I would have gone on blaming poverty for what happened: If that area of Mandaluyong had been more affluent, if the houses had been gated, if the dogs in these houses had been vaccinated against rabies, or at least fed well to keep them from being rabid, if I hadn’t had to walk, if I hadn’t had to buy oily to-go dinner.

But poverty can’t be a generic scapegoat, in fact it can never be a scapegoat because it’s futile to file a case against it before a judge, or flog it to death, or gas it. It was an uneventful Saturday evening that was to be stirred by an incident I found funny and sad at the same time.

I just finished working out in a gym a few blocks from the condominium where I lived when, thinking that eating out is too much of a hassle and expensive, I bought deep fried chicken from the nearest Ministop on my way home and like a mouse coming from a rampage of a farmer’s produce in the village, I carried my loot home with insouciance. I could not remember anything that was ominous that night. It was like any other.

From afar, I saw a pack of thin dogs, standing steadily, not in a pouncing stance, at ease, but obviously in a prowl for something. I sensed the stench of their hunger still I did not mind. I was never scared of dogs, not even the stray ones, not even the rabid-looking stray ones. As I went closer to the pack, the smell of deep-fried chicken must have caused them to panic. Food was close. What got between them and dinner was a figure of a sweaty man whose pheromones never meant anything for them but a stumbling block to be intimidated or annihilated.

At first, they attempted to intimidate me with their fierce barking. It did not work. My dinner was with me intact. One of them couldn’t be satisfied with a mere display of the pack’s braggadocio and mustered enough gall to bite me.

I went blank. My dinner was with me, still intact.

The dogs stopped barking and ran away. I was left on the middle of the street, trying to recall what my fourth grade Science and Health teacher told the class many years back–thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water. I ran to my unit, did exactly that, took a quick shower, and ate my dinner.

While eating those chicken breasts, pictures of my life flashed before me. Was I going to die, I asked myself. I imagined myself salivating profusely, limbs bound to my bed using a nylon cord, hydrophobic, afraid of the ray of light that passes through a slit in the window pane, waiting for death, my mother crying by my side, my head turning a complete 360 degrees. Finally, I begin spitting green goo.

Although I have no interest in going past the age of 50, dying in my 20s is unfortunate, and dying because of rabies is tragicomic. So I finished my chicken, took a jeep to Mandaluyong Medical Center and went straight to emergency. I was advised to go to the nearest animal bite center. There are three in Manila: RITM in Alabang and San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, which are both government hospitals, and Victor Potenciano Medical Center which is a few steps away from my building. The last hospital charges like Saint Luke’s and RITM is in the other end of the Metro, too far I sometimes suspect the existence of Alabang is a stuff of fiction.

Before I flew to San Lazaro, I had myself injected with ATS (anti-tetanus serum) and tetanus toxoid.

(to be continued)..

A dog bit her. One day she just died.

“Fev, nagralaway kag nagwaras tana.” (Fev, she salivated uncontrollably and ran amuck) It was my best friend describing in a text message our college batch mate who recently died because of acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) due to rabies. Her very colorful description how that batch mate of ours died seemed to be too poetic a description for a death as prosaic as dying from a bite of a deranged dog.


She was bitten by a stray dog in the neighborhood early January. It took three months for the virus of the Lyssa genus to travel from the bite wound and reach her central nervous system. By mid-March she was already experiencing malaise, headache and fever. According to my best friend this batch mate of ours showed uncontrolled excitement, depression, and in her last days, hydrophobia, mania, lethargy that finally led to coma. They were classmates in a public high school in Antique and eventually in all their Literature classes at UP Visayas, as they took the same major in college.

She was interred for a day in their house and was immediately buried, without being embalmed, for fear of the spread of the virus. My best friend and their high school classmates were discouraged from seeing her body to contain the contagion. Her entire family is placed on quarantine until this time.

She is survived by her seven-month old baby.

She was one of those very quiet people of generic appearance and personality one meets in college, becomes a classmate, spends a few times with, and as is always the case, forgotten easily after graduation.

My only recollection of her was how she ruined the afternoon of our professor when she read entirely from a book her report about the Babaylans of Panay in a History class we were both enrolled during our first year in college. Although I couldn’t remember her talking much, not even about literature, there were times I think I remember about her few moments of unconscious abandonment when she laughed in class at jokes I didn’t find funny or just did not comprehend.

She also had this unforgettably long her that reached down to her waist. Never did I see her long black hair unkempt; it’s always combed, shiny, freshly washed.

Because of poverty and inability to continue college, she applied for a leave of absence in our junior years, and I did not see her since then except for one time when I bumped into her at the office of the university registrar falling in line for her transcript. I was already teaching then. She only showered praises for me, which I did not take seriously. I wanted to ask question about her and her new life outside the university, but I held back and shelved the idea thinking we were never that close for me to ask sensitive personal queries.

Since then, I heard vignettes about her: she having a new boyfriend, being pregnant, breaking up with her boyfriend, finding a new one, and taking odd jobs in the city. But these stories were often shallow, almost always taken out of context. Simplistically unreal stories that I refused to believe about a former classmate whose life is as uniquely complex and interesting as anyone’s. I did not believe in their truth not because they were lies but because they were bare.

But probably I never really cared because they were insignificant stories related to me by my best friend about somebody who was ephemeral and insignificant a character that would never figure in my universe.

As a token, I wrote this post, and to remind me one day, in the event my memory fails, of a girl who was seated in the front row of our classroom in my History class who one drizzly July afternoon, to the consternation of our veteran professor, just read in front of the class while seated on the teacher’s table the whole report assigned to her verbatim from Renato Constantino’s book.

And her hair that reached down to her waist, only that on her last day, that long, black hair, might have been unwashed, disheveled, unkempt because she spent her last day on Earth fearing water.