Sena drooped her shoulders and sank on the nearest empty crate on the walk path. Leng-Leng, at two, weighed like a ten-kilo sack of rice on Sena’s waist. They had walked two miles to Manila. Seated, her eleven-year-old frame trusted the small box to hold them securely. The back of her palm greased with caked dust as she wiped off the sweat on her forehead. Her deep black hair tussled with heavy smoke and dust. She combed her stiff shoulder-length black hair with her fingers.
She remembered her mother’s words as she was leaving for Manila before sun-up.
“Sena, will you take Leng-Leng? I’m washing and ironing laundry for Mrs. Cruz today.”
“Opo, Na-nay.” Sena said with a nod, and she clapped. “Come, Leng. Hop onto my back. Hold tight!”
Happy to have baby sister along. She skipped out the door with Leng saddled on her back. It dreaded her to leave sweet Leng-Leng at home with their drunken Ta-tay.
They had headed to Delia’s Florist to pick up five dozens of white sampaguita bud-necklaces. They walked to their stations to vend the fresh flowers.
“Leng, there’s food to eat t’night.” Sena said as she fondly kissed her sister.
“Mother has washing and ironing to do today." She usually cooked soy-sauced chicken feet and a big bowl of rice on special days as this. She licked her lips and smiled.
White sampaguita bud-necklaces hung over her wrist. Matrons bought from her every Wednesday afternoon at the Cathedral.
A tightening pain clenched in her empty stomach. Her small frame battled with the noonday heat, humid, and smoke. As usual, breakfast skipped their good-sized-box-home. Again, Ta-tay pinched their meager savings on gin.
“Hey, Sena! Look! Hi, Leng!” Yolanda bragged.
Sena didn’t understand how 14-year-old friend, could have so much money bulging in her dress-pockets. Yoly, her adult male acquaintances called her. Maybe they gave to Yolanda because they felt generous. And in just half a day!
In a half day’s work, Yoly wore-out her body and spirit in exchange for a trifle of pittance. Sena’s mother’s admonition to never ask from anyone, even from Yolanda-- rang in her ears. Na-nay’s warnings ingrained in her heart, despite the ravenous pangs of hunger she felt.
“Come to lunch with me? My treat!”
Sena watched her friend’s retreating figure lost in the crowd. Her eyes drooped. She stared at, then sniffed the white sampaguita buds. How fragrant!
“Iha, are you hungry?” Mommy Lodette said, gently tapping Sena’s shoulder.
Lodette endeared the street-kids“Iha” for girls, and “Iho for boys. She’d called each one, “Anak”(my child), in the years of visiting with the homeless children. She’d been a
casual friend to the street kids. And they called her Mommy-Lodette.
(A pastor’s wife, Lodette visits with Manila’s street-kids on weekdays, and Sunday afternoons.)
“Here, Sena. You and Leng-Leng may eat these sugared buns, and bananas.” She always had something for the children to eat. In a few minutes, more children thronged the threesome. Mommy-Lodette drew more buns from her plastic bags for the hungry children.
Lodette smiled and craned her neck. She longed for Yolanda to come soon at their meeting place. She whispered a prayer for Yolanda—“Lord God, please save her from evil men.”
‘Yoly’s feasting!” The others smirked, winked, and elbowed each other.
“Tell us more ‘bout kind Jesus, Mommy-Lodette?” Sena said.
Jeepneys honked. Buses trafficked the busy Manila on the noonday. Passers-by rushed in and out of eateries. Sena still offered her white sampaguitas to passers-by.
Despite the din of traffic, Lodette began, “The woman at the well met with Jesus," Lodette paused.
Running from the other side of the street, Yolanda appeared. She sat on the filthy pavement where all the children huddled and listened as the story was told. Sena squeezed Yolanda’s hand. Today, her poor friend would hear of her Best Friend, Jesus-- whom she’d been telling Yolanda for so long.
“The Biblia says ,”There’s joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” Lodette finished, reverently closed her Bible.
Six months past.
Among the dressed in white robes, standing behind the
Sena, in Sunday dress. She and Na-nay clasping hands, witnessing this glorious day-- baptisms in Pasig River!
normal'>The small church congregation broke-out in joyful singing in Tagalog.
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe.
Yolanda sang with all her heart.