Libertad is home to a denizen of “cart people”. I call them that because, well, their homes and all of their earthly possessions are in their mobile homes – their carts. That’s where they eat, sleep, do their laundry, even make their babies. Heck, they practically do everything on four wheels.
Elsa, the Cat Lady, is one of them.
Elsa was in the hospital. That’s why you haven’t seen her for a while. Her husband beats her for not taking care of him as well as she takes care of her cats. One night, he just came to her cart and stabbed her. It was a good thing the other cart people immediately took her to Pasay General or else she will bleed to death, said Manang, my ever reliable source of local gossip, when I asked her about Elsa (The Cat Lady). You see, I haven’t seen the Cat Lady for quite some time and when I saw her tonight, it was good to see something familiar again.
She has a husband? I didn’t know that, I told Manang in surprise as I was picking out the hottest balut she is selling in her basket.
Yes. In fact he’s that guy who sells coconuts from another cart parked every night in front of Banco de Oro, she told me as she motioned with her finger towards the direction of the bank.
Oooh… you mean that short pudgy guy who walks with a limp and has this femle companion who smokes like a chimney?? I asked Manang.
Yeah. That’s Elsa’s husband. The woman who smokes a lot, that’s his mistress, Manang explained further.
He has a mistress?!? And their carts are just a few meters away from each other and he beats up his wife?! I exclaimed to her while a thought bubble of abused wives, punching husbands and lecherous mistresses popped into my head. This seems like a script from a Bollywood movie done in
Does Elsa have any children? I asked Manang.
Ah none. Her cats are her children, she says.
I handed Manang the payment for her hot balut and thanked her for updating me with the latest gossip. Next Time Manang, update me with the latest gossip again, I told her as I was turning away.
I took my little paperbag of balut(s) and crossed the street back to my apartment. As I neared my place, there was Elsa in her cart at her usual spot beside my gate. I see her wearing a straw hat, a flowery blouse and a necklace with old worn plastic beads. Perhaps, things she had picked up from somebody else’s trash heap.
Hi sir, she greeted me with her sheepish smile. Long time no see po. Look at Muning oh. She can do her tricks. Look oh, she can stand on her hind legs, she proclaimed proudly as she held her fat cat on its forepaws and made the creature dance on her lap. I wonder what the cat was thinking as she held it and made it dance to some imaginary ditty.
Sir, if you have empty bottles again ha? Don’t forget me, she reminded me flashing me her toothy smile.
Ah yes, of course. Well, good night then, I said.
Good night sir, she said.
As I was closing the gate behind me, I glanced back at her. I thought I saw her grimace in pain.
Or perhaps, it was just me thinking.
_____________Artwork part of "STORIES FROM MY WINDOW" exhibit on May 11 to 23, 2006 at KAIDA Gallery.