Saturday, November 7, 2009

Homeless in Baguio, ca. 2009

He first came to the city about three years ago – lonely, dirty and hungry. To him, everything must have seemed so big in this city: the mountains, the trees, the buildings, even the stairs leading up to the cathedral seemed absurdly steep. He was drawn by the tolling of the bells towards the church, and later drawn towards the park by the sight of this family of four who have just attended mass have decided to spend some time under the afternoon sun out in the open. A part of him envied the sight of the father carrying the boy on his shoulders while the mother walked hand in hand with the younger girl.

His early years were a blur – he has no memory at all of the first five of his 13 years. He must have been born already a five-year old for that was his earliest memory – waking up in the streets of Dagupan already with the knowledge that he was five years old, with no father nor mother, with nowhere to go.The other part of him saw the two young children as opportunities, the boy a reason for the father not to feel boy’s hand picking his wallet from his back pocket, or the mother not noticing him running off with her purse. A couple of long hours later, after intently but discreetly watching them waiting for that opportunity, he gave up on them just as they were making their way to the jeepney station to catch their ride home. On his first night in the big, cold city, he slept hungry under the stars.

Three years later and he’s still homeless, but not alone anymore. He has found two other boys whose stories weren’t unlike his own. He has found a family. They’ve been walking around the central business district all morning looking for a woman who they believe stole the precious blanket the three of them share at night. It is already November in the City of Pines, and the evenings have become much colder. They had no idea that the woman was not anywhere there at all but has been going around the park all afternoon and like them, has been waiting for an opportunity to deftly pick up an unattended mobile phone or bag, or maybe bump into a generous tourist willing to part with the last half of a sandwich.

Except for moans of pain at night when the woman ends her day again on an empty stomach, or threatening grunts directed at the young boys old enough to be her own children who constantly fight with her over rummaging rights to the garbage bin of a restaurant at the park, she hasn’t spoken a word in ten years. She feels she has nothing left to say. She beat them today to the garbage bin. She is staring blankly at the tourists seated at the tables outside, and noticing her, a group of tourists instinctively reach for their bags and mobile phones giving each other knowing looks. Already carrying several bags of plastic bottles and cups, she wasn’t thinking of their bags and mobile phones at all, they just caught her in one of those moments where she stops dead in her track, her eyes wide open but her mind totally blank, a convenient pastime of those who have nothing and nobody in this world. She hopes to be able to sell the plastic bottles and cups to a junk shop and earn enough money for a piece of bread for dinner.

A couple of hours of walking around these busy streets they already know by heart takes its toll on the patience of the young boys, and with no pockets ready for picking, they head for the park talking about getting into a fight with the first group of high schoolers they see, to pass the time.

They get to the park and were excited by both the sight of a group of tourists seated at the tables outside the restaurant… and the woman. The hunt for high schoolers can wait for now. They first approached the tourists seated at the table to beg for some left over food and some loose change, but a waiter appeared out of nowhere who barred them from coming near his customers. They turned their attention to the woman and demanded her to turn over the blanket they were sure she stole. The woman was awaken from her stupor, and with a grunt, shook her head to say both that she didn’t have their blanket and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. The boy from Dagupan raises his voice while his two friends flank her. She glares at them, picks up her bags and turns to leave. The two boys stop her from leaving while the other grabs her arm and starts cursing at her. She swings her arm free from his clutch and accidentally hits his face with her bag full of trash – he heaves back and throws a well placed punch right in her face. She runs toward the table of tourists to grab a soda bottle to defend herself with while the boys continue to take turns kicking and punching her. The tourists jump away from the table while the restaurant’s waiters try to stop the fight – afterall, the sight of dirty, lonely, hungry vagrants fighting within their property isn’t good for business. While the boys were being driven away by the waiters, the woman frantically looks for her slippers that must have accidentally gotten off in the melee. She can’t afford to lose anything at all.

Suddenly they were all gone, the boys, the woman. The tourists go back to their seats.

The boys have gone to the park’s skating rink to look for that group of high schoolers, while the woman have picked up a piece of wood. She is determined to find the boys. She has lost her slippers, and she can’t afford to lose whatever little she has in this world.

Welcome to Baguio, ca. 2009.

No comments: