Saturday, April 27, 2013

Summer’s children

AFTER a time, I realized what was missing this summer: the sound of children playing on the street.

Summer then was the heat flushing us out to the street. There was no school to regiment our day, only “tubig-tubig,” “bato-lata,” “Japanese game,” and “buwan-buwan.”

The first three games were played even when the sun was at its fiercest. Our elders had not heard of global warming then. Only occasionally would a playmate be called back to their house, face streaming with melted dirt from grimy hands that wiped away sweat to better aim a slipper at the much dented can of sardine in “bato-lata.”

Released later, this kid would have been made to change into a clean white sleeveless undershirt, neck now caked in layers of Johnson’s baby powder but head still emitting the fierce fumes of sun and sweat, laced with Johnson’s baby cologne. And off we went to “biko,” “siatong,” “dakop-dakop” or “tago-tago.”

If the moon was bright and if there was another brown-out, sometimes our elders would lead the evening exodus to the street, where water was poured on the ground to draw and bisect a circle. This line of water meant life and death: running along the line, the “It” tried to tag the player to take his place; the rest of the players ran away from him but had to keep within the circle.

This was life and death in summer then.

Although I can still whiff the smell of summer in a late afternoon bonfire, our street does not ring with the cries of children.

Perhaps computers and smartphones have taken them away. Or they are in the mall, trying to escape the global meltdown while creating more carbon footprints to hasten it.

It is much more complicated to be a child these days. Our children grow up too fast too early. The younger son has a summer job, waiting on fast food diners, washing up, and sorting garbage. Initially, we consented because half of his earnings go to a fund benefiting his school’s scholars.

After he asked permission to work beyond his shift, I hardly recognized the baby I once dandled after siesta. He’s making choices I made not once in the interminable summers of my youth.

Youth is about making choices, not regretting them. In Rebelander S. Basilan’s unforgettable report in Sun.Star Cebu last Apr. 21, 2013, Maria Christina, 11, and Baltazar, nine, Guevara sell fruit salad-flavored ice candy outside the fence of St. Joseph Academy in Mandaue City.

Christina would rather help their mother than go on vacation like other children. Josefina, 37, also sells ice candy to augment the pension of her husband, 67. They have five children.

The Guevara siblings mind their Styrofoam box of ice candy from morning till afternoon. Since Apr. 1, when they began selling ice candy, Christina and Baltazar have earned pocket money. Christina plans to buy a new pair of shoes for June with her funds, P50 as of Apr. 20.

When Rose, 13, earned P500 for the first time, she watched her mother, 40, pocket the money. The same thing happened when Rose earned P200. (Real names are not used.)

When Rose refused to be used by the third stranger, her mother “mauled her, slit her arms with broken scissors, and struck her with a block of wood,” reported Kevin A. Lagunda in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 23, 2013 issue.

In her sworn statement to Tabogon police in April, the fourth grader said in Cebuano that she saw her mother block the door and watch her rape. When Rose asked her mother why she was sold, she was told, “This is for our living.”

Now, this is life and death in summer.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 28, 2013 issue of the main op-ed column

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