Coughing Guy

Having convinced myself that I need to simplify my life in order to survive this financial crisis, I made it a point to wake up early today to get to work. I can’t afford a taxi anymore and the car can’t be revived back to life - so I must leave the house early - so I can commute - so I can save on transportation fare.

So by 6:15am, I was freshly showered, hair a bit damp but combed neatly into place, bag ready, waiting for a jeepney to pass in front of my home. I basked at the freshness that surrounded me, the newly risen sunshine peeping behind the leaves of the trees, the smell of new morning air. Mm-mm-mm (in manner of Queen Lattifah). I could see my dad across the street watering his bahay kubo garden. Bahay kubo because it has everything from singkamas at talong (beets and eggplant) to sitaw, bataw, patani (different kinds of beans – I think. Somebody translate this for me please.) Despite my financial crisis (I’m nearing broke), I was relaxed by the atmosphere. New day. New hope. I figured, as long as nobody in the family gets really sick, we will be able to handle this. Then I boarded the 1st jeepney that came around the corner.

It’s a typical Monday, so the jeep is full of students and workers all anticipating the weekly routine. I squeezed between a man in shorts who obviously forgot to shave, and a young girl in white studying a huge textbook. A Tita (older lady friend/relative) was in the same jeep. I offered to pay but she declined politely saying she has paid fare already. So I paid fare and settled for my 15-minute jeepney ride, the first of two I have to take to get to work. I propped up my eyeglasses and got out my current read: Susan Isaac’s Long Time No See, a book which People magazine promised to be ‘hilarious’. I’m four chapters into it but I’m still waiting for the punch line. But maybe it’s too early to judge.

As I started scanning the pages, the man beside me started to cough. I uneasily hoped he did not have the flu or cold that he could pass on because I can’t afford to be sick. “Bawal Mag-kasakit” (Sickness Not Allowed) – as the commercial states. He coughed again, this time towards my semi-damp hair. I closed the novel and turned my head toward the window, hoping I’m sending a signal that says, “Ooops! Excuse me!” And he coughed again, and I could feel hot air in my hair. He didn’t even have the decency to cover his mouth. Didn’t his mother teach him that one should always cover his mouth when sneezing or coughing or doing anything that would throw air in the direction of other people’s hair? But the guy kept coughing in between clearing his throat with "ugh-humph" sounds. I closed my eyes and wished I had worn a hat, or better yet, a raincoat. I thought of turning to the guy and asking him to cover his mouth. But he looked like someone who would take offense. And I had no plans of embarrassing him in front of a crowded jeep where everybody is within hearing distance. Besides, it’s not my habit to make other people feel small when the difference between us is just a bit of soap and water. I considered offering him a tissue but I remembered that I had left my mini-tissue pouch in my other bag back home. All I have was this handkerchief that was too feminine for a guy with a face shadow. And as I said, he looked like someone who would take offense. So I just counted the minutes till I get to my stop. The guy coughed again. I winced but kept a straight face directed towards the window, hoping that what I was breathing was uncontaminated air.

Finally, two passengers left the jeepney and the coughing guy moved away from me. I breathed easier.

I pity the guy for being sick. I pity me for not having the guts to ask him to cover his mouth. I pity all people who have to commute to work.

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