Every single day, he is the one who wakes me up in the morning! In the evening when I go to bed, he passes by again, making a quite a ruckus with his vending. Mang Ronny is a regular in our village and I believe that he is well-known in several other villages where he sells his products: Taho and Balot.
People call him “Ang Onny” because he was born with a cleft palate; so he misses out pronouncing the initial letter of words. But since he has his health card with him, I read that his real name is Ronny Dimasupil.
He has a funny surname which actually translates to “invincible”.
I think that he lives up to his macho surname – I could only imagine how many kilometers he walks daily with 45 kilos on his back (i.e, soy curd, caramel, and tapioca) and add that to around 30 kilos of duck eggs that he has to sell every night.
I don’t know how he manages to do his job; it is so exhausting.
After five years since I transferred here in San Juan, Mang Ronny has become the living model for “the early bird catches the early worm” and he is a night owl as well, selling balot until 4 in the morning. I could only imagine how much sleep he has everyday.
One morning, right after he woke up the village, I put on my slippers and ran outside just like how kids do when Mang Ronny passes by with his melodic “Aho! Aho!” Oh, I had to compete with the children for his attention, literally. The kids were like mushrooms that popped out of nowhere and had that puppy-look faces in front of Mang Ronny while he scooped the soy curds to a cup, drenched it with caramel syrup and sprinkled tapioca. Every time he handed it to one child (and adult) he somehow blessed each person’s day. Of course, he would smile with his cleft widening to a grin and the kids couldn’t help but laugh – he has smiling eyes as well. 😊
It is amazing how magnetic he is as a person, and everyone greets him even if they don’t buy from him. He nods at each person he meets and I conclude that it was something that he eventually got because of his daily contact with people.
But I didn’t know his story so I had to explore a little bit.
When the kids left, I started asking him where he lives, how far he walks daily, when he first started selling Taho and Balot and how he gets a decent sleep every day (my most important curiosity). He told me that he lives in Santa Mesa, near the train station. He starts walking from there to nearby villages and towns until he reaches San Juan.
At times, he has to ride a jeepney but most of the time, he doesn’t. It depends in his “gut” feelings if his “children” wakes up and buys from him. He says that he started peddling around 15 years ago. Now he is in his late 50’s and it is noticeable how the roads have callused his feet and how he has evolved to have bigger strides than usual people. He told me that he doesn’t get enough sleep. He starts his day at 4am and ends it at 3am.
“What???? So you don’t sleep at all?” I was puzzled.
“I do. I take an early lunch at 10 in the morning and I arrive home at 11, so I sleep from 11:30 to 4PM.”
“And is it enough sleep, Mang Ronny?” I was trying to understand the way he talked and I wanted to probe more.
His face changed, he looked at me and said, “It should be; I have no time for dreaming.”
I stood still and felt a cold sweat down my temples. I didn’t know if I offended him but it appeared that he wasn’t pleased with that question. But I wondered why he said that.
When I handed him the payment for the Taho, he got back to his happy face and waved me goodbye and said thank you.
That awkward moment bothered me that whole day. Why did he suddenly get serious or offended?
I got hypnotized by the curiosity that I started investigating what was behind his reply.
On another day, I was having lunch in a carenderia when I overheard two men talking about their childhood friends. As if fate was playing on me, I heard them mention the name “Ronny”. Later, they confirmed my suspicion when one said that Ronny is “Ang Onny” (they were laughing after tirelessly imitating Ronny’s way of talking).
I immediately finished my food and took the courage to approach these two men. Mang Juan and Mang Pablo (those were their names) were of the same age as Mang Ronny. They were welcoming enough to answer my queries. But first, I told them about the awkward morning I had with Mang Ronny when his reply to my curiosity was a curt ‘no time for dreaming’. I told them that I felt there was an underlying meaning to that stern tone of Mang Ronny.
“Well, there is a story. Ronny lost his family in a fire 16 years ago. He got home one day from work and all that was left of his house were ashes – including his wife and three kids. They got trapped inside while waiting for him to come home. His work then was as a security guard in a warehouse in Santa Ana. It is a grim tale; he almost snapped and lost his mind. He was sleeping in sidewalks and during those nights, people would hear him talking in his sleep and grinding his teeth,” Mang Juan narrated.
“He was haunted by the accident. He dreamt that they were still alive and with him as they were. It was difficult for us, too. So when the Taho factory opened their doors for hiring, we referred him to get a job there. He tried to be busy so that he could eventually forget the incident but he still couldn’t sleep at night. So he decided to sell Balot at night so he could escape the nightmares. Now he sleeps in the afternoons. Somehow, he told us that this way the visions of the fire do not enter his dreams.” Mang Pablo added.
I felt so sad about what I heard. And I felt that I needed to apologize to Mang Ronny but all I could do was wait for him in the morning.
Then that very same night when I was about to arrive in my apartment, I saw a thick black smoke billowing from far away. I heard through the radio that it was in Santa Mesa. I felt a pang in my soul. My mind went to Mang Ronny. Where was he?
An hour after the fire was declared extinguished, the field reporter narrated that 50 households were reduced to ashes yet there were no casualties. He also mentioned a heroic escape of a family that was trapped in their house and was assisted by no other than a certain Ronny Dimasupil.
I was shocked! It happened again to him, but this time he reversed what happened and saved this family. I wished I could see him.
The next morning, I woke up earlier than expected. Mang Ronny didn’t pass by yet. After all, it was only 6am. At 7am while I was having coffee, I heard the children making noises, shouting “Ang Onny, Ang Onny, Ang Onny!” The children greeted him with an early morning cheer for his heroism.
I ran fast outside like I was part of this group of kids. And I saw him again. With tears brimming his eyes as the children hugged him, I smiled at him.
He knew that I knew about his story.
Yet now he has achieved what he had been seeking for 16 years of sleepless nights:
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