Last Saturday, I went to buy a broadsheet to bide my time. The couple selling newspapers, Mang King and Aling Rea, greeted me with their wide smiles. The national dailies and local tabloids were neatly arranged on a piece of plywood on top of an old, unsteady table at the corner of the street. When I got my copy of the Inquirer, I handed to Aling Rea my twenty-peso bill and then slightly waved to her, a handsignal I made to mean that I want her to keep my change. Aling Rea understood and she smiled showing her sturdy but wide-spaced teeth.
I was about to leave when Mang King asked me, “Ilang taon ka na, Bong?”
“32 po” was my immediate reply but soon realized that I had turned 32 two years back.
“Ah, kasing-edad mo lang pala yung pangatlo kong anak,” Mang King said as he began to nibble on his pandesal. He looked at his wife and gave her the other pandesal from a small paper bag which he later crumpled and dropped to his right foot.
Before Aling Rea took a bite on her pandesal, she asked, “Wala ka pang asawa, Bong?”
“Wala pa po.” I answered back, shaking my head.
Aling Rea hastily replied, “Katulad din ng mga anak namin. Matatanda na, ayaw pa magsipag-asawa…”
I mustered an even bigger smile as I headed back to our third-floor apartment. Thoughts came rushing in: perhaps their children fear the responsibility of having families of their own; perhaps their children fear that they won’t be able to provide and make ends meet for their own families, perhaps they fear that they’d end up to where Mang King and Aling Rea are now; and perhaps, all’s well with them, too.
Then my focus drifted to the news feature “Earth Hour: Black Saturday comes one week early”. If only I could have a date before the clock strikes 8:30 tonight for the earth hour, that would be magnificent… And it would be fabulously phenomenal to spend the earth hour with the girl of my dreams. Wishful thinking indeed!
Shrouded by the darkness of my neighborhood, the earth hour passed… into the rest of the night… and the next day…
After attending Sunday mass, I was not able to see Mang King and Aling Rea at the streetcorner where they usually are until 9:00 o’clock in the morning. I thought they may have sold their newspapers fast and that’s a very good thing for them.
Last night, on my way home from my friend’s birthday party, there were several people talking along the street, a nearby house was lighted with an upright tent/canopy fronting it. But I did not mind it.
Early today, I did not see Mang King and Aling Rea selling newspapers. And I wondered. It was Pepe, the buco vendor, who broke the news to me: Mang King already passed away.
I decided to drop by Mang King’s place before going to the office. As I was coming, Aling Rea came to meet me and I hurriedly expressed my condolences and handed to her what I could share. Unable to say a word, she was hiding her sorrow and was obviously tired and weary.
Atop a pedestal overlooking the street where Mang King sold his newspapers daily, Mang King’s coffin was surrounded by wreaths and flower arrangements given by politicians running for office in the upcoming elections. I wondered if they really knew Mang King, who I also did not recognize at first, as he was now clean shaven and clad in barong. I said a little prayer for Mang King, and also for his loved ones.
Then, one of Mang King’s sons approached me, saying “Wala na po yung kaibigan ninyo…” I simply bowed my head in silence and relayed my condolences to him, then to Aling Rea and to the lady gently rocking her baby to sleep among the chairs reserved for guests.
Mang King has gone when the lights were off. There will be no more earth hours for Mang King. The moments and minutes I had with Mang King easily add up to more than an earth hour. And that to me is what really matters for now.