"His nostrils seemed to mock me from the rearview mirror."
“Kuya, paki ayos naman po ang mask nyo (Please wear your mask properly),” I told the taxi driver as soon as I noticed it barely covered his mouth. My son Josh and I would have alighted at once if it were not pouring hard and if we were not in the inner lanes of Elliptical Road.
We had gone shopping for fruits and vegetables. This was about three weeks ago, before the reimposition of the ECQ, and we had been postponing our trip for days because of the incessant rain. On that day, we decided to push through, hoping there would be enough produce and that prices had not gone up. But booking a Grab ride seemed so much of a hassle in terms of coordinating pick-up points especially in that weather. Hence the cab.
The driver fixed his mask, all right, but after a while it slid again. His nostrils seemed to mock me from the rearview mirror. Did I mention that there was no barrier between his seat and the back? There was only a flimsy plastic sheet between him and the passenger seat. Worse, I could not open the window because the rain would get in.
This time, it was my son who spoke, just a bit more firmly. “Kuya, mask po.”
“Bakit ikaw ba naka mask ka (Why, are you wearing a mask)?” he shot back, glaring at us from that mirror. The remark was absurd because my son and I were both wearing double masks – it was a time when the number of cases was beginning to climb anew and my paranoia was kicking in again. I felt my ears beginning to get hot, as they usually do when I get angry.
Slowly and patiently I said he should not take our suggestions the wrong way, or personally. “Lahat po nag-iingat, hindi po natin nakikita ang virus (Everyone is being careful because the virus is invisible),” I said, hoping some logic would make him do the right thing.
In response, he feigned a cough, as if he knew I was getting paranoid as hell. Those nostrils were still visible. I looked for my bottle of alcohol spray and berated myself for letting it get buried under the vegetables that now filled my bag.
“May obligasyon po kayo sa mga pasahero nyo na mag-ingat kayo. (You have an obligation to your passengers to be careful).” By this time he was not even making the effort to fix his mask.
It was supposed to be a short ride, but perhaps the rain or my anxiety or both made me feel that it was taking too long. Plus, my street was a long one. Not even halfway through it, he said again: “Malayo pa ba kayo? Baka magkasakit kayo dito sa taxi ko. (Are we still far off? You might get sick in my vehicle).”
That did it. We were not anywhere close to my place and it was still raining hard, but I told the driver to stop. I tossed a wet and crumpled bill his way without any intention of getting my change back. Neither my son nor I had the wisdom to look at his plate number. It was just a relief to be out of that cab. I watched him drive away, glaring at him (as if it would make a difference!) while wondering how far his obstinacy and rudeness would take him.
We took a tricycle the rest of the way. I took a long shower immediately, soaping and scrubbing harder than usual, and then took my daily sodium ascorbate with zinc and then popped a Berocca tablet into a glass. I briefly considered a double dose.
By then, Josh was regaling his siblings with the story of our misadventure.
Calmer now, I thought about why I was so angry – it was probably one of the angriest I had ever been in more than a decade. Was it the rudeness? The carelessness? The ignorance? The absence of reasonability?
It dawned on me that I was angry because for more than a year I, like many others out there, was being very careful wearing masks, washing hands, keeping distance. For many months I had been paranoid, and had been spending on vitamins and other things that I felt would keep my family safe. I had been making sacrifices even though I wanted to spend time with friends and relatives. Around us, people were dying, people are getting sick. I also knew that all our careful ways could amount to nothing with just a single instance of carelessness – or even bad luck. So, who is this driver think he is that he should put me and my family at risk, just like that?
Josh told me perhaps we could have given him a different reinforcement, like promising a big tip if he would only fix his mask.
I wish, too, that we had copied his plate number if only to scare him that I would report him to the authorities. But we left in a huff. Truth is, however, even if I had the number, I probably would not have reported him if it meant he could lose his license. I would have wanted him, though, to see the error of his ways for his passengers’ – and his own – sake.
I wonder where the driver is now, if other passengers had complained, if he had not gotten sick, or even if he had been vaccinated yet. I wish more people would see the inherent value in wearing masks and practicing other safety measures, not because they are complying with something that is required, but because it is important.
Most of all, I wish that this pandemic would soon be over, and that we would be better, kinder, more reasonable, more respectful and more considerate people because of this shared experience.