Alley Thugs in the Philippines

It was another warm and musty day in the province of Lubao. My Dad, Uncle, Two Aunties, grandma, and I squeezed into our little car and wilted away as we drove to visit my grandpa at the cemetery. My Dad and Uncle sat peacefully in the front while us four in the back tried to get comfortable. I established my leg-room early on in the drive, but my Aunties battled for shoulder position while my grandma sat elegantly on the side. The ac in the car was dialed to full blast as it attempted to discharge the stickiness between our arms and legs. However, we carried on happily as my family was nothing but grateful to be back home.
As we continued on, my eyes stayed fixed on the people outside. Many men perched themselves along chairs with one leg up and their shirts lifted over their hefty bellies. Children laughed and smiled as they walked along the side of the roads with their arms slung across each others shoulders. But as we made more turns and got deeper into the cuts of different barangays (villages), the folks on the side of the road gave us plenty more attention. Their sun hardened faces had eyes that squinted and stared, as we drove by and treaded up dirt along the way.
When we finally made one last turn into another alley it was barely wide enough for the car to pass through. I felt like an intruder by disrespecting their place and driving through this tiny alley with a vehicle. The people on the road all had to squish to the side as we made our way past. Women grabbed hold of the young ones to make sure they wouldn’t dart in front of the car. We moved ever so slowly down this alley with people standing within inches of the car. I found it difficult not to make eye contact with every single person we passed by.
As we came towards the end of the alley, I could finally see the cemetery on the other side of the gate, but our crawl there came to a halt. A serious card game was taking place in the middle of the alley. Five mean looking shirtless men all huddled around a small table that barely went off the ground. By the look of their hard and stern faces, this game meant everything to them. We idled in the car about 10ft away from them, hoping that we didn’t interrupt at the wrong time. When enough of them seemed to care, they stopped their game and gave us their complete and undivided attention. They all slowly turned their heads towards us. The man who had his back towards us was the last to turn around. He slowly turned to face us and rested one hand along his thigh. He kept it there as he whispered evil things to his men. They all nodded and snarled, all awhile making sure that they didn’t take their eyes off of us during the entire display. The men then gently placed their cards on the table, gradually got to their feet, and sluggishly moved the table and chairs to the side. They were in no hurry to accommodate our travels and made it a point that we just barged in on their card game.
Once the table and snarly men were all clear, we continued onward. My Uncle gave the men a polite thank you wave. I made sure to do the same, complemented with a warmhearted smile that poorly masked my uneasiness.
After passing through, we parked at the cemetery and visited my grandpa. For the entire visit, I felt like a coward because I couldn’t help but think of having to pass through the men again. I realized that the only way out of this alley is to abruptly reverse the entire way back out or to make a four point turn in the alley.
After some time there, I stood silently and played out each scenario in my head. Both were likely to create chaos. My family then called my name. I could see them all huddled up back in the car and waving to me to hop back in.
I got back to the car and made sure all doors were locked. I checked on the men and noticed that they resumed their card game. I sat and anticipated my Uncle’s next move to maneuver out of this place. He then began the unthinkable and decided to start his nearly impossible four point turn right where the men were playing their cards. Chaos was inevitable, but I hade no choice, but to stay squished in the back-seat.
As we began reversing, the thugs again stopped their game and this time they slammed their cards down, shoved the table to the side, and watched my uncle in disbelief as he made awful turning points. Each turn was extremely dreadful to endure and the scene was quickly getting ugly. Every attempt to reverse and move forward was becoming more embarrassing. We made 20 more turns than necessary and were getting close to hitting everything in all directions.
And when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the men slowly started surrounding the car. I double checked the doors and made sure they were locked. I attempted to keep a lookout on all the men, but as each moved out of my vision, I couldn’t help but become more terrified. I checked to make sure my grandma was okay. She expressed nothing but tenderness. Her hands rested on her lap, softly clasped together. Her face wore the biggest smile that wasn’t big enough for the car. She was delightful that we just visited my grandpa as a family. It shouldn’t have surprised me that she was this way since she always has this calm and collective demeanor. She always casually walks and whistles in the backyard, with her hands clasped behind her back. She admires anything within her vision. And because of her hearing and the language barrier between us, she only smiles when I talk to her.
As my uncle continued the struggle, one man who was behind us, suddenly started yelling. I immediately turned around and my heart lost a beat. I found one of the men pounding on the car, but then…… I soon realized that he was trying to help direct us out of this mess. He was waving his hand and telling us to back up a little more. I checked on all the other men. Each one of them was helping us turn out of this little alley, maybe for their own benefit. I noticed that everyone from the village alley was now watching in amusement. I made eye contact with a few of the men and gave them a little nod in approval, to thank them for their kindness.
I share this story because almost everyone I’ve met and encountered in the Philippines were the most warm-hearted and generous people I’ve ever come across. They live together not in neighborhoods or villages, but within communities. They’re always extremely helpful and hospitable. Always willing to go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. I am most gracious for their kindness. Thank you. Thank you alley thugs.

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