Deep brown from baking under the sun all day, the young man was cheerful in rendering his unsolicited service. I eased the car into the parking slot near a commercial centre, something I would’ve been able to do without his assistance. But there he was, teeth absurdly white, framed as they were by his dark smiling face. I gave him a nod as I got out of the car to honor our unspoken service transaction. Manila isn’t short of informal laborers eking a living at the margins. The Unsolicited Parking Attendant is no different from the men offering to clean your windshield or the girls proffering fragrant blooms at intersections. They who cannot be gainfully employed by our broken system. They who rely on middle class largesse. My largesse.
The consumer haven was predictably cool and noisy and unavoidable. All we need in life is here available – including dental services. I went up the top floor to see Doc Jackie, only to leave immediately as our appointment had apparently been re-set for Tuesday. Her services I needed, but could not be had today.
I walked around for a bit looking coldly at the brightly-colored things, the pitter-patter of my feet muffled by the best of American pop kitsch. The things were screaming loudly to be heard. They were begging to be taken off the shelf and to be taken home to be worn, to be displayed, to be coddled. I wanted none of them, save a pair of summery flip-flops which I took off the shelf to be taken out to wear, to display and to coddle.
Rummaging for my keys, I walked slowly back to my parking space. And there stood Unsolicited Parking Attendant, no less cheery, no less enthusiastic under the almost-noon sun. In slow-mo horror my mouth fell open. I had forgotten to lock my car door. Frantic I looked to the backseat. Sigh of relief. My lappie – my life, my papers, my work – was safe inside. I looked to the young man standing some feet away in deference. He flashed me a smile that spoke to me of quiet dignity. I nodded once more and sat in the car checking for anything that may have been stolen. We were about to close our service transaction. Had I locked my door I would’ve handed him a ten peso coin for standing under the sun and looking after my car along with dozens of others. I did not want to pay for his unsolicited kindness and so cracking my door open I thanked him and made a joke about hunger and forgetfulness. Satisfied I made him feel my gratitude, as a human being would feel for any other, I fished for a hundred peso bill. He must have mouths to feed after all.