Two Blokes With Carrying Poles

Just a typical morning in an apartment block at UP’s Diliman campus,

Where Mom and Pops graduated, their alma mater, not far from the bustling city of Manila,

Lived in a building at the end of a long driveway, beyond our front door a small, paved walkway,

Overlooked by a tall, forbidding gate, behind it a dirt road where street kids liked to play,

Every day without fail, even during weekends come sun, wind and rain,

The peddlers are on time, always, going about their trade without fail,

During the mornings it’s the puto vendor, an old-timer in his 60s or 70s,

Skin brown and leathery, voice rendered gravelly, likely, from years of smoking ciggies,

A wide sombrero atop that dome, two baskets’ worth of confections hanging off his carrying pole,

Slung across his shoulders, he’s out there looking like a walking scarecrow,

Traipsing up and down the walkway, lined with small gardens and flowers in buckets,

Some on hanging baskets, adding color to the greyness,

“Puto! I have puto! Who wants puto!” he’s calling just as the block is waking,

Not many seem eager, it’s still nine-thirty in the morning,

Some kids and their parents come out to greet him, clearly early risers,

Might have already had their breakfast so might as well get ‘em some desserts,

No alarm clock needed while he’s grinding, that early morning call as loud as a rooster crowing,

The gruff exterior hid a gentle nature, naturally kids and their parents take a liking to him,

Then off he goes, hanging ‘round that walkway, in case other families are waking,

Admiring front gardens in the process, put away the side-eye he’s just chilling.

Behind that aforementioned gate, a dirt road spreads behind the complex,

Barrels and old construction equipment lie abandoned beneath the building, a gated stone home staring directly across it,

A shanty town lines the end of the road, chaos reigns as street kids and stray animals are mingling,

Rough play the order of the day, this well-off city boy willingly joined the fray,

Differences in social standings inconsequential, just out there running, tackling and enjoying it,

Once mid-day arrives it happens, that near-mythical being appears from out of nowhere,

Two tins of his precious cargo dangled from a carrying pole slung across his shoulders,

That would be taho, that sweet, sweet Filipino dessert,

Tofu, arnibal and sago pearls, comfort food for the general population,

‘Taho!!! Taho!!!’ he’s calling from atop his lungs and heart, the voice nowhere as hoarse as his puto-selling counterpart, they’re running several decades apart,

Playtime is halted, suddenly, kids rush towards him, excitedly,

Can only look on in amazement, he’s like a real-life version of the pied piper,

Felt like the odd one out, couldn’t have any said the parents,

Street snacks ain’t safe for eating, there’s no telling what could be in it,

So back to the apartment I go, lunchtime’s right ‘round the corner, rough play with the lads will just have to resume a little later.

Been more than 30 years, time sure does fly quickly,

Never knew their names yet they still exist vividly within my memory,

Still think about ‘em up to now, after all this time,

Certainly one of ‘em’s already crossed over to the other side,

Similar thoughts ‘bout those kids with whom I used to play,

Had they found a way out or stayed stuck in place?

For the record, Dear Reader, that apartment complex is still standing,

Nestled among trees within Mom and Pops’ alma mater,

Through a child’s eyes the ‘hood seemed so much larger,

Such thoughts come easily when one’s universe is confined to one area,

In a grown man’s shoes it seems shrunken, like homes had downsized and roads narrowed,

At times got me feeling like Gulliver returning to his old suburb,

Just a piece of my childhood that I’m sharing with y’all, a window into a time long gone,

Took two different vendors to pry it open, the ones loudly selling what they’re bearing on their carrying poles.

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