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Kindness of strangers

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(This was published in the Manila Times in February 2005.)

At some point in our lives, when everything seems hopeless, when despair and desperation seems to be the order of the day, when pessimism pervades even the depths of our very souls, we are occasionally forced, in the words of Blanche DuBois, to rely on the kindness of strangers.
This is probably why we have something that is known as government.

We rely on a bunch of faceless, nameless bureaucrats whom we don’t know to run our country, even though their idea of public service involves taking coffee breaks every half-hour.

But before I get all too weepy by narrating tales of woe and thereby forget my point, I was forced to heed Ms. DuBois’ advice a few weeks ago at the post office.

This was because I had to immediately send off an item abroad, which I had sold via a popular auction site, and I was completely unprepared for the task.

Although the item was already stored in a box, which I had bought at the post office, I had no scissors, no tape, and no contraption whatsoever to ensure that the item would be secure and undamaged until it reaches its recipient in North America.

Fortunately, I chanced upon a middle-aged lady who offered me to use her pair of scissors and packing tape.

I seized this opportunity immediately, thinking that the kindness of strangers was not all-too rare, even in a society like this one.

By the time she was telling me that I should put the stuff back in her bag and hand the bag over to her when I was done, I already grabbed her scissors, pulled out some tape, and proceeded to seal my box.

I was desperate.

After all, it took me more than a month to consummate the sale of this item, no thanks to our poor infrastructure which is barely suited for e-commerce.

In my excitement to get the whole thing over with, I was cutting all over the place like a barber on Ecstasy.

I drew and cut a lot of tape until I had enough to make myself a modern-day mummy.

But then, the unexpected happened: I broke the brittle plastic handle of her pair of scissors.

I was using it regularly, just like anyone who uses scissors: insert thumb and two fingers in two separate holes, stretch, place item to be cut in between the blades, and squeeze.

But the damn thing just fell apart.

For about a minute, I just stood there, broken scissors in hand, awkward and embarrassed.

I then slid everything inside the bag and gave it back to her, thanking her profusely, without admitting that I may have, without intending to, left her an unpleasant surprise.

I then made an exit faster than when the Marcoses left Malacañang.

Since then, this single act of ingratitude and deception has tormented me no end.

Nowadays, whenever I visit a department store and find myself examining various office supplies — staplers and all that — my thoughts are occupied by the lady and her reaction upon discovering that her scissors had gone to pieces.

For this kind of atrocious behavior, all I have to offer is this hastily written apology, hoping that she will have lots of good karma.

And that she avoids trusting people completely.

Next time, she should think twice about lending her scissors to strangers.

After all, there are a lot of crazies out there.

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