Text and photographs by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
It’s summer. Adi and Vandolph are looking for something to do. Both are seven years old, and while they are not sure if they’re cousins or just plain neighbors whose families are very close, they both are content to spend their hours together playing or looking for adventures.
“Ate! (Big sister!)” they yell at me. “Kunan mo kami ng litrato! (Take pictures of us!)” I am sitting on the waterfront, and these two boys saunter towards me on the paved walk along Manila Bay. They see that I am holding a camera.
It makes one feel both amused and deeply grieved to look at these two boys smiling. Their faces are dirty, and so’s the rest of their small bodies. One has on a pair of old rubber slippers; the other is barefoot. One is wearing a grimy shirt to pair with his equally grimy shorts; the other goes around partially naked. Both, however, are cheerful — and it is the inherent innocence of childhood that saves them from despairing over their circumstances.
Neither of them has had lunch. It is 4:30 in the afternoon and they are both hungry. They are easily appeased by a pack of cookies each. Later on, I buy them samalamig and an ice cream cone each. Their sunburned skin looks painful, and their hair is streaked with gold.
“Kailangan ko ng bagong tsinelas, Ate (I need new slippers, Big Sister),” Adi shyfully says. Vandolph scoffs at him, saying he doesn’t need slippers because his feet are tougher than rubber.
I ask them if they know how to read. Neither answer, but both go on to chatter about how much they want to take a swim.
The waters of Manila Bay is black and foul, and a subtle stench rises and falls as waves hit the rocks that line the breakwater walls. I point to them a sign that warns against swimmers, but they stare at it blankly.
For the next hour or so, I ask them about their lives, and they ask me about mine. I am interested in theirs, but they laugh when I tell them I write for a living.
“Magsusulat ka tungkol sa amin? (Will you write about us?)”
I look down at the rocks teeming with small lice-like creatures, algae, the occasional crab, the blackened jetsam in the water and I think, these two children mean no more to the government than these things do.
Of course I’ll write about you, I tell them.
“Puntahan mo kami ulit, ha? (Come and see us again, okay?)” Adi says. He’s the sweet one.
Adi smirks, “Oo, ate — dalhan mo kami ng tsinelas! (Yeah, bring us slippers!)” He’s a toughie.