I rolled down the window, unsure if I heard them right.
"Pwede po pasabay?" they said in chorus. I was curious at this new mode of transportation. I asked them where they were going. They said they lived near the basketball court near Ayala, which was just a few meters away. It was past 6:00 p.m. and alarm bells were ringing in my head.
I had never allowed total strangers to ride in my car before. I stared at the boys and asked for their names. They gave it to me. They were both 11 years old and were studying at "Balara Filter". They were in school uniform, carried backpacks, and reminded me of my nephews.
Traffic was really bad so I had time to interview them. They said they did it everyday as they had no money to pay for jeepney fare.
I should have been scared and just driven off. But I wasn't. I let them in, put the seat belt on the first boy, and carried a conversation with them.
I even forgot to lock the car doors immediately. I was just curious if their parents were aware of that practice of riding in strangers' cars, and the boy sitting at the back (is it obvious I have forgotten their names already? I'm bad.) told me that his older brother taught him the trick. I kept looking at their faces to see any mischief or malice. There was none. They said they tried to avoid heavily-tinted vans. They said really kind people let them ride, and they especially loved riding on the back of motorcycles. I warned them that they should always wear their helmets and that it was not the safest vehicle around (for I had just seen, a few nights ago, two men lying unconscious along the Quezon Avenue underpass going to Circle, after the motorcycle they were riding on hit another vehicle).
We talked about school and family, in that ten-minute ride. The cars were moving at a snail's pace and so I was able to talk to my young passengers. The one beside me wanted to be a civil engineer and the one at the backseat wanted to be a computer programmer. I encouraged them to study hard as there was no better feeling than graduating with a degree in the course of their dreams and being able to help their respective families.
I dropped them off at the basketball court and they thanked me. I will never forget their reply when I asked them how they chose the car to hitch a ride with:
"Naghahanap po kami ng matatanda at mga babae" (We look for old [can I say older here, or would it be inaccurate?] people and women). I'm not sure, I will take it that they chose me because I was a woman driver. Hah.
"Takot po kami sa balbas-sarado" (We're afraid of bearded men.) I said not all bearded men should be feared and not all shaven ones should be trusted. I added that they should take care and study hard always.
I did not make it to mass at all for the traffic delayed me as usual. I went straight to my scheduled confession, as that was one of the reasons I was rushing home in the first place. I had a feeling I encountered Jesus even way before I arrived at the Parish of St Benedict.
In case you're wondering, I did check. My wallet, which was lying beside my young friend in the backseat, was untouched. My two cellphones, within easy reach of my little front seat passenger, remained intact. I had no reason to be afraid. They just needed a ride.
I just wished the world was a safer place for young students, and that I did not have to check if anything was taken from me.
I wished we could trust more people, and be trustworthy. Then oh what a wonderful world this would be.