ScholarsPh presents a special Christmas fiction story written by @romeskie. It's a tale about the saving grace of giving and about empowering the youth - two things that embody the ScholarsPH program.
It has been a long day for him. They were restless at the mall with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shoppers clearing their Christmas lists, raiding shops here and there. The toy store he's working at was the main attraction, which made it impossible to have a decent breaktime. They have to assist all the customers if they don't want an angry buyer or an enraged manager.
All he wanted right now is to be left alone while eating the chicken sandwich he bought this morning, already soggy as if it also felt the punishing strain of Christmas rush. The bench at the sidewalk seemed to be inviting him to rest his toes while trying to enjoy his stale dinner.
"Mister, would you like to buy some of my artworks?" A little girl holding several pieces of writing pads approached him with a smile. She must be one of the homeless children living in the park or under the bridge nearby.
Paying no attention to the little intruder, he unwrapped his not so delectable meal. The kid didn't move. She stood in front of him watching him open the sandwich bag like a dog watches his owner eat, waiting for leftovers for his treat. He took pity and gave the sandwich to the girl who wrapped it again and placed it in her sling bag, as dirty as the rugged shabby clothes she's wearing.
"Thank you so much, mister! But if you could buy some of my artworks, it would be great!" she shoved one of the papers in his face while giving him her widest grin.
He feels against giving money to beggars because he feels as if he's tolerating them. He is most probably to give food than spare change but this girl is not contented with the meal he gave her. The meal he was about to eat at that!
"Did you draw these when you were three?" Her smile was contagious, he ended up teasing her. "No, I drew those just now. This is what my two-year-old sister drew." She handed another paper with a colorful doodle. "Now, that's an artwork!" there was a genuine smile on his face.
Still determined to make a sale, the girl ignored his joking insults. "Ok, you know what, if you buy two of my artworks, you'll get this one for free. That's just five pesos a piece." He went home with three pieces of papers with kids'drawings he bought for 10 pesos.
The following day, he saw the same girl drawing on pad papers. "You're at it again? How much have you sold already?"
"I sold one for twenty pesos. The old lady didn't want the change. But I have to sell some more. I need to buy a folder, a marker, and a ruler." She took out a crumpled paper from her pocket to read out the list. "I don't know what my teacher wants us to do tomorrow at school." she frowned a bit but she smiled cheerily at him again. "I see you're back again for my artwork. You liked it, didn't you?"
He didn't. Not that much to come back for more. But he is feeling amused by this kid. That day, he went home with five more pieces of artworks. He bought the things she needed on the list and she insisted on him taking the drawings as her payment. This kid is something.
The little bench on the corner of the crowded street became their rendezvous. There grew an unlikely friendship between two strangers. Every day, he would stop by to rest before heading back home while he watches her persuade passersby to buy her art. Many times has he insisted on giving her money when she doesn't sell enough but many times did she turn down his offers.
"Your sister would grow up to be a great artist one day." He said while sipping coffee while seated at the rusty bench. She just eyed him. "You, on the other hand, I think would be a great scientist. Or a teacher. Oh, I know. You would be a great doctor!"
"If I'll be a doctor, I'll be an eye doctor so I can make people see what's good about the world. I'll start with you. She crossed her arms while pouting her lips as if throwing a tantrum.
He chuckled in amusement. "Sure you can! You just have to make sure you sell enough artworks so you can go to school." He has become a regular buyer, making sure he overprices the drawings because he understood that she doesn't want to be pitied. "I know this is just temporary. We will be rich someday. When I grow up, I'm going to buy me and my sister a nice house! You can come visit us there if you want to."
On the day before Christmas, he was one of the lucky staff that needed to report to work. It was fine with him since he's not going home to his family. He had other plans.
Right after his shift, he brought the toys and the books he bought for the two ladies he is going to spend Christmas with. There were only a few people walking down the street, doing some last minute Christmas shopping. He went straight to the rusty bench. He was smiling from ear to ear because of excitement. I can't wait to see their faces when they find out about the surprises I have for them.
There was no little girl. He waited. And he waited a bit more. Finally, he decided to look for her instead.
Just as he was about to put his bag on, he saw her running frantically across the street. She was clutching something in her arms. Not too long, he saw a security guard and the crew at the convenience store running after her. She ran towards his direction.
Maybe because of the panic and distress, she didn't notice it was him, she had no plans of stopping. But he caught her. "Please don't let them catch me." There were tears in her eyes when she realized it was him. "My sister is sick and she's hungry." She was begging. And it was breaking his heart to see her like this. "Please. Please don't let them catch me. My sister needs me."
He talked to the people chasing her. Luckily, he was able to talk to the store's manager. They allowed him to just pay for the items she snatched.
She didn't talk while they were walking back to her sister. She was in a hurry but he could sense she was embarrassed. She couldn't look him in the eye. When they arrived at their shack under the bridge, he saw her sister almost voiceless while crying. He touched her forehead and without a word, scooped the baby out of the makeshift bed made out of cartons and newspapers. He dragged the girl in one hand and they headed straight to the hospital.
When her sister's condition has stabilized, he sat down beside her. She was weeping quietly. "I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. I know you only did it because of your sister. But next time, tell me if you need anything, okay?" She sobbed with her face buried in his chest.
"Hey, it's almost Christmas! I have something for you and your sister!" With all the ruckus that happened, he almost forgot about the envelope in his backpocket. Careful not to wake the sleeping baby, he placed the toys beside the bed. "She sure will be very happy when she wakes up. It'll help her get better faster."
The little girl was already opening the pink sling bag he bought for her. It was filled with books and art supplies for the girls. He can say she is extremely happy but there was something in her silence. She must be starving.
"I'll go and buy some food for us. The doctor said they're going to remove the IVs on your sister later but that might take a while so just wait for me here, okay? If they ask for anything tell them I just went out to buy food." She nodded.
There really was an unsettling feeling in her silence. He pulled the envelope from his pocket and placed it inside her bag. She was facing her sister's bed when he looked back before he left the room. It's hard to tell what's going on in her head.
Most establishments were closed and it was already late so the only restaurant that's opened that night was jampacked. It took him longer than he anticipated. Perhaps a little bit too long.
There was only darkness. He knows there were people around him walking, talking. There were rumbles of metals everywhere. When everything is concealed from your sight, everything seems to be much louder. Then he felt a sharp pain. Then he drifted off.
There were whispers. And footsteps. He knows where he is but he still can't see anything because of the bandage covering his eyes. "Good morning! Wow, our patient is awake!" A cheerful voice broke the silence in the room. "Okay. I'll have you hold this while I work on removing the bandage." She handed him a crumpled sheet of paper and an envelope. His forehead drew lines while trying to decipher what the paper was. "Just relax. You'll see it soon enough, I promise."
After what seemed to him like forever, the doctor was finally finished. "Please open your eyes very gradually to make sure they'll be able to adjust to the light." Her voice was very calming, he slowly opened his eyes. "I need you to look at the room. Tell me if you can see just fine." The doctor in front of him was smiling sweetly at him, he gave back a sheepish smile. It feels a little bit different now that his cataract is gone. Then he looked around him. His daughter and his wife were hugging each other, both smiling at him. He has been almost blind for quite some time because they couldn’t afford the operation.
"Thank you so much, Doctor." He finally muttered. It was difficult to hold back the tears. "I'm not sure how we will be able to pay off the balance..." That was his first concern.
"It's okay. You only owe me 10 pesos for the artwork." There were tears in her eyes but she was smiling as she looked at the paper he was still holding.
He looked at the paper. It looked familiar. It has drawings of stick figures of a man and what seemed like two little girls. Right below were words written in ink.
"You were right. I didn't become an artist.:p"
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This short story was written by @romeskie.
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