It took us about two hours (with loads of traffic) to drive to Metro Manila. My aunt lives in Malabon, which is a part of Metro Manila – and don’t ask me if Malabon’s a city, a barangay (neighborhood), a province, or a town. I can hardly tell these divisions of land apart from each other, so the answer I give you will probably be wrong anyway.
What I do know is that in order to get to my aunt’s neighborhood, you have to take a series of one-way streets. This is the reason that my brother doesn’t know how to get home from Malabon: he always gets confused from all the one-way streets. My aunt accompanied us home, and when we reached the neighborhood in the video, whose name, by the way, roughly translates into “fucks with you” – AND I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING ABOUT THAT – my aunt tells us a sweet little story.
Years ago, my aunt, Tita Quel, was in an Oner with her brother-in-law, Tiyo*, and they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the rough part of town. There was a traffic officer at the intersection, and because the Philippines is the land of corruption and irony, the fact that the traffic jam was as bad as it was didn’t seem out of place. Tita Quel had her purse on her lap, and she looked out into the sea of traffic with weary eyes. Night was only now taking root in that part of the world, and the dusty sidewalks looked like they belonged on the set of a Clint Eastwood western.
A man made his way through the crowded street. He was non-descript, even slightly attractive. He wore neatly-starched and -pressed clothes, and this wasn’t some thread-bare outfit, either. The fact that he was walking through traffic was as normal as the fact that roosters were fenced-in on the tiny triangles of grass that divided the wide boulevard. Tiyo faced the front of the car, but his eyes scanned the entire scene: a police car was about 75 feet away; a few Oners were scattered in the crowd, easy targets because of their lack of doors; one Oner had two female passengers who wore lots of jewelry.
As the well-dressed man made his way through the crowd, Tiyo muttered under his breath that Tita Quel should put her purse in the middle console. Quickly, she did as she was told. The good-looking stranger walked past, and though she found him attractive she couldn’t help but shiver with fear as he neared. She covered herself with the curtains that clung to the car where doors should have been. She held her breath, hoping that she wouldn’t be noticed. She smelled predatory instinct in the air: danger, blood-lust, potential violence and sweat mingled in the sweltering humidity. Her eyes followed the stranger as he deftly maneuvered through the muggy cacophony of mufflers, voices, and exhaust fumes.
The stranger stood by the side of the Oner that had the two bejeweled passengers. He brandished a knife, and held it to the neck of the closer woman, who sat in the passenger seat wearing a purple dress. He instructed the woman in the purple dress to give all her jewelry to her driver-friend, who wore a pink dress. With shaky hands, the purple dressed-woman did as she was told, then the man said something that made her begin to cry. Her lips quivered as she looked from the man to her friend, who also began to cry. The man tauntingly danced the blade close to the woman’s face, then slid his penis out of his trousers. The woman sucked him off while the crowded street of cars watched. No one tried to stop it.
Tita Quel’s eyes widened as she took in the scene. She couldn’t help it: her voice, raised an octave, began to squeal on the stranger.
“Sshhhhh!” admonished Tiyo. He warily eyed the traffic officer, who was probably in on the scam and purposely keeping the cars in grid-lock. Who knew who else was in on the assault? The officers in the police car? Passengers of other cars? Were men hiding in bushes? Did the stranger have accomplices milling in the traffic? Anything was possible. A shoot-out could occur from a single concerned act. “Stop. Looking.” Tiyo said, glaring at my aunt.
She did what she was told. The stranger came in the purple-dressed woman’s mouth, then zipped up as if he’d just taken a piss on a public wall (another common occurrence here), and told the pink-dressed woman to hand over all of the jewelry. He sauntered off into the crowd. The cars had hardly moved. My aunt had barely breathed. The Philippines had only proven its tough-as-nails image.
Until this day, my aunt wonders about the purple- and pink- dressed women. Did they seek counseling after the incident? Were they able to go on with their lives just as if nothing had happened? And what about the stranger: Was Tiyo right? Were the police officers and the traffic cop in on the assault and robbery? Or was the stranger a lone criminal, taking advantage of the fact that people would assume he had accomplices? What would have happened if someone had rushed to the aid of his victims?
I feel like, if that same incident happened today, I would say something, do something, do anything. But who knows? Being here makes me question everything I thought I knew about myself.
What would you do?