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Memories in multicabs

By Anya Isabelle Lopera Published Feb 23, 2024 5:00 am

I thumbed over the coins in the deep pocket of my school skirt, trying to find the exact amount—one five, three ones—jostling my phone in the process. It was the only way I could pass the time, waiting for the next multicab to pull into the terminal and bring me and several others to Tacloban’s downtown area from Abucay. My thumb found the groove of a coin and I lost focus, trying to deduce if it was a five or a ten by sensation alone. I heard The Jets’ You Got It All bleat into the area as a multicab pulled in and felt the people in front of me shuffle forward, using fans to alleviate the sticky afternoon heat.

It’s a five. No, a ten. Months of taking too long to compile fare goaded me into preparing the coins in advance every time, to avoid getting off a few blocks too late. The filing into the yellow multicab was a slow affair: at three, nobody was in a hectic rush to get home. Maybe lunch. Back to work. Or, like me, just off school and unwilling to go home just yet. Coming to the terminal, to downtown, by myself was my last resort on a list of options. My then-boyfriend had a project. All my friends had extracurriculars. I myself was exhausted and thirsty, my knobby knees bending from the weight of my bag.

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But I never liked to, and didn’t, let anything deter me from going, fishing the coins out of my pocket with glee. Like usual, I’d eat and go sifting through 20 peso bins at my favorite ukay. This mundane back and forth was the backdrop to most of my life at 14, just on the cusp of coming into myself, worn from school and the weariness of my head, energized by my first boyfriend and high school gossip, passed over plastic bags of Pepsi and torn-open bags of Cracklings, thrilled by the cheat sheet to my Christian Living exam that remained folded in the pile of coins I’d just been sifting through.

The song was as loud as ever as I found myself at the front of the line, looking up to see the yellow multicab there, this time sans passengers. I blinked, wondering if I’d imagined being sandwiched in the middle of a queue for a multicab that appeared empty.

‘Home,’ some witty sticker out there retailing for P150 says, ‘is wherever you memorize the commute routes.’

I’d become the first in line for the next multicab, which, yes, was just about identical to the last one. The same grating yellow, painful to look at in the early afternoon sun; the same radio station, playing the same corny rock on an even more grating, crunchy speaker, the music that served as drivers’ accompaniment to a circular route; the same vulgar jokes hollered from driver to barker, bills folded to thinness in-between suntanned fingers.

The yellow multicab, a familiar sight in Tacloban, moves through the streets, echoing the everyday rhythm of the narrator's journey through change and self-discovery.

The route from Abucay to downtown was safe and short, and with how everything was close together in the area, you could do just as well getting off as soon as you got to downtown and walking the rest of the way: to Savemore, to Justice, to Burgos.

I’d done my baby steps of commuting within this route, murmuring names of streets under my breath as I mentally prepared myself to sound imposing enough to say “para.” With time I possessed confidence, barely glancing upward before I knew where to get off. I’d stopped at every inch of the route: to eat, to buy pens for a quiz, to go on dates, to buy tela with my mom. This was sacred comfort to me, a sliver of life I only shared with my then-boyfriend, my friends. The slow, sticky pace of life in Tacloban, hot afternoons turning to cool evenings, haggling over an already-cheap bag, eating McDonald’s in between students from other schools.

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No one seemed to notice how the two multicabs were completely the same—business as usual for the 3 p.m. drivel. I stared for a second, jingling the fare in my hand, at the plastic-covered blue seats, the dirty metal floor with intermittent scraps of trash and smears of dust. I wondered how many times I’d failed to notice the same thing. Maybe, today, my solo trip warranted a heightened sense of observation. Today it was just me, my thoughts, my tired knees, and my thirst, nails scratching at the smooth surface of my tumbler and the vinyl sticker peeling off of it.

What do stickers say these days? Those witty, kitschy things they sell by the piece at art fairs. They were niche once, which feels like an impossibility with how much they’ve populated the surface of phone cases and laptops. At a bazaar at university last week, I looked at a few, beautifully cut and crafted with vulgar slang or funny phrases. It’s always mostly the same, differing only in words: the same something-shaped glittery surface, some saying cheesy things like you’re the best, others, #1 Malandi. Also cheesy. In the crowd of the city, my life and my route have both become different.

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I took a Grab to school that day. Different from hot long lines and eight pesos in my skirt pocket and You Got It All, different from mustard multicabs and routes recited in Waray. But different in different ways, too—rush hour in Tacloban was 3 p.m. in Katipunan. In the city, it’s a constant thrum of busy. No time to be tired, no time to be thirsty, no time to notice if the Toyota Innova you booked was identical to the one that picked you up yesterday.

I take different routes, cars slow-moving, sluggish lines. In the bubble of my Grab car, I picture the yellow multicab, the driver’s loud voice. Picture all the times I sat alone, not alone, clutching a failed quiz, or with a heavy bag of ukay impulse buys. Picture all the ages I was when I sat, all the uniforms I’ve now given away, whose material has touched the plastic tarp over the stiff seat. Remembered, with little effort, the ache of having everything change. I’ve only just begun to commit to memory the roads of Manila, let alone absorb the shock of growing up at a pace that has passed me by twice over, and yet, I’ve felt more like me than I ever have.

As we pulled into the road going downtown, a third yellow multicab arrived. This time it was Roselle Nava on both radios, just a millisecond out of sync as I left the terminal, the yellow reduced into a faraway dot. “Home,” some witty sticker out there retailing for P150 says, “is wherever you memorize the commute routes.” I dropped eight pesos, leaned back, and closed my eyes.