Buhay Frontliner

Fiction by | June 14, 2021

The night was silent. Dead. Sad. Only the echo of Mang Kaloy’s tired footsteps could be heard as he was walking down the narrow alley leading to their house. But it wasn’t a house. It was a space – one as small as a room put together by wood planks for a bit of “privacy”. It wasn’t enough for one person let alone two more. His wife and child were sleeping peacefully, sharing one pillow on an almost worn-out mattress stolen from a nearby dumpsite of a high-end subdivision. Judging from the loudness of their snores, it was evident they didn’t care. Or perhaps they were just used to it.

Mang Kaloy’s weary body yearned to just lay down and sleep beside his wife but he knows he can’t. Not yet. He still needed to take a bath and disinfect his body from walking around so as to not compromise his family’s health. From the hospital, he had to walk about 4 kilometers for a free shuttle that stops 15 minutes away from where he lives.

As he was taking a bath in the communal bathroom, he remembered the pale face of the last patient he had to bring down to the morgue. She died with her eyes wide open gasping for breath. Even if the doctors closed her eyes not that long after declaring the time of death, her face was still etched in Mang Kaloy’s mind. The way her pupils dilate, staring into nothing but something at the same time. The way she released her last breath as if releasing the last trace of life from her body. It was the 14th death that day and the 7th woman. As Mang Kaloy was putting on clothes for sleep, he thought of the finality of death, how it spares no one but sometimes has its favorite. And more often than not, it preys on the poor.

After taking his place next to his wife, Mang Kaloy’s body begged him to sleep but he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking about how the lockdown due to the pandemic was a curse that took it’s toll on the working class. How thousands of people lost their jobs or were layed off due to budget cuts. How numerous local businesses had to close because they couldn’t keep up with the bills. How families resort to sleeping on the streets because they were evicted from where they live. Yet even with all that, people with money, the rich, still think it’s a blessing because they have all the time in the world to do what they want.

Just thinking of how they could eat more than three meals a day and having a nice bed to sleep in angered Mang Kaloy. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair how these people have the choice on what to consume when his family struggled to find food to eat at least twice a day. It wasn’t fair how these people could afford to have 2 or more cars when he had to walk under the sun just to avail the free shuttle to get to work. It wasn’t fair how they have gadgets more than their hands could hold when he couldn’t buy his son a simple android phone for his online class.

He looked at Junjun with tears in his eyes dreading to see the sad look on his son’s face when he tells him he had to stop studying. Because of the pandemic, his wife was layed off from work. Leaving him to pay for everything even though his salary wasn’t enough. Mang Kaloy never dreamed of becoming rich. He simply wanted enough for his family not just to survive but to live too.

This was Mang Kaloy’s last thoughts before finally drifting off to a dreamless sleep only to be woken up by his alarm hours later. As usual, he didn’t get enough sleep but he had to work.

It took him about 2 hours to get to the hospital. Over an hour late, again.

“Naku, Mang Kaloy, late nanaman ho kayo. Sabi ni Boss last niyo na daw yung kahapon”, Joseph, St. Peter General Hospital’s day shift security guard greeted as Mang Kaloy enters the lobby.

“Oo nga, Sep, eh. Kaso hirap talaga makasakay lalo na’t agawan yung free shuttle sa may amin”.

“Good luck nalang po, Mang Kaloy. Sana good mood si Boss ngayon.”

Mang Kaloy responded with a half-smile. He was trying to control his nerves because deep down, he knew this is it. He knew he was going to get fired. He could feel it. Fisting his hand, he knocked on his boss’ door.

“Gandang uma-”

“Wag na ho, Mang Kaloy. ‘Di na po kailangan. Tanggal na ho kayo sa trabaho”, His boss cut him off even before he could finish his greeting.

“Pero Sir-”

“Sorry talaga, Mang Kaloy. Sa gitna ng pandemya, kailangan ho talaga namin kayong mga maintainance. Yung ilang oras na late niyo, andami po kasing nasasagasaan. Yung mga kasama niyo sila yung nag co-cover ng shift niyo kapag wala pa kayo. Hindi na kasi tama yung ganoon.”

“Sir, maawa ho kayo. Natanggalan rin po ng trabaho asawa ko, wala na po kami halos makain. Yung anak ko po ‘di na po makapag aral kasi wala na po kaming pera. Itong trabahong ‘to nalang po talaga bumubuhay sa amin”, Mang Kaloy was on the verge of tears explaining. He couldn’t lose his job. Not now. Not when everything else is falling apart.

“May nahanap na ho akong kapalit niyo, Mang Kaloy. Mas bata din sa inyo. Mas marami pang mabuhat at magawa”.

Defeated and knowing he couldn’t do anything else, Mang Kaloy stood up and nodded at his boss in acknowledgement. He turned to leave the room, reaching for the doorknob and closing it shut.

Walking towards the exit, he took out his old keypad phone and texted his wife the news. Realizing that his wife probably didn’t have any load, He decided to call her. She answered after the first ring.

“Bat ka tinanggal? Jusko hindi ba nila alam naghihirap ang mga tao ngayon? Pano na tayo, Loy? Pano na ang pagkain natin? Pano tayo mabubuhay nito? Wala pa rin akong mahanap na trabaho hanggang ngayon. Kahapon pa ang huling kain natin. Pano na si Junjun? Di ko na kaya to. Hindi ko na talaga kaya, Loy.”

His wife ended the call even before he could talk. He decided to call again but he didn’t have enough load anymore. By foot, the distance from the hospital to their house was a good 6 hours. He dreaded it but it wasn’t like he had any other choice. The free shuttle only had two service times. One in the morning and another at night. With an empty stomach under the glaring sun, Mang Kaloy started his walk.

It was almost 5:00 in the afternoon when he reached his place. As he opened the door, he saw that only Junjun was inside. Before he could ask his son where his mom was, an ear-piercing scream tore through the room. Alarmed, he looked at Junjun and told him to stay put.

Outside, people were crowding near the communal bathroom. As he was walking towards the crowd, he could hear bits and pieces of their whispers.



Hirap ng buhay.

Hindi na kinaya.

Suddenly his eyes went wide.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

He pushed through people to get closer to the front only to see his wife’s lifeless body on the bathroom floor with a noose wrapped around her neck. Mang Kaloy couldn’t breathe. Air was stuck in his throat and he couldn’t swallow. He was shocked, frozen to his feet.

Before anyone could react, his knees gave out. He knelt next to his wife, bringing her body onto his lap and clutched it tight. For a minute, he didn’t move. He just held her. Savoring the last of her warmth.

And then he screamed.


Samantha Lucille Tancontian is from Davao City, studying BA English in UP Mindanao.