Tuesday, October 14, 2008


18" x 22"
pen and ink on paper

"Taong Grasa" or literally, Grease People. That's what they are called in the streets. Vagabonds, bums and homeless, they roam the city, endlessly walking along its lengths. Most of them have some sort of mental sickness. Too poor or have no relations who can take care of them and nurse them to mental health, they are left to fend for themselves and become daily fixtures of busy urban landscapes. Libertad is one such landscape for it has its share of taong grasa. Several of them have made the length of its street their home.

There's Basketball Guy who stands tall like a tree and walks on giraffe legs with long strides. His hair is a big mess of a mottled, grimy pile sitting on his unusually large head like a crazy bird's nest. It also smells of kerosene. Every time I pass by the corner of Luna you'd know he's there at his usual corner because of the strong pungent smell of his hair.

There's also Robot Man who is short and shaped like a big pear with almost white hair. I figure this guy is only in his fifties but maybe because of walking the streets for so long, he can already pass for a grandfather way past 65. He constantly mumbles when he walks that stretch where the lamp and furniture stores are. And he's got a peculiar way of walking too, for you see, he's the only person I have known who walks swinging his right arm together with his right leg, and vice versa - like a robot. Every few minutes of his walking, he'd stop and shouts a curse then resume his robotic walk. I'd giggle whenever an unwary passerby would be surprised by his sudden outburst.

There are several others that have come and gone along this street. There was Spit Boy, who if you made the mistake of being within two feet from him, you'll find yourself an unfortunate target of his saliva missiles. There was Naked Nene, who ran in her birthday suit along the whole stretch of Libertad accompanied by the hoots of horny men, and gasps of shocked women.

But one particular taong grasa stood out amongst all of them. And this is how she left an indelible mark in my memory.

I first saw a few days after I moved here. She had a big stomach which makes her look eternally pregnant, and the first time I saw her she wrapped around her waist an old plastic bag over her torn and disheveled "duster" (the loose dress favored by old women). Almost every night, I would find her slumped on the sidewalk near my gate playing with her headless doll - the kind made of cheap plastic sold in the then old market of Libertad. She was a big woman with big feet and eternally covered in soot and grime. Each night too, I'd spy her holding a small plastic bag of food, perhaps leftovers she managed to scrounge from the stalls of the market.

I call her Dog Lady.


When I went down to take out the garbage one night, I saw her sitting in the same spot beside the electric post a few feet from my gate. She was holding her plastic bag of food in one hand and the doll in the other. She was busy dipping her bare, grimy hand into her bag when an equally dirty and mangy dog came strutting towards her drawn by the smell of the food. When the creature was a couple of feet from her, she lifted her head and stared at the animal. Holding her gaze at the dog, they both remained fixed at each other's spot for a few seconds - woman and animal staring at each other. Then without warning, like a sudden clap, she gave a loud and hoarse bark at the dog making the latter scamper away in surprise leaving her alone with her dinner.

She was a fixture at my side of the street as familiar as the lamp post where she sits every night.

I got home late on an extremely humid summer night. It's the kind of night that makes one wish for rain to come to cool everything. Sticky. Sweaty. Sickeningly sweet smell of the oppressive heat, I can't even dare sit on my favorite leather chair and not leave a big puddle of sweat and oil while I remove my shoes. So I took them off and my shirt while I stood there in the middle of my apartment. Standing there half-naked, I could already feel all the sweat of my body forming beads all over my skin. I figured that if I scrape all the sweat, all my skin’s oil will come with it and I can collect all of it and save on my frying needs.

I took off the rest of my clothes, went to the windows to open all the shutters and let in whatever wind there was to cool my apartment. But alas, even with everything open, I fear there's no reprieve from the heat tonight. Only one solution presented itself - a long cold shower.

I took my time and it felt like I could spend the whole night under the shower and leave the heat of the evening behind. After almost an hour in the cold water I walked out to dry myself with a towel and just stood by the sink of my kitchen. As I while away my time patting myself dry, a soft breeze came from the far end of my apartment through the window. It was then that I suddenly smelled in the air something unusual. It was the sweet smell of rotting flesh. I figured an open garbage truck passed by again leaving in its wake the smell of its loaded refuse. Overwhelmed by the oppressive smell slowly building up, I wrapped my towel around my waist and walked towards my windows to close the shutters.

A few feet from my window, I heard a commotion from below the street. I looked out and saw some of the local neighborhood thugs and a couple of policemen gathering below. From where I was standing I couldn’t see what it was they were circling. One thing caught my attention though. Most of them were covering their noses with either a hand or kerchief.
I leaned further thinking whatever it was they were circling might also be the source of the foul stench.

As I leaned my elbows on the sill, it was then that I began to see her coming out from way below my windows. It was Dog Lady. She was barking, or more like shouting unintelligible words. Her bulging stomach was quivering from each shout, she was naked from the waist up. All her muscles were tense and locked like that of a trapped animal. She was coming towards the men flailing something in her arms that looked like a big, lumpy rag doll wrapped in a dirty sheet.

“Take her down!” screamed one of the policemen.

The men tried to come forward but retreated when she flung the rag doll. It was like this for a few seconds with her swinging wildly about and the small crowd inching away from her. They were all locked in this “dance” when I saw one of the men creep from behind her. With one fell swoop, he struck her from behind and I could hear a loud from the blow. She fell to the ground unconscious and the rag doll slipped from her hands.

As she lain on the street surrounded by the crowd, one of the policemen started giving instructions to immediately load her to the waiting white van marked DSWD. It took several of the men to lift her heavy unconscious body. They had to collectively heave her onto the floor of the van.

“Hey You! Get the baby!” commanded the other policeman to the man who gave Dog Lady the fatal blow.

When I heard him say this to the man, it was only then that my attention was drawn towards the big lumpy rag doll that Dog Lady was flailing a while back. When I turned my eyes towards the pile heaped on the street near the gutters, the sheet that covered the “doll” was flung back revealing the white corpse of a baby.

The man who the policeman barked at kicked back the sheet to cover the corpse. With one hand grasping the sheet and the other covering his nose, he lifted the whole pile, walked towards the white van and threw it in together with the unconscious woman.

I drew back from the window, sat on a chair and faced away from the scene that unfolded in the street below. I heard the van’s door close, its engine starting and a few undistinct voices barking some commands.

A few minutes later, I stood up. I looked out the window. Only a few of the men from the crowd remained and were talking with each other. A handful of people were milling about on the sidewalks as the jeeps and vehicles drove by along the street.

I then closed my windows.


A few days later, I saw a white open van rolling down Libertad. It had the local Pasay Police mark on the side and was driven by a couple of local Pasay traffic cops. It’s passengers at the back were Basketball Guy, Spit Boy and Robot Man who was shouting incessantly at the people the van passed by.


FilMasons NSW said...

What a pity... I am just wondering where she got that dead baby (unless this is a fiction??)

This reminds me of a recent post:


"Do not suffer from insanity - enjoy every minute of it!"

Are "they" better and more happy than us - they are oblivious to our problems.

Great paintings and drawings, will definitely get at least one on my next visit... great writing as well.

palma tayona said...

yes, it happened two summers ago and i haven't seen her in the street ever since.

she is one of a dozen from amongst the colorful characters of my street.