Ramon Sabilo’s Noche Buena

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It was my first time to cross the bridge near Hobbies of Asia along Macapagal Avenue on foot. I noticed a bamboo raft on the water below. It had a net across it littered with a thin layer of assorted garbage.

The water passing under the bridge was murky, though I could see only very minimal garbage on the water.

Maybe the raft was used to collect the garbage, I thought. Some random song played in my mind… “I wanna lay you down on a bed of roses…” In my mind, however, it’s “bed of garbage.”

Yes, these strange thoughts and songs come at odd moments throughout the day. But I’m not crazy, okay? At least I don’t think so.

I felt the muscles in my arms becoming a little sore. I was holding about a kilo of ham on one hand and about half a kilo of fruit cake on the other. And I already walked for some 15 minutes from the Shrine of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life at the Reclamation Area in Pasay City.

Earlier I sang for the 5:30 am Simbang Gabi together with some music ministry volunteers. I was wearing my jogging outfit and was supposed to take my morning run going home.

However, one of my friends from the choir gave me some fruit cake as a Christmas gift. It was December 24. Another volunteer gave me some ham as I was about to go.

Great, I told myself. Now how am I going to run with a box of ham on one hand and a small box of fruit cake on the other? I’d look ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind actually, but I didn’t want people to stare. Also, the thought of dropping the ham and the fruit cake and running after them didn’t appeal to me either.

So I walked.

I passed by the SM Mall of Asia and the bridge along Macapagal Avenue. There were very few people. It was quiet and I enjoyed the serene atmosphere. And I got to think, and even entertain some random thoughts and songs in my head.

Somewhere between SM Mall of Asia and the bridge, I had an idea. Maybe I should just give this ham and fruit cake to somebody who could use some Noche Buena food. I already had some ham at home and I had my fill of calories from cakes and pastries in the past two weeks.

I told myself that I would surely find somebody who deserves the delicious ham and fruit cake. I quickly made my criteria:

1. The person has no money for Noche Buena.
2. The person is homeless.
3. The person strives hard to make a living and is not a beggar.

The last criterion is particularly important. I don’t encourage mendicancy. So I don’t usually give to beggars. But sometimes I have a soft spot for old beggars.

So I began my search as I walked. I was walking quite briskly and my pulse rate was up a bit. I was sweating a little, too.

Then suddenly I dropped the fruit cake. I ran after it. My goodness, I thought. How could I drop the fruitcake? Good thing I didn’t drop the ham as well. The fruit cake was okay. It was still intact, no bruises, and, judging from how it looked through the window on the box, it’ still moist and delicious.

There was still no deserving recipient in sight. I passed by two middle-aged women selling bread, candies, hard-boiled eggs, other junk food and cigarettes. But they were gossiping and were ranting about someone.

Bad vibes, so my ham and fruit cake stayed with me.

I was already near the Tanghalang Pambansa, or the CCP main theater. There were some homeless vendors lining the main street near the Tanghalang Pambansa. But they didn’t seem to fit my criteria.

I passed by the Aliw Theater and MBC radio station. But I couldn’t find anyone who looked deserving.

Finally, at the park beside MBC, I saw an old man. He was wearing white shorts, brown cap, and a white sando with an unbuttoned polo shirt over it. Earlier he was talking with, I later learned, his wife. They had a small tray for the goods they were selling… bread in small plastic containers, boiled eggs and candies.

They’re probably approaching their 60s. The lines of hardship were on the old man’s face. He had dark brown skin. He walked slowly. And he walked toward the pathway of the park where I was.

It was a sign, I told myself. I think I’ve found my deserving recipient.

So I approached him and called out, “Manong.” Then there was an unexpected sign. He went toward a tree and started to pee.

It was a sign all right. And I had to wait for him to finish so I can give my present.

When he was done with his thing, I called out again. He turned to me and I asked, “Manong, may pang-Noche Buena na ba kayo?”

“Wala nga, eh.”

“Heto po. Para sa inyo ito. May ham kayo at fruitcake.”

“Eh, paano ikaw? Baka wala ka,” he said.

“Hindi po, meron na po ako. Ano po pangalan nyo?”

In halting speech, he said: “Ako si Ramon Sabilo. Taga-Bacolod ako. May sakit ako eh, sa baga. Taga-Bacolod kami ng asawa ko. Nagpagamot ako dito. Mga isang buwan na kami dito.”

“Saan po kayo umuuwi?” I asked.

“Wala. Dito lang kami natutulog,” he said pointing to the grassy ground near where he was standing.

“Wala kaming pamasahe eh. Uwi sana kami Bacolod. Meron akong P2,000 pero P3,000 kailangan namin. Kaya ipon muna kami.”

I didn’t have any money with me. I was supposed to take a morning run home. All I had were my ham and fruit cake. So I just offered him what I had.

“Heto po para sa Noche Buena ninyong mag-asawa.”

“Maraming salamat. Sigurado ka meron ka ha? Baka wala.”

I couldn’t describe my feelings. There I was offering the ham and fruitcake and he was making sure I had some food for my own Noche Buena.

“Meron po. Mabuti po yan para masarap ang Noche Buena n’yo,” I said.

“Maraming salamat. Magpapasalamat din ba ako kay Bro?” he said.

I smiled. “Opo,” I said.

As I turned my back, I could hear him saying “Maraming salamat, Bro” repeatedly. When I looked back at him he was calling his wife to show her the unexpected Noche Buena feast they will have that night.

And I went home without my ham and fruitcake, but with joy in my heart that I made someone’s day.

And to my friends who gave me the ham and fruitcake, I can only say, “Ramon Sabilo thanks you.”



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