Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Hope It's Just The Birthday Blues

On the train home from Central, quite tipsy, I clutched my bag --- one of my major purchases for this month --- like my whole life depended on it. I am, unil now, in a state of panic and despair. I am broke as shit. Not even broke --- I am way below poverty line. I have never been so poor in my birthday. Ever.

Earlier tonight, I felt so piteous I attempted to do the unthinkable. I went to a store in Central where I purchased a pair of shoes (that I hadn't really used except for a couple of "fittings") 2 weeks ago. I was gonna get HK$700.00 back had they accepted my return. But they did not. I left the store feeling ok. My life didn't really depend on that "return" after all. Had they accepted it and returned my money, it would've been well and good. Otherwise, no loss in m y part; at least I tried.

So I was in Central already. I thought, "I might as well make good use of my inter-island trip." It was New Arrivals night at Volume --- free vodka from 7-10. So I headed to my sanctuary. Halfway through, I stopped by 7-11 to pick up some cigarettes. As I was going to pay for them, I realized my wallet was empty of cash. So I took out my Octopus and flashed it on the machine, which said that I only had $13.00 left on my card. That wasn't even enough to pay for my fare back home. Instantly, I felt my eyes well up. And then, devoid of any conscious reasoning, I started to cry and feel sorry for myself.

I am 2 days from my birthday and I am B-R-O-K-E! I was sobbing on the way to Volume. It sort of reminded me of my 16th birthday.

1996. I was in third year high school. The lowest point of my family --- if there's something lower than rock bottom, that's where we were. My dad was unemployed and paralyzed. He has just survived a major stroke that occured 2 years earlier while he was in Libya. My mom would go to Divisoria every night to buy buckets of fish that she was gonna sell in the wet market in the morning before she came home to do the chores. We could barely afford the exorbitant tuition fees for my and my brother's schooling. But my parents wouldn't yield. They wouldn't put us in public schools.

It was a Saturday, my birthday. I woke up at around 10am and my mom, dad and brother greeted me a "Happy Birthday" as soon as I got out of the room. I started preparing for the mall. I was gonna meet up with my friends there to see "The Craft". As I was heading for the gate, my mom called out to me as she was doing the laundry (manually --- we were trying to save up on power usage) and gave me 100pesos. And she said, "Pasensya na. Yan lang meron ako. (I'm sorry. That's all I have) Happy Birthday!" Grateful of the sacrifice I thought I knew she had to make, I kissed her then took off.

One hundred pesos. That was just enough for a movie pass and a chicken with rice meal at McDonald's. I couldn't even take a cab from my place to Robinson's Galleria. That would cost around sixty pesos. Then I wouldn't have enough money to eat after the movie.

The day went well. I had loving friends who understood the plight my family was in. They didn't even joke about me having to treat them out to snacks or to the movie. In fact, they paid for everything that day. I went home with my one hundred pesos still intact.

I got home with mixed emotions. I was happy to be with my friends on my birthday. But some part of me was feeling sorry about our poverty. But then I said to myself, "It couldn't be that bad." I was wrong. It was that bad.

I got home and found out my tired mom and sick dad have skipped lunch. They only had so much left for lunch for one person --- my brother's. I gave back the 100pesos and my mom bought 2 cans of sardines for dinner. The rest of the money, she saved up for Sunday lunch.


So I got to Volume and found friends there --- Kelly, who just came back from a week-long holiday at the Shangri-La Mactan, Tony, who just came back from Mumbai, Steve, who's leaving for Germany on Friday, and Lawrence, who just came back to HK from Jakarta. They were all talking about travel, which could have made me sulk, considering I could (schedule-wise) easily go somewhere else to celebrate my birthday but my finances wouldn't allow. But it did not. Later on, Chris arrived. Chris and I (and Dan) do almost everything together. We were supposed to be on the same financial tickbox. But for some reason, he managed to come out with a little bit of cash in his pocket.

When the free vodka time elapsed, Chris offered a glass of Chardonnay. I refused. I knew he was running low on cash too. He insisted. He said, "It's ok. This is our last night-out until payday. On Tuesday [my birthday bash at Volume], we would've been paid already."

"No," I protested. "I'm going out on Friday night. That's when my real birthday is."

"You can't go out Friday night." He was adamant.

"Why not?"

"You don't have the money." He said matter-of-factly.

He was right. I am thankful I have friends like him who have the courage to be blunt to me when I need some wake-up call.

On the footbridge from the bus stop to my apartment, I called my ex. He listened to every word I said, and just allowed me to cry out my frustration. He wasn't alarmed. He said, "Rye, you're stronger than that. Had this happened another time, you'd just laugh it out. It's just the birthday blues coming over you.

Birthday blues. I hope it's just that.