Saturday, January 22, 2011

old pedro and the art of sweeping leaves

he was unofficially our village's street sweeper. it just happened. well he's really not doing all of the streets of the village, just the few that comprised our block. i knew him only by his first name, pedro. he was,  i believe, about 64 or 65 years old. he's doing odd jobs for some of the houses in our block, but mostly, what he does is to sweep the leaves that fell during the night and had littered the streets fronting the houses. he gathers these fallen leaves into neat piles and if they are dry enough, he burns them. very early in the morning, before even the sun can pierce the morning clouds with her rays, if you happen to take a stroll 'round our block you won't fail to notice the plumes of smoke rising heavenwards from old pedro's burning leaves. and you'll smell the pleasant aroma of burning leaves. in the mornings, if you are an early riser, you'll surely have these little treasures of experience. normally, this is really a task that most house owners look forward to in the morning as part of their morning exercise. but old pedro always beats them to the task and they have to oblige him with a few pesos and free coffee and maybe a couple pieces of bread.. this is why he unofficially became the street sweeper.

he has this look of a man that had battled difficult years. he is thin and his face is shrunken. but he is always clean shaven. his eyes are bright and always smiling. when he smiles you'd see he is already missing some front teeth and the ones that remained were rather crooked. these gives him his unique street sweeper look. he is always clad in an old jacket and an undershirt and denim pants that had obviously gone through a lot of washings. he always had on leather shoes to protect his feet. and he is always wearing a cap, specifically a baseball cap on his head.

i was able to befriend him when i chanced to meet him on my way to work. i was assigned for a work shift which begins at 3 am and ends at 12 noon. i have to be at the jeepney stop at 1:30 am, so i will be able to catch that jeep that plies my area during this early period. if i miss it, i won't make the office by 3 am. i thought i was the only one out during this period but i thought wrong. every day, during that week, i had always met old pedro. while i was on my way to the jeepney stop, he was, in turn, on his way to his first house for street sweeping. he was that early! no wonder no home owner ever beat him to the task. he's not from our village. he just walks from his house and mind you it's not near. but he does it. regularly. religiously.

the streets in our block is his office.

during that encounter with him, as always  i did not mind him, since it's already several days when we have passed each other by on our way to work. yet, on that early hour, something was different. of course, his spade and his brooms were still slung over his gaunt shoulders, he still had his baseball cap on. what was different was that he was coughing profusely. i could not help but speak to him.

"old man, it's still too early, it's just 1 am, why don't you go home first and take some rest. " i advised him. "your cough sounds bad! and it's too cold at this hour."

 "boss," he answered, and he smiled at me. in the faint glow of the streetlamps i could see the crow's feet forming deeply in both corners of his eyes. "i need to do this. this is the only honest job left for me. if i will be absent, these few houses that allow me to sweep their streets might not permit me anymore. i need to earn some money. i'm old but don't worry this body has been through a lot. i always work for my bread, i don't want to beg. my children and their family are still with me and we need every peso we can earn." he explained to me. his smile is warm and confident.

that's how we became friends. from time to time when i chance to see him sweeping the street fronting our house i hand him a 20 peso bill. it's not much but he does not put a price on what he does. i heard some house owners just give him 5 pesos for his unsolicited clean up job. he never complains. he just keeps on street sweeping.

during our conversations, he managed to tell me the things he learned in his work. "like tennis," he said, "there is a forehand sweep and a backhand sweep. you need to learn both so you can alternate these two strokes and not be easily tired. and with brooms, you should use brooms with fewer broomsticks for bigger objects so you can move them easily. leaves, when wet, stick very close to the street surface and it's difficult to sweep them off so one has to have a pointed stick handy to unloose these stuck leaves from the ground or the cemented floor.

the wind is also a factor to always consider in street sweeping. you must know where the wind blows. you must be friendly with her. don't sweep against where she's blowing. and when you're burning leaves, you must learn to call her."  he whistled a tune which he said calls the wind when he needs her.

"but why do you have to carry that heavy spade?" i asked him

"well, boss," he answered, "from time to time in my sojourn in these streets, i come across dead animals. rats mostly. and frogs ran over by your neighbors' vehicles. sometimes birds. and i have to bury them. the biggest animal i buried was a cat. we'll i figured also that some homeowner might want to move a plant or two, so a spade will come in handy. it's better to be prepared." he looked at the pile of leaves he is burning and rearranged them. he swept the unburned leaves on top of the ones already catching fire. a plume of pleasantly scented smoke escaped upwards. "you know what boss, i love this job. this keeps me i think healthy. and earns me some money honestly."  i can feel he is happy at what he does.

just this december  when i met him i gifted him 100 pesos. not much for a christmas gift. but i knew it made him happy.

then it happened.

i was not seeing him anymore. in our village. it was my brother who broke the news to me. he was banned from ever entering the village. it was said he stole a homeowner's kid's bicycle and sold it. it was an ending i could never imagine happening. i can still picture old pedro's confident smile in my mind.

we will have to sweep these leaves ourselves from hereon.
one has to eventually begin learning the art of sweeping leaves .... but,

what is most important is to learn to resist temptation.


Anonymous said...

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Bravo, dear sito ! :))


sito saguid said...

welcome back dear friend, i'm pretty sure that camera of yours is bulging of excellent images ...