There are scenes that tug at the core of our souls, form lumps in our throats and moisten our eyes. Sometimes we manage to laugh them off then forget; at times they prick our conscience.
I was in one of those scenes recently, and since I wrote this on a Sunday, I consider the topic appropriiate.
I was in the school and office supplies section of Gaisano Main in Colon St. browsing through the book “The Silence of the Lambs” sold at bargain price when I saw this young girl not far from where I was standing. She had brown skin and short wavy hair and was wearing the green and white uniform of the University of the Visayas.
But what caught my attention was her staring at the stationery she was holding. When I went to the cashier to pay for the book, I saw her put the stationery back on the shelf. Then she moved to the other items on display, looking at each of them with interest.
She later picked up the stationery again together with one other item and bravely went to the cashier. At that time, I was there waiting for the salesgirl to finish wrapping the book I bought.
The girl gave the cashier P8–a crumpled five peso bill and three pesos in coins–to go with the items she picked up. “That would be P12 in all,” said the cashier, whose face turned from pleasant to sour.
The girl wavered for a while, blood rising to her face. She returned the other item to the shelf and went back to the cashier. “Kana na lang ako,” she said, pointing to the stationery.
“But it will cost you P8.50. Kuwang gihapon na,” the cashier said.
Funny, but I just stood there, the memories of a needy childhood racing back to my mind. I was tempted to pay for the stationery but I didn’t. I was ashamed to play the hero in front of the people there.
The girl walked away and the cashier tucked the unpaid receipt somewhere. I picked up the book and would have walked away had not my conscience bothered me again.
I went back to the school and office supplies section, saw the girl in one corner and told her to take back the item she liked. I gave her P5 and proceeded to the fastfood center. But the pain didn’t go away. Why only P5?
I grew up in Sitio Kawayan, B. Rodriguez Ext., a squatter area, deprived although better than the scavengers there. I did not finish college, choosing instead to join the revolutionary movement and live with the peasants for seven years.
In the countryside, I slept with the exploited and oppressed and experienced the same poverty they endured. But now, life has changed. I have a decent job enough to provide me with a few perks. However, every move upwards sears my conscience because I know others continue to wallow in poverty.
I saw myself in that girl when I was a student without money to buy the things I fancied. I saw in her eyes the same desire, the same craving for what others easily got. And I felt the pain.
I thought that was the end of that scene when for the last time I saw the girl from afar, this time paying the cashier two P5 bills–one of which was the money I gave her–for the item she bought.
I saw in her eyes the satisfaction of finally getting what she wanted. And the burden I bore within me lightened.
(I wrote this in my The Freeman column “Metro Jottings” on July 3, 1994. The message is timeless.–Candido O. Wenceslao)