HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, June 24, 2007
In the course of my travels and the shows I have done, I have met many people and some have really stood out. I am not talking about famous people. I am referring to fellow Pinoys, ordinary people with whom I have had unique interactions. Here’s one. It happened more than 10 years ago. I was doing a lot of TV work then, specifically a noontime show called Sanglinggonaposila. After every show, fans would usually be waiting outside the dressing rooms for the performers to come out so they could pose for pictures and get autographs. I would usually mingle with the fans to get it out of the way before I even washed off my makeup, changed my shirt and fixed my stuff. Then I would have lunch at 2 p.m.
One afternoon, after I had done all that and was about to go out for lunch, my assistant called my attention to a young woman waiting outside who had asked to talk to me. I could sense that it was not good news for me, since I knew from experience that from time to time, there are people who go to celebrities with their sob stories seeking financial help. It had happened to me a few times and it was not pleasant having to deal with strangers, especially those in need of help but whose stories you couldn’t even verify. And it’s painful to turn anyone away.
Against my better judgment, I let her into the dressing room. A few awkward quiet moments after she entered, she began telling me her story. Between sobs, she claimed she was a nursing student who needed money to be able to take her final exams. She was without resources and had no one to turn to. I listened, feeling some annoyance that she had come to me instead of, say, a public official, or some other celebrity in the studio. When I told her so, she said that she had spent the entire afternoon the day before waiting for a certain public official at his office in City Hall, but he never showed up. And the first celebrity she went to asked for something indecent in exchange. And so, she said, she decided to take a chance on me.
For some reason, I began listening to her story with more interest. I asked her the usual questions — where she was studying, what year she was in school — and after dialing a number which she said was the office of the registrar in her school to verify the amount she said she needed, I took out my checkbook and issued her a check.
It was something new for me to be as rash as this. Like most people, I have always been wary of strangers who come up to me asking for money. “A fool and his money are easily parted,” the Chinese saying goes, and I had always made sure I was never going to be anyone’s fool, certainly not because of some unverified sob story meant to squeeze a few thousand pesos from me.
When I got home, I told my wife what I had done and she looked at me with incredulity. How could I be so stupid? She was so sure I had been the victim of a scam. Immediately, I began to have doubts about the wisdom of the compassion I felt. Was I duped by a sob story? I felt like a fool.
That night, as I mulled over the incident before sleeping, I reminded myself that if it was just about losing money, I should not worry so much since I had thrown away bigger amounts on more useless things. I knew that when I gave the girl the check, I was coming from a good place in my heart. If the young woman’s story turned out to be false, then it wasn’t my problem. It was hers. I fell asleep soon after.
Around three or four days later, I saw the same young woman with her mother, all smiles and beaming as I entered the studio. Even before I could settle inside
the dressing room, her mother, who was dressed very simply in probinsiyana clothes, approached me and thanked me profusely for “saving” her daughter. She narrated how just a few days earlier, it had seemed that their only recourse for tuition money was to compromise her daughter’s virtue, until her daughter mustered the courage to talk to me. She expressed her gratitude by giving me a whole kaing of fresh mangoes which, she said, they had brought all the way from Batangas where their family resided.
I was happy that my hunch was correct and that my random act of compassion had not been for naught.
Fast-forward to some four years later. The APO, together with some other entertainers, were in Tokyo to do a number of shows. On our first night, our Japanese host invited us to a club for some karaoke and entertainment. As I entered the club, I noticed that almost all the waiters and guest relations officers (or japayukis as they are derisively called) were our kababayans who greeted us with excited voices.
From out of the blue, a young girl approached me and said, “Sir Jim, do you remember me?” I stared at her for some time but I could not place her. “I was the nurse whom you sent to school,” she said. I was shocked to see her working in the club. After I found my seat, she asked to sit beside me and proceeded to call her friends. She told them proudly that I was the one who helped her finish her nursing course.
I asked her what had happened to her nursing career. She narrated how she had lost her job as a clinic nurse in a government office that was revamped when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came into power. Her boss, an Erap appointee, was dismissed along with his entire staff. In the meantime, she was working in Tokyo for a few months while awaiting approval of her petition to work in the US.
In a circuitous way, I asked her what her job entailed since I had a negative impression of what japayukis were involved in. To my surprise, and this was verified by almost every long-time Pinoy resident I met in Tokyo, she explained that she sat with Japanese customers, conversed and sang Karaoke with them. That’s all. Her job did not entail going out with the men, and no, she was not a prostitute. I felt embarrassed.
She then asked me what my schedule was for the next day. She said she was free in the morning and she could help me shop for gifts since she knew where the bargains were in that über-expensive city.
The next day, we met at a big department store and I chose some pasalubong for Lydia and my three kids. She was carrying all the stuff while I looked for some gadgets I could get for myself. Soon after, I noticed that she had disappeared. I found her at the counter paying for my purchases. I ran to her and insisted that I pay for them, since they were my gifts. She raised her hand and motioned me to stop, saying that it was now her turn to do me a favor, and while the amount may not come close to what I did for her years ago, she was now in a position to return the favor with gratitude.
I was touched — and stunned speechless. I could not muster any words and I noticed a lump growing in my throat. I opted for silence, knowing that there are some tender moments that are best left alone.
In life, we are both givers and takers, and I believe that every act of kindness we do somehow takes root and blossoms into more compassion, more kindness, more hope for mankind.