It’s not true what they say about going to sleep hungry. Mainly that it can be done.
I have been tossing in my bed for hours, waiting to pass out from lack of nutrition but it is not happening and I do not think it is happening soon. The best that I have been able to manage is slipping into an absent-minded daze punctuated by hunger pangs and panic at the thought of having no food again tomorrow. Maybe with practice you can keep the panic tucked away somewhere where it will just mutter ominously in the dark instead of nag you all night.
I ate the last of our rice today, the only meal I have had. It was actually the rice from the day before. I have been getting by on coffee, tea, and two packets of crackers. A personal loan from my brother has already been frittered away on carinderia meals and transportation.
I spent my last money on a pack of cigarettes because, let’s be honest, my P40 would not have lasted all day otherwise. For the past week, I have been living on a pack of Pinoy Pandesal and a dwindling stock of canned goods. Tinned herring from Christmases past, some TVP dinuguan, that sort of thing.
It’s all very poor little rich boy, really, except I am no longer rich nor a boy. There is no allowance to look forward to, no more inheritance to borrow against. There never was, come to that.
The only thing keeping me from sleeping on the streets is a house my father left us, and that may change if I fail to pay off the real estate and actual estate taxes on it. With real estate taxes in this city already set to go up, I will have to pony up money I don’t have to pay for the privilege of living in this semi-posh subdivision on Katipunan. Never mind that the poshness just happened to grow around this house that my grandfather bought for cheap in 1955.
I know that mine isn’t a unique story. It’s poor financial planning and a weak cash flow against the rising price of everything. Biggest on my expenditures: my sister’s P1,000 per unit tuition at the University of the Philippines, and the expenses connected with sending someone through college.
I used to go along on rallies on Mendiola to protest against tuition fee hikes–at the time, we paid P300 per unit–but never really understood what higher fees meant. At the time, my mother was earning expat dollars and I got around in an old but serviceable Corolla that, for a short and ill-advised time, blared leftist folk songs about the plight of the poor from its stock speakers. I have crossed over from theory to if not practice, then at least experience. Hunger and personal poverty have become, as we said then, concrete material conditions.
It has been a payday-to-payday existence for the past two years and although it’s easy to say “Oh, cut down on your expenses! Pay yourself first by saving!,” that stuff only looks good on paper (or e-paper, on financial planning e-books). What, for example, do I cut down on? The P35-a-day luxury of riding the bus home instead of the train? Having lights at night? Taking baths? Toothpaste?
The only thing I have left now is my humor. As a wise man once told me, “without our sense of humor, where would we be?” But even that has become poor currency. When I was in school, a professor kept asking me why I was losing weight. My ready response was the Poverty Diet. I cannot make that joke anymore because it’s sort of true now, and people have started thinking I am mixed up in meth.
And unless you have been poor–and by this I do not mean going without trendy toys while growing up–you cannot know how absolutely spirit crushing even the hint of poverty is. You sort of stop caring after a while. About anything. Dreams are the first to go. Move to Hong Kong? Like that will ever happen. Take a motorcycle ride around Luzon? You can’t even afford gas!
After a while, things like cleanliness and actual Godliness stop mattering as well. Dishes are left undone for lack of energy and detergent. Leaky faucets are fixed with the simple act of turning off the tap. Plumbers cost money, and hiring one means letting him into your house, which is in no state to entertain visitors except perhaps on Halloween.
It took a high school batch mate punching me around a bit to get me to tidy up the house a little and the enormity of maintaining a three-floor house still leaves me quailed.
Things will not be so bad in a few days, though. It will be payday soon, and I will be human again for a while.
–From the dark days of October