CORKSCREW-HAIRED and chubby-cheeked, the tot ate crispies from a bag while the woman beside him, who might have been his mother, played with a Play Station Portable.
Waiting to board our flight, the rest of us adults were too preoccupied with a million thoughts to spare him more than a glance and, from some of us females, a smile or two.
But a portly middle-aged man pulling a trolley bag stopped before the munching kid. Stooping a little, the Caucasian held out his upturned palm.
My companion, Cherry, said the child gave the man some of his crispies. Cherry found the child, in the spontaneity of his generosity, to be uncharacteristically child-like. I, on the other hand, said the child was just being his age.
Perhaps closer to truth might have been the observation that children act as others treat them.
The night before, our group nursed our drinks at an alfresco table at Malate. Halfway in our midnight celebration, a child whose top of the head barely reached our table’s edge pressed our companion to buy one of her overpriced red roses.
When her small head suddenly materialized near my elbow, I clutched my bag tighter. For this tot, no distracted, admiring glance was spared. Although I was alert to her presence, I couldn’t look her in the face. I can’t summon her face now as I write, can’t say if she was smiling or sullen-faced, cute as a button or ancient as other street veterans.
Sipping my P95 can of coke and munching the fried pork rind that came with the compliments of the café, I was distracted by this slight shadow from the shoptalk swirling around our table. Told by our companion that he will buy a rose later, the child decided to wait.
When I glanced later, she was lying on the sidewalk as a dog would have made itself comfortable, waiting for scraps to fall from the table. She had placed the cellophane-wrapped roses on her chest. I thought suddenly of the small, white boxes that hold aborted fetuses.
Later, the café guard dragged away the small, unresisting figure. He was stocky, broad of shoulders. To him, she could not have been more cumbersome than a sack of potatoes.
I didn’t see where her roses were while the guard dragged her away. I decided then to sip again from my glass of overpriced coke.
Although I have two boys of my own, I can’t say I know the secrets of children. That information would be, in market terms, worth a lot. Lost in a maze-like mall in Roxas, I reflected that knowing what children want will bring the most piercing ecstasy to anyone caught in the whirlpool of expectations and second guessing.
Parents who want the best for their offspring; school owners trying to convince parents their institution offers the best guarantee for their children’s future; product merchandisers persuading buyers that this brand or style offers the best value for money or best impression on school opening day—every one chases after figments or shadows, hoping to come upon the key to unlock the secret to young hearts and minds.
Lost in our dreams, whether for “value-based education” or the hippest school accessory, we miss the obvious.
The outstretched hand, encouraging smile, averted glance, the lunge to secure one’s possessions, the indifferent hauling away of a street eyesore.
With such obvious gestures is a child taught best the lessons that will never be forgotten.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 1, 2008 issue