Payday at the mines
Just like anybody, a miner’s happiest day is payday.
It was Saturday and as they poured out of their shacks early in the morning, there was firmness and vim in their strides. They would march towards the mine portal to collect their lighting gears and tools then take the lift to go down the bowels of the Earth.
After 4 p.m., the miners would emerge from the portal and go directly to the office building to claim their pay. My mother, a street vendor, would hand me a list of miners who had utang and I would go to the mine gate and wait for them. There would be 10 or more of us debt collectors waiting outside the gate.
Through the interlink wire fence, we could see the miners fall in line at the pay window. The miners are, as usual, in the jocular mood as they share ribald jokes and laugh among themselves and make plans for the morrow.
I remember one Saturday when a miner at the end of the queue commented that the line was going too slow. He said loudly that maybe the guys at the front were taking their own sweet time collecting all the money for themselves. A miner close to the front retorted that they will clean up the whole shebang because the guys at the back will waste their money on needless pursuits.
The tit for tat went on good-naturedly but it soon degenerated to something rare and childlike. A miner at the back of the line shoved the one in front of him and one after the other, they fell like dominoes. In the ensuing mishmash of falling helmets, mess kits and bodies, curses and laughter pervaded the dusty, chaotic mess. They righted themselves quickly enough while carrying on with their antics and verbal abuse. They all got their pay eventually as the afternoon wore on. They paid some of their debts, bought food and treats along the way for their families, and headed home happy and contented men.
Through the years that I have waited at the gate, I have come to realize that paydays and the camaraderie were what made the miners tick. These were like salves to the dangerous and back-breaking work. Outside the mine, their manners towards each other consisted mostly of banter and light buffoonery. Inside the mine, however, was a different matter. It was serious business and every miner knew he can depend on the other in a time of grave crisis.
A miner’s wife would also feel festive on Saturdays. But not all. A neighbor or housewife reservedly put the miner’s lot in a nutshell: “We only know they are alive when they walk out of the cave.” — Elmer Apacway