Mang Fredo was one of those people who really could only have existed in a place like our town, as what he did for a living to the people he mingled with could only be found in the sixties in a burgeoning town like Marikina: a relatively rich and vibrant community, with lots of opportunity for all who are not averse to scraping a living doing the most menial of jobs.
Day in and day out, six days a week, Mang Fredo will be pushing a wheelbarrow with a huge kaing, a roughly woven bamboo container sitting on top of it, overflowing with garbage. For that was what he was to everyone: a private garbage collector, who for a fee, would collect your daily refuse and haul it to the local dump which was then burned after pickers have trawled over them collecting items that might be of any value.
I can still see him from the safe distance of our second floor apartment window: wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, his dirty, now off-white t-shirt, dark short pants and beat up Taylor canvas hi-top sneakers, pushing his garbage cart in the packed market streets. The crowd would instinctively part to let him through, then walk as far back behind him in case the rare breeze blows the wrong direction and they get slapped with a big wallop of the nauseating smell of rotting garbage. But he didn’t seem to mind, so used was he by then to this smell that it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.
How one actually earned enough to make a living doing this is a mystery to me, but I suppose he did. And still have enough left or saved for Saturday night.
It was Saturday nights when almost something magical happens, and this man, the lowliest of the market workers, transforms himself for a night out on the town, to let loose and indulge himself for the night. He would sometimes show up at my mother’s store on his way out, shaved and, one would hope, freshly showered, dressed in his best trousers and long-sleeved Kanebo shirt, to collect his weekly fee and add to his allowance for the night in town.
Exactly where he went was never a puzzle to anyone, for he went where many unmarried men or even the married ones, I am sure, went. To Calumpang, on the southern fringes of Marikina, where the streets are chock-a-block with bars full of belyas or baylarinas, heavily painted and perfumed women who would, for a fee dance with anyone who asks. These are same women who, late Sunday mornings, would traipse into my aunt’s, Kakang Iday, store and stock up on their weekly supply of kolorete, those cheap rouge and lipstick, and the even cheaper counterfeit perfumes with names like Channel 5.
But I guess despite all that, Mang Fredo was not a man totally without concern for others. For one day he turned up on his daily garbage round with one of the town fools, Terry, in tow, whom he had taken in to help him with his daily routine. A man probably in his twenties, Terry had been a vagrant as far back as I can recall, and seeing him that much closer was a bit of a shock, so assiduous had I been trying to avoid contact with him and others like him. That he was crazy was never in doubt, but add to this was the fact that he smelled and his head was always shaved close to the skull. He was tall and thin and had also lost all his front teeth: the gap made his fangs stand out and give him a perpetually menacing look. He was also prone to yelling, “Babasagin ko iyang mukha mo!”, in a voice extremely high-pitched and penetrating for a man his age, warning each and anyone who comes within his range that they are in danger of getting their face bashed in.
How long he stayed with Mang Fredo I do not know, but I think I can say that for the time he was with him he probably got at least something to eat and perhaps even a roof over his head. Who got the better part of the deal is very much open to speculation, but I can still almost see them, this almost comical, oddly-paired buddies, short Mang Fredo pushing his garbage cart, and tall thin Terry, right behind him picking up whatever falls out of that overflowing wheelbarrow.
© August 2007