The Blind and the One-Armed Peanut Vendors
They sold peanuts in separate pockets of the City — the one-armed man in a spot along Avenida Alfonso Trese, near the corner bakery that used to be a magnificent video store; the blind man near the entrance of the university library, before he was told to keep a more discreet spot behind it, along a curved path between buildings that not many students took. The one-armed peanut man had a capacious operation: his wheeled stall had a roof and had space for a small stove, over which he had a variety of helpers cook the peanuts for him, adobo-style, one batch spiced with chili, and the other plain and seasoned with rock salt. He stood beside the stall like a quiet god, his white wifebeater revealing a surprising physique that said this must have been quite a sporty man in his youth — his shoulders were broad, his biceps were bulging, his pectorals were toned. But he certainly looked his age — perhaps nearing sixty — and his eyes were rheumy and gray from cataracts. And then there was his right hand, which ended in a stump right above where his elbows would have been. Which made you wonder: what happened to it? was it lost in a fight? did a crocodile eat it? did it get mangled in the teeth of some infernal machine? He never spoke, and he never entertained any of his customers. He’d just stand there on the same spot near his stall every single day, owning his quiet with gravity, and perhaps gazing at the world passing by him and beholding everything in a haze of white, like life itself in its blurry unfolding. The blind peanut man, on the other hand, had become an icon for generations and generations of college students, selling adobo-style peanuts by the pack, and sometimes peanuts fried and speckled with white sugar. On his little foldable clapboard, beside which he sat on a stool and kept his watch, he sold other things, too, like candy. And because he was blind, he trusted us with the money we gave him for our purchases, as well as the change we’d take from his tiny coffers. We often wondered who among us cheated him — but who would dare steal from a blind man? His unseeing eyes turned to us, he seemed to say, God is watching. Sometimes, in our puerile days, we’d crack a bad joke that went this way: “Did you know that Manong Peanut has a son at the University of the Philippines?” “Really?” “Yes. He’s selling peanuts there, too.” And we laughed ourselves silly — until we’d finally learn there was actually a son, and he was our P.E. teacher. Later, some of us would come to know how this man actually was in unguarded moments. He’d know, somehow, if you were crying from a failed exam, or perplexed by a broken heart — and he’d say, “Okay ra na, ‘day. This, too, shall pass.” And we’d then cringe from all the memories of the times we had dared laugh at him, this supposedly sorry sight of a man without vision selling peanuts. We were the blind ones, until we learned to see life was something ultimately like this: it’s a quiet spot in an unbusy walkway, and there we make do with what we have despite everything, and yet we rise above it when we learn to give — like unassuming packets of peanuts — a whole lot kindness parceled out in small gestures that meant, for some of us, the world. He died last week.