"SORRY maam, wala pa gyod ko'y sinsilyo, unya na lang ha (I have no loose change right now)," the conductor of the bus I was riding recently from Kidapawan to Davao City told me as he accepted the P100 bill I gave him.
"It's okay," I replied and proceeded to enjoy the familiar passing scenery from my window seat that I 'temporarily' forgot all about my four-peso change.
Having spent most of my time practically on board all kinds of vehicles to transport me from place to place before applying as a newspaper reporter, I have a wide leeway of patience for things like delayed (and oftentimes forgotten) change in my fares. I accepted the conductor's explanation without question.
Two towns swiftly passed when I heard the conductor reciting the same lines to another passenger two seats away from me.
Doubt, however, started to develop in my mind as I heard the conductor do the same to yet another passenger near the front door of the bus.
This time, my interest and curiousity was fully arrested and I began to discreetly observe the conductor if he was really honest about having no change or it was just his 'racket' in order to save on his remittance.
I transferred to the middle portion of the bus to get a better and wider observation area on my 'subject'. By the time we reached Digos City, the conductor, without him knowing it, had successfully minimized the number of sleeping passengers, particularly those who are still waiting for their change from him.
Only a handful of passengers boarded the bus in Digos but a couple of them were not spared from the conductor's now very familiar 'recital'.
After distributing tickets and collecting the passenger's fares from Digos, the conductor then yawned hugely and glided towards the back portion of the bus which was almost deserted.
He slumped on a chair and was soon fast asleep, his loud snores blending in with the noise of the bus engine. Very soon, heads of several passengers (the victims of no loose change) began alternately turning towards the seat where the gonductor sat snoring.
The bus speedily ate up the kilometers as more heads turned towards the back and it was not long before the passengers started murmuring about their delayed change. When we reached Toril, one old man staggered to the back and shook the conductor to get his change.
Even wakened from his sleep, the conductor still shook his head and maintained his earlier statement having no loose change.
It was almost unbelievable listening to the now very familiar lines from him. The old man had to make a choice of going with the bus to Davao terminal to get his five-peso change, or sacrifice it as he had already reached his destination.
He was wise enough to choose the latter, although the insults he hurled back as he alighted from the bus could not be paid with P5.
The rest of the passengers got bolder this time and called on the conductor to give them their change. He groggily stood up, his bulging stomach going ahead of him as he pretended feeling in his pockets to look for imaginary loose change and shaking his head to make us understand he was telling the truth.
Just as the passengers, including me, were resigned to let go of our loose change, the conductor foot stumbled over the handle of a backpack jutting out in the alley of the bus. The next thing we knew, the conductor came plunging down the floor, his puncher and tickets falling ahead of him and, believe it or not, coins of all denominations came flying and rolling in all directions from his back pocket.
"Aha! Sakpan ra gyod! Ingon wala'y sinsilyo, buking lagi!" the 'victims' chorused.
The passengers scrambled for the rolling coins on the floor while the conductor got up with a red face, unable to say anything as he collected the loose coins back from the passengers who were kind enough although he tried to swindle them.
I have already observed the unusual bulge in the backpocket of his pants which was concealed by his uniform and had noticed the unmistakeable shape of assorted coins when we were still in Digos and had guessed his intention.
He learned his lesson though. I happened to board the same bus again a couple of weeks ago going home and had noticed that the conductor already gives the passenger's loose change without delay.