Ah Kong came upon a boy’s jacket last Sunday, worn out and very sorry looking, thrown over a garbage can along Bokawkan Road, Baguio City, where somebody must have tossed it, who no longer had any use for it.
The jacket was just the size for a pickaninny of five or six, of a color that must have once been red. It was torn in places, the biggest rip running jaggedly at the collar down the elbow – where rends usually occur in children’s clothes – and I had a feeling it was last used as a rag to wipe things with, and then discarded.
It laid unattractively among the smelly odds and ends in the garbage can, lifeless and cold, a limp addendum to the vegetable scraps and household litter that awaited transport to Baguio City’s dumpsite.
I wondered what exactly about the jacket that touched me so.
It was a jacket that had surely been worn by – like me – a poor man’s son; else it would not have been so frayed. It had certainly seen much use and better times. I preferred to believe it was bought at the city’s “wag-wagan,” by a mother or father who could hardly buy new shirts for themselves on meager pay.
Maybe the jacket was given to a son or daughter as Christmas present or lately, a New Year’s present. It must have cost the parents quite a sum, but no matter. The jacket would have fitted the boy or girl. And so what if the jacket looked a size too big for them? The parents would have never admitted it.
I could almost see the children’s faces lighting up the way my parents’ faces lit whenever they bought me something in the old days. “Ay, ay, gwapo toy anak ko ah, “they would say, in contrast to my childhood playmates who kept reminding me whenever we played sipa or tumba de lata that I was the neighborhood’s ugliest kid with the thickest of lips and flat nose like ply wood.
Staring at the jacket, I wondered about the boy or girl who owned it. Had they grown up? Were they brave, strong and true? I wondered where all the years went since they last wore the jacket. I thought I spotted them, somewhere back, trekking to their grade classes in rubber slippers or shoes, T-shirt and that jacket.
The jacket was held together by a safety pin where two buttons had popped off. The boy and that girl had a hurt look on their faces that reminded me of overcast skies and rainy days.
Could they be teenagers now? In their 20’s? , 30’s? In prime of life, God-fearing and good citizens?
Perhaps, she/he was this Kabayan I saw down the road waiting for a ride to la Trinidad. Or the ones I spotted boarding buses at terminals rushing to go home to the provinces in the Cordillera and Region 1 to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their family members.
I would have wanted to approach them, tap them on the shoulder and ask how it had been all the past years. Are you a doctor now, Kabayan? An engineer? A lawyer? How are the old folks? Do you feel the economic pinch, too?
But then I remembered he could not be a doctor, engineer, much more a lawyer, for his parents didn’t have the money to send them to college. More appropriately, they may be casual or contractual workers. And they would be in rubber shoes, T-shirt and jacket stained with grime.
I would have wanted to talk with their parents, if they were still alive. Would they recall the days when they bought the jacket. Did their children breed true? Was there a falling out between parents and children? Where was the boy/girl now?
For I could not imagine a parent unfeeling enough to throw away such a boy/girl’s heirloom as that tattered jacket.
There could have been other brothers and sisters, and that jacket would have been handed down from elder to younger and worn till its seams split and the cloth frayed.
The scene came back, and I saw this mother – my Mother – eternally patient, understanding, kind and suffering, folding my jacket away in mothballs in the clothes chest after Manong had grown it and repairing it again and again for me, for my brother after brother, until finally there was no longer any five year old to wear it.
Somehow, the thought painfully came to me that it was not right for that jacket on the garbage. For back through the years, I wonder once again, back to the seasons of youth, when Mother sewed a hand-me-down jacket. Mother sewed the ragged edges with love and tenderness.
Mother then told of a story of a man named Joseph –husband of Mary – who wore a coat sewn from colored rags. As she stitched, mother said the jacket she sewed would bring me luck and blessed it with a kiss.
Through the years, the boy – Ah Kong – wore that heirloom jacket and felt rich as he could be every time New Year comes, as his mother assured it will be.
AH KONG OF HERALD EXPRESS’ DAILY LABORER COLUMN HOPES FOR A PROPITIOUS NEW YEAR TO ALL AND SUNDRY.