A piece of fiction inspired by real life events that will someday appear in a novel I will write.
The security guard directed him to the house right in front of the Land Transportation Office (LTO). At first, Carlo wasn’t sure which house he was referring to but upon walking closer, he saw a gate with a small sign that said ‘Dr. Dorotea M. Pamatong, Medical Examiner, LTO Accredited.’ Before he reached the gate, a middle aged woman wielding a paper fan who looked more like she was selling fried bananas in the street instead of assisting a doctor approached him.
“You need a medical certificate for your driver’s license? Let me have your documents and sit down here,” she said as she collected his application form.
Carlo walked past the gate into the garage and sat on one of the plastic chairs lined up along the wall. The doctor’s office consists of a standard sized wooden desk behind which a portly woman in her early 60‘s in a blue suit, whom he assumed was the doctor, sat. There was a dusty and beat-up weighing scale covered in fraying plastic in a futile effort to protect it. On the wall before him was a letter chart used to check a person’s eyesight and beside it was a poster of some common traffic signs and their meanings. It looked as if the doctor just randomly decided to set up camp in someone’s garage and haphazardly put together what she thought belonged in a medical examiner’s office. The fried banana woman asked Carlo to read the eighth line of the eye chart which he was able to do with ease. She also asked him to step on the weighing scale and seeing Carlo’s rugged old pair of sneakers, asked him to take them off before doing so. The doctor was still attending to an elderly man who came before him.
“… you and I both know that you wouldn’t be able to pass this medical exam,” the doctor said, scribbling away on the elderly man’s forms.
“Yes, I was only able to read up to line 5 of the chart,” the elderly man agreed, scratching his head.
“O, it says here your birthday was yesterday. Happy birthday. How about treating me to some pancit so I can issue you a certificate right now?”
“I only have P1,000 to process my license renewal. I’m not sure I have enough money to give you,” the man said.
“Well let’s compute how much you have to spend today,” said the doctor as she expertly pulled out a calculator. She listed all the fees that he would have to pay her and at the LTO punching out the numbers.
“And that leaves you with P80 at the end of the day,” she concluded.
“Fine, you can have that,” he said as he handed her a P500 bill.
The doctor took his money and handed him P200 back.
“Doc, shouldn’t I get P300 back?,” the elderly man asked.
“Ay! Didn’t you say you were going to give me P300? I thought I heard you say you were going to give me P300 to buy pancit because it was your birthday that’s why I just gave you P200 back. You didn’t say clearly that you were only going to give me P200. O, here is your P100 back. Happy birthday again.” She quickly signed his papers, handed them to him, and motioned for Carlo.
“Hm… I see that your license expired eight years ago. Were you out of the country?”
“Yes Doc.” Carlo replied.
“Naku, you’re one of those OFWs pala, those modern heroes who keep the Philippines afloat. Let me guess, Saudi?,” the doctor continued filling up his form.
“Japan po. Doc, how much does the medical certificate cost?” Carlo tried changing the topic.
“Just P120. So what were you doing in Japan? I’m sure you were able to save a lot of money. Isn’t the minimum wage there something like ten times more than here? Naku, I know so many people with relatives who work in Japan who were able to build nice houses and they have all the latest appliances. What is your height?”
“5’6”,” said Carlo, ignoring her question about Japan.
“So this is for a professional driver’s license. You drive a taxi?”
“I don’t understand. You left Japan to drive a jeepney here? Sayang. What a waste! I know many people who would want to go to Japan. I would love to go there myself! O, here, take this driver’s license jacket.”
“I don’t want one,” said Carlo. He gave her P120 and took the documents that the doctor just stapled together.
“It’s my giveaway. Why don’t you want one? Isn’t it winter right now in Japan? You must miss winter. You know how terrible the heat is here in Manila.”
Carlo’s eyebrows furrowed deeply as he studied his receipt. “Why does this say P100 but you charged me P120?”
“Ah, the P20 is for the license jacket,” the doctor explained easily.
“But I don’t want one.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Then why did you take my P20?”
“I thought you didn’t want your P20. Here,” she slapped a grimy P20 bill, not the one Carlo gave her, on the table “Take it back then.”
Carlo felt the blood rush to his face. He was too angry to say anything so he took the money and walked out of the gate. He went for a drug check four houses down the street. He was filling up his forms for the urine test when he heard a commotion outside.
“Excuse me! I don’t take other people’s money! They are the ones who give the money to me!,” came the unmistakable shrill voice of Dr. Pamatong. Carlo turned around thinking she was addressing him.
“Eh why did you not return my P20?,” said the young woman beside Carlo, whom he recognized as the one lined up after him a while ago at Dr. Pamatong’s office. He remembered admiring her pleasant smile, which has now transformed into sheer contempt.
“Ma’am, Dr. Pamatong simply forgot to return your P20,” said the fried banana woman who followed the doctor to the drug check center.
“Forgot?,” the young woman said mockingly, “She had every intention of getting my P20, everyone’s P20, from the very beginning. Isn’t that what she charges upfront? Pretending to give the license jacket as a giveaway. Doc, you graduated from medical school. Don’t you know what ‘giveaway’ means?”
“It’s just P20 and you make such a big deal out of it,” said the doctor. “Such a small amount you can’t even give that away.”
“I don’t care about my P20. I do care about the poor people you cheat to whom P20 means much more. I am nauseated by your shamelessness. How many people go through that gate everyday huh? How many P20 do you sneak into your drawer everyday?,” the young woman challenged, wide eyed with indignation.
Carlo couldn’t help join in the conversation. “She charged the elderly man before me P200. I witnessed it myself.”
“Excuse me! It was his birthday and he said it was his birthday gift to me,” said the doctor, glaring at Carlo .
The young woman laughed derisively. “You must be the most idiotic doctor I know. Birthday gift? You’re the one who’s supposed to give him a birthday gift and not the other way around.”
“In the first place, that’s none of your business,” Dr. Pamatong shot back.
“Unfortunately, it is my business because I am a Filipino citizen and you are working for the government. I care about our country and I care about our people. The reason there’s no progress in this country is because of people like you! You have been most unethical and unprofessional in conducting your medical practice. You can justify your behavior all you want but what you have been doing is wrong and I will make sure the LTO hears about this.”
“Hmph!” Dr. Pamatong spun on her heels and walked away with the fried banana woman trailing after her.