One night I really got curious and took my time to round the corner of this barung-barung. She saw me coming but she didn’t mind at all, her icy gaze just passed through me as if I’m a cold unseen being. Careful not to stun her, I politely asked;
“Anong pangalan mu?’
She didn’t answer but motioned her hand instead to let me move out of the light. I realized she needed the light coming from the lamp post so she can see the lines in her notes. I didn’t say anything but I slowly sat at the far end of the sill. Her short, badly sharpened black jumbo pencil rolled down from her lap and fell near my foot I picked it up and handed it to her, she smiled and said;
“thank you po,”
“bakit dito ka nagsusulat at nagbabasa, medyo madilim dito ah, di mu masyado makikita yung letra ng binabasa mu,”
She looked at me coldly and said;
“mas madilim sa bahay namin, walang ilaw, buti dito maliwanag na, wala pang bayad at mas maliwanag kesa kandila,”
“wala kayong kuryente?”
“Wala eh, matagal na, walang pambayad si mama”
“Nasaan pala ang mama mu?”
She pouted her mouth towards the woman that sells balut at the other side of the road.
“Ibig mung sabihin si Manang nanay mu?”
Manang is my suki balut vendor. I often would stop and buy from her penoy as I can't take the ones with bigger chick. I know she has a number of children as they would play on the side road as if it were their playground on some occasions that I’m buying from her. Sometimes if I have the appetite I took time to sit beside her warm balut bucket and start a conversation of just about anything, gossips of who our neighbors date usually, whilst I see an occupied night world unfolding.
Just like any mother, it pained her so much seeing her children unable to attend school because she can’t afford it but what I didn’t know was that she has a girl child who braves the perils of the night to work on her assignments under the street light post.
A thousand horses went running wild at the back of my mind, they’re finding reasons why an innocent and diligent girl like her has to suffer and witness the cruelty of her society that is supposed to safeguard her, yet on the other end I thought – this is a classic example of human perseverance and resourcefulness, no electricity at home or poverty for that matter is not an excuse not to pursue an education you just have to be quick-witted and you can manage your way out of desolation.
But for realists, this scene is a downright cry for social justice. We often hear our authorities talk about change and promise to give equal opportunity to everyone, but the way things are, promise is such a solitary word and as obscure as the surroundings of this poor little girl.
I figured, this is one of the discourses of our society that we don’t know who blame anymore, the state for not providing enough opportunity and inadequate human capital assistance so this Manang balut vendor and the category she represent, can have a decent job so she can pay for their electricity and be able to send her children to school, our socio-cultural-economic set-up that requires each one of us to get an education so we can be equipped to carry-on our civilization, our religion that warns us to stay in course and multiply the herd, or is it just me who thinks so much that in the end would bear the burden of guilt for not extending help to this child.
But I guess today is no time to point finger at anybody, we just have to find opportunity in every predicament that will come our way and if only each one of us has this child’s tenacity, there’s no reason why we can’t be what we want to be.
“Aileen po ang pangalan ko”
“Aileen, ilang taon ka na?”
“Ilan kayo magkakapatid?”
“Saan na ang tatay mu?”
“Hindi ko po alam”
“Ano ang gusto mu maging paglaki mu?”
“Gusto kong mag-aral ng mabuti at paglaki ko pupunta ako sa palasyo ng presidente at sabihin ko sa kanya na yung sinabi nya sa TV hindi naman nangyari sa amin.”
When I was a little girl just like you Aileen, I also have studied hard and wished that one day I can come to the president’s palace and tell President Ferdinand Marcos that what he has said, promised did not happen at all. I’ve live past six presidents already, Oh gee, don't ever ask how old am I today? But I still eat the same penoy and still have seen the same heartbreaking faces just like you tonight. Maybe those who were able to come to the President’s palace have not seen or hear you at all.
But you have the insistence Aileen and this is what is more important to make it through, because in the end not me nor the President can ever help you but only you, yourself. Nonetheless, I still feel I have the obligation towards this little girl, Band-aid as it maybe pero ika nga walang tutulong sa Pilipino kundi kapwa Pilipino.
“Gabi-gabi ka ba nandito?”
“Opo, pag di umuulan,”
“Paano yan pag umuulan?”
“kandila nalang, sa bahay”
"Ano bang inaaral mu?"
"Gusto mu turuan kita?"
You know that face that glow when one's happy? I saw it in hers even in darkness.
“Sige, abangan mu ako dito bukas ha? Dahil mabait ka, papalitan ko yang lapis mu at may ibibigay ako sayo at tuturuan pa kita.”
Mind you learning how to count 1 to 100 in Filipino is easiest when you do it by counting cars, jeepneys, motorcycles and trucks passing by.
That's actual and creative learning.
It's kind of dusty tutoring by the sideroad but I don't mind because I look pretty with sodium lights on you know.