Life beyond sixty is usually considered a relaxing breather for many. For retirees, it is the period to redeem their lost time from working throughout their middle-aged lives. Staying at home, some may spend their days watching TV shows, bonding with their grandchildren, or randomly feeling the breeze while sitting on a rocking chair at an open terrace. Typically, old age is dubbed as the perfect time to rest.
However, for Virginia Villaruel, 82, this is not the case. Every night along the frequently jam-packed Roxas Night Market, she tirelessly sells hair accessories ranging from headbands, clips, and bows. Setting up her little stand outside the Padre Faura gate every night so long as it does not rain, she calls on passersby and persuades them to buy her products.
Nanay Virginia has been doing this routine since 2014, nine years after her husband died and around the time when her children began having their own families. Aged and alone, she felt the need to find not only a source of income, but also a sense of purpose.
As the clock strikes 6:30 in the evening, Nanay Virginia, wearing a simple duster and a pair of slippers, would prepare the hair accessories that she will be selling for the night. She rides a motorcycle from her residence in Piapi Boulevard to Roxas Avenue while patiently holding on to her small, yet relatively heavy makeshift stall. About three feet in height, the stall is made of plywood and rectangular in shape. Upon arriving, she would immediately set this up all by herself, covering the wood with colorful headbands and clips, as though it was a large bouquet of flowers.
By seven in the evening, the influx of customers coming to Roxas would mean that it is time for Nanay Virginia to start persuading passersby to buy her products. While doing this, she would stand behind the collection of hair accessories without having any chair to sit on. She continues standing for another four hours until the Night Market itself would fall into a deep slumber.
During these tedious nights, Nanay Virginia earns at least five hundred pesos every night. While this could be inadequate for others who have a lot of mouths to feed, she thinks her profit would suffice since she only has herself to provide for.
“Dugay na namatay akong bana. Ang akoa pung upat ka anak naa nay kanya-kanyang pamilya. So ako nalang isa nabilin para sa akoang sarili,” she expressed.
Caught by the unusual scenario of Nanay Virginia, many people, when they buy hair accessories from her, would always ask why she is still working despite her old age. In response, she would just shrug and say that she would feel worthless if she does nothing.
More than just sustaining her needs, Nanay Virginia emphasized that selling keeps her alert and lively. For her, staying at home, especially in her old age would only result to a decline in her memory and overall health.
“Nagatinda ko para dili ko maluya, kay maluya man ko kung magpondo ko sa balay kay naanad man ko og negosyo; kay kung magpondo ko, dili ko kalahutay aning edara,” she said.
Winevie, one of Nanay Virginia’s many customers, commented that she was fascinated by Nanay Virginia’s extraordinary vigor and determination.
“Saludo lang jud ko kay Nanay sa iyang ginabuhat karon, nga bisan pa ug tigulang na siya, naa gihapon siya’y kusog nga magbaligya,” she said.
While Nanay Virginia may be proof of how age should not paralyze one’s ability to do something, her situation also sheds light on the issues surrounding many senior citizens in the country today. According to HelpAge International, 5.4% of the total Philippine population aged 60 and above live alone. Although some, like Nanay Virginia, live alone by choice, their present conditions also give a glimpse of how the elderly may be neglected not only by the government but also by their own families.
Ever since she came to terms with her situation, Nanay Virginia has been convinced that resting is another form of dying. While, on the one hand, this mindset may be seen as a display of agency, courage, and determination, on the other hand, it also calls for a rethinking of how we perceive street vendors and their motivations. Although Nanay Virginia herself does not see selling as much of a burden, her predicament shows how some people are compelled to push themselves to the limit just to safeguard their sustenance.
Following the typical conceptions of life beyond sixty, Nanay Virginia should ideally be resting and enjoying the privileges of her old age. However, she does the opposite every night along a bright and buzzing street— entertaining customers for hours while channeling her inner vigor into every clip and bow that she sells.