Under the Banilad Bridge
Photo by Dorothy Lee
“Joell! Ali! Nakuyapan si Marisse! ‘Wa na siya nagginhawa!”
But most of us here, dwelling in this well of filth, knew it was bound to happen. Marisse was too slow, and her immune system was worse.
But it is too soon. Too early.
We gave it 3 months, right after her brother died of poisoning, but there she was following his tread after only one.
Every day is always uncertain for us. We never know when one will be hit by a speeding truck or “brought by the police to social workers.”
The second one’s a total lie. We definitely know why we never hear from those taken ever again.
But that is our life and all we can do is try to survive. We are the kids under the bridge.
If you have tried walking to the Talamban-bound PUV terminal from Banilad Town Center, you may have seen us. Or you may have heard us, calling you – and yes, there is fun in seeing your agitated faces.
It was on April 20 when I saw him dressed in his posh-looking clothes, with Nike shoes that I bet were as expensive as 6 months’ worth of scrap – and that is if I double my time.
When he passed by the bridge, I approached him and asked if he had any spare change.
That’s it – as harmless as that.
So what he said next really took me by surprise.
“Ayaw’g duol nako. Please lang. Manimaho pa lang kog canal”, he said with a shrill voice.
“Bisag singko lang. Palihug na. Wa pami’y kaon sa akong manghod” I replied.
“Niya sala na nako? Mao nang makuha ninyong adik-adik
“Wa may mu kuha namo. Mao wa mi lain mahimo”
It’s true. If we had any way out of this distressing life we are in, we’d immediately take our shot. But for now, all we can do is jump trucks; steal scraps of metal and plastic, and sell them. The only things keeping me sane, to be honest, are these books I found outside an elementary school.
I was only able to attend up until Grade 3, until my father got killed and my mother abandoned me, but I had an idea on how to read a bit, and a plus was that the books were for 6th graders. At night, when all the other kids are cramped up under the bridge or in the nearby shed, I go outside and try to read the books by the light of the street lamp.
One time, a group of drunken men from around the area approached me. They started surrounding me, “Kuyawa ‘ning Joell oh. Basa-basa man ug libro. Pinamay kaayo.”
“Hilasa gud nimo, Joell. Naa diay ka ma adtoan anang basa-basa nimo?”
“Bisag unsaon na nimo, ‘dong, pobre ra jud ka.”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to lash out at them. But what could I do? I was a mere 18-year old and I knew what these men were capable of. So instead, I simply left them and their echoing slurs. Honestly, though, it’s not our fault that we had to look for a compromise.
People think we’re looking for the easy way out, avoiding working hard. Pero diri man mi na padpad.
They don’t know that a lot of us here, mostly the kids, fantasize of even just wearing a school uniform all the time. How our hearts ache every time we see school kids going home, prancing around in their school’s colors.
For now, that is all we could do. Aspire.
Go on with our day-to-day mischiefs to survive.
But I know one day, I will get my shot.