Yellow river red balloon

It is a story that begins with the storm, as everyone’s stories begin now, here in a small watery barangay set on the knife-edge of Pasig City. This is the stomping ground of Mayor Bobby Eusebio, a fact difficult to forget, as his face flashes red and blue from an electronic billboard. Water laps at the mouth of the main road, licking at the legs of a rough wooden walkway. Pinagbuhatan is less than half an hour from the Shaw Boulevard MRT station, but it might have been in another country altogether. Under the teetering green arch, the water slaps back against thighs, leaving behind a layer of reeking damp. Bare-chested men make their way here, pushing trollies of empty Coke bottles. There are no more little girls paddling under the yellow river, as there were in the days after the floods came, no more little boys diving from roofs. It has been three weeks since the storm swallowed the barangay, and now the stench of dead cat claws its way down dry throats.

This is the Pasig of the grim 10-year-olds pushing thin wooden boats for P20 a passenger, the Pasig of 40-year-old men knee-high in water sitting on street corners, balancing plywood tables of P18 per kilo mandarin oranges. It is illegal to sell by the road here, but they do anyway, because nobody goes into the markets anymore. Not many buy mandarin oranges either, but there isn’t much that stays fresh enough to sell after a trip into Pinagbuhatan.

Walk down the makeshift wooden walkway—another offering of Mayor Eusebio, claims the announcement drawn in great bold letters draped across the stiles—past the half-submerged man selling oranges at P18 a kilo, past waterlogged lots studded with “No Trespassing” signs, past the piles of fat shiny buns in the glass cases of BGE Baking Supply. The water rises to just the knee, and to the right, on higher ground, there are only puddles of muck on the ground. This is where 29-year-old Danson Desales lives, in a small box on the third floor of a skinny cement building, with five children and his wife Raquel. It is the perch from where he watched as the flood surged over his tricycle.

Danson grew up in Pasig. He had never finished school. His father was a tricycle driver. Danson drove a tricycle for as long as he could remember. When the storm decommissioned his vehicle, he pushed a plywood boat instead. And on a cold October night barely a week after the storm, he watched a midwife attempt to birth his wife on the one mattress spread over the linoleum patchwork floor. Raquel pushed, the midwife pushed Raquel, and in half an hour the midwife gave up and told Danson to take his wife to the hospital. So there they were, on a boat to the Pineda hospital: the restless man with the jittering eyes, the woman clammy-skinned and panting. When she stepped out of the boat, her water broke and gushed down her thighs. Danson carried her to the emergency room. A doctor told him to buy medication. It was another half hour when he returned, and found his moaning wife outside the emergency room. They told her they couldn’t treat her. Danson had no money.

It was a tricycle that saved them. Danson had a hundred he had borrowed from a friend. He hailed a tricycle, and the driver took them to a small birth clinic, a lying-in. It was Raquel’s mother who paid, because Danson had nothing left, it is Danson who says he will pay for it soon, because Raquel is his.

Danson laughs often, while his small boy kept returning for hugs and head pats from his Papa. Danson used to make P150 a day from the tricycle, free and clear. He pays P150 as boundary to the owner and a couple of hundreds for gas. He’d wake up to fix breakfast if there was breakfast to fix, which was usually not the case. He has been in and out of jail for robbery and drug trafficking, he does not regret it, he says his family needed the money. He may do it again. But today, Danson crouches by the side of the road, tattoos gleaming with sweat, carefully rubbing the spokes and corners of his dented green tricycle. It had just completed repairs; it is the first day he will take it on the road. He hopes the weather will hold, and he laughs when the engine roars. Nearly 2,000 tricycle drivers from Pinagbuhatan plied Pasig’s streets before the storm. Only a few have managed to preserve their vehicles.

Many have died here, he says. He doesn’t know what happened, only that the water smells like garbage, and those with exposed wounds died in pain. Many weren’t as lucky as he was, those carted to schools away from homes deep in yellowing water, those dependent on relief efforts and aid. He laughs. Wherever there are relief efforts, he says with a decisive jerk of his chin, Danson Desales will be there too.

On Christmas, Danson says, on Christmas they will still be deep in water. It is how it is in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig, where small boys scrub their front steps with water from the street, and every family is ready to move their lives to second floors. In the dying light of an October afternoon, three weeks after the storm, Danson drives off to take his chances, splashing water as he negotiates the flooded main road, past the house of the young woman who had pushed boats for a living when her husband lost their tricycle, past the makeshift platform by the side of the road where glass cases display secondhand cell phones and an enterprising young man offers mobile phone repair, past another tricycle chugging its slow way through the five inches of water, trailing a blooming bouquet of shiny red balloons.

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Posted on Oct 25, 2009 under People and labeled ,,,

2 Responses to “Yellow river red balloon”

  1. So many tattoos to choose from. I search the net looking for the best pictures! Great site!

  2. 1UQCmw I’m not esaliy impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

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