Remember that you are not the Slayer.
Working for outsourced companies brings you a lot of perks. You work at night, there’s night differential pay, fewer traffic jams, and no sun to smite you with its evil rays. On the other hand, you wake up and work AT NIGHT. And on local holidays and during national calamities.
It happened in July last year, on the week when three typhoons decided to blow through our little islands on their way to greater Asia. It was past one in the morning and I hemmed and hawed about going to work. But of course, weather-related calamities are not an excuse to miss work, etc. It never crossed my mind that I would be a cliché that night.
Everybody thinks bad things will NEVER happen to them. Everyone thinks they will never get cancer. Everyone thinks they will never get STDs. Everyone thinks they will never be scammed. Everyone thinks they will never die. I had been thinking of buying pepper spray a couple of days before it happened; I can’t remember why I didn’t. Wrapped in my raincoat, umbrella in hand, I braved the storm.
Trudging along a dim pathway, I saw a group of disturbingly colorful umbrellas coming my way. I assumed they were girls who knew the least flooded way to the bus stop, so I decided to follow them. (What girls would gad about in the middle of the night, in a storm? The question came to me too late.)
At the exit to our compound, they all stopped and let me walk ahead. Suddenly, one of them grabbed me and frogmarched me back to the dark end of the street. “Huwag kang kikilos. Akin na ang phone mo,” he demanded. Contradictory instructions, plus he didn’t need to demand, actually, because he had seized the phone with his other hand. Yes, like an idiot I’d been using my phone’s flash as a torch. My neck was on the receiving end of his knife—a kitchen knife, the kind you use to gut fish with.
They were six men barely out of their teens, and each had a “patalim” of his own. I imagine they had been drinking at home, got bored, agreed to filch whatever they could from whomever at that time of night, and picked up whatever weapon was lying around.
They flanked me and another one gripped my bag. The first kid still had his knife at my neck. “Kunin mo ‘yung bag, kunin mo ‘yung bag,” the others chanted. All this time my hand was clutching the knife blade—partly to control my aggressor’s hand, and partly to snatch the knife away and use it against him if the opportunity arose. But all I got was a flesh wound on my palm and neck that stung for days after.
“Nasa’n ang wallet mo? Akin na pera mo,” kid number two repeated, probably realizing that I wasn’t going to let go of my bag. Again, he didn’t need to demand, as he promptly took my wallet out of the bag. He took all the money from it—a staggering stash of 300 pesos.
“Ano, eto lang? Eto lang pera mo?”
“I can feel a hint of exasperation in your voice and I’m sorry that’s all I have, I promise I’ll bring more next time. Shall we meet again here, same time tomorrow? Or would you like to come with me now to the nearest ATM so I can withdraw money for you?” Of course I didn’t say this. Was I supposed to explain to this scumbag that I don’t carry a great deal of money at this hour, as a precaution against people like him? And that I only brought enough for that day’s fare and food?
Instead I said, “Kunin ‘nyo na lang ‘yung phone at ‘yung pera, huwag na ‘yung bag.” I don’t think there was a “please” in there, but amazingly they agreed after I repeated my request several times. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to haggle over my bag and wallet. “Bagitos sa industriya (Newbies in the profession),” a friend said later, to cheer me up. If the muggers were real professionals, they would’ve asked me to withdraw money from an ATM, or insisted on taking the bag. I could’ve been killed and all I could think of was all my cards and IDs and what a pain it would be to replace them.
Did I mention that I’d just had my phone plan upgraded? It was a month-old phone, newly-christened, tempered glass-covered, etc. It hadn’t even reached its mobile data usage limit. “What’s the password?” kid number three snapped. They just wouldn’t stop with their demands. The phone didn’t have a password: it required a pattern you draw to unlock it. I gave them a fake PIN.
They were still figuring out how to access my phone when they shoved me back in the direction I came from. I was so confused I just walked along my usual route. Yes, I intended to go straight to work. Then I changed my mind and ran home as fast as I could in the rain and mud.
My cousin and I attempted to go to the police station that same night, but at the exit to the compound I saw some guys who might or might not have been the muggers and I turned back, trembling.
I wanted to be melodramatic. I wanted to launch into full histrionics. But I could not because I was furious. I wanted the rain-soaked earth to swallow them like quicksand while they shrieked with fear. I wished I had psychokinesis so I could choke them to death from a distance. But when I got home all I did was shout every swearword I knew.
The next day I filed a police report and called my telecom provider. As luck would have it, my free 30-day Gadget Care promo had just expired and I had not opted to continue it. Because I had NEVER thought I would get mugged.
For weeks afterwards, I had nightmares in which all possible alternate scenarios happened. I had dreams in which I was a hero and brought those kids to justice. There were nights I woke up feeling that they had finally been caught, only to have the feeling replaced by uncertainty and frustration.
For weeks afterwards, there was a broken record in my head. What if I had taken another route. What if I had called in and decided not to go to work. What if I hadn’t used the flashlight app. What if I’d had my switchblade in my bag (the company I work for disallows the bringing of sharp objects/potential weapons). Well, it could’ve been worse if I’d tried to take on six people. And now we come to the fun part: the moral of the story. Never attempt to take control of the assailant’s weapon (Unless you’re an expert in martial arts). Avoid people in dark places, however harmless they appear, whatever gender. Avoid dark places altogether. Be paranoid. Move to a safer place. But where is safe?
I’ve been asked by friends to see a shrink. I don’t know, maybe I’ll just wing this thing called getting over and moving on. But as we’ve all learned in Psych 101 and Hollywood 101, PTSD isn’t just some made-up sickness for you to sound deep and interesting—the P is there because the T can S you years after the fact.
Today, I keep a small flashlight in my bag. For finding my way in cinemas. Still no pepper spray.