I was then only 9 or 10 years old. I was in grade 3 studying in Lourdes School in Quezon City. Mom had decided to get me a school bus service so she wouldn’t have to bring me to and take me from school everyday. My childhood friend and neighbor, Arturo, and his brother and sister used the same school bus.
It was actually a long jeepney (well, initially it was an old blue wagon, but Mang Pedring had replaced it with a not-so-old jeepney after the old wagon figured in a terrible accident where the wagon was “throw” into a deep street canal while we were on our way to school) but we called it a “school bus” anyway.
Two schools used that bus service–Lourdes School and St. Theresa’s College–so one of the two long lateral seats was occupied by grade school boys from Lourdes School and the other was occupied by grade school girls from St. Theresa’s College. The two seats faced each other.
That afternoon after school–being the last ones off the bus because Arturo, his siblings and I lived the farthest–Mang Pedring decided to turn off the engine and get off the bus to relax and talk casually with Arturo’s mom. Arturo and I, meanwhile, played with the steering wheel of the bus, as if we were drivers. We took turns and Arturo was first.
Unfortunately, Arturo hit the shift stick accidentally, shifting it to neutral from secondary mode. The jeepney had no handbrake so Mang Pedring had shifted the stick to secondary before getting off the bus to keep it from moving downhill on our inclined street.
The neutral mode made the jeepney move while Arturo was in the driver’s seat. By instinct, Arturo jumped out, living the vehicle moving alone. He forgot that stopping it was as simple as stepping on the brake. After a few seconds, the jeepney was gaining speed, in fact too fast for Mang Pedring to do anything after he saw what was happening. And anyway, his bulging tummy would prevent him from running fast and jumping into the driver’s seat like a stuntman.
I saw that the school bus was headed straight for an electric post. That’s when I decided fast.
With full determination, I ran after it, grabbed the handles of the door at the driver’s seat and jumped in. By this time, the bus was moving really fast and just a few yards from the electric post. I sat in the seat, steered the jeepney away from the direction of the street gutter, and stepped on the brake!
It jerked into a full stop.
Arturo and Mang Pedring cheered me and so did Arturo’s mom. I saved the school bus. I was a real hero at 10 years old.
Years after, when I was a second year high school student of E. Rodriguez Jr. High School, I saw Mang Pedring along Speaker Perez Street in La Loma while playing basketball (basketball courts were set up in the streets back then). He was still operating and driving his own school bus. But this time, he had a classy looking van. I gladly approached him and greeted him, hoping he’d recognize me, the hero that saved his jeepney about a decade ago.
But he just stared at me and frowned, and then went on giving urgent instructions to his grade school passengers. I backed off smiling, understanding that it was a long time ago and Mang Pedring had grown older.
“Something wrong?” asked my classmate. I shook my head smiling. “That’s Mang Pedring. He used to be our school bus driver,” I said.