Willy has a child-like quality about him. He is always smiling, attentive and curious, he is not coy in any sense. He is a Filipino man who walks up and down the highway, from village to village, selling plastic bags of small fish. He wears a towel on the back of his neck to sop up his sweat, because he carries his product in the sweltering early-to-late morning heat.
I don’t know Willy well. I know him from the beach, where early on after our ‘Philippine Quarantine’ period, I started walking the beach from Motag to Balusbos, village to village, because we were given the clearance and the freedom to travel that distance. Willy speaks relative fluent English. The first time we talked, the conversation lasted at least five full minutes.
In the months since then, I’ve often encountered Willy’s friendly chatter. He sometimes appears when I visit a Balusbos family and some neighborhood children once a week. We’ve been here so long (seven months (!)) that once during my kid visits, it was Willy’s birthday. The family invited him to our gathering for food, and for a piece of the cake I had brought to celebrate a child’s birthday. I wish I could remember how old he is. But I can’t. Maybe 52? Or 47? Or 56?
One time, I saw Willy walking in the hot mid-morning sun, about two kilometers from Balusbos on the main road. This was before I learned he walked the road to sell fish.
I was in a trike – a motorcycle with a side car used as a local taxi. I told the driver to stop, and motioned for Willy to come over to the trike. I wanted to offer him a ride. He jogged over to the trike, and politely refused the ride, lifting his fish bags. He had to walk to sell them, he told me. Had to find buyers. That was months ago. Since then, I’ve seen Willy all over the place.
On the morning of the day Willy was run down, I had bought fish from him. I was riding my bike into Malay proper from Motag to get some groceries when I saw Willy on the way, walking with his fish, in Balusbos.
Willy sold me a nice bag of smaller-sized fish. His price was 100 pesos for what felt like about a kilo. He counted out my change, I bid him good day, and turned the bike around to deliver the fish to a friend as a gift.
Sometime later that day, a motorcycle driver hit Willy a kilometer or two from where I bought fish from him.
It was a nasty accident. The driver is OK, I hear, but Willy had to go to the hospital in the provincial capital Kalibo with a head injury.
A friend told me the Kalibo doctor recommended an operation in Iloilo, the largest city on the southern part of the island. However, the family does not have the funds, and so they declined.
I don’t know any more than that. I don’t know when Willy is coming back to Balusbos. I do not know the extent of the head injury, or if he has any other serious injuries.
It breaks my heart that this happened to Willy. That it would happen to anyone. I wish we had a million dollars – I’d help Willy. But I don’t. And we are on a budget, like everyone else.
When I told my husband what happened, he consoled me with simple, wise words: Sometimes things happen.
Yea, I know.
But I don’t have to like it.
Sometimes things happen… and they suck ass.
I don’t have any pictures of Willy to show you. But as I write this, I see him in my mind’s eye, holding up a bag of shells he collected for me, to give me as a gift one day as I walked through Balusbos village.
Willy: I’m praying for you.