\nThe way he boarded the jeep took us all by surprise: first he slid a plastic drawer, no doubt part of a cabinet, with a jersey shirt covering the contents. Then he hoisted a little girl without shoes, with feet covered in soot. His wife then entered the jeep, with a baby in her arms. Only then did he board, his wide dirty unshodden feet quite noticeable.<br n\/><br n\/>The little girl whined that they have no slippers, to which the man grimly said, "<em>Bibili na lang tayo<\/em>."<br n\/><br n\/>He set the girl on top of the pile of clothes on the drawer in the jeepney aisle.<br n\/><br n\/>The family was quiet, and everyone in the passenger jeep seemed to have the same question even as the vehicle continued to weave through traffic on E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue.<br n\/><br n\/>"<em>Nasunugan kayo?<\/em>" the man's seatmate, a woman, asked curiously.<br n\/><br n\/>The wife nodded.<br n\/><br n\/>"<em>Ano, nawala lahat?<\/em>"<br n\/><br n\/>"<em>Oo. Natupok lahat.<\/em>"<br n\/><br n\/>"<em>Pa'no nangyari?<\/em>" We were all listening, waiting for the reply.<br n\/><br n\/>"<em>Naiwanan 'yung kalan. 'Yun na. Kumalat na.<\/em>"<br n\/><br n\/>The wife then pursed her lips, hugged the baby tighter, while the man looked at the traffic on the opposite side of the road, his jaw tight. We were all looking at them, and they were clearly avoiding eye contact.<br n\/><br n\/>The thought came to me to flash my media ID, introduce myself, and ask for an interview. What were you doing when you found out about the fire? Who told you about it? What did you then do? What did you save? Where did the fire start, and at what time? Were you able to save what you wanted? What time was the fire put out? How many families lived there and were affected?<br n\/><br n\/>My heart went out to them and I wanted to pay for their fare, but the man then dug deep into his shorts pocket and pulled out a twenty-peso bill. "<em>Bayad o. Dalawa<\/em>," he told the driver, still avoiding eye contact with anyone of us inside the jeep with him even as we were all still looking at them.<br n\/><br n\/>I caught him looking down on the floor dejected, but soon he looked up again, and directed his eyes to the traffic on the opposite side of the road.<br n\/><br n\/>Soon we all looked away, at the road, at the driver, at our laps, at the sky, at the floor, anywhere but them.<br n\/><br n\/>No one dared ask any more questions as we respected their unspoken wish for privacy at that time.<br n\/><br n\/>When the jeep reached Kamuning Road, the man said, "<em>Para.<\/em>"<br n\/><br n\/>Then the woman and the baby got off, the man next, and he reached out for and pulled the drawer and the little girl on top of it. We watched them stay by the sidewalk barefoot until the jeep moved again.<br n\/><br n\/>No one talked inside the jeep, but we knew the situation. Before the family boarded the jeep, traffic was unusually heavy on that stretch of road before the Araneta Avenue-E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave. intersection. I thought it was because of the roadwork on the other side of Araneta at the corner of Quezon Ave. where they are building an underpass.<br n\/><br n\/>But we soon found out, as smoke still filled the air when the jeep crawled to a stop at the corner. Firemen could be seen on the roof of a factory building. Usiseros crowded the small bridge over a creek where we had a clearer view of the smoke rising from burned shanties. News vans were parked on the road, and some people held their cellphones up to get a photo.<br n\/><br n\/>A few meters farther away from all these, that was when the family hailed the Project 2-3-Quiapo jeep we were riding in.<br n\/><br n\/>Back at the newsroom, the story became more complete. <a href="\/news\/story\/253048\/news\/metromanila\/qc-fire-under-control-200-houses-damaged">200 houses burned<\/a>. <a href="\/news\/story\/253126\/news\/metromanila\/predawn-fire-destroys-50-houses-in-cainta">500 people homeless<\/a>. <em>Mabilis kumalat ang apoy<\/em>. Bgy. Tatalon. Rice cooker left unattended. Task Force Alpha. Fire out. No one injured.<br n\/><br n\/>I had a strong feeling that had I stayed put at the office instead of going to the luncheon hosted by the University of Santo Tomas for the media that day, I would have edited the story filed by a stringer.<br n\/><br n\/>But then I wouldn't have had a face–make that four faces–to go with the story. Four out of the 500 affected.<br n\/><br n\/>I don't usually take public transport, but I did that day feeling nostalgic coming back to my alma mater and so I decided to take the jeepney back as I did during my four-year stay in the university. I think there's a reason to all that.<br n\/><br n\/>I prayed to God to watch over the man and his family, provide for their needs, and help them get back on their feet. Maybe that's the reason all along–to see and feel and pray.<br n\/><br n\/>Sometimes journalists can be so toughened up by the job they lose sight of the big picture. Fire victims aren't just stats. They're people just like you and me.