Packed like sardines
inside a jeepney*—
with a jeepney strike going on.
mother and child ride along.
Greasy, dirty, malnourished…
The woman holds a can—
a makeshift drum.
Little boy hands out envelopes,
he looks like he's 3 years old,
he's most likely 6.
Woman beats her drum,
chatter drowning out the rhythm…
Invisible ears to go with
His head touches my legs,
an indicator of how long
he's been under the sun and smog
The thought chills me…
He stares at my sister's shopping bags
with searing eyes…
Windows that I can’t bear to look into,
afraid to see my reflection of clouded guilt and frustration
I shake my head, no food to share
but my hands reach out to his,
to give him some money.
My sister remembers a bottle of iced tea,
and hands it to him.
He has a hard time opening it,
and asks for help from the school girls…
I reach out and get the bottle from him
for a body that is parched,
for a soul who is thirsty for so much more.
I cannot help but gulp in guilty air.
He sits on the aisle,
savoring the tea
as his mother thumps on the can.
The little boy retrieves envelopes, all empty—
as hollow as the sound of the beating drum.
What do you do,
what can you do?
The jeepney stops.
They alight from it...
The mother looks back
and says, "Salamat.*"
It goes straight to my heart.
Her eyes move me most—
one eye is cloudy, grayed out,
perhaps a manifestation
of the storms in her life?
That single word seared through me,
and I felt how much she meant it…
Her thank you
made me want to give so much more,
to call out to her and give whatever I had at the moment
but they are gone...
Lost in a crowd of faceless people,
and I myself want to get lost,
hide my face in shame…
What can you do?
--For Debbie’s Tell Me a Story contest…
*jeepney—is a public transportation vehicle here
*Salamat is “Thank You”