“Sir, baka pwedeng lipat na lang kayo ng taxi,” the driver said to me apologetically. “Hindi na po kasi ako aabot sa garage sa Sta. Mesa.” He offered to drop the flag-down fee from the fare so I just agreed. I got off and looked around.
One of the reasons I agreed to let him off despite the late hour was that I knew the place where we were passing by – a well lit area where I could easily get another taxi or take an alternative form of transportation if needed – it was the neighborhood I grew up in. And by some happenstance the exact spot where I got off was right across the corner near my grandparents’ old house where we used to live ten-odd years ago. No more than thirty to forty meters away was where most of my childhood took place.
I look down the road and there's already another taxi coming down the stretch. I could hail it and be on my way home. But I looked across the street and considered the alternative. A quick trip down memory lane wouldn't hurt right? I've been by this road before since we moved, many times even, since it was one of my common taxi routes home. Sometimes I even passed right by where the house used to be. But it was always in passing, I've never gone there simply to take a look and remember what used to be.
The taxi passes by, and I'm crossing the street. There's a Mercury Drug here now at the corner, it didn't used to be there. I try to remember what used to be on this curved corner even though I must have walked by it a thousand times. It was probably some residence, neighbors I never really knew.
I turn right after crossing the street and down the sloped street. On the other side of the street, there was this building with a truck in front and a familiar side door. The family who lived there sold ice out of that door and when I was young I would sometimes be sent out to buy ice for our sari-sari store from that door. It was only a short walk away and I would earn a crisp five-peso bill for my efforts. That five pesos was a lot for me back then, enough to buy a small coke with. Yes, we had a sari-sari store at our grandparents’ house when we were young, which meant I drank a lot of soft drinks back then.
A few meters later and I'm at the fork in the road in front of where the house used to be. There used to be a basketball board and hoop set up in the middle of the fork, but that had already been taken down before we moved. Now there was just a pillar with the names of the local officials (epals) and a sign that declared it was illegal to park in that spot.
Our grandparents’ house was pretty big back then – there were three families of relatives living there (counting ours) and as mentioned we also had a sari-sari store that catered to neighbors. More than a decade ago the family decided to sell it off and move to separate houses. It had since been replaced by a set of three townhouses, the usual size for residential areas nowadays. The townhouse gates were right against the street with no room to sit outside the gate or anything. I remembered our old house had a small area in front where we could stand around and watch cars pass by, plus a small elevated platform to the side where we often sat as kids. That was just outside our very low security gate (By the time I was twelve I could reach over the gate and open it from the other side)
The neighboring house on the right side was also gone, replaced by townhouses as well. That house – compound, really – used to be lived in by this guy who drove a blue jeepney. I never knew that family's name but more than once I had ridden in that jeepney and the driver recognized me and insisted that I didn't have to pay. Sometimes at night when the jeepney was parked outside their house we would sit inside the jeepney, sometimes at the driver's seat pretending to drive.
I walked a bit past where the house used to be and saw the neighbor's gate on the other side – I think it was still the same neighbor. I couldn't be too sure since my memories are a bit hazy and I wasn't really familiar with our neighbors but it looked like most of the houses down that part had stayed the same. I turned back for the fork.
Across the street from where the house used to be, I remembered there being a wide house with two gates. During the times when there were often power failures in our area, we were always envious of that house across the street because they always had power whenever we lost ours. That house was no longer there either, replaced with a smaller townhouse and a larger four or five story building.
I had back up the street and down the main road in front of the Mercury Drug and cross back to where the taxi had dropped me off. That side had a different set of shops that I remember, but there was still that small hole-in-the-wall barbershop where my dad would take us for haircuts. Our favorite barber was this small guy who was always smiling but I don't even remember his name right now.
I looked back to the other side of the street and saw the police station a few meters away from the Mercury Drug. That police station used to be a small and simple one-story affair. Now it was a well-polished two-story building and it had what looked like new police cars parked just outside. There used to be a small side street beside the police station which led between the houses back to the fork in the road, and when we were kids we often went down that pass as a “shortcut”. I don't think it was ever really faster to take that route but as a kid you often found enjoyment in just passing down a different route.
I walked a few meters away from the Mercury Drug towards the next corner. On that corner there used to be a shop that would rent out betamax and VHS movies. They also had Family Computers for rent that my brother and I would sometimes play at on weekends. Even though we had a NES at home, that shop had games we didn't have and I had my first encounter with a romhack here (though I didn't know it at the time) when we played a cartridge that claimed to be Super Mario Brothers 4. The shop was no longer there, I believe it had closed up years before we moved. The corner was now occupied by a small carinderia but with the same name as the old shop. probably owned by the same people.
I thought about walking a bit farther down the road because I knew the bakery was still there. It was an old bakery, as far as I can tell it had been there for more than thirty years now, surely nothing to scoff at. We used to buy _pandesal _there in the mornings for as long as I could remember. I thought about buying some right then and there just for nostalgia sake but as I recalled their best pandesal was when you bought it at five in the morning.
By that point I was satisfied with my unscheduled trip down memory lane. I stood there for a few minutes trying to see if I could get a jeepney ride, but the jeepneys running the route I had to take where all full despite the late hour – that hasn't changed in more than a decade. Eventually I gave up and just hailed another cab. We drove away back towards the present, leaving the past behind