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5 Pesos for Guilt for Shunning away from a Mendicant

Going through what I have come to refer to simply as my “nicotine walk” at midday – and this is basically just walking outside the campus to get the required dosage – I chanced upon this old lady who my brand of righteousness dictates I walk past by every time I encounter her along the sidewalks. It goes without saying that we are not necessarily strangers.

Oh, I do not know her name; nor does she know mine.

My first encounter with her was early one morning on my way to school. I had just crossed the pedestrian lane at the street corner and was walking briskly towards one of the school gates. She was walking towards me to accost me with arm and palm stretched out towards me.

Now don’t get me wrong. When mendicants approach me, I am usually compassionate. But one look at this approaching woman and immediately a retort formed in my mind that I was, however, too polite and self-restrained to utter, “Hello… Get a job…!!!”

I mean, at least most other mendicants have some sort of handicap to show you as Exhibit A in their attempts to persuade you to part with a few coins. But this nanay, hello naman

If she engaged my lavandera in a wrestling match, she stood a good chance of winning! If anything, although I did not have the benefit of a bathroom scale, the nanay appeared like she had more flesh on her than my lavandera.

Who, incidentally, while in an early morning discussion with me about the increasing number of mendicants on the streets of the city, had nothing but scorn for those who appear physically healthy but simply have no inclination towards work.

Now back to the nanay, who apart from being old, apparently had nothing else to show as her mendicancy credentials… She had a credibility issue, and did not even seem to be aware of it! Hello naman ulit… One sees more frail-looking nanays in the palengke squatting beside their bilaos trying to earn an honest living…

She approached me a couple more times after that first encounter, but each time I walked past her. At least, I just walk past her. I see college students – who apparently see the exact same thing I see in her – even walk around her in obvious attempts to avoid her!

Apparently, she has learned to recognize me. She had not bothered since. Until today, that is; and that probably had something to do with the fact that I was the only one walking towards her on the sidewalk at the time. She probably thought it was worth the try.

Wishful thinking!

This is not to say that I was completely without guilt when I walked past her as I only thought proper. We Catholics, and not that I need to point it out, are reared in strict traditions of dos and don’ts that we invariably end up living our lives calculating the wrongs and the rights.

This is just my way of saying that, while I walked past the nanay, I was invariably rationalizing inside my head, as I contributed to the city smog, why walking past was the right thing to do.

Now my walk ends each time at the abandoned gate east side of the campus which has a convenient roof overhang. That is where I hang out to rest for a while and just watch the vehicles and the passers-by.

Not long after I arrived, a small greasy-looking boy joined me under the roof. I would say about 7 or 8 years old. There are a number of them on the streets close to the campus, and I normally pay them no attention.

But this one stood right next to me, so I had no choice but to look at him when he shyly called out, “Kuya…” Even as I looked into the little boy’s eyes, he had this uncertain look on his face that told me that he was trying to summon courage just to speak.

Then, because he had already committed, he repeated, “Kuya… pengê naman ng baon…” Then he broke into the most sheepish of smiles that I immediately found myself smiling right back at him.

Amateur, really; or so I thought to myself as I dug into my pocket. Used as I am to rude street kids who run away from me without so much as a “Thank You” after I give them money, I was getting ready to call out “walang anuman” if he sprinted away like many kids do.

Instead, after I handed him a 5-peso coin, he beamed an even brighter smile at me and happily said, “Salamat pô!”

Oh, dear! Self-righteous with an old woman but suckered by a smiling young boy. But then again, what’s 5 pesos to wash away one’s guilt?

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