WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Banking on Christmas

I love crowds. Especially those who had their belongings checked by the security personnel upon entry. I settled down to wait, content to rubberneck this “event”.

Like me, there were laggard sons and daughters who were trying to beat the deadline to remit Christmas money to their parents. That’s because like me, they probably forgot to wrap their gifts and send them by courier in time for their parents to get these before the courier services closed down for the holidays.

It’s fun waiting it out at Land Bank. Sometimes there’ll be a kindly retiree who’d charmingly push chocolates or biscuits on me and tell me about her most recent vacation to her daughter in Europe. Or there would be kid who’d want to make faces with me across the room. Sometimes, I end up indulging in girl talk – you know, bags and shoes and ukay-ukay, Vicky Belo, Angel Locsin, and Kris Aquino. And when I bring out my crochet stuff, I get surprised exclamations about women rarely doing stuff like that these days. Retired security guys would bend my ear about bank security procedures and businessmen start conversations with a reference to the day’s headlines.

On 22 December though, roughly half the personnel of various military branches of service assigned in Davao were at the Land Bank. The security deposit shelf for firearms at the bank’s entrance was beginning to resemble an armory as I came in. I imagined it only got a bit more crowded as the hours rolled in.

In the idle body shuffle characteristic of a long wait, an army finance officer came to sit beside me. We got to talking about Christmas parties and how the military camps all across the country donated their respective Christmas fund to the victims of Typhoon Reming. Yup, come to think of it, my cellphone did register maudlin comments about how the Christmas cocktails went at a couple of camps the night before.

You wouldn’t know it looking at our battle-hardened men, but come Christmas Eve, they miss their wives and kids. Maudlin applied to me, too, as I read their messages. The text messages made me remember my own childhood when my dad who was then in the service couldn’t be home for Christmas. We missed him like hell. Years later, I still remember how much.

Finance guy rattles off how much more generosity our men have been capable of this year. There’s that automatic deduction his office made from the soldiers’ basic pay to be donated to the Children’s Hour. He said it amounted to millions. Then there’s that cut from everyone’s subsistence pay that found its way to the coffers of another charitable institution. Please, oh please, don’t let it go to waste.

You know how much soldiers are paid? The generosity makes little sense to me. Our men give so much already. They lay their lives on the line. They sacrifice family time. Do we really need to bleed them some more?

Finance guy glances at my article on the Daily Mirror that day and asks, Don’t I write about the military sometimes?

Yup, that’s me. I guess in some ways, I will forever be a military brat, much to my hubby’s consternation.

We talked about the resurrected AFP modernization plan. I tried, but I couldn’t cross-index old information that my synapses misplaced. I have very hazy recall of the details to the Mercado bill, and while I spent hours years ago working out Rene Jarque’s proposal to get the AFP modernized as a lean and mean fighting machine, I don’t remember much about that either. I doubt if my files on AFP modernization survived the many crashes my PC suffered over the years. Not to worry, finance guy wasn’t privy to this administration’s thrusts either, only that some things are in the works in the AFP bureaucracy.

The guard calls my number, but the bank’s computer picks that moment to go offline. Two hours in line already. You bet I’m not about to throw that away. What’s that syndrome in social psychology?  Ego involvement? I’d invested two hours and it’s my turn just as soon as the computers go online. I’m not moving even if I have to invest in hunger further. Hunger and another two hours more, as it turned out.

Still, I love banks at Christmas time. It’s like church. You get to experience the value of meditation before fate wills redemption. But redemption does come. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)