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Erick and I were relaxing during a brief mid-afternoon break outside of Star Mart earlier today when, seemingly from out of nowhere, a street urchin joined us at our table. The child could not have been more than 8 or 9, wore a filthy black shirt that was torn in several places and had dark greasy skin that looked like it had not seen the side of a bar of soap in several weeks.

He proceeded to make himself comfortable on the vacant red plastic chair, laid his filthy right arm across the table and rested his head – unruly mop of hair and all – on his arm. “Kuya,” he said to neither Erick nor I in particular, “pengê namang pambili ng pagkain…”

If I’m being honest, at first I did not quite know what to make of the situation. So I just sat there sizing the boy up. The pose seemed contrived, like he was well-coached in the rudiments of mendicancy. His face was not ugly; but neither could I say that it was pleasant.

And he wore on his face not the innocence of other boys his age but instead the look of somebody who had seen much more than he ought to have done… The look of somebody wise in the ways of the street…

Erick, who had seen the lad earlier during lunchtime, was quick to deal with the situation. “Bibili ka lang ng sigarillo eh!” Erick told the boy. “Nakita kita kanina sa Kubo nagyoyosi…”

“Hindi pô,” the boy replied without missing a breath, with the sort of misplaced conviction of a man caught with a smoking gun in his hand but who still sees fit to vehemently deny that he fired the shot.

By then, I had recovered from the intrusion and asked the boy, “Bakit ka namamalimos? Bakit hindi ka napasok sa iskwela?”

I am certain the boy was not taught how to respond to that sort of interrogation, so for a moment, he just stared stupidly at me. Not longer than a moment, though. Instead of answering me, he again asked for some money to buy food.

I felt the novelty of the situation had worn itself out, so I got up to reach for a couple of coins, which I then gently placed on the table in front of the boy’s head. To my utter surprise, the boy pushed the coins back towards me!

I had never encountered this one before! Most of the street children I hand out coins to frequently skip away from me without so much as a thank you. Being me, I often call out to these kids, “Walang anuman!”

But this one was telling me, “Gusto ko pagkain…”

I capitulated to the humor of the situation, got up and went inside the shop where I ordered a siopao for the kid. Just as the sales clerk was reaching inside the steamer, I realized that the boy had followed me inside and had gone straight to the refrigerators.

When he approached me at the cashier’s counter, he told me that he did not want the siopao but just the Chocolait he carried in his hand. I could not but shake my head at the boy’s fickleness; but in spite of that, I was so totally amused by his antics.

I laughingly paid the cashier, and then watched the boy skip out of the shop and away from us happily sipping his Chocolait. And, as he skipped away, almost as an afterthought, he called back at me, “Salamat pô!”

At least the boy had some manners! As I watched him leave, I could not help but wonder if I would encounter him another day years from now in some dark alley with a knife or gun pointed at me. If and when that day comes, I hope I will be able to convince him to spare my life by offering to buy him some Chocolait in a shop somewhere.

5 Pesos for Guilt
Life Is A Book