Sunday, August 5, 2012

Our newspaper man has stopped coming

Mang Manny collected our payment two Sundays ago, like he always did on Sundays. Then the following Monday the tell-tale thump of a rolled newspaper landing on our doorstep didn't come. I waited for it as I drank a cup of coffee, wanting to scan the headlines before leaving for work. But it didn't come. And it hasn't come.

It has been two weeks now.

When I was young, there were three constants in our village: the man selling taho; the man who took photographs, printed them, and waited for people to pick them up; and the man who delivered the newspaper.

The man selling taho used to linger at our corner, calling out "Taho!" and waiting for all four of us to run out with our colored Tupperware plastic glasses and spoons. As we grew older, our tastes shifted, and I think the last one to want taho was my little sister. The taho vendor eventually learned to focus on other street corners. I don't hear him anymore, but I'm hardly home in the afternoons anymore. I never knew his name.

The man who took photographs is called Mang Nilo. We know this because when my brother and sister were studying in schools inside the village, he would take pictures of the students during their school events and display them for parents to buy. My parents never commissioned a photo since we always had our own camera, but we bought his photographs once or twice. He has taken a photo of me though, commissioned by one of our maids who was close to me. She asked Mang Nilo to take photos of her and our other maid, and then of her and me. I can't remember either of them anymore, but I think she was the one who also saved up enough to watch Menudo in concert. Business still seems okay for Mang Nilo: He used to ride a bike, but now he has his own motorcycle.

The man who delivered the newspaper was called Mang Manny. He had no office. He just came to us in the early 1980s, when the village was young and the neighbors knew each other, and offered to deliver The Manila Bulletin for a weekly fee. He had his own tricycle. After delivering the newspaper, he also worked as a school bus driver. At least that's what my sister and I thought because we saw him driving a school bus once or twice. We only learned his name in the 1990s, when it occurred to us to ask because we wanted to put him on our Christmas list. We tried to give him something -- a shirt, a calendar, food -- every Christmas since.

Of the above, I feel like I know Mang Manny the most because I've never stopped reading newspapers, even when I started accessing their websites. But all I really know is that his first name is Manny, he used to come daily to throw newspapers over our gate and come one more time on Sundays to collect the week's fee.

In the late 1980s, we switched to The Philippine Daily Inquirer, something I wasn't initially happy about because I'd been following several comic strips, Brenda Starr included, in The Manila Bulletin. But I discovered Pugad Baboy, and that was that -- until I worked for The Philippine STAR and we would occasionally ask Mang Manny to deliver The STAR instead. When any one of us was job hunting, we would also ask him to give us The Manila Bulletin on Sundays, which I didn't like completely because there was a time when I loved the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.

The only times I ever talked to Mang Manny was to ask him to deliver a specific paper, and when I asked him how much we needed to pay because I could never remember. I did notice that throughout the years his hair had gone white and he had lost several teeth. My mother and I often wondered how old he was; our last guess was that he was nearing his 70s.

Once, I wondered if he noticed changes in our family too. Apart from the parade of maids and dogs and fruit trees, there were the big events: my father, who was always the one to pay Mang Manny on the months he was home from the Middle East, died in 2003; and my sister had her baby girl in 2006. Then, of course, the Ricardo kids are not kids anymore.

Our gate had gotten higher over the years, and when before we could see each other completely, in the last few years, we'd had to peer at each other over the gate. But perhaps it was not the same for him as it was for us; perhaps we were just one of the many families he delivered papers to, and there were too many of us for him to take note of the details. For us, he was just one guy who came to the house daily and twice on Sundays.

I'd like to think that we thought of him. Apart from the Christmas presents we tried to give to him, we also stayed loyal to him. There was a time when my father suggested we stop having the paper delivered to save money, and our answer was a resounding no. My mother thought it important for us to read up on the news daily, and, I'd like to think, we also considered what it would mean to Mang Manny. Even when some of us moved out, even when only the dog (Tutay, who died in May) really used the paper for her poop and pee, we stayed loyal to Mang Manny and appreciated what he brought to our lives.

It makes me sad now to know that while we did think of him, he may have never felt it in the almost three decades he had been coming to our house every single day.

It also makes me sad that while I wonder how he is, I know I won't really do anything to find out because in my mind, I need to believe that wherever he is, for all the good he brought to our lives, he is okay.