FIFTEEN minutes before the clock struck 12 noon I was dashing towards the justice building to get a news item before the clerk leaves for lunch. Clad in jeans and black sleeveless shirt, I was pressed for time since I just came from my hometown but if I change into a proper shirt, the court clerk would leave and I’d have to wait till they come back at 1:30 p.m.
Deadline and a 2 p.m. meeting was breathing down on my neck. I know that sleevess shirts were not allowed inside but I took a chance just the same, hoping that blue uniformed sentinel at the door who had seen me almost everyday would allow me to come in just this once.
Confident that I would disarm him with a wide grin, I headed towards the door but my scripted grin froze when I saw that a new guard was posted at the door, and my spirits fell when I saw him meticulously poking his little wooden stick into every single bag that came his way.
With the office quite a long way from the justice hall, I know I really need to get inside no matter what devious tactics I can come up to get in. I let my hair fall and cover my bare shoulders. I hugged my bag before trying to walk in nonchalantly as if I worked there (that worked with the old guards once or twice before but with this new one who’s colossal presence seemed to fill the small entry passage there was no chance.
He stopped me and motioned with his stick for me to open my bag. With remarkable diligence, he poked into the creases and crevices of my shoulder bag which contained an odd assortment of objects (including a half-eaten sandwich). When he seemed satisfied, he raised his eyes and saw ‘sexy’ me (ugghhh-good morning myself).
That’s when the ordeal began. He fired rapid questions at me and pointed to a faded and unreadable sign on the wall (Okay, I know about that but gave my poor eyesight as an excuse). A long line of impatient people had already formed behind me waiting to get in.
He allowed me to go in after a long lecture about how he was just following the rules, etc, etc. within everybody’s earshot. I turned crimson with embarassment but I had no time to consider my feelings.
Another guard at one of the government offices I frequent always treated me differently everytime. As guards are wont to do, he would poke his short oblong ‘magic wand’ into my shoulder bag every time I enter the building, never failing to take out my small recorder and asking me what it was. (He never seemed to learn because I’ve been visiting their office every week for six months already, and he still asks me what it was everytime).
He always had a hard time remembering what I do because he always treated me differently each time, until I concluded he probably has amnesia. When he first asked me where I was going, I told him I was going to see ‘Ellen’ of the Records Section, and he’d accepted that. If he’d checked, he’d have found that there was no Ellen at the Records Section.
Sometimes he would decide I was a ‘five-six’ collector and he would point with his nose to the logbook. Sometimes he would simply ignore me because he knew I always sign his logbook without being prodded but what pulled all the stops was when he remembered that I’ve told him I was a reporter.
From that day on, his treatment of me completely changed. He always had a ready smile when I come and one day he proudly told me, “Maayo man diay ka mosulat oy, nakabasa na gyud ko (You write well. I read one of your articles),” and without batting an eyelash he mentioned a sports article written by a reporter from a supposed-to-be weekly but in reality is a now-you-see-now-you-don’t paper. (Ughhh aray!!!)
Every time I go out, whether it is to go widow shopping, pay telephone or water bills, or even just buy a pair of socks I have to face the unevitable ordeal of getting past a blue and white-clad guard.
The place does not matter — it can be a grocery store, a mall, a bank, a drugstore, a condominium, a private or a government office, hotels, restaurants and stores, parks, name it, wherever you go they are always there, standing or sitting down by the door or gate, faithfully watching their logbooks as if their very lives depended on it. Whatever the weather, he’s always there, ready to block the way, checking bags and frisking people as they enter.
I know that even though a guard is only a ‘pulis-pulisan’ he is vested with absolute power to decide whether or not to let you in to the building he is watching, not until after he has frisked you all over, and you have to add your unintelligible penmanship to the long list of long list of much-more unintelligible penmanships already there. But that’s life.