It’s there at the corner of Panay and Roces and it is indeed a waiting shed, although some people practically live in it and make their living there.
When I get bored with the burgis pleasures of the mall, I feel like getting down and dirty. No facial scrub, manicure-pedicure, fine eating places, forever-on-sale items of the department store. That’s when I spend an hour or two in the waiting shed.
Aling Flor lives there. She is a pretty spinster with no front teeth and likes to wear garish clothes that she hangs like Christmas decorations on the eucalyptus tree at the corner. Canary yellow with a sprinkling of sequins, fuchsia and pink with a halter neck.
Flor’s livelihood is samalamig, which is retailing tube ice in P5 and P10 quantities from a Styrofoam ice box covered by a plank and a heavy stone. It is a brisk summer business.
Flor’s other livelihood is massaging people on the waiting shed bench, which is actually a pair of fat steel pipes. I take my stroller-wheelchair so I can sit on it and be more comfortable. Laborers, jeepney drivers, drunks get massaged there.
And me. I used to ask Flor to massage me in my house, but she was always falling asleep in the middle of it, because she claims, “the chairs are soft, the lights are dim, there are electric fans and I get fed a full meal.”
So, instead, I just go to the waiting shed to have my feet massaged and pay her generously. It is not the massage I’m really after. It’s my story-loving heart that craves the colorful proletariat atmosphere.
I’m glad my doctor daughter-in-law never found out I go there or she would surely order me to take a scalding bath, a purgative, an antibiotic and, for all I know, a rabies shot (there is a cat in the waiting shed). Aside from the health policing of my daughter-in-law, I was brought up by a cleanliness-obsessed mama.
And if you have a background like that, you rebel. I am an 86-year-old rebel. My secret joy is to get down and dirty. That’s when I head for the waiting shed.
Among the more-or-less permanent characters in the waiting shed is a pretty woman named Perlie. She is always seated on a tall overturned tin can on the sidewalk. She stops certain jeepneys as they pass and makes a swift transaction.
Actually she is a collector of the five-six certain drivers borrow. She says she is only an “employee,” a collector with a fixed salary. Sometimes when the driver who has nothing to pay her that day spots Perlie at the waiting shed, he changes his route.
Another woman who hangs out there, Flor says, once had a shapely body since gone to seed. She married a bum who expects her to “sell her body.” If she had no transaction on that day, he bangs and bangs her head against a wall. “One day I won’t be surprised if she goes crazy,” says Flor.
Although homeless, I am sure Flor will never go hungry. On the wall is a list of the services she offers. It is impressive. It could actually be a college subject: Philippine Folk Maladies and their Cures. On a big signboard on the waiting shed is her menu.
Sabuy: (A curse) A handful of small illnesses thrown your way by invisible nature spirits you did not realize you had offended. (Revenge for such things as having unwittingly trampled thrown garbage, urinated, etc. on their home. It makes your body feel it has been rolled on sand that makes you itch, and feel that insects are crawling all over your body. You become restless and sleepless.)
Flor’s remedy is a massage of coconut oil with a mix of secret herbs. A branch of malunggay is slightly beaten (pinapaspas) all over the corpus to complete the operation.
Suob: (A remedy) for binat or a repeat of a recent illness. It is one of the customary rituals for a woman who has just given birth.
The patient sits on a chair with a solihiya (cane seat), a basin of very hot water underneath. The water is infused with fragrant herbs like tanglad, sambong, alagaw and such. A cape or blanket covers the naked body. This ritual will drive out the lamig (cold) in it and make you well. It is followed by a coconut oil massage.
Ihip: This follow-up to the suob consists of massaging the temples with coconut oil then blowing on the fontanel three times to finally drive out the bad spirit.
Usog: If you stare at or concentrate on a person who is tired or hungry, the condition could transfer to you. Flor’s explanation: It’s an exchange of energies where the stronger, more powerful or harmful one may overwhelm and weaken you. Easily affects young children. That is why when someone comments something like “Ang cute cute ng anak mo,” the child is always protected by its parent with the words “puera usog.” In other words, don’t steal her energy.
Balis: a person with balis has a tongue slightly split at the end and can easily cause usog. He or she is like a mangkukulam (witch) and can easily cause the demise of a child with a weak constitution.
Bati: Occasionally, a nature spirit falls in love with a human which will cause the object of supernatural affection to become weak and drained. I forgot to ask the remedy for that, but I do hope they live happily ever after.