It was past noon. I was tired and light-headed from pulling an all-nighter. If I had my way, I'd rather be in bed, sleeping away. But I had no other time to do it. I had three days to compile my documents out of thin air. Time was running against me as there was a holiday looming. It was now or never.
I chose now.
After bringing my sister to school, I went home again to have breakfast and gulp down three mugs of coffee. I drove, overdosed on caffeine, to the SSS to get my number. Much to my surprise, it was a no-sweat affair - literally. Even though there were already a lot of people, the huge hall was air-conditioned, and there were still seats left as I waited my turn. In less than thirty minutes, I was good to go. Very efficient - I was impressed. I now had my SSS number on hand.
The NBI clearance was another story altogether. No, it wasn't a story, come to think of it. It was a page out of a nightmare.
I should've read the writing on the wall. It was only around 9 in the morning, but to say EDSA revolution was severely understating it. Fixers were also milling about, promising that the clearance would be out within 30 minutes. At that point, I could still afford to take the high and mighty route. Why would I deprive myself the chance to experience what workers undergo everyday? It would do my person good to bear these things. Besides, if I went with the fixers, I'd be feeding the greed of the corrupt bureaucracy. Why would I even want to do that?
Looking back, I think it was the coffee talking. What was I thinking? Silly me.
After three hours spent in four long lines, I was starting to seriously doubt the masa empathy I was trying to pull off. I almost threw in the towel by 12 noon. I was exhausted, hungry, and in a foul mood. Worse, it had started to downpour, forcing the huge crowd to huddle under the galvanized sheets that passed as roofing. And there I was, in the middle of the herd, where everyone was sweaty and smelly from the humidity of the rain.
I felt like throwing a screaming fit that very moment.
The only bright side was that there was no hit on my name, and that I could get my clearance on the same day. Wow, what a big consolation. There were only about 250 people ahead of me, waiting for their clearance to be released, too.
Then, a fixer approached me. He probably saw the frustration gathering at my bunched brows.
"Boss, tulungan kita," he whispered. "P150 lang, labas na kaagad ang clearance mo."
I looked at my wallet. I had P150. A small amount to pay to hasten that important piece of paper.
I couldn't think straight. My head was reeling. I was desperate. Fuck the learning process. I really wanted to go home.
I handed him the P150.
True to his word, he delivered. The clearance was now in my hands. What wasn't were my values.
All for the paltry price of P150.
I didn't know if I was going to be relieved, or be ashamed of myself.
Blessed are those who have P150 for they shall inherit the kingdom of values forfeit.