Ten Pesos and the Seven Heavens
By Jason Paul Laxaman
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
“Mr. Macario,” called an interviewer, “Could you please tell us your story about your success as one of the country’s leading service manager?”
That was my first time of encountering that question.
“Ah, my story… There were many hardships but they brought me to the seventh heaven.”
That question made me reminisce how I got my feet in this carpeted, office building.
“Come,” I said to the media man. I invited him to my private office. It was a holiday anyway. I had time for the interview. Clearing my throat, I started to channel my past memories into my voice, and I began to unfold…
I lived with my mother in a squatter near an urban world. Our house was then just made up of pieces of wood, leaves and many other garbage materials. I went out to throw some trash when I heard Manang Trina and Manang Pertivos talking about squatter children.
“The police caught six children of varying age robbing different products in the Public Market,” Manang Trina said with handy gestures.
I wasn’t surprised. I heard the same story about street children stealing in the market, either from vendors or buyers, every now and then. However, that wasn’t the end of the old lady’s tale.
She continued, “People now have become more cautious about underage beggars. Ernest, my eldest son, was just ignored all day. No one offered him some money.”
That was different. I began to have premonitions of the period when all people ignored street children because of many documented cases of shoplifting and thievery. But just then, I ignored it and labeled it as a gossip.
While my sick mother was still sleeping, I rose up in the lowness of the rising sun. I decided to go to the Public Market to beg for alms or money. Lucky me, I got the place where most buyers pass. I sat down and prepared for any early-riser to pass by. While waiting, I heard a bustling sound coming to the market. The people are coming! I got ready and seeing a woman, I quickly approached her and stretched out my hand. Like a passing breeze, she just bypassed me like I was an invisible creature. But unlike a passing breeze, it wasn’t pleasant. I’ve seen that woman many times and begged for some coins before. Why? It was then that I remembered the words of Manang Trina and my premonition. Many more people walked by, and we, the street children, increased in number. We drew out our coin cups and palms, but no coin dropped from the hands of the crowd.
I followed and begged for at least a peso from an old, fat lady, and to my surprise, she yelled, “Go away! You thieves deserve to starve!”
That was unexplainable. Up until afternoon, I sat on the corner, with my container still empty.
“Okay, I surrender,” I told myself.
I went home and told my poor mother about what the new trend is: not giving coins to kids because they are thieves. “What are we going to do, Mom?” I asked her while she drank the last of her pills. She told me that she’s going to be the one who will go in the market the next day. But she was ill. How can she go there with a severe cold? Still, she insisted, and my only job was to watch over the house the whole day.
Mother came home after asking for alms in the market. The plan worked, and so with the other families in our squatter. Older people were less thought to be as cheaters, because really they were not, well, at least, not a single bad record. She got P51.00. She lied down to rest as she asked me to buy some medicine. I obeyed.
“Pay P41.00,” the cashier lady told me.
Gladly, I had enough money. The lady gave me my change: P10.00. I happily went home to give the medicine that will ease the sufferings of my sick parent, but when I got home, it was strange for me that I heard something or someone breathing abnormally. I went to my mother and I found her there—the one breathing abnormally!
“Mom!” I shouted. She looked like she couldn’t breath. I gave my mother her medicines, but she wasn’t listening. I said to her that I will get some water, but she didn’t let me.
Instead, she called me by her side as she said with terrible coughs, “How much money do you have left?”
I started to get nervous of what was happening.
“I still have ten pesos,” I answered, “Will I buy more pills?”
“I don’t think I can make it,” she poorly announced. I froze there. What did she mean? Was she going to… die?
“No! Mom, don’t leave me!”
She was over fatigued by her work this day, which supposed to be was mine.
“Thomas,” my mother called me while gripping me weakly, “you only have ten pesos left. Take care of yourself. Promise me to use that money wisely and never steal. Children aren’t presented with coins anymore. Please, remember!”
With her last shout and last cough, her hand let go off me. With all my tears, I shouted her name. Her deep breathing was replace by no breathing. She died. All neighbors came. They pitied the scene, took my mother to be buried, while I was left there weeping like I’ve been wounded.
What will happen to me now—now that I’m alone, and now that street children are thought of as robbers? I have no relatives or friends, and nobody from this squatter will surely raise me. A ten-peso bill… that was the only money I have left. Had my father been here, but no, he was dead long ago.
“Use the money wisely and never steal…” That was the last request of my mother. I had no choice. I can’t do anything but to go on with life as a poor child in this world—a world where I have to struggle, a world where nobody was there to help, and a world in this period when street children are ignored.
I tried to collect money in the Public Market, though I knew I had the least chance from all those adults begging for coins. I secured my ten-peso bill in my dirty pocket. I haven’t yet thought of the way to spend it with proper. With full patience and determination, I tried to make myself look pitiful, but still no one fell for my drama. One time, a boy was about to give me five pesos, but then, “Rick! Would you come here and leave that boy alone!” His grandfather yelled at him. I haven’t yet touched the coin, but Rick, as the old man called him, went to his grandfather. The man said to Rick, “Don’t give money to thieves…” I began feeling emotional about the crowd. What a sickening world! I never thought metropolitan people would be as bad as Scrooge. After some minutes, I gained confidence again to solicit for some currency. I approached a teenage girl while she was observing some cabbages. She was an angel, I tell you. She gave me fifteen pesos without an eerie look or an insulting phrase. Just as I was about to put the grace I received on my pocket, three bigger street boys took hold of me. I tried to struggle, but when I freed myself, the blessing I just received from heaven was stolen by creatures from hell.
I quitted. All my work made me thirsty. I drank with an empty stomach in a water fountain where all other street children were playing around, not bearing the hard work I have for myself. The sun was setting down and I chose an area where I could sleep with nothing but newspapers. I slept holding a cup in my hand, hoping that another angel drops a coin. Someone did, but I was asleep. Not knowing how much it was, while I was soundly asleep, it was again snatched from me by other children.
I woke-up with a burning stomach. I remembered my ten pesos. I saw a banana cue stand. One stick cost P2.00. Running near it, I felt something which prohibited me. Was it the wind or was it just me? I remembered my deceased mother when she was still paving her way towards the afterlife. I weakened. My mother surely didn’t tell me to spend the money with banana cues. So what am I going to do? I’m damn hungry! If only somebody would help me, but no one will. Logically, if I would spend my money right now, I won’t have anything left for probably the rest of my life. But I was really hungry. I saw a garbage truck pass by. The trashy aroma gave me an idea.
I followed the huge vehicle. After a short run, there… Just as I thought, I would find a street children’s paradise—what I called heaven. The garbage dump was flocked not only by blowflies but also by the likes of me. Like them, I learned gradually the art of digging below the waste products to find any kind of food—rotten or fresh—and socializing with insects. I could even eat dog food or vomit with my current condition. Voila! For the first time, I found a rotten apple with few worms inside. I cut it into two, got rid of the little worms, and went to the nearest stream to wash it. Like munching over a slice of pizza, I enjoyed the dark-yellow, but enough-for-me, apple. I became satisfied. I returned to the realm of poverty to search. I was getting better at that. I found a can of leftover corned beef and a half-eaten hotdog sandwich, two of which I would respectively eat for lunch and dinner. Some attempted to snatch my food like my coins, but throughout my lessons, I learned how to fight.
I also gained company, and that filled a part of my stomach and my heart. It was very different from being alone. But at times of need for provision, we could only say to each other, “May the best man win.”
I didn’t know that there were two paradises for the likes of me. I saw the river where many dirty kids swam to bathe themselves. I took off my clothes and my bottoms to be a member of that group of swimmers. That became my entertainment, what I considered the second heaven as an orphan. After all, I found a way to survive from hunger in this horrific planet. As I placed my clothes beside a mossy rock, I dived. I haven’t found such joy in my alone life like this! Peeking from the waters, I checked my clothes again. A boy was probing them. I hurriedly swam on the shore to shoo the kid away, and I became successful. Then I inspected my clothes, too, like an autopsy specialist. I found a paper—a brown paper. It was my ten pesos. I remembered Mom.
I clothed myself and thought of the best way where I can spend this bill for something useful. I didn’t know if I had to keep my promise for my mother. I could have already spent it! I had a reservoir of food: the garbage dump. I also found recreation in the river. But then, I started to look at my reflection in the waters. I became a poverty animal, and that just wasn’t me. I still remembered when my mother was alive. Those were the days. I said sorry to my mother, though I couldn’t see her. Still, I know she was guiding me. At least, I hadn’t broken my promise yet. I didn’t splurge my ten pesos on foolish means, and neither did I steal from the Public Market, which was already dwelt by selfish people.
Following where all other street children went to, I think I found the third paradise of my struggling life. There they were on that rectangular grassland, boys and girls having their territories above the mango trees. I thought they were harvesting some mangoes, but I was wrong. Still, what they were busy about is yellow, but it wasn’t mango. It was rugby. They spotted me and I didn’t move.
“Try it,” they enticed me. I had no knowledge of what it was or what it does.
“This prevents you from being hungry,” a boyish girl told me.
“With this,” added by another girl, “for just five pesos, you will learn how to sneakily steal.”
“Steal…” That word echoed deep inside my head. My conscience reminded me of my mother.
“Don’t steal,” it whispered. Thinking of a way of escaping what I thought was the third heaven, I thought of an alibi.
“I already had a sniff,” I said, seeing all other boys inhaling the poison which will immorally lead them to their so-called ecstasy. I went away. That was close! Thinking over, maybe my conscience wasn’t the one who reminded me of my mother. It was the other way around: Mom reminded me of my conscience! Knowing I just defeated temptation, that was the third heaven, I thought. I kept in my mind my very kind mother, who sacrificed her life for our living.
Being tired easily, I slept on the sidewalk. Then, I found myself on my mother’s side below the blue and cloudy skies.
“You’re doing good,” my mother remarked. “You are keeping your promise. You’re such a good child. Don’t worry. You’re going to get through all this. Your promise, Thomas. Remember your promise… your promise.”
The voice faded. My consciousness woke me up. It was just a dream. It was worth it after all. Through dreams, my mother can deliver to me her messages.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I remembered, remember, and will remember my promise,” I spoke to her. I assured myself that my mother is guiding me. After that dream, I believed I just got into the fourth heaven of my life. But then, something bewildered me. Considering when I slept, I remember I rested on the sidewalk. But then, I found myself on a dark room with other kids, but they were smiling and wide-awake. Were we kidnapped? I didn’t know. But surely, something I didn’t know was occurring. A tall, stout man entered and turned the lights on.
“Wake up kids,” he said gently.
I asked the nearest boy, “What are we doing here?”
“Oh, we were brought here because we are poor street children, aren’t we? We toil in exchange of free shelter and food. Thank God!” My eyes nearly feel out. That was the fifth paradise for poor orphans like me! I can gladly work without any payment, just to be able to eat freshly cooked food and be able to shelter myself from the sun or rain.
I was very glad. Imagine, sleeping in the sidewalk and waking-up with instant good news like a delivered periodical to one’s doorstep. I dedicated my life to my work in exchange of survival. Still, I have my ten-pesos with me. That rang the bell for my mother’s memoriam. With my current condition, what am I to do with my money, but to keep it to jog in my memory the presence of my beloved mother, my fourth heaven? I worked and worked and I am much more satisfied with this kind of life. I mean, I’m satisfied that I’m working hard for this man trading a family as payment. But all this was stopped when suddenly a suspicious day arrived. Someone tried to kill Mr. Ferdinand with his intoxicated food, the man who served as our father! The center was in chaos. Luckily, Mr. Ferdinand smelt the food before eating it. The maids were summoned and also the garage workers, as well as the janitors. Mr. Ferdinand was enraged. I didn’t imagine him—a kindhearted Santa Claus—could be such a loud monster. I don’t blame him. Who was the killer? Then, I remembered that I served him food yesterday. I started to sweat that I might be accused of doing such. But I assure you: I did not! Just as I thought, one of the maids pointed me. “He did it, Sir. He was the last one who served your meal. He even prepared it!” My heart was like a galloping horse and my eyes like a thousand waterfalls. “No, it’s not me!” But then, Mr. Ferdinand was convinced. “If ever I did it, I didn’t mean it!” I told him. But his ears flapped close. I got expelled from the fifth heaven of my life.
My mind was dominated by confusions. What have I done? I did not do anything! My mother knows it. I was innocent! I planned to approach the center again to confront the people, but I didn’t have enough bravery left. After a day, I started to starve. My first two heavens were far from that place, and I didn’t have the knowledge of the directions back. That night, I kept dreaming of my survival. Dreams or visions, I didn’t care. Only in my delta and alpha states of mind, I find partial fill for my ravenous spirit. I hungered for food and for reasons why such things are permitted from heaven to transpire on me. I wiped my tears away. I thought this was the perfect time to consume my only money left—the ten-peso bill. In the shadows of the stars, I searched for a food stand. I found an empty street. I proceeded, thinking my fortune can lead me into salvation. Not far from my former position, I smelled something weird. It was a bit foul. I had heard of tales of stinky night monsters, but as far as I believe, those were just stories by elders to scare children. I was hoping to find something which would scare me, but instead, I found a bloody man lying on the pavement.
I didn’t expect seeing a bleeding, unconscious man lying in front of me. He was most likely run over by a car, but no. I approached him and found a knife plucked on that man’s back. I felt tension rise on me like mercury in a thermometer. I shouted for help. I found the mansions positioned on the side. I slammed at their gates but no one would come out. It was summer. Maybe these wealthy people went on vacation. The only thought I had was removing the knife from the back of the man. Then, a tricycle passed by slowly. I called it and I asked him to bring us to the nearest hospital or at least, a first aid headquarters. Riding the tricycle with a blood-bathed man on my weak laps, I felt his chest and his heart was beating, not as fast as mine. The tricycle driver went full speed just to reach the hospital. I never thought the nearest hospital would be that distant.
After some kilometers, we got into a huge hospital. I yelled, “Emergency! Help!” The nurses and other hospital workers came outside dashing with a transport table. They took the man dripping with blood from me. “He’s still alive,“ a nurse commented. That lessened the stress I was experiencing. “That was close!” I told myself. With what I’ve done, I forgot I was starving. And just now, I remember it. I planned to continue my search for food in that place unknown by me, although I have stain in my shirt. Just as I was about to walk away to forget the incident, the tricycle driver called me. He was asking for the payment. “I… I have no money.” “Don’t lie, kid,” the driver said. I looked at my pocket, only to see my money almost exposed. “Okay, how much?” I asked. “This is very far from the city back there… P15.00.” What am I going to do? “But I only have ten pesos.” He considered it. He drove away with my money—my remembrance of my mother—my only entrance towards salvation from starvation, which I thought was the next stage of heaven for me. I fell on my knees. My hunger is scourging me. With fiery pains in my stomach, I just sat on one corner, cried, until I bought a ticket to sleep. I hoped that I could dream. I hope I could come back on the fourth heaven again: in my dreams where my mother lives on.
At last! I’m dreaming. I found my mother again with a smile as never before. Our time was brief. She just told me, “You’ve accomplished your first promise to me, my dear Thomas…” Then, I woke-up, still bearing heavy emptiness on my insides. But still, I saw a little spark of happiness when I reminisced my dream. I agreed. I used my only money in the most proper way I could imagine… using it in service for others. With just ten pesos, I prevented a man from being sucked into the lonely world of the dead. I shouted in my mind, “I kept my promise, mother. I will also keep my second promise.” After doing something good, I felt I advanced in the sixth heaven from the fourth. I have no plans of stealing. My only plan then was either to sit there and decay or to wait for manna to rain from the firmament.
My face turned to the view of the parking area of the hospital—the place that gave me an ID to enter the academy of the sixth heaven. I saw a van rushing in. Then, a stout man came out from the vehicle. He seemed familiar. Reddish face, colorless lips, slightly Chinese eyes… it’s Mr. Ferdinand. I stood up and wondered. Little by little I went to get a peek of what he’s up to. Behind the wastebasket, I heard Mr. Ferdinand saying with speed, “Where’s my son? Where’s my son? Is he okay? Is he alive?” “Calm down, Sir,” a nurse replied, “He’s okay now.” Mr. Ferdinand dashed and maybe he went straight to wherever he plans to go to. “Wait a minute,” I whispered. “Could it be that the man I just saved is… Mr. Ferdinand’s own son?” It was not a coincidence. It was just the mysterious workings of God above.
After some minutes, Mr. Ferdinand comes out and a nurse pointed at me with excitement. “There he is, Sir!” Mr. Ferdinand recognized me. “Thomas? Is that you?” He came running at me and embraced me tightly after wards. “Thank you. You saved my only treasure in life.” But wait a minute! I thought he hated me because of the false accusation. Then, I found a reason when he told me that he had it investigated and it turned out to be that the maid who pointed me was the one who committed such attempt in order to rob money. “I owe you a life, Thomas,” he told me with sobbing eyes. I can interpret his emotions.
With that, Mr. Ferdinand took me as his own son. At first, I just thought that he would return me as a member in the orphanage, but no. He made me his own son and his son’s brother. He made me go to school and took care of me. We also found out that the maid who tried to kill Mr. Ferdinand stabbed his son in revenge. After many years, I’ve grown up an upright man. I continued some of Mr. Ferdinand’s firms and I became successful as a proprietor to different offices. But that success made me think that I have another mission to accomplish. It was then that I decided to establish an orphanage center of my own—a bigger one—to help street children, who reminds me of my struggle as a part of the youth of yesterday. After being a service manager, or deeply, being able to serve those souls who were like the younger me, currently suffering from life’s challenges, I found the summit of heaven in my life, and it’s all because of ten pesos…
“Thank you, Mr. Macario. That was a very inspiring story. Please state your parting message for this interview.” I fixed my collar and said, “I could only say that success is not the peak of joy here on earth, but rather, being successful and sharing this success through service for the needy. Devotion to service—that is the seventh heaven of my life.”