MY two boardmates and I were invited to coordinate a friend’s wedding in a remote barangay in North Cotabato one day some years ago. I said remote because the trip required more than three hours ride on a road that resembled a dried up river on board a jeepney, which from afar, looked like a moving cluster of humans and cargoes.
The jeepney is the primary form of transportation for the local population. It is the most affordable means of transportation in the place and we had to endure waiting for it operates on an “alas puno” system, which means it will only leave the terminal after the roof gets filled and its impossible to see the jeepney anymore.
When we arrived at the terminal, a miracle awaited us because wonder of wonders, the front seat was still unoccupied. We immediately occupied the front seat and congratulated ourselves for being lucky. I chose the seat nearest the driver to be spared from the mud.
I wondered why nobody took the front seat when the jeepney was almost filled with passengers and boxes and assortment of things they bought from the town. It seemed that they bought the whole market.
Before we boarded the jeep, my boardmate Jean started flirting with a fair-looking man in his early twenties who said he was a jeepney driver.
Jean then bargained to trade places with me because she wanted to position herself next to the driver. I agreed after some persuasion and she waited expectedly for the man whom she had flirted with earlier.
When there was no longer an inch to spare and even the jeepney roof was filled, the driver took his seat.
I gasped and almost choked with suppressed laughter for instead of the good-looking man we were expecting, the driver who sat next to Jean was a bearded man in his late forties, wearing a maong jacket that simply stank.
A cheap cigarette was hanging on his mouth but it didn’t stop him from saying hello to us, spraying smoke in our general direction. Lovely.
I am not exaggerating but the driver stunk so bad we literally had to cover our noses with handtowels. Jean had to deal with about 80 percent of the driver’s body odor.
The mystery was solved why nobody took the front seat but that was not the end yet. Coming to a bend in the bumpy, muddy road, I saw that the bridge was being repaired so that jeepneys and other vehicles had to pass through the shallow portion of the river.
The water was a little higher because it rained the night before. Right in the middle of the river I learned the second secret why no one grabbed the front seat as a flood of water streamed onto the floor and made my boardmates’ shoes wet. My sandals however were spared from the bath because I was able to lift my feet in time.
I swore Jean’s pouting mouth was already capable of carrying a kilo of rice because aside from the odor, she has to extend effort to dodge the driver’s hand which would often ‘accidentally’ touch her leg everytime he changes gear.
You bet that was the last time my boardmates and I grappled for the front seat.