I sat down, and while waiting for the take-out, my eyes came towards this “boy” with sampaguitas slurping the milky leftover from the halo-halo. The kid had short hair, wore not-so-white sando, shorts, and slippers. I did not really mind until the “boy” sat in front of me and handed me sampaguita.
“Para sa’yo, Ate,” the “boy” said.
“Birthday kasi ng kapatid ko.”
“Bakit mo ko bibigyan?”
“Nakikita kita dito.”
“Kilala mo ko?”
I thought it was so sweet, but I handed it back to him.
“Sayang naman. Ibenta mo na lang,” I told him.
“Hindi, Ate. Sa’yo na lang yan.” And he smiled.
“Thank you. Anong pangalan mo?” I asked the “boy”.
“Jessica? Babae ka?”
Jessica nodded. All right. I thought the kid was a boy.
“Masarap ba yun, Ate?” The kid pointed at the halo-halo picture on the Menu board.
“Alam mo ba, Ate, first time kong kumain ng halo-halo. Kung di ako pinalapit ng matanda, di ko matitikman yan.”
“Ilan taon ka na?” I asked her.
She raised all her ten fingers.
I sighed and handed back the sampaguita again.
“Sure ka? Sayang din tong sampaguita. Ten pesos din to.”
“Wag na, Ate. Sa’yo na lang yan.”
Jessica smiled at me. So innocently. So sweetly.
She suddenly spoke up.
“Gusto ko sanang bilhan yung kapatid ko ng halo-halo eh. Magkano ba yun?”
“Anong pangalan ng kapatid mo?”
“Ilan taon sya today?”
“Seven. Di pa rin sya nakakatikim ng halo-halo…”
The take-out came. I took my stuff and stood up, but Jessica pulled me back to my seat.
“Ate, dito ka muna. Sige na.”
So I sat down again.
“Masarap kaya yun?” Jessica wondered.
“Yun.” She pointed to the orange chicken.
“Di ko alam. Di ko pa natitikman yun.”
“Masarap ba pagkain dito?”
“Ok lang. Bakit?”
“Sana matikman ko lahat…”
I don’t know why, but my heart felt so sad. I looked at Jessica intently. She looked at the menu board. She looked at the food. I do not know if I’m doing the right thing.
“Gusto mo ng halo-halo?” I asked her.
Her eyes lit up.
“Wait lang. Bibilhan kita.”
I got her the halo-halo. While waiting, she asked me for my name.
“Anong pangalan mo, Ate?”
“Hulaan mo…” I said coyly.
“Palagi ka ba dito?”
“Bakit mo ko kilala?”
“Nakikita kita palagi, Ate.”
The halo-halo came. Her eyes lit up even brighter. She opened the lid and looked.
“Gusto mo haluin ko para sa’yo?” I offered.
“Sige,” then she handed me the halo-halo. I mixed it for her.
“San ka galing?”
“Sa meeting ni (presidential candidate)”
“Ako, si Villar ang iboboto ko.”
“Kasi, si Villar, galing mahirap. Pagtatayo nya kami ng bahay.”
I stopped mixing the halo-halo.
“Eh bakit ngayon lang sya magpapatayo ng bahay? Di ba matagal na syang pulitiko?”
“Eh bakit si (presidential candidate) ang iboboto mo? Porke ba anak sya ni…eh pwede na sya maging presidente?”
My ears were ringing. I cannot believe this generation. Seriously. She knows what she’s talking about. I heartily laughed.
We debated. Back and forth. It was hilarious.
I handed her the halo-halo. She pouted.
“Sige na. Panalo ka na.”
“Alam mo, Jessica. Pag medyo tumanda ka na, maiintindihan mo rin yung mga sinasabi ko,” I told her.
“Oo na nga. Panalo ka na,” she said with a smile. She then started eating.
“Nag-aaral ka ba?” I asked her.
“Walang pera eh,” she whispered.
She looked out the door then hid from her sit.
“Wag kang gumalaw, Ate,” Jessica whispered.
“Paaalisin ako nyan,” she said. I looked behind and saw that Jessica was hiding from the guard.
“Kasama naman kita. Kumakain ka. Sige lang, ako bahala,” I assured her.
She sat up and happily ate the halo-halo.
“Sarap,” she sang.
I smiled at her.
“Ate, kung di mo ko binilhan nito, hindi ko alam kung anong lasa nito.”
Jessica went on to ask me about my favorite song. She told me jokes that I did not get at all. Songs on the radio played, and she showed me how to dance them.
Before I knew it, I spent a whole hour with a kid. A total stranger.
Jessica finished eating.
“Ate, kita tayo ulit.”
“Sa birthday ko.”
“Kailan ba birthday mo?”
“May 13. Eh ikaw?”
“Sige, sa birthday mo.”
“Huh, malayo pa yun.”
“Sige, sa birthday ko. Dito.”
I laughed. “Anong oras?”
“Mga ganitong oras din.”
I looked at the watch. “Four PM?”
“Oo. Basta sa birthday ko, ha?”
“Di ko alam. Baka may gagawin ako nun. Ayokong mangako.”
“Sige na, Ate.”
I held the kid’s hand. “Pag destined tayo magkita, magkikita tayo. Palagi ka naman dito di ba?”
“Ah, basta. Magkikita ulit tayo,” she firmly said.
We stood up and walked out together. I looked at her. She smiled and waved farewell.
Now I don’t know why we met. I really do not know how she recognized me. Why I felt so at ease with this kid. She is so brilliant, cheerful, and bubbly. She is bursting with life. She knows her stuff.
And yet here she was. Giving me sampaguitas. Eating leftovers. While other kids know nothing but to sit idly and play, Jessica is out in the streets, selling instead of playing. Gosh, she should be enjoying her youth. She should be enjoying her life the way all other kids should.
A friend once told me that giving alms to the needy is as bad as teaching them to be lazy and be idle. Good point, but I had to ask myself, “Will you be able to take it in your head that image of a man trying to live?”
I always tell others that I want to make a difference, but when reality hits you in the ass at the most unexpected and random times, you black out. Seriously. I blacked out when Jessica told me that she had never tasted halo-halo once in her life. That she does not go to school.
So what do you suppose we should do? Feel sorry for them? Give them alms?
How do you help the needy without making them feel stupid or offending them? Will alms be ever enough to sustain them everyday?
I thought I can preach about becoming a part of change. I thought I can do that everyday, but after my meeting with Jessica, I lost the confidence to do so.
I used to say that getting an education would do it. Get a career then use it to channel change. TO HELP IN YOUR OWN LITTLE WAY.
Today, I heard kids saying these things. “I will become successful. Then I will help people.”
Why not today? Why not now? Why wait until you’re successful to create change?
No offense, Mom and Dad, but I’m beginning to loathe your generation. The people in your generation should have done something to help kids like Jessica.
Why give us this damn task?
I’m not being pessimistic, but damn. Too big of a damage had been done.
And with my generation whose obsession is to live idly. Where are we heading?
We need to wake up. Find a way. Together. To get out of this mess.