It was a cliché scene straight out of a run-of-the-mill Pinoy action movie: an unsuspecting girl walking alone on a deserted street late at night, two guys come out from a dark corner, one of them grabs her by the neck and sticks a knife to her throat. If this happened in a movie, a heroic Fernando Poe Jr. or Jeric Raval would suddenly appear and beat the living hell out of the muggers.
Except that this was no run-of-the-mill Pinoy action movie. It happened in a street near my apartment last night and the unsuspecting girl was me. FPJ is dead and I have no idea where Jeric Raval is so my chances of being rescued by an action hero in a maong or faux leather jacket were very slim.
I’ve lived in this corner of Quezon City for four years now and I’m used to going out and coming home late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I actually like walking alone in those hours; everything is quiet, I get to look up and stare at the sky without anyone thinking I’ve lost my marbles, and hop and skip in the middle of the street a la Singing in the Rain (sometimes with an actual umbrella if it’s really raining). Well, maybe I really did lose my marbles at some point.
Last night was no different although I wasn’t gaping at the sky or doing the Gene Kelly routine. I was in a bit of a hurry to get a cab since I was late for work. I saw a small blue motorcycle (the Honda dream type) parked by the waiting shed and a guy in a white shirt standing next to it. Another guy was on the sidewalk facing the wall like he was taking a piss. I walked in the middle of the road as I wasn’t too keen on catching a glimpse of his junk. I passed him by and was about to head into the shed to wait for a cab when he suddenly grabbed me from behind and gripped my neck tightly with his right arm.
“Holdup ‘to,” he said in a low voice right into my left ear. I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything. I just thought “Is this for real?” I was seriously under the impression that it was just a prank. Some people think I’m brave. I’m really not. I just have a severely impaired sense of danger. As they say, there’s a thin line between bravery and stupidity. I’m on the extreme end of the stupidity scale. So when somebody puts a knife to my throat, I have a hard time believing it might actually be for real.
Irritated at my lack of reaction to his declaration of sinister intent, mugger number 1 repeated “holdup ‘to!” and added “putang ina mo!” for emphasis. He then pushed the knife harder until could feel the pointy end digging into my skin. His verbal attack against my mother’s honor and the pain that shot through my neck as a tiny wound opened up finally jarred me into realizing that it was really happening. I whimpered helplessly and handed him my bag. They took the bag and sped off in the motorcycle which didn’t have a plate number.
My only thought then was I wanted to live and I have a very strong attachment to my neck. I didn’t want it damaged permanently just for P1,400, a few plastic cards, a five-year-old phone, digital recorder, USB stick, and personal hygiene stuff including a roll of dental floss. They also took my copy of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I was supposed to read that this weekend and I wanted so badly to find out what happened to Bran and Rickon after escaping from Winterfell, and if Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie made it out of Harrenhal, and how Jon would fare after joining the Wildlings, and if Tyrion would finally get rid of his psycho siblings and petulant prick of a nephew.
George R.R. Martin obsession aside, I’m mostly bummed out that I lost what had been my mobile number for the past 10 years. I had the same number since my mom bought me my first phone as a gift after winning a writing contest in high school. Aside from the phone numbers of practically everyone I know, my phone also contained messages I kept from as far back as five years ago: my mom’s consoling messages when I heard that my Lola was dying and she knew that I suck at handling grief, my dad’s cheesy “I miss you” every time I go back to Manila after spending a couple of weeks at home, reassurance of love and support from best friends at times when I’m down and out, congratulatory messages for getting writing jobs, birthday greetings, and all sorts of inconsequential things that I didn’t erase simply because they came from people who mean so much to me. I’d even read them from time to time because they make me smile and remind me that I am loved.
My housemate tried calling my phone and got the-subscriber-cannot-be-reached recording. They probably threw it away since it’s ancient anyway and they most likely had better phones. Mine didn’t even have a camera. They also probably threw away the book. I don’t think George R.R. Martin has a huge following among muggers.
My kind neighbors took me to the barangay hall to report the incident. The tanod took notes of my narrative on their handy dandy logbook and, well, that was it. Fortunately, I’ve never had any high expectations of the competency of our peacekeeping forces so disappointment was not a big issue. I was surprisingly calm and composed while I was there. The whole thing still felt unreal. I even managed to laugh and joke around.
After calling the banks to have my ATM and credit cards cancelled, I went up to my room and bawled into my pillow, shaking in fear and outrage. I was threatened and I felt utterly helpless. I often like to think that I’m strong, independent and fully capable of taking care of myself. I was furious that I got into that kind of situation and there was nothing I could do. But it was the overwhelming feeling of being so damn scared that broke me down. I don’t even remember the last time I felt this I’m-gonna-crap-in-my-pants kind of fear.
And there’s the thought that it could happen again. I was mugged just a few steps from where I live, in a quiet residential neighborhood with nice families and kids and cute dogs and sari-sari stores and a lively Sunday market beside a beautiful church. I didn’t want to live in a condo in Makati or Ortigas precisely because I wanted the homey atmosphere of cute kids and dogs and sari-sari stores and a lively Sunday market where my suking fruit vendor gives me a discount and I get my fix of real home-cooked laing and ginatan.
My naïve illusion of safety in my homey neighborhood was ruined. There’s nothing I want more now than to move into a formidable fortress with a reliable internet connection and fill it with tons of food so I won’t have to go out into the big bad world again. But for now we’d have to install new locks in the house because my keys were also in my bag and my wallet contained IDs which had my home address. It would be all too easy for the muggers to pay us a home visit and bring along their akyat-bahay friends. I’m also scared that they might be waiting for me the next time I go out. They know where I live. They’d even know my freakin’ birthday by now, thanks to my very detailed health insurance card, although I doubt they’ll bring me a cake. So if you happen to come across a vacant formidable fortress, please let me know.