‘Manang Baby’

By Raoul Simon Suarez

Manang Baby woke up early today; she always does. She owns a little sari-sari store in the barrio and she usually opens at six in the morning. She was a pudgy and affable old lady in her late fifties who liked to gossip all day while tending to her business.

It was already 8:00 AM and the store was still closed. People were waiting in line and were calling out her name so they can buy some of their daily needs. She went out and told her customers that she wasn’t sure what time she would be available to cater to them. She was scheduled for vaccination after all; in one of the schools that served as a site for the government to hand out the shots.

Manang Baby packed everything she needed in her tiny sling bag. Water for hydration. A black ballpoint pen for filling up the forms. A face towel for wiping sweat due to the heat. A few packs of biscuits to fill her stomach so she won’t go hungry while waiting. She also made sure that all her government-issued IDs were housed in her old leather wallet because there would be a need for that; it was required. Everything was ready. Everything was packed. She had her double mask and face shield on, and she tightly held on to the vaccination ticket issued by the barangay. She hailed a taxi cab to take her to the venue.

Her niece, Annie, was supposed to go with her today but she did not want to do it. Annie said she was busy with schoolwork and had to take a pass. She doesn’t leave the house anyway. Most of the time, she’s just there doing her online classes and watching movies on Netflix after she’s done with schoolwork. She wasn’t really busy today. She just did not like the vaccine brand that was being issued in the vaccination site. Her friends were all vaccinated with the shots made in the U.S. and she wanted the same. She folded her ticket in half and tucked it in one of her books. Maybe next week there’s going to be a different roll out. She was willing to wait. She did not bother to give the ticket to somebody else who was willing to take whatever was available.

Aside from Annie, there were people in the barrio who were scheduled for their shots today but they also did not want to take it. Like Annie, there were those who also wanted a different brand, while some others did not believe in the vaccine. Their tickets were unused and have gone to waste. Some people would have benefitted from those tickets had those been given to them. After all, the best vaccine is the one that has been tested and is readily available. It’s a personal choice though. That’s what they would all say. They said they can choose to use the ticket, give it to others, just keep it, or even throw it away.

Manang Baby arrived early at the site and was attended to by the vaccination team. She was given forms that she had to fill up. After that, she was checked by a doctor and was cleared before the shot was administered. After the shot, the vaccination team had to do some routine spot checks before telling her she can go home. She wanted to take a selfie but she thought it was going to be tedious. Old people and technology are not always the best of friends. When she was done with everything, she took one last look at the vaccination card that was issued to her and made a mental note of the date for the second dose; then she hailed another taxi cab and went straight to her home.

Manang Baby was one of those people in the barrio who took the opportunity to be vaccinated. She was a part of the other half of those people who decided to use their tickets and not let it go to waste. When she got home, her neighbor, Tiyay Elsa, asked her if she was doing fine after taking her shot. She smiled and said she was feeling a little hungry and invited Tiyay Elsa to join her for a merienda. Tiyay Elsa kindly refused and said she had things to do. She had to go to the market to buy fish for dinner.

“Naga-gilinutok ina dira sila sa may baligyaan isda. Doble halong guid. Suksok ka guid mask kag faceshield, kag disinfect ka guid pagkatapos. Budlay na maigo-an ka sang Covid19.”

Manang Baby warned Tiyay Elsa out of concern. They were childhood friends after all. They grew up together and went to the same elementary and high school. They would play Mahjong and Tong-its once in a while. Tiyay Elsa quickly replied to the warning that she received from her old pal and was even laughing while she did so.

“Kung oras mo na, ti oras mo na eh. Maskin gahalong ka pa. Maskin bakunado ka pa. Napatay to gani ang kilala ta kay nabunggu-an siya iya sang jeep. Indi man to virus. Oras na to niya mo. Ti amo gid ina. Bahala na ang dios ah. Siya na ina ‘ya ang nakabalo. Itugyan ko na lang ina dira sa iya.”

Tiyay Elsa, like Annie, was scheduled for vaccination today too, but she refused to use her ticket and wanted to leave it up to god to protect her from the virus. Tiyay Elsa would always reason out and tell people that she has survived the pandemic for this long a time while the others were not lucky enough; and she believes that we only need faith in the divine. Nothing more. Nothing less. She put the wad of folded 20 peso bills inside her pocket and gave Manang Baby a piece of her mind before leaving.

“Gina-into lang kita sang gobyerno para kapangwarta sila sa ila mga RTPCR Test nga ina! Indi guid ko sina sang bakuna-bakuna nila. Bakod pa man ko kag wala ako may ginabatyag. Ara sa gino-o ang aton kaluwasan.”

Tiyay Elsa wiped the sweat off her brow, waved goodbye, and started walking away; disappearing in the distance. Not wanting to be vaccinated was Tiyay Elsa’s personal choice and Manang Baby respected that; she was not one to push her beliefs on others. She would always say that you cannot convince people that the sky is blue on a sunny day if they believe it to be some other color. We all see things differently after all. She avoided confrontations by being neutral because she would rather play solitaire than engage people in an argument.

Manang Baby woke up early today; she always does. She owns a little sari-sari store in the barrio and she usually opens at six in the morning. She was a pudgy and affable old lady in her late fifties who liked to gossip all day while tending to her business. She had herself vaccinated while most of her friends and relatives chose not to. We are all entitled to our choices anyway. We were given free will to be able to choose whatever we like; the only problem is that most of us can’t live with the consequences.