Like a broken, free-falling tree branch, the helpless young family tumbled into the stream of rural migration that night, a stream which was making a swamp out of urban Manila. Their bus left before dawn packed with other migrants. The Pangils rode in a dazed uneasiness. Martin rode, too, attaching himself to the little group like the adolescent orphan he was. At sunrise, only he watched the rugged mountain-sides pass by with anticipation.
The bus arrived via the 'Epifanio de los Santos' highway, driving headlong into a concentration of ten million islanders all competing for the good life on the edge of Manila Bay.
Neither Nita nor Enrique could have imagined the extent of so much humanity, nor the energy of it all: traffic moving constantly, mountainous glass buildings growing straight up out of the tropical soil, the air choked with foreign, engine-oil fumes. People waited on every corner to ford each busy street. Clothes, radios and food produce spread out in front of shops, calling for attention. There was so much, and then so much more. It defied meaning. As block upon block of common commercial buildings rolled by, it also defied feeling.
In the financial district of Makati, the broad avenues flaunted elegant cars, pristine office buildings, shimmering apartment towers and palatial hotels. The manicured side streets were lined with the walls of gated estates. The irresistible armour of wealth was everywhere: limousines, exclusive clubs, uniformed porters. Nita turned to look at Martin. He was riveted by the sights outside the window. She knew that what he was seeing went far beyond anything he had been expecting. The ambition in his eyes made them grow larger and larger.
The bus continued on in the direction of Manila Bay until it reached the terminal at Taft Avenue.
"End of the line," the driver said in English.
"End of the line," Martin translated, excitedly. "Can somebody point me to Roxas Boulevard?" he called out.
"Just keep walking toward the water," a man said. "You'll find it in no time."
The late afternoon breeze was blowing off the Bay as Nita and her family got their sacks from under the bus. Martin invited them to follow him to Roxas Boulevard. Enrique, who was growing more distant with the hours, shrugged. For lack of a better plan, Nita agreed. The party of five walked westward along the same street the bus had travelled. In less than a kilometre they reached the object of Martin's dreams.
"Here it is!" he said.
Roxas Boulevard bordered Manila's tourist belt, which stretched along the eastern shore of the bay. It featured night clubs, hotels, restaurants, apartments and the city's big cultural complex. Parts of it were attractive. Other blocks behind the Boulevard were riddled with cocktail lounges and girlie bars, guarded by leathery old men whose worst sin was giving up on their own goodness. It repelled Nita.
"I want to go some place else, Enrique," Nita announced. "We are wasting our time walking around here. We need a place to sleep and a job. Not cocktails."
"Martin seems happy," Enrique countered, "he's the big man. Let him lead on."
"Why are you angry I worked for him? Why can't you be happy that the money I made was enough to save us and get us here?"
"Here? Why should I be happy to be here? First, you push me to go to Bangued -- "
"You agreed to go to Bangued."
"I was pushed to go to Bangued. If I had not gone to Bangued, I would not be here."
His eyes were blaming her again. She felt the weight of his depression pressing her down, making every idea a bad one, turning every hope to dust.
Martin was beyond their fighting. He wanted to be free to roam the Boulevard and investigate the strange odours and neon lights.
"Walk back to the bus terminal," he suggested, "hire one of the jeepnays to take you some place."
Copyright Nancy Hersage 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher or author.
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