It is bright from the Sun and lively with community.
A light breeze that gently cools the skin and it seems everything is some shade of red, orange or yellow. Children run barefoot, laughing while some parents are busy and some are relaxing by the dusty roads.
And no; not THIS Dusty Rhodes.
Wires criss-cross, pulsing energy through to power the window-less homes while clothes hang and wave in the wind like the flag of the Philippines would from residents’ homes across buildings on drooped clotheslines.
And NO; not THIS kind of clothesline...
Back to the story.
We turn the corner and stop where we are to meet this random Filipino man. Omi, our taxi driver pulls away from the cracked curb to cross the peach-colored dusty road heading towards a different Filipino man on a small busted up dirt-bike with one compartment for a passenger.
“I know this guy,” Omi says while rolling the window down and letting in the mid-day heat, “he should know where to find our man.”
As they start speaking Filipino, I look forward until this random Filipino man’s eyes lock with mine. Feeling his stare bore through me like laser through rock, I stay firm, silent and look straight ahead.
Omi finishes up and drives away with the Filipino man still driving his bike alongside the vehicle, staring. The biker pulls away and skids off leaving a cloud of dust behind as Omi parks his yellow cab on a busy dirt road beside a large ten-foot high green wall on our right-hand side near a four-way intersection.
“What are we doing now?” I ask.
“That guy said he knows where to find who we are looking for. He told me to wait here, while he goes to find him,” Omi replies.
As we sit silently, I notice the uniqueness of this area in the Philippines. I wonder if the people living in these homes are watching us, this random taxi that’s parked on their street.
A different Filipino man approaches on a dinged-up bicycle, slow and steady like a panther creeps towards their prey, he crouches beside my window. I look, nod my head, and turn forward again while this man cycles around to Omi’s window. They chat briefly and quietly until the man bikes away, hesitant to turn his attention from us.
Taking a closer look at the large green wall, I notice it is punctured sporadically with holes, until my eyes stop on a set of holes that has a set of eyes on me.
A third man walks towards our car from the front, and turns towards this massive green wall which suddenly turns out to be a gate. It magically opens, lets the man in and quickly shuts behind, eyes vanishing just as quickly.
Sitting here with Omi in silence feels like waiting in the doctor’s office. Time couldn’t be slower and you’re not looking forward to hearing bad news.
Omi wanted to help and was going to do his best to do so but I don’t know if I wanted it this much. It’s clammy inside the taxi now. My clothes feel heavier, the air thicker. The layer of sweat covering our skin resembling the feelings of sliding a finger across a gecko’s skin.
Our original man comes around on his one-passenger motorcycle. Somehow this makes me feel excited, like seeing an old friend in times of worry even though I have never met this man.
The feeling changes quickly as his fast-paced words zip through Omi’s ears.
“He wants us to give him money and he will go get it for you.” Omi interprets.
“Sure,” I reply. “But I’ll only give half now.”
I begin to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I can’t help but realize that Omi is unusually quiet, his typical jovial self tucked away like a nervous dog’s tail. This only unnerves me more as I hand over the money. The man disappears again leaving us to wait patiently.
Ten, twenty and thirty minutes pass by while we sit and try to make small talk.
“It’s been about forty minutes, maybe we wait another five then leave?” Omi says.
“Sounds good, Omi,” I reply. “I don’t even care about the money anymore. We can leave now if you’d like.”
“No, no. We can wait another five.” As Omi continues to scan the area, I can’t help but notice how dedicated he is to his word. Not many people would go through so much effort to help a visitor from another country.
Five minutes pass by and as we prepare to leave we see our guy on his motorcycle. Quickly his bike putts up to my window bringing a plume of dust along and as I roll my window down, he throws a small rectangular shaped package wrapped in local newspaper onto my lap. I unwrap the package to find the cannabis we’ve been waiting for.
All of this for a bit of leafy weed.
I hand over the rest of the money and we drive off feeling like we have let the air out after holding our breath. A weight of worry had been removed, knowing that we had got what we were after and nothing had happened. I was excited and let Omi know that I was worried about being ripped off and even if that guy had taken my money, it would’ve been okay.
Omi takes a minute to gather his thoughts, “You know, you did perfect back there. Those men who approached wondered who we were,” he says. “They thought you were one of us and not a tourist.”
“Oh?” I say.
“I wasn’t worried about being ripped off. In fact, that was the furthest thing on my mind, really," Omi said, "Kidnappings are frequent and consistent in that area. I thought we were going to be abducted.”
Not doing that again.