It was warm that afternoon. My best friend Patty dropped me off our house before running another errand. I stepped out of the car into the stoop where our pedestrian gate is.
As I rang our doorbell and waited for Junior, our household helper, to open our gate, I looked up and found myself staring at my balcony on the second floor. It was small, just enough to house my room’s aircon compressor.
I frowned, puzzled. The fan blades of the compressor of my aircon were turning. I looked to the left to check that of my next-door neighbor’s, whose aircon compressor is likewise sitting on her balcony. I could not see clearly through her compressor but sensed that its blades were still.
I looked back at mine and willed them to stop turning. They did just as Junior emerged from our front door.
“Saan ka nanggaling?” (Where were you?)
“Naglilinis po ako sa baba.” (I was cleaning downstairs.)
I was disappointed. I was hoping he would admit what I knew he just did. I trusted him to tell me the truth.
Without a word, I went up to my room. It was still warm. This meant that Junior had just switched on the aircon but did not get to enjoy its coolness because I had rung the doorbell.
I composed my thoughts. How do I rebuke him without embarrassing or hurting him?
You see, Junior came highly recommended by close friends for whom he had worked a few years ago. He is a good man, they said. Except that we had to be patient with him. He could not read nor write, and it is a source of insecurity and sensitivity for him. It does not help that he has lost his two front teeth, so he is often mistaken for being mentally challenged. But he is not. He barely speaks Tagalog, having lived in Pangasinan all his life. We now believe that his stuttering is due more to his difficulty in speaking Tagalog, because he speaks animatedly in his native dialect over his cellphone. Common sense, he has.
I chose my words carefully, spoke in a calm, modulated, motherly tone. I said something like…
“Junior, kung pwede sana, habang wala kami, huwag mo sanang gamitin yung aircon. Alam mo na… medyo mahal ang kuryente.” (Junior, if I may request you not to use the aircon while we are out. You know, electricity and all.)
He looked away, then bowed his head, “Hindi ko naman po ginagamit mga aircon niyo, Ma’am.” (I don’t use your aircons ma’am.)
“Di ko sinasabing ginagamit mo nga, pero may paraan ako para malaman kung ginamit mo.” (I am not saying that you are, but I do have a way of knowing if you do.)
I paused, then decided I had to be frank with him, “Alam kong ginamit mo yung aircon ko ngayon lang. Hindi ako galit. Paikiusap lang na huwag mo na lang gamitin.” (I do know you used the aircon in my room just now. I am not angry, but I am just requesting you not to use it please.)
He looked up at me and said, “Paano po ninyo nalalaman, Ma’am?” (How can you tell, Ma’am?) He just gave himself away with the question.
“Hindi na mahalaga kung paano ko nalalaman, pero nalalaman ko. Ganun na lang.” (It doesn’t really matter how I know, but do know that I will know. Let’s just leave it at that.)
That was that. For the next few days, Junior was quiet and distant as he did his daily chores. He could not look me in the eye. Guilt?
A few days passed and the incident was all but forgotten. Or so I thought.
One morning, Patty and I were sipping coffee in our lanai. The sun had come out. I heard the leaves in our garden whisper as a faint breeze passed through.
It was at that exact moment that I knew.
I recall that Patty was in the middle of a story but I left her and ran upstairs to my room. I swung open my balcony door.
The light breeze was turning the blades of my aircon. And not even a minute later, when the breeze passed, went its merry way, and the leaves of the bougainvillea in our carport below fell quiet… the blades stopped turning.
I closed my eyes and uttered, “Forgive me.”
I walked a funeral march back to our lanai. I stared at Patty.
I shook my head, “I made a huge mistake. A big mistake.”
I told Patty everything.
“I must apologize. I cannot have him thinking this way.”
Junior was in our kitchen, mopping. This time, I did not give myself time to think. I went right in and let my heart and my prayer lead me.
“Junior, patawarin mo ako. Nagkamali ako. Hindi kita dapat napaghinalaan at inakusahang gumamit ng aircon ko nung araw na ‘yon.” (I’m sorry. I should not have accused you of using my aircon that day. I was wrong.)
As before, Junior looked at his feet, bit his lip, then finally looked me in the eye, smiled, then scratched his nape, “Wala po kayong kasalanan, Ma’am.” (You did not do anything wrong.)
“Pasensiya ka na… ang dami na naming masamang karanasan sa mga kasambahay… ninakawan kami, ginagamit ang gamit namin, at kung ano-ano pa. Pero hindi sapat na dahilan para hindi ka pagkatiwalaan ng nararapat. Sorry, nagkamali talaga ako.” (Forgive me. We’ve had so many bad experiences with helpers who’ve stolen from us, used our things. But this is not a reason for me not to give you the trust you deserve. I’m sorry, I made a mistake.)
Junior continues to stay with us. He is back to his chirpy self. Thankfully, that incident even proved to be a turning point. I have since then felt him become more diligent with his chores, more attentive towards us. For some reason, he refuses to turn in for bed until we arrive home from a night out with friends, no matter how late.
A cliché, I know, but one and one sometimes don’t add up to two. What seem obvious are often not what they really are.
Where does trust begin? Should one treat a person with a glass full of trust to begin with, or should one start with an empty glass and slowly pour trust into it?
For me, this was another lesson in humility, one of the many that the good Lord has showered me with for the past year and a half. If the Lord were the school principal, His teachers on earth come in many forms and shapes. This time they were an unlikely teacher named Junior…
… and an even more unlikely instrument: the cold, metal blades of my aircon compressor.