Tony ran out the house right after he finished brushing his teeth. “Now, where do you think you’re going?” yelled his Mom.
“Ramon’s house, Mom. I’ll come home soon.” Tony yelled back and dashed down the hill. He wiped the sweat off his face with the front of his T-shirt as he stood in front of the door. “Ramon! Ramon! Let’s go!” he yelled and then knocked at the door. His fist almost hit Ramon’s face when the latter quickly opened the door.
The sun beat on them as they walked barefoot down the village. Enduring the heat, they managed to wear a smile. What on earth were they thinking?
Panting, they reached a make shift shade near the fields. The bamboo leaves covering the canopy were thick enough to block the UV rays. “Good morning Aunties!” they chorused to some women sitting next to each other and chewing beetle nuts. Occasionally, they seem to be taking turns spitting the red chemical on the ground just outside the shade.
“With the temperature rising to 37 degrees Celsius, you don’t need to worry about stepping on them as the red liquids will evaporate in seconds.” Tony whispered. Both kids chuckled.
“Hey boys, what are you doing here? You should be out there playing.” One chubby lady scolded Tony and Ramon.
“We won’t stay long here, Auntie! Don’t worry, there are plenty of tobacco leaves and your earnings won’t decrease. We are slow workers.” Ramon said, smiling and then winked at Tony. The rest of the women laughed as the scolding woman squirmed.
Alas! Four muscled men emerged from the fields. Showing no pain on their faces, they balanced on their shoulders a bamboo pole with huge baskets of freshly harvested tobacco leaves dangling on the opposite ends. Each basket weighed around 40 pounds. They effortlessly dumped the leaves in front of Tony and others in the shade and quickly left to collect more leaves. Saying “hmm’s” and “aah’s”, Tony and others found their own space and sat around the hill of tobacco leaves as if it was a god to be worshipped.
With sticks in their hands they expertly skewered the stalks of the tobacco leaves on 14-inch bamboo sticks making sure that the leaves were alternately facing outwards.
“Now, tell me how to do this.” Tony asked his friend, holding a stick on one hand and a tobacco leaf on the other hand.
“Easy man! You know...monkey see monkey do? See that Auntie over there? How she skewers the leaves facing outwards, back to back, and almost of the same lengths? You can do it, man,” said Ramon, patting his friend’s back.
The boys went on with their work. They surely had some mission to accomplish that day.
First leaf, second leaf, and then “Ouch!” Tony uttered in pain. Blood started to flow out of the tip of his right index finger. By instinct, he immediately put it in his mouth to suck the blood and to ease the pain. And then “Yuck!” he said, as he spat out the bitter liquid. “Why is it bitter?” he asked Ramon.
“Hey, city boy! The bitter taste came from the tobacco leaves.” Ramon answered, laughing and wrapping his friend’s finger with a piece of cloth that he fished out of his pocket. He seemed to have foreseen this, learning from his past experience. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Two hours past and their stomachs started chewing on their spines. The big boss came and started counting the sticks of tobacco leaves. Ramon got 50 and Tony got 20 –a lot less than the Aunties had skewered.
“That will be 10 centavos per stick so here is 5 pesos for you Ramon and 2 pesos for you Tony.” The boss said with a big grin on his face. “Not bad for a city boy like you, Tony. I bet you are enjoying your summer holidays? The man said. “And are you kids coming again tomorrow?”
“We will, sir.” The boys chorused. “As long as you give us more money.” They laughed and left without waiting for the boss’ response.
On their way home, they stopped at a store. Putting their money together, they bought 2 chocolate bars each. “This is too good, Tony. I’ll save the other bar for my little brother. He will surely enjoy it.” Ramon said, wiping his sweat with his T-shirt’s sleeve.
“Now, that’s sweet!” Ramon said, and had another bite of his chocolate.
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