“Mga jeep rapper kami diri dapit sa highway…
Wala kami nagabinu-ang, mga ate og kuya!”
My daydreaming about flowcharts, pre-hispanic times, long essays, and linear inequalities was bombarded by the sound of two voices making upbeat, lively music—coloring the sad black-and-white walls of the jeepney I rode on my way to Mactan. My eyes blinked and caught the masters of the ceremony on act: a boy in rugged clothes, with unnatural blonde streaks that used to be his hair, and another short one, presumably in his teenage years, whose clothes were pathetically loose that they barely cling to his body. The two were identical; their olive skin aggressively nudged to sticky dirt in black and brown.
I tried my best not to look disgraceful and remained quiet. I closed my eyes as I focused on the sound of improvised percussion as the boy with highlights does the beatbox and the other one sings in his own speaking voice. The song goes to the rhythm of Mga Tambay Lang Kami, Sawa Sa Babae, a bis-rock song with the lyrics in Cebuano. But the two boys improvised.
“Di mi pareha’s uban
Mangisnat og mangawat. (Mao jud!)
Tinarong kini amo-a,
Mga ate nga gwapa, (Para buyag!)
Mga kuya nga gwapo. (Pala-uyab!)”
I laughed. But it went on like a giggle. Almost every day, I would encounter the same type of people doing the same routine; they get in the jeepney without the driver’s consent, they sing and rap, they try to stir up what’s left of our consciences (but when these things don’t work out, they beg), and then they run along, rapping and singing to the other jeepneys left for the day. They usually come in twos or threes. Every day is a long trip for them, and in what I can concur from my observations, they’d take off from a ride with only a peso or two. A five-peso coin would be a pretty lucky haul.
“Ah mga ate og mga kuya, piso piso lang dira, tinarung kini amo-a, dili mi pareha anang uban sama anang mga mangisnat (snatch) o mangawat.”
Those lines would always be present, whoever the jeepney rappers would be, and wherever you are in the urban areas. It’s becoming scripted, really. Although sometimes I would wonder how they’d come up with those words they rap.
One time, I was on my way home from Ayala, some teenage-looking jeepney rappers went aboard and to my surprise, the lyrics were very sophisticated; you would never expect that the words coming out from their mouths were actually inked from their hearts. If it were a piano, then they’d be young Beethoven and Mozart. I can only drool from afar. And I can only remember a few from the lyrics, but the ones that left me in awe were these:
“Pasko na naman sa buong mundo at maligaya ang mga tao
Ang ubang mga bata gakupot og mga regalo
Pero ang mga bata sa kalsada wala man lay mga ligo…”
Well, that explained the smell.
“Pasko na naman sa buong mundo at maligaya ang mga tao
Si ate og kuya kay padung sa skwelahan
Pero kami diri walay lapis ug librong makuptan.
Ngano man kana? Pasagdan lang ba mi?
Dili ba angay paskwelahon ang pobri?
Kutob lang ba mi sa mga pasuya uga og karon
Mga batang jeepney rapper gusto pong makat-on…”
Then it hit me hard there. Hearing those words left a pang in my heart. I could see myself from the faces of the passengers around me. They felt it too. What they were telling us is undeniably true, and I couldn’t help but grab a twenty-peso bill from my pocket. I crumpled it to a handful and quickly shoved it to the kid in front of me, who was doing the beatbox. His smile was so wide it lit up all the dark corners in me. I had never felt any more heroic before.
If I were wise, I would think that the lyric change was probably the best asset they had smartly thought to gain some more money. But then it would bother me a lot if I wouldn’t give when I already have more than enough.
They wanted education, it was clear. They do not want what they have been doing by themselves all these years in the first place. It wasn’t their obligation to find the money they need to sustain their lives. I am lucky to grow up with a mother and a father, with a healthy life, and a healthy home, not needing jeepneys to run after every single day for musical alms. A pursuit to a peso isn’t much of a big deal to me, and among the many. Yet it is for them. There’s a reason to why they became who they are now because there are two sides to every story. It wasn’t either their fault that the world is wickedly unfair.
Meanwhile, the jeepney I rode that would take me to my hometown Mactan still carried the jeepney rappers. They never took off. They just held on tight to either sides of the doorway of the vehicle. We were currently inside the huge, shiny metal bars that make up the Mactan-Mandaue Old Bridge. The trip with the rappers was just a rather ordinary day until I had this urge to speak up to them, thanks to our English teacher. She wants us to speak strangers, you see. And come to think of it, they are starting to intrigue me, too.
“Dong, asa diay ka padulong?” I asked one of them where were they going.
At first, neither of the two answered, like a moment of awkwardness where you and another person refuse to talk. There were only six of us left in the public vehicle, including the two jeepney rappers so there isn’t really much to be ashamed of. I took it lightly and went on.
“Ako kay adto ko sa sangi,” I added, told them my destination.
Suddenly the boy near me with the highlights said, “Ako pud, te.”
“Maayo, dungan lang tag na-ug. Mag-unsa man ka didto?”
“Wala ra. Rap.”
And I nodded with a smile and tried not to take pity on the two, which I subconsciously failed to do. I was moved deeply, and I wanted to take them home with me, bathe them, and clothe them with the best tee shirts I could give. Feed them, even. I just can’t help thinking that wherever they go, all they do is rap. It’s like rapping has become their life. I don’t even rap. Rapping is harder than it looks. These kids are gifted; they are great prodigies, yet they are on the wrong track. They shouldn’t be hanging onto jeepneys, lives at stake, to do what they do well for a peso. They should be out there, rapping to introduce good music to the world. At least that’s what I think. But I’m so fed up of so much happy-ever-afters, am I? There is only one thing stronger than facts and possibilities: reality.
“Dong sunod ha dad-a ko. Rap nya tang duha,” I said with the brightest cheerful smile I could ever give it hurts.
“Sige, te!” The boys said with glee as they took off, finally.
I went down to the little steps of the jeepney to say good-bye to them. They were smiling and running into the streets again, with their entire lives in front of them, looking, waiting for another jeepney to get into. I walked into the streets again, with my entire life ahead of me, particularly amused, also looking, waiting for another jeepney to get into.