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A frail smile appears on Tatay Doy's face despite the unfavorable weather that night. Photo by Julien Jame Apale

The Man Who Doesn’t Know His Age

It was a cold, smoky and busy Roxas Night Market, as Tatay Doy, uncertain of his age, sat quietly distant from the other stalls. It was a night after school and work, but he did not expect fewer people would buy his popcorn.

Hermeniheldo B. Lisondra, known as Tatay Doy, has been selling his popcorn since 1992, long before the famous night market was founded. Tatay Doy became a special vendor in Roxas because of his novel presence, being the only popcorn seller there.

A customer approached him and bought a chock full bag of his cheese-flavored popcorn. Tatay Doy, with his frail and worn hands, slowly reached for one, along with the rest of the popcorn bags that were already prepared and packed. He unhurriedly handed the bag to the customer in exchange of 10 pesos. To think, that was one of the only few customers that bought from him when the night started.

Customers come and go every after noticeable periods of time. Tatay Doy, when vacant, quietly sits down on a chair built with his cart. That moment, he was not far from the rest of the tenants, but his stare near the façade of a hotel fronting Roxas showed something distant from where he came from.
Tatay Doy grew up in Surigao where he spent most of his childhood. He finished fifth grade in elementary, and at the age of 12, started fishing to sustain his family’s commodities. By the time he grew older, he went to Davao City hoping for better opportunities, due to the difficulties he had experienced back in his home town.

He now resides in a rented house in Jacinto Piapi, with three of his relatives living through food catering.
Another set of customers went by and bought few bags of popcorn. They conversed along with their transaction with Tatay’s soft-spoken voice, deafening enough that they read his lips to understand what he said. They also handed a payment for 2 to 3 bags of popcorn afterwards.
Then, the silence continued.

Tatay Doy prepares a handful bag of popcorn for a customer in the midst of busy, crowded Roxas Night Market. Photo by Julien Jame Apale

Tatay Doy and his family live in a house without a proper tin roof. Sometimes, when the sun comes out hot enough, they would put corn of top of it for it to dry. Tatay said that they had no budget to reconstruct their home, because their income is not enough.

While Tatay sweats the day by selling his popcorn, his relatives would prepare a variety of delicacies like suman, hot cake, pandesal, maruya, and cassava cake, and sell them to other merchants and restaurants. It is as if they become the suppliers of their own cookery.

These are the ways they make their income. They entrusted Tatay Doy to take good business of the popcorn stand, while they cook in exchange of money. His daily grind starts by waking up at 7 o’clock in the morning as his earliest time to rise, preparing his things for selling, eating breakfast, taking a bath and changing clothes.

Tatay said he gets the corn from Calinan, while the other ingredients are bought downtown. He makes the popcorn here in the city to sell it. After making, he relaxes the cooked popcorn in an enclosed area on his cart, and when it is ready, he puts the right amount in lengthy bags. And even if the bag of popcorn loses its warmth, people still buy from him.

He sells in three different places at different times, every day. In the morning, he starts by placing his cart in Bolton where the sun can sometimes scorch his thin cart roof, unless standing by a shady tree. By afternoon he goes to Fatima, which lays near the busyness of schools and other establishments. And finally, he homes his cart in Roxas until 11 o’clock in the evening. He manages to sell on a daily basis.
Even with an already worn body, he still smiles out of contentment. He says that it is fine to have body pain attacks, since he can recover with just an overnight sleep. Instead of minding problems regarding his health, he just focuses on the times he can earn profit from his business.

He said that selling popcorn has been his life since he started, and that he did not thought of any job throughout. He also did not marry nor had any children.

He strives in surviving a daily profit of not more than 50 pesos. He also says that he can still eat three times a day with that budget; not to mention that sometimes he has to borrow money from his relatives to cover his capitals for the popcorn.

When that night was about to end, the other barbeque stalls were still offering seats to customers, as their charcoal stands continue to smoke. Tatay Doy, on the other hand, sold only few bags.
Earning a meager income and unfit to endure his daily needs, he wears a contented smile that makes him already fulfilled in life and not deprived from all sorts of resources. Riding on his popcorn cart, he continues to sell with the mindset of satisfaction, as he himself said, as long as he can live.

The Roxas Night Market had closed, and Tatay Doy is going home, looking forward for another day of selling the treat that provides him his life.

“Kuntento na, basta mabuhi,” he simply said.

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