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Three Nanays

My diet last week was not just a tad heavy on the meat side that in my quick sortie this morning to the supermarket, I made it a point to visit the fish counter first. I was hoping to find some fresh galunggong to grill; but those that were on the counter looked like political prisoners who had gone on hunger strike.

So, I went for the hasâ-hasâ instead. They were not as big as I would have preferred; but, at least, their eyes did not look as though they just came from the crack house. I thought they were reasonably fresh.

I reached for one of the plastic bags that the sales assistants make available to customers; albeit they were at the opposite end of the tiled counter. I picked up a thong and proceeded to select fishes that I thought were reasonably-sized for the grill.

Done, I handed the plastic bag full of my hasâ-hasâ over to the sales assistant and gently bade him, “Paki-linis…”

It was while he was cleaning them that Nanay Number 1 came over to stand by my side. She was not very tall; her head went up to a little above my shoulder. She wore this plain navy blue dress and had a small clutch bag that she held between her left upper arm and breast.

I would say at least sixty; and if she wore glasses, she did not have these on. Shame that she did not. She stooped so low at the counter to inspect the fishes that she almost kissed the tilapias.

I had one earphone plugged into my left ear and was listening to some music from my cell phone. I was really not paying Nanay any attention at all. Until she reached over to get one of those flimsy plastic bags from the opposite end of the counter…

Forward went one outstretched arm across the counter and failed.

The arm went across for a second time and failed again.

It went across for a third time and failed for a third time.

Was I supposed to tell her that her arm was just not long enough? Because the sales assistant was still busy cleaning my hasâ-hasâ, I did the honourable thing and reached over to get her one.

She did not get it from my hand. She snatched it without even looking my way. Although I had an earphone plugged into one ear, I know she did not bother to say thank you.

“Walang anuman” I uttered under my breath, anyway. But Nanay was busy picking out tilapia…

At the Home and Kitchen shelves, I was inspecting an insecticide aerosol can when Nanay Number 2 came to stand a couple of yards away from where I stood. This one was probably in her mid-seventies, wore a flowery dress that reached down to her shins and also had on thick-rimmed classically designed eyeglasses.

“Utoy,” she called. I swear to God that I thought she was calling to one of the many sales assistants that are stationed along the aisles of the supermarket. So I went about my business of inspecting aerosol cans.

“Utoy,” Nanay called out again. This time, I looked around. There were just two of us along this aisle. “Makiki-abot naman…” she pointed at another aerosol can at the top shelf which she could not reach.

I was by her side faster than the Flash can move. Anybody who calls me utoy gets preferential treatment. So I reached for the can, handed it over with a smile and said, “Areh pô!”

The Nanay unwittingly shaved decades from my years. I so loved the moment. To be called utoy is a privilege that I could have sworn passed by me years ago.

In a jeepney on the way home; and we were just past the Batangas-bound toll plaza of the STAR. The jeepney was not full, so I sat with my body angled towards the front.

The jeepney just started to accelerate when from between the line of vehicles going the opposite direction emerged a small and frail Nanay Number 3 who I was sure was in her nineties or close to it. She wore a brown dress with white flowers all over it.

For a woman that old, she was remarkably nimble. Too nimble, as a matter of fact. She was crossing over fast to the other side of the road as though she was at the Luneta in a rush to be in her lover’s arms. Without looking to see what was coming…

I am sure I saw the Nanay way before the driver did because when he finally stepped on the brakes to send everyone’s arm upwards to grab at the overhead arm rails, Nanay’s body was less than a foot from the jeepney’s front bumper.

Nanay, realizing her folly in not looking at what was coming, stopped dead on her track right in the middle of the road. As the jeepney driver shook his head, Nanay flashed him a toothless grin. No, not completely toothless. She had one browned front tooth jutting down from her upper gum that gave her wizened old face a look of utter mischief as she grinned at the driver.

Other people would have been ashen; but no, Nanay was really cool about that near-fatal encounter. I thought the Nanay was in a hurry to meet the Lord; but I suppose if ever we are lucky to get to her age, among the fringe benefits of getting there is the ability to not be scared by anything at all.

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