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Keeping On

I vacationed in my hometown one unusually hot summer. The searing temperature made me crave one day for a refreshing treat for some relief. I decided to buy halo-halo, a local cold treat which is a mixture of shaved ice, sweet preserved beans, jack fruit, sweet yam, sliced sweetened plantain, and pounded dried rice. I love it when the mixture is topped with ice cream.


I found a halo-halo stand just a few corners away from our house. The halo-halo stand was a wobbly wooden table placed under a mango tree. The leaves of the tree covered the stand from the intense rays of the sun. The vendor was a girl who was about 12 or 13 years old.

I ordered one serving and the girl immediately started to shave the block of ice with a shiny metal ice shaver. She then proceeded to take out small amounts of the ingredients which were inside the jars laid out in a row. She put the shaved ice and the delectable ingredients into a glass and topped it with a scoop of ice cream. The glass started to perspire and the scorching air started to melt the ice cream. I started to eat the colorful concoction. Everything about the routine of preparing a halo-halo was very familiar to me.

Ilang taon ka na? I asked the girl, wishing I was wrong in thinking she was only 13 years old. I had wished she was older.

Thirteen po, she answered.
So next year high school ka na? I said.

Grade 5 pa lang po. Tumigil kasi ako, she seemed embarrassed.

Sige lang, basta aral lang ng aral, I tried to encourage her.

Ayaw ko na po mag-high school. Wala kaming pera eh. Tapos, tinutukso pa ako ng classmates ko, amoy paninda raw ako, she told me.

Bakit, wala namang amoy ang halo-halo ah, I said.

Sa umaga po kasi nagtitinda ako ng isda tapos diresto na sa school, came her reply.

The scorching air suddenly became a little cold and there was a sudden rush of memories in my head.

'Wag ka mag-give up. Subukin mo lang mag-trabaho. ’Wag ka mahiyang magtinda. Matinong trabaho ’yan. Dapat nga proud ka eh, I said.

Pero minsan po talagang nakakapagod. Araw-araw gigising ako sobrang aga, magtitinda, tutuksuhin ng mga classmate ko pagpasok. Madalas ganun, she explained. I noticed tears were starting to well in her eyes.

I told her the story of a girl who also experienced peddling on the streets when she was young. The girl peddled minoron, puto, ice candy, tamarind candy, and halo-halo. She was also teased from time to time by her classmates. At 13, she went to the city and stayed with a relative who paid for her school fees. It entailed helping out in the household chores. It wasn’t easy for her being away from her family at such a young age. Di pa kasi uso ang cellphone noon. When she would get sad and lonely, all she could do was run to a nearby church and cry. But she endured everything just so she could continue studying.

Alam mo ba kung ano na ang ginagawa niya ngayon? Masaya na siya kasi may work na siya. Natulungan na rin niyang makatapos ang mga kapatid niya. Hindi naman siya naging mayaman pero mas mabuti na ang buhay niya kaysa noon. At 'yan ay dahil nagtiyaga siya sa pag-aaral, I told her.
Kakilala mo po siya? she asked.

Kakilala ko siya syempre kasi ako ‘yun, iha, I winked and smiled at her, handed her the payment for the halo-halo, and started walking home.

When summer was over, I prepared to leave for the city. On my way to the airport, the car I was in stopped at a pedestrian lane near a school to give way to children who were crossing. It was the first day of school. I saw a familiar face among the children. It was the girl, the vendor. She smiled at me and shouted with so much enthusiasm, Ma-eskwela na ak!

As the car bounced violently over the rutted dirt road, I looked in the rearview mirror after we passed by the school. I saw the girl waving her hand at me as she entered the school’s gate. I realized then and there that by telling my story, I can somehow change for the better another person's life. And so ever since I met that girl, I have been sharing to others the story of my life.


► About the Author:
Miss N has always been very vocal about her life, especially her childhood, in the hope that those who are able to read her stories can learn a lesson or two from her past. She would be happy if you could join her in living and celebrating life at www.nortehanon.com
► Read Ms. N's previous articles here.


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