My life is a story of packing up and moving out. I was only ten the first time I left home. I could still recall the tears rolling down my mother’s cheeks as she packed my things in a nice little trunk. I and my sister Maria were to leave for the city the next morning. We should be thrilled. Every child in the village thought we were lucky. It was everybody’s dream to see the big city. That night before we left, we tried to talk our father out of his decision to let us study under the missionary nuns in the city. We told him we would rather study in the local school, having studied there for the past three years. We did not want to leave our friends. My father dismissed as silly our protestation. I saw my mom shake her head as father tried to convince us everything was for our own good. I knew she understood the torment we were going through. I guess because women invest much of their lives in caring and nurturing they understand the pain involved in uprooting yourself from what I call your world space. That evening, my sister and I cried ourselves to sleep.
My father was right about the big city. It was a beautiful place where lights danced at night and people never went to sleep. He was also right about big stores where we could find plenty of chocolates and toys. I smile as I remember that each time I pass those stores, I could not resist dipping my hands into my pockets trying to search for some pennies I know were not there. I wasn't alone longing for what I can not get. The picture of dirty-faced kids in tattered clothes just staring at the candies with their sunken eyes and protruding bellies being shoved out by the store's security guard is still etched in my mind. I remember writing to my parents about these children. I guess even as a child, I was already puzzled as to how a place can shimmer in such glitter and look so alive while its children roam the streets wearing empty looks in their unwashed faces.
There was something on those dirty faces that I found disturbing. Back in our village, as kids, we got dirty playing and having fun or helping our parents in the farm but always it was a nice excuse to go to the river for a long fun filled swim. Folks in our village encouraged children to play and enjoy themselves. We chose to be dirty and getting dirty was fun. It could not be true for those kids. Being dirty was no choice. Just like their protruding bellies thrusting out on their fragile frame, the thick dirt that lined their skin was a badge of poverty they were forced to wear on their innocent bodies.
My dad told me I was going to love watching the sunset in the city. I thought that was silly. Sunsets just come and go as sunsets did in my village. What was to love about it? No, it was not silly. Watching the sunset by the sea which fringed the city was an experience of a lifetime. The breathtaking show of the sun changing its hue as it was devoured by the sea still play on my mind. The sea by itself looked enchanting. It was hard to resist its calls for one to go naked and play with its waves. I remembered the children. They must have heard the call. Did they ever respond to the it? Did they ever savor the luxury of dipping into the sea's cool blue water? If they didn't, could it be that their empty bellies muffled the sweet calling sound so they could not respond to the sea's invitation? Or could it be that they tried but their bodies were just too emaciated to even try wrestling with the waves? Damn! Were those the questions I should be asking?
Note: This is a revised version of the original which first appeared on my main blog, Before The Sun Sets. I intended it to be a social commentary when I first wrote it but while it received lots of favorable comments, none of the readers saw it from that lens which I understand.