Sunday, December 30, 2007

A story

I have my hair cut at this barbershop in Robinsons Galleria and usually by any one of three barbers. On this particular day, Zaldy was free so I sat on his chair. In the course of the service, I commented on a feature on Channel 7 (the TV was on at that time) about the riles community. Suddenly, Zaldy said that he at one point lived in the streets, finding sleep in any relatively flat surface like a tricycle cab. I asked him when and how. He said it was something like seventeen years ago in Davao City. He had run away from home at fifteen after his parents asked him to drop out of school to allow an older sibling to finish schooling. He ended up living around Bangkerohan Market in Davao. He taught himself the trade (haircutting) to support himself. He only returned home after a year and only after his father spotted him in the market.

He ran away again three years later after a particularly bad argument that ended with both he and his father drawing blades on each other. He packed all his belongings in a small bag and took all of P300 to strike out into the world. He slipped onboard a Manila-bound boat as a stowaway. He was discovered as the boat was nearing Cebu island. He was emotionally traumatized by the experience, he said. The crew threatened to set him adrift as punishment. He offered his cutting services to work off the fare. He ended up cutting hair and shaving all the crew of the boat but had to leave his equipment at the port of Manila until he could make the P848 debt to the shipping company. He managed to recover his clipper and scissors after a week.

He marvelled how he was able to find his way around those first few months with not a word of Tagalog. He got so lost one time that he found himself in Cubao after missing his Boni stop on the bus -- he admitted crying in desperation. He even had to ask a Visayan to call a friend on his behalf. This friend, also from Davao, got him his first job and a place to stay. With nothing else to do and little money to do anything with, he concentrated on his work, often putting in 16-hour days in a small barbershop in Manila.

He proudly said that in the thirteen years since stepping off the boat, he had managed to earn enough as a barber to have owned three houses and a motorcycle. He lost everything when his marriage, and likely his confidence subsequently, broke down. He bemoans not having much presently and having to start all over again. Given his history and relative youth (he's only 31), I am sure he will be able to get much of what he lost back.

I sometimes bitch and moan (and if you really knew me, this is nothing new) about life in general, moreso now, with a slow economy and elections around the corner. But hearing his story got me thinking: there is really no depth from which we cannot ascend from. And it doesn't just take inheritance or special circumstance to uplift one's situation in life, it takes guts, determination, and perseverance.

Serendipity...with a P100 haircut.

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