Midnight encounter

NEXT to washing dishes, throwing the garbage out had always been a source of sibling conflict in our family.

At the tender age of nine, I could no longer count the times I fought with my brothers and elder sister over whose turn it was to empty the garbage bin which seemed to be filled every time we turn our eyes away from it.

For so many times I had planned to run away from home after being at the receiving end of a ‘sermon’ from my parents for neglecting to follow my schedule in throwing out the garbage.

How I hated to go to the dumpsite! I remember the stinking odor and would hold my breath for as long as I could before throwing the garbage, pail and all, and then rushing back home afterwards often minus the garbage pail. And as expected, I would be ordered to return to the dumpsite to fetch the pail.

I would mumble and stomp my feet but I knew that even if I wore out my feet from too much stomping I still have to make the second trip to the dumpsite to fetch the pail, wash it and return it to its proper place under the sink in the kitchen.

In my boarding house during my college days, I used plastic bags to store my garbage for easy disposal. I was freed from the burden of having to wash a garbage pail but throwing the plastic bags away proved to be a burden because the garbage truck passes by our boarding house to collect garbage between 6-7 a.m. everyday, which is still midnight for me. (I usually go to bed between 2-3 a.m.) By the time I wake up, the garbage truck driver would already be giving his dogs lunch.

Coming home one midnight, I was met by the unmistakable odor of spoiled fish in the room. My eyes went straight to the plastic bag filled with garbage accumulated in the past three days near the wall. I shuddered in distaste at the long line of red ants creeping steadily from under the door towards the garbage bag.

I know I had no choice but to throw the plastic bag that night. I couldn’t sleep with the foul odor.

Everybody seemed to have gone to dreamland hours ago in the sleepy little town. (Midsayap residents during that time define ‘night life’ as going to bed to sleep?).

Gathering up courage, I went down my boarding house with the plastic bag.

I remembered seeing another garbage bag on top of a sand pile at the back of an abandoned store not far from my school. It was a dark and deserted area but still I decided to put my bag there, consoling myself that the garbage truck will pick it up early the next day.

I picked my way in the dark, careful not to stumble and spill my ‘precious baggage’ and hoping that no one would catch me dumping it just anywhere. When I was just a few meters from the area, I stopped and listened for any signs of life in the dead of the night. Then I froze in fear because I saw the silhouette of a man heading in the same direction.

I stayed where I was, thankful for the darkness that concealed me but not moving for fear of being discovered.

The man however seemed to notice another presence because he too, stopped and stood still where he was.

My heart was pounding so loudly I was afraid the man would hear it and wonder where the pounding sound came from. I held my breath and bore the stinging bite of a mosquito on my arm. I trained my eyes in the darkness to see where the man was but I could no longer see him. I crouched in fear, as if waiting for doom.

The long period of pregnant silence stretched on and on but I did not move from my position. Intuition told me that the man, whoever he was, was still in the area. I was right because after a few agonizing moments, I saw the man get up from a crouching position and ever so slowly, as if in a dream, walked the few steps to the sand pile, looked around before dumping a bigger plastic bag of, you guessed it, garbage on top of the sand pile before making a hasty retreat.

Releasing a huge sigh of relief, I got up, brushed sand from my knees and meted the swarming mosquitoes with the death penalty for taking advantage of my position. I then rushed to the sand pile where my plastic bag joined the two others already there and made a hasty retreat. I never discovered who that man at the sand pile was but I was sure we lived in the same neighborhood.

Thankfully, the garbage truck collects garbage from my present neighborhood at night, when I’m very much alert and alive.

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