there's progress in this country," a particularly angry friend of yours says, "does not take public transportation to work."

As the bus slowly goes through early rush hour traffic, you see - somehow, since the windows are full of drops, and those drops are coming down fast - stranded commuters holding on to their umbrellas, spilling onto the street, impatiently waiting for a bus that would take them in, that could take them in. Towering over them, billboards, for beauty products and mobile service providers and Aeropostale and Stradivarius and, maybe, Banana Republic.

You go back to your Twitter feed - your bus is full by then; you still can't resist - and the updates keep on coming in. One by one, the MMDA is listing all the flooded streets. The usual streets, the usual levels, only they seem much worse now than ever before. The news outfits are regurgitating these bits of information, and in between, sympathetically asking them to send them photos for use in their newscasts. Your friends are still angry, stranded in their offices, or perhaps shivering in a bus that's not moving, just like yours, because right in front of you is one of those usual streets, with waters up to the waist. "Tag-ulan na naman," you sigh to yourself. "Ano ba ang nagbago?"

Yep, things are definitely looking up.

And then you think about it some more. Change takes a while. It always takes a while. Granted, you've been walking through flooded streets every June, every July, every August, and in the aftermath of a big storm there's always talk of a new flood control system, and unclogging pipes and rivers, and yet when the rains come back it always seems worse. Or you're getting older and more tired.

Are things changing? Slowly, yes. Despite everybody's penchant to talk about progress like this, the very thing you're seeing now, is the end game, the ultimate, the optimal - yes. You tend to talk about business when you're having drinks with your colleagues - so much for winding down - and you often talk about a new factory being set up in Batangas, in Laguna, in Pampanga, big international companies setting up shop here, giving more people jobs, giving you more to sell to. More people can afford to pay taxes, which should mean, in around five years, perhaps, enough funds to start that long-gestating flood control project. And maybe hospitals. And better police coverage. And more homes. And more jobs. Maybe we shouldn't be so impatient, because things are looking up, right?

You look out the window again, and you start to see where things went wrong. There are buildings where they shouldn't be. No trees where they should be. Water will go to the lowest point, and now that point is filled with shanties from people who refuse to relocate, because their supposed future homes are so far away from their livelihoods - it's unthinking how they are assumed to be able to survive in the middle of nowhere because they are barely getting by in the middle of everywhere.

So, what, do we have to rip it all up and start again just to get things right? Do we have to take these billboards and these shopping malls and these drainage systems down so we could start anew? Lay the groundwork, make plans, make some more plans, and move everything around, so in five decades it will not feel like hell when you get out of work in a rainy day - but by then you're close to retirement, or maybe you're already retired, but you definitely have a car, (or three, like your rich uncles and aunts did,) and you don't have to walk while making a sloshing sound.

Also, nobody would want to do just that. So as not to inconvenience anyone, most importantly yourself, just keep everything where they are and let them sort it out.

You find yourself on an impulsive weekend trip to Legazpi. You want to see Mayon, and yes, you'll have to go there in the morning, and yes, a bus ride takes half a day one way, but sod it, you're going. The road is long, literally, and bumpy, more so, and the bus is full of locals going back and you, the lone tourist, earphones plugged in, with no sound coming out, because you forgot to charge your MP3 player, and now you're forced to listen to everything else.

The man beside you tries to start a conversation with you. Yes, he knows you're not listening to anything. He is from Manila too, after all, and he's coming home.

"Magbabakasyon ako," you say, a little annoyed, but boredom has the best of you, and you don't have any choice. "Ikaw, dito ka ba nakatira?"

"Uuwi na ako sa amin," he says. He looks presentable, but tired. "Lumuwas ako ng Maynila para magtrabaho, eh, wala naman akong napala."

"So... anong gagawin mo pag-uwi mo?"

The whole trip to Legazpi - and the city itself - feels like going back in time sometimes. It's bustling, but it's not a place you'd want to stay in, because there is nothing there for you. Vampire Weekend won't be holding concerts here, and you won't get to buy good clothes here, and there's effectively no nightlife, as the lights go off by eight in the evening.

"Bahala na," he says. "May makikita rin ako."

Things are, in one way or another, looking up.

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