What’s in a Name?
by John Patrick O. Chang
At about 8 in the evening, Dan wakes to the sound of cats on the roof, and despite the hisses of anger, he knows well they are having the time of their lives.
He gets up. It has been a while since he saw his partner of two years. The pandemic made their city border love story feel like a long distance relationship so instead, he heats up the kettle for some warmth.
They might be Gato and Mara, he thinks. He saw them the night before when he was leaving for his shift at the hospital. He does not really know whose cats they are, nor what their real names are if they had any. Dan, at 26, has just made a habit of naming every stray he sees on his way to work and back.
When the kettle whistles, Dan starts to prepare for work. He will have to walk to the hospital, it was night time already and the quarantine has no clear transportation means for people who wander in the night. He groans about that, but the cats light his way.
At 9 p.m., he ventures out of his rented apartment in Makati. When he makes his first turn at Macopa Street, he sees the orange tabby he named Krissy because, well, Krissy likes to talk. And where Krissy is, calico Darla is there too. Dan always tries to lure them for a scratch or two, for luck. Cats do get infected by the virus but they cannot potentially transfer it to humans, the World Health Organization said. What luck, Dan thinks. He can’t get it from the cats.
Dan works 12-hour shifts for alternate days at a public hospital in Makati. A decent pay was scarce so he had to go out of Valenzuela and find a sensible place near his job- his commute was already killing his income. He did find a place to stay, but it’s not the same for some 8,000 individuals that were locally stranded in Manila. They were forced to camp at a stadium in the middle of a pandemic brought by a virus that could float in stagnant air for a couple of hours. Dan was fortunate enough he found an apartment, housing several families in a compound and a few good animals too.
After his shift, Dan sees clearly where the strays are. There’s Chaser, who likes to run around the Tapsihan by the bend. A black cat he calls Sabrina scrounges the exits two streets from the hospital. By this time, Dan is exhausted from his toxic shift, and despite the weight of personal protective equipment lifted from his body, he still feels heavy from the lack of sleep. He hopes to pet one cat before he goes home. They are not stranded but still, someone needs to take care of them, for luck.
He usually gets home at about 11 a.m. when most families are already wide awake. He would head straight to the bathroom, take a shower and then eat. For lunch, he would instead buy from a karinderya two houses down their block, for some sense of home. He knows the schedule of meals the housewife made every day, and he is always excited for Sinigang Wednesday. But it’s just Tuesday.
In this Tuesday, he went home without a cat’s pat or boop. It was 11:17 in the morning and the landlady was waiting for him. Did he forget to pay his rent? No, his due date is still in two weeks. Maybe she just wanted to check up on me, his mind says. It’s only been two months since he moved in and they seldom talk except for when there are scheduled interruptions or payment of rent.
Dan greets her and the landlady tells him through her homemade mask that they have to talk, but she lets him go on and take a quick shower. After a few minutes, Dan comes back with his wallet, looking to continue to the karinderya after the “talk.”
The landlady asks him how his day went. He tells her it’s the same old routine. He asks her how their family is. She says they are scared. Last night before Dan woke up, rumors of a possible Covid case in the nearby hospital caught wind in the compound. That is why today, she tells Dan they want to take care of their family first, so he would have to find another apartment by the end of his rent.
Dan proceeds to the eatery. He opens his wallet to pay for a serving of menudong giniling, and a piece of paper peeks. He picks it to see his pay slip and his hazard pay worth 250 pesos per month. What luck, he thinks. He tucks it back and reaches for one of the few remaining fifty peso bills in his wallet and hands it to the lady. As he walks back to his room, he sees an unfamiliar cat. He walks toward it. The cat was a bit shy, so he opened the plastic of his oily menudo, pushed it near the stray grey tabby, and finally thought there could be no other name fitting for another stray than just ‘Dan.’