His name is Mateo. Mattew Mateo.
I call him by his surname since that was the name written on his nametag on the first day of school. Like my other boys, he started really rowdy.
He also comes in late during the first days of school, but I think they were just adjusting to those ‘first days’.
Now for a record, Mateo had the fathest house from our school.
We rode an Ikot jeep, which reminded me of the Ikot Jeep in Diliman. The jeep made a U-Turn before Feria. We stopped in a Shell gasoline station near Ever.
I got worried with his little brother who was nowhere to be seen when we stepped out.
“Asan na kapatid mo?” I asked.
Mateo looked around then saw his brother. “Ui, lika dito.” I smiled as I saw them; maybe because I miss the feeling of being the “older” one to my younger brother, Christian.
It was already 6:05 when we rode a tricycle. I saw huge houses with a number of cars and huge gardens. The road was wide, but there were no people outside. If I remember it correctly, the name of the village was Capitol something.
Why is it that the wider the road, the lesser number of people; the narrower the road, the more people there are?
We arrived at their sitio around 6:20. People were looking at me as if it was their first time to see a teacher. A number murmured, ‘Ui teacher ni Yoyong ba yun’ and some even said ‘Hala anong kasalanan mo’.
I patted Mateo and said, “Wala po. Behave to eh.”
Sitio Payong gave me the feels of Kamanggaan, Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur where my mother grew up. It didn’t feel like I was in the city. Pathways were wide enough for cars to pass, houses weren’t that cramp, and the wind blew as if it came from the sea.
“Hi Ma’am.” I greeted Mateo’s parents. “Pasensya na po sa biglaang bisita.”
“Ayos lang po ma’am.” His mother began to pack away things in their sala. “Sinabi niya nga po na bibisita kayo. Di ko lang po alam na ngayon.”
“Pasensya na po sa bahay namin.” His father said. “Ganito po talaga ang dukha.”
“Ay hindi po.” I replied.
I actually didn’t know what to reply; I honestly felt awkward. I never thought of them as “dukha”. I thought of them as the family of my student.
“Ang ganda po dito.” I said as I looked around. “Namiss ko po bigla yung probinsya namin.”
“Oho sabi nga nila ito yung squatter na hindi mukhang squatter.” Mateo’s mother replied.
Again, I felt awkward. Is it really that easy to separate themselves?
“Ay hindi po…”
Or… Is it only I who pretends that I am not aware of the division made by society? A division that reflects the number of money you have in your bank?
“Kamusta ho pala si Mateo dito sa bahay?” I started, “Tumutulong naman ho ba?”
“Ay si Mateo ho?” she looked at Mateo. “Iyon pasaway. Naglalaro ho pagdating dito.”
“Nakakatulong po ba sa bahay?”
“Eh kasi iyan kapag sinabing maghugas ng pinggan, titigil kasi nga hindi pa marunong.”
“Nako kailangan turuan na po yan.”
“Oo nga po eh kasi minsan natunganga na eh ganon rin. Kaya imbis na magalit ako, kinukuha ko na lang sa kanya yung hugasin.”
Then we talked about Mateo’s attitude and grades in school. I told them that Mateo and almost everyone started rowdy, but now he has changed. His mother smiled because of this news.
“Kasi ma’am nung grade 2, nagcucut yan. Pinapalo nga yan ng tatay niya sa paa para matauhan. Pero ngayon, hindi na po.”
“Mabuti naman po. Minsan po pala nalelate din si Mateo. Siguro kasi nga, malayo.”
“Oho dati kasi pangumaga yan eh. Eh malayo kaya pinalipat ko sa hapon.”
“Bakit nga po pala sa Commonwealth eh ang layo? Wala na po bang ibang elementary dito?”
“Ang malapit lang po kasi Commonwealth, Batasan at Balara. Eh sa Balara po malayo yung lalakarin pauwi. Commonwealth na lang po pinili namin kasi yun yung marami dito.”
“Diba po may school diyan?”
“Pang kinder lang ho iyon eh. Gusto nga po sana namin humiling na may school sana dito para malapit lang. Kaso tinanggihan eh.”
Rural communities have the same problem, only in Mateo’s situation they have transportation. It is saddening that in rural communites, they have to walk kilometers and cross rivers if there are any, just to get to school.
We were chatting about it when Mateo sniffed.
“Napapansin ko pala lagi po palang sinisipon si Mateo.”
“Opo. Hindi ko rin alam eh. Madalang yan hindi sipunin. At saka po meron din siya nung sa balat? Yung nagdudugo?”
“Hala meron po siyang eczema?”
“Opo dati meron siya. Ngayon wala na. Pero hindi ko rin po alam kung bakit siya laging sinisipon.”
I saw Mateo roll on the bed, which I think was very adorable. I could remember how I do that when I was a kid.
“Ilan po silang magkakapatid?”
“Tatlo po. Bale si Mateo panganay.”
“Wow kuya pala. Mabait po yang kuya.”
“Oo nga po. Dati hinahatid ko yan pero nung nabuntis ako sabi ko hindi ko na kaya.”
“Paano niyo po sinabi kay Mateo na sila na lang mag-isa pauwi?”
“Nagumpisa po yun nung kalahati ng grade 2 eh. Sabi ko sa kanya hindi ko na sila kayang ihatid kasi nga buntis ako at baka manganak ako sa daan habang sinusundo sila. Eh iyon, sabi ni Mateo ‘sige mama ako na bahala’.”
“Nakaya naman po niya?”
“Oho. Kaya nga po kung napapansin niyo kapag magkasama silang kapatid inaakbayan na agad yung kapatid niya eh.”
“Ano po bang trabaho ni mister?”
“Tagapinta po ng bahay. Ako po dito sa bahay.”
I decided to go home after several chats with the mother. There was smoke all over, which I found to be the one that they spray to get rid of mosquitoes.
While we were on our way to the terminal, I heard her say, “Kunin mo tsinelas mo Yoyong.”
“Bakit po Yoyong tawag sa kanya?”
“Bagyong Yoyong po kasi nung pinanganak ko yan.”
“Binabaha po ba dito?”
“Hindi. Nung Ondoy hanggang paanan lang. Dyan po tawid pwede magbangka sa may Marikina river.”
I said my goodbye when I rode the tricycle. Then again, I saw the huge houses that surround the village.
Questions began to disturb me.
When did money divide the people into classes? When did society agree to it? When was the last time this land was free? How did it happen that all of us speak in different languages? Who invented these languages?
What is my purpose of pondering with these questions?
Am I really leaving the mark I wanted to leave?
Student number 51, check.