Sunday, November 09, 2008
The other day, while walking toward the school after taking my lunch, a bunch of street children came up to me, begging for loose change. All these boys looked no more than six years old, greased on their faces, their tattered clothes wet with sweat, phlegm and heaven knows what else. Something in their innocent look stirred a deep sadness within me, such that I found myself tagging them along as we crossed the road in the midst of flying jeepneys. I told them that instead of giving them alms, I would rather treat them to their first meal of the day (or, possibly, in days). Greatly overjoyed, they jumped in unison, as frogs would at the first drops of rain.
We went to a nearby food stop, where I ordered four solo meals of tapsilog. I thought that the combination of beef, fried rice and sunnyside up was not enough to make up for the meals they had skipped before, but the delight in their voices could not hide the pleasant surprise of being able to eat at last. I watched them as their tiny hands pushed the spoonful onto their mouths, chewing like famished goats, their wide eyes staring back at my face. The service crew filled the boys’ cups with icy water, which they gulped in between swallows of yolk-splattered rice. For a moment I feared that one of them would choke, throw up all he had eaten, or burst his full stomach. I encouraged them to take it easy, mapping their faces on my mind in order to write about them sometime soon.
And that sometime is now, when I try to unleash again from my memory the despairing looks of street kids who could have been my brothers, except that the accident of fate had drawn the line between my privilege and their lack of it. I could still hear their words—“Salamat!”—pronounced with sheer joy and sincerity as they left their seats grimy with their dirty bottoms. The tallest among them said they would have to cross the street again, and without so much as a breath they zigzagged their way through the traffic. When they reached the opposite lane, they let go of one another’s hand and, seeming choreographed, waved at me their soiled palms.