The Lady on Wheels
She starts her day at five in the morning, wakes up her two grandchildren, and sends them off to Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School an hour later. Instead of picking them up after class, she waits for them patiently. As she waits, she renders free services to the school, like cleaning the premises, doing errands for teachers or staff, and so forth. She confessed she couldn’t leave her grandchildren by themselves because one of them sometimes cuts classes. And so after school, she brings them home again, eats lunch with them, and even brings them to work as she takes on another role in the afternoon: a sidecar pedaller or tricycle driver.
Evelyn Perez, at 51 years old, doesn’t mind taking what is typically a “man’s job.” She didn’t finish high school since she ran away from home at a young age. “Tagal na. Siguro kay [former President Ferdinand] Marcos pa noong araw. Ano pa lang ako, 14 years old ako (It’s been a long time. Maybe it was during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos. I was only 14 years old).” She never communicated with her family and only returned home after 10 years. Everyone thought she was dead.
She said life was hard at her hometown in La Union, reason why she had to leave and find her luck somewhere else. Her family sells vegetables at the market, until now, and her father was a garbage collector employed by the local government. She is the fourth child in a brood of seven.
Luck was, indeed, on her side as she landed a job easily in Manila. She recalled, “Nakapasok kaagad ako na katulong. Ipinasok ako (I easily got a job as a maid. Someone helped me).” And she took on various jobs. “Pumasok akong katulong, ganyan. As in labandera, all around. Dito ako sa Pasay noon (I worked as a maid, laundrywoman, all-around helper. I was in Pasay then).”
It was in Pasay, too, where she met her husband Salvador, now 61, who then worked as a messenger for his uncle. Salvador is from Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
Evelyn fondly remembered being only 17 when she married him, with whom she has three children: Edison, Eric, and Evelyn. They were blessed with eight grandchildren.
It was her husband’s winnings in a cockfight bet that led her to pedaling the wheels. They used the money to buy a sidecar. She decided to make a living out of it, before her husband and two of her children followed suit. “Tinuruan ko lahat sila e. Sabi ko wala kayong mapasukan, ganyan na lang kayo maghanap-buhay kayo. Puros lahat nag-sidecar mga anak ko. Wala silang mahanap, madiskarte na trabaho. Sabi ko magtiyaga kayo sa sidecar. Makakaahon din kayo. Masisipag naman sila (I taught them all on how to make a living out of it. I told them, ‘If you can’t find a job, go take the sidecar. You’ll see, your life will get better.’ So far they’ve been hardworking).”
Hard work eventually paid off, and they were able to buy a tricycle.
Alternating sidecar and tricycle on days, Evelyn has been on the road for more than eight years now, and most of the time with her grandchildren—two during weekdays and four on weekends. To fit into the driver’s seat, one or two or sometimes three grandchildren will have to sandwich her, and another one will be tasked to squeeze oneself into the passenger’s seat. Sometimes the eldest grandson will have to cling on the back of the sidecar. In other cases, the eldest will have no choice but be left behind at the station area at M. Dela Fuente Street in Sampaloc, Manila. The seating arrangement changes from time to time.
To some, bringing her grandchildren on the road may seem unsafe, but she prefers to keep tab on them all the time, plus other reasons. “Malilikot eh, kaya sabi ko ‘di ko pwedeng iniiwan sa isang banda lang. Kasa-kasama ko. Hindi puwedeng ‘yung ano eh iiwan eh, dahil andiyan ‘yung magkakasunog, andiyan ‘yung madidisgrasya sila, kaya lagi kong kasama. Para nababantayan ko sila lagi. Maraming bata dun, kung saan-saan sila nakakarating. Minsan nga iniwan namin. Ang gulo, kung saan-saan nagpupunta, hahagilapin mo pa (They’re restless that’s why I can’t leave them anywhere. They’re always with me. I can’t just leave them because there’s the danger of fire, accidents. There are a lot of children in our place, and they just go anywhere. Once we left them. It’s confusing; you had to go look for them).”
Road safety is less of a worry to her, saying, “Hindi naman, nasa pag-iingat lang. Basta dahan-dahan lang ako sa pagmamaneho (Not really, it’s just about taking extra care. As long as I drive slowly).” She assured they’ve been on the safe side all these years.
Besides, who could have the heart to leave them when she already saw the worse happened to her granddaughter? “Mga apat na taon [siya]. Dati ‘yan hindi pa Mini-Stop ‘yan, bahay pa na ano ‘yan. May nangungupahan sa barber shop. Sidecar pa lang noon. Eto umihi, hindi namin alam sinundan pala siya. Sige pa rin, laro nang laro. Tapos inabutan kami ng asawa ko ng piso. [Sabi namin] ‘O saan galing ang piso?’ [Sabi niya] ‘Ibinigay po noon.’ Nagkakape yung mama eh. Ano may asawa rin, may anak, babae anak niya. Parang adik e. Paguwi sa bahay lilinisin ko na siya, eh kita ko daming dugo sa puerta niya. Hindi niya alam (She was four years old. It wasn’t yet Mini-Stop store at the time, but a house. There was a renter at the barber shop. I was driving only a sidecar then. She went to pee. We didn’t know she was being followed. She continued to play. Then she gave me and my husband Php1.00. We asked her, ‘Where did this come from?’ She replied, ‘That man gave it.’ The man was having coffee. He has a wife and a daughter, too. He looks like an addict. When we went home, I was about to clean her up when I saw blood in her crotch area. She doesn’t know).”
They captured the suspect by getting hold of the brother first, she said. “Taong bayan din humuli. Gusto nga ng taumbayan papatayin na noon eh. Nakakulong pa rin (It’s the people who captured the suspect. The people wanted to kill him at the time. He’s still in jail).”
But she said the medico-legal revealed that no complete penetration occurred.
She reiterated, “Kaya ayaw kong iwan, nadala na ako eh. Nakukunsensiya din ako, lalo na sa nangyari eh. Sandali lang. Nalingat lang kami eh (That’s why I don’t want to leave them. My conscience has been bugging me, especially with what happened. It happened fast. We were just distracted for a short while).”
Other than that, she’s also trying to keep her grandchildren away from bad influences. “Inilalayo sa barkada. Habang bata pa sila sinasabihan na sila. (I’m keeping them away from bad peers. While they’re still young, I give them advice).”
She recounted how one of her sons got involved in hold-up activities which she believed was influenced by her son’s friends. “Nakulong anak kong tatay nila. Nang-holdap daw siya, na-barkada nga eh. Akala namin nag-aaral siya, college ‘yun eh, Criminology kinukuha. Dalawang beses ‘yun. Andiyan ‘yung nabaril. Itong pinakahuli nakulong na. Limang taon ‘yun hanggang sa lumabas, ayun sinabihan ko na siya. Nabaril din siya ng pulis. Mabait ‘yung complainant niya, itinakbo siya dito sa hospital sa Quezon City, East Avenue ba ‘yun. Pinatawad siya (My son was jailed. He was accused of hold-up. He was influenced by friends. We thought he was studying in college taking up Criminology. That happened twice. Once he was shot. Next one he was jailed already. He was there for five years before he got out, then I gave him advice. He was shot by a police officer. But his complainant was kind, and took him to the hospital in Quezon City, I think it was East Avenue. The complainant forgave him).”
But she said the experiences changed her son. “Hindi na siya ma-barkada ngayon (He no longer goes out much with friends).”
Unfortunately, her son’s imprisonment took a toll on their family. “Yung babae nagloko at di nakapaghintay sa anak ko kaya ayun nag-asawa ng iba. ‘Yung nanay nila may anak na ding iba (The woman cheated on him and couldn’t wait for my son so she went to live with another man),” she explained. Eventually, her son also found another woman who happens to have several children, and now lives with her.
Saddest perhaps is that her daughter-in-law seems to have forgotten her two children. “Madalas nakikita ‘yung Tatay, pero ‘yung Nanay hindi. Nung Grade 1 sila, nagpakita pa, pero pagkatapos nun wala na. Pinapayagan ko naman siya e (They always see the father, but not the mother. Last time was when the children were in Grade 1. They didn’t see her anymore after that. I’m allowing her to see them),” she said. The two children are now in Grade 3.
Although she admitted being hurt by what’s happening, she doesn’t resent her daughter-in-law. “Naiintindihan ko naman. Buti na lang at napunta sa akin ‘yang mga ‘yan, kung hindi pariwara sila, ‘pag ano mapapabayaan (I understand. Good thing that the children were given to me, or else they could have gone astray).”
She elaborated, “Gusto pa nga nung nanay ipamimigay ‘yan. Sabi ko ‘wag, sabi ko ‘wag mong paghiwalayin ‘yung magkapatid. ‘Di baleng maghirap ako. Eh pumayag din siya. Ayun nag-asawa siya ng iba. Mas matanda siya sa anak ko, siguro nasa 33 [years old] na siya (The mother even wanted to give her children away. I told her not to separate the two siblings. She eventually agreed. Then she went away with another man. She’s older than my son, maybe she’s now 33 years old).”
So she and Salvador took the responsibility of raising two of their grandchildren. “Sinasabi ko ‘yung mga magulang nila nagsipag-asawa na. Wala na kayong magagawa (I told them their parents already have different families. You could no longer do anything about it).” And then she laughed, saying, “Ako na nga tinatawag nilang ‘mama’ eh, hindi ‘lola’ kundi ‘mama.’ (They already call me ‘mama’ instead of ‘grandma’).”
She added, “Kumbaga sila na ang binubuhay naming mag-asawa eh dahil mga anak namin eh may mga pamilya na eh (We’re providing for our grandchildren because our own children already have their own families).”
However strong she is, Evelyn confessed she gets tired, too. “Nakakapagod din kaso lang talagang tiyaga lang (It gets tiring, too, but we have to be patient).” She doesn’t usually earn much from pedaling wheels to get by from day to day. “Minsan tatlong daan mahigit ganyan sa isang araw. Sa akin lang ‘yun. Ewan ko sa asawa ko kasi umaga siya lumalabas. Ako eh lumalabas naman ng alas dose hanggang 6:30 ng gabi. Minsan wala pang Php200. Php100 pa ang gasolina. Eh lalo na [sa iba] kung may boundary pa (Sometimes Php300 or more in a day. That’s my income alone. I don’t know with my husband because he works in the morning. I only get to work from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sometimes not even Php200. Then gasoline costs Php100. What more if you have to pay the boundary fee).”
And to think that they have expenses and rents to pay, she said. “Nangungupahan nga lang kami diyan eh. Bale Php5,000 [kasama] ilaw at tubig. Hinuhulugan ko araw-araw, Php150 para di ako mabigatan. Isang kwarto lang, pero malaki-laki naman ‘yung kuwarto (We’re just renting a room. That’s Php5,000 including water and electricity. I pay everyday so that I don’t get burdened by it. The room is quite big, though).”
She, however, has stuck to her faith in spite of all the challenges. “Nagpapasalamat pa rin sa Panginoon na binigyan kami ng ganyan sa araw-araw (I still thank God for giving us blessings everyday).”
And yes, she remains thankful in spite of not being able to walk for two years. She was onboard a jeepney that lost its brake and hit an island in Quiapo.
After all, life is still good, and they’ve remained in good health since. “Sa awa ng Diyos, wala naman. Lalo na ‘yung asawa ko, malakas pa rin. Bubuhayin namin sila hanggat kaya namin (By God’s mercy, we’ve been spared from any health problem, especially my husband who remains strong until now. We’re going to raise our grandchildren as long as we can).”
She no longer dreams for herself alone, saying, “Wala na akong pangarap sa buhay kundi matulungan ko silang lahat, maiahon ko lahat sa hirap sila. Sana makaahon kami sa hirap ganun. Maiahon ko sila, mapag-aral ko hanggang sa malakas pa kami. Kasi mga anak ko nag-college, wala e (I don’t have any other dream, except that I may be able to help them all, lift them up from poverty. I hope we get out of poverty, be able to send them to school while we’re still strong enough. Because my children went to college but failed to graduate).”
She recounted how both of her sons took a course on Criminology but failed to finish. Her daughter, on the other hand, took up Education but ended up just the same. Her children, she said, were not studious. It was her mother-in-law, when she was still alive, who sent her children to school.
Now adults themselves, her children have somehow matured and become responsible, she said. Her sons work as tricycle driver and jeepney driver, while her daughter works at a computer shop in Quiapo, Manila. Meanwhile, her husband, aside from driving the tricycle, also serves as barangay tanod (barangay police) at M. Dela Fuente Street.
Regardless of all the hurdles in life, she remains positive and regrets nothing. “Maligaya na ako eh dahil nabubuhay lahat ng pamilya ko, maayos sila eh, tsaka kasama ko mga apo ko (I’m now happy because my family is at least good, and my grandchildren are with me).” And then, perhaps like any grandmother, she continued to recount the love she gives to, and receives as well from, her grandchildren.