“One order of Adobo,” uttered Mario while drawing a 20 peso bill out of his battered wallet.
Maja stood up from her wooden stool and took a glance at the bulky man at the counter. Probably at his mid-forties, he had a white towel hung on his left shoulder and wore a simple white shirt and faded jeans. Behind him was a shabby karinderia with just four tables and a few plastic chairs. Fortunately, it was break time. The usual people: the jeepney driver, their 12-year-old neighbor, the college student and the street vendor were there. Her father, Felipe, was not — as usual. Where was he? She couldn’t tell.
She hastily scooped some adobo, put it on a plate with rice and handed it to Mario.
“You will like my adobo, Mang Mario,” Maja said with an encouraging smile, “I made a few adjustments to my mother’s original recipe.”
Her mother’s face flashed before her eyes. Most people said she looked a lot like her mother, beautiful, especially with her eyes. Back then, this karinderia was an elegant restaurant. She never knew what had really happened. All that was said to her when she was 6 years old was that her Nanay couldn’t tuck her into bed that gloomy night. Yet, four years later, she still never dared to ask.
“Mmm… dish ish derishoush!,” said Mario, standing and gobbling a huge piece of pork. “You have the same talent as your mother. She used to give us free food at the terminal.”
After she gave him a warm smile, he headed toward a vacant table and ate. This is the scenario almost everyday. Every cent Mario earns in a day is quickly spent on his sickly wife’s medicine and to feed his seven children. It would be his lucky day if he had three meals.
He left his plate on the table, wore his waist bag, and headed for his jeep. Mario turned the key and the engine purred until it was up and running.
“Mang Mario,” shouted Maja from inside the karinderia, “Don’t forget to pass by later this afternoon. I have to go to the market. I’m afraid I’m out of pork and seasoning.”
Mario gave an enthusiastic “sure” and drove away slowly. Two passengers got in.
“We’re headed to Tondo,” the woman said and then faced her friend, “I heard there will be a city-wide strike tomorrow. We would have trouble getting to work.”
Mario was in deep thought whether or not he would join the strike. The union had pledged not to function the next day but he could always say no. He would have to talk to Felipe for him to decide. Yet, he already knew what Felipe’s answer would be.
Passengers got in and out until Mario reached the end of his route. It was 4 PM. The last passenger got out and he parked under a talisay tree. Several activists were resting under it and eating their packed meals. Felipe was among them, eating what Maja had probably prepared for him. He wore a red band across his forehead and tied a red ribbon around his arm. Beside him was a megaphone and a placard saying “Oust the Mayor! Free the city from corruption!”
“Felipe, it seems like you haven’t eaten for centuries. Did you cook that yourself?” Mario teased.
Felipe looked up and was surprised to see Mario. He grinned and offered some food but Mario refused. Felipe was leading another rally against the Mayor who was known to be vile and corrupt.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Felipe had more personal and horrid reasons for the rallies he led. Once, he had a restaurant run by his beautiful wife and had more than sufficient money from his hacienda. He ran for the position of Mayor four years ago with the current Mayor as his rival and, until now, he regrets having done so. The Mayor knew both legal and illegal ways to defeat his opponents. As a result, Felipe lost his land. But that was not all. While he was out with their daughter for the campaign, a horde of goons rampaged into the restaurant and left nothing but shambles of what used to be the best restaurant in the city. And when it seemed that nothing else could be worse, his wife was discovered sprawling on the pantry floor and bathing in blood.
His opponent once told him that he would do anything to win.
“I was wondering if you could help me decide whether or not I would join the strike,” Mario said, sitting down beside his friend.
“You are asking the leader of the rally today, tomorrow, and most probably the following days, if it is right for you to join,” Felipe said. “Are you really searching for an answer or have you already decided for yourself?”
After the conversation, Mario drove back, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. As he stopped at Maja’s karinderia, Maja quickly jumped on bringing her bayong with her. She greeted the jeepney driver and handed him some coins.
It was the day of the city-wide strike. It was in no doubt that throngs of activists would take a pit stop at Maja’s karinderia. Felipe was already at the site of assembly, brandishing his megaphone, and urging people to join. Mario’s wife and two elder children, one 13 and the other 11 years old, had persuaded him to join. They said that there was no need for him to hesitate. Just one day with little food or no medication wouldn’t make much of a difference in their life.
Scores of customers came into the karinderia that day, including the usual. Almost all of them had red cloth tied either around their head or their arm. The adobo was sold out before noon. Maja covered the pots containing the various viands and temporarily closed the karinderia. She prepared the lunch for her father, herself, and brought extra for Mario.
Maja arrived at the site carrying packs of lunch also for the other activists. She glanced at her surroundings and found Felipe up on the stage, giving a speech. She walked through the crowded place and passed by Mario who was carefully listening to the words of her father.
“Justice is what we want! Justice is what we need!” the people cried. Maja was there, waiting by the stairs backstage. She went up and congratulated her father with a hug. Among the crowd was Mario, who overwhelmed by his friend’s speech looked to his right to find a man about to pull the trigger on a gun that was pointing at Felipe.
His friend turned to him, smiling. Maja saw. The trigger was pulled.
“I, Eduardo Dela Cruz, solemnly swear as newly elected congressman, to do my duty as the leader of this city and as a Filipino doing his best for the good of the country.”
The highways are now black and white. Mang Mario still drives his old jeepney. Passengers get on, get off, knowing where they are headed; but, at the same time, not knowing at all.
Mel, Coleen, and Kate are third year students of the Ateneo de Davao High School.