The way people are treating me, I must look ancient. There is surely a disconnect here between people and me. I don’t see any confirmation of how old I seem to them when I look in the mirror. Yes, I’ll admit I look old, but not that old. I’m not the frail and fragile geezer that some folks like to treat me as if I were going to stumble, fall and die on my next step. And, of course, the energetic way with which I conduct myself should convince them that I’m not exactly your run-of-the-mill senior citizen.
What do I look like to strangers, and maybe even younger friends? A benign, elderly man, when I believe I’m a rather grouchy, prickly, but fit old codger? But of course, I like that fantasy in these fellows’ minds as it means they will treat me with the courtesy and respect given a really good-natured but weak-kneed grandpop.
I feel hale and hearty but you might not think that because of late I’ve been walking with a limp bestowed on me by sciatica. But even 20-year-olds can experience sciatic pain and walk like I do.
Nowadays I’ve given up fending off well-meaning young people who want to help me carry a folded 13-kg bike or who want to protectively escort me across the street. Embarrassingly, when crossing the street with a woman, she stays on the danger side. In other words, without my wanting it, I’m enjoying the special treatment afforded an elder of the community. Who told you that the young people of our country are cynical, disrespectful and unmindful of others, especially the weak and geriatric? One can still believe there’s a future for a country when its young people go out of their way to be helpful to old folks.
But setting aside such grand visions of where the Philippines is headed, can’t you young folks see when a guy is still strong and fit and can cross the street unaided?
Because of my sciatica, I’ve turned to riding a bike for simple errands like buying vegetables from a shop outside our subdivision. I was walking my bike down a steep slope to a secondary gate when a man saw me, smiled, and asked if I was still up to it: “Kaya pa ba?” There they go again. Of course I can still ride the bike, and isn’t it a bad idea to hop on your bike when you’re going down a steep incline that ends in a road bump?
For me the best reminders that I’m no longer in my teens are my knees. I can avoid looking in the mirror so I don’t see my wrinkles and white hair, but every time I get up from a chair my knees protest. On trips with my barkada, I can be seated and still be reminded of those knees when my friend who does the driving gets out of the driver’s seat with a litany of “Ow ow ow!” I wince when I think of three friends who have had knee-replacement surgery.
Yesterday I climbed the ladder to fix a leak in my roof. I paused going down the ladder to prune two malunggay branches beside the eaves. There’s nothing complicated or particularly risky about getting up the ladder and the roof to do that patching job. But certainly, many would ask: Why do you have to do such things at your age? Well, you couldn’t hire a worker to go up and do such a simple job, could you?
Still, while I was up on the roof I couldn’t help thinking of what happened to labor leader Crispin Beltran in May 2008. Coming down after fixing the roof of his house, he fell 14 feet, landing face down on the pavement, and died two hours later. Shudder. How hard I now cling to the ladder when negotiating it.
I took an armful of those malunggay cuttings to a friend a few houses away. She remarked that I was still strong to be able to carry such a load to her house, and asked how old I was: “Ang lakas mo pa. Ilang taon ka na ba?” I told her in jest: “95.” She made no sign at all that she doubted the number! In fact, she said: “Kaya pala,” adding that I would soon receive a gift of P100,000 from the government, and that I should have my hair colored so I would look younger: “Uy, malapit ka na makatanggap ng P100,000 na regalo ng gobyerno. Magpakulay ka ng buhok para mas bata ang itsura mo.”
That “kaya pala” was even more disturbing than her acceptance of my count. What did she mean?
When the height of the pandemic had passed, I went to see what new stuff Divisoria malls had to offer. I take public conveyances for my Divisoria visits as I hate the traffic going there. It is also a problem finding a place to park in Binondo. On the way home, I took one of those large trikes that ply the Manila City Hall-Divisoria route. These trikes don’t have to wait much for passengers, and the drivers know how to navigate the traffic and rarely get stuck.
As the traffic crawled, the driver asked that inevitable question: “Ilang taon ka na ba?” I told him my age minus seven years. He then launched into a sermon about the dangers of commuting alone and wondered why I didn’t have a companion: “Pumupunta ka lang mag-isa rito sa Divisoria? Wala ka bang kasama?” I should have told him: No, my nurse doesn’t like crowded places.
Maybe I can’t really blame folks for seeing me now as having had a lot of mileage. After all, when I was still in my late 50s the cashier at Jollibee would ask me for my senior-citizen card. And don’t you remember those occasions when you were a fit and robust macho male in your early 60s when a matron gave up her seat for you in a crowded MRT train, and when a middle-aged lady stood up for you as soon as you got on a bus?
Norman F. Quimpo is a retired professor of mathematics at Ateneo de Manila University. This piece was first run on Facebook.