Her name is Avegail. Avegail Llansana.
She’s a sweet girl, not the type who would give me letters every now and then, but she knows how to listen. I am somehow attracted by her simplicity and gracefulness even though I would always make her sit beside a student who has behavior issues.
A leader. I can see that in her.
She wanted to go next after knowing that I visited her best friend, Justine, days ago. Avegail told me to ask her mother about the field trip I was talking about.
Her older sister joined us as we walked, even asked me where I lived.
“Sa may Philcoa.”
“Ah. Paano ho kayo uuwi?”
“Ay bibisitahin ko muna si Avegail.”
“Ho? Bakit ho?”
“Wala lang, bibisitahin, kakamustahin.”
She was at first hesitant to talk to me, but she smiled when she heard I was going to their house.
“Pwede ho kayong isang oras magstay doon.”
“Ay hindi naman! Saglit lang ako. Mangangamusta lang.”
I looked at Avegail when I noticed we just passed by the bridge near Riverside.
“Saan na tayo? Gaano kalayo ang bahay niyo?”
But after 30 minutes, we weren’t near yet.
“Avegail ikaw talaga! Dapat ang sinabi mo medyo malayo!” I teased her.
We continued to walk until we reached their house. Afraid that I might fall, I held the walls tightly even there was nothing to grip upon since the stairs were like giving up on me.
“Pasensya na ho sa bahay namin.”
“Ay okay lang ho.”
It was really okay. Besides, I didn’t visit Avegail just to look at the aesthetics of the house. I was there for a different reason.
As I sat, I heard the sound of a crying baby.
“May baby ho kayo?”
“Doon sa kabilang kwarto.”
Since it was obvious that I looked confused, she explained that the house they were living in was really an inn for two ice cream vendors.
“Pinapatira ho kami kasi naglalako ho yung asawa ko ng ice cream. Bale ho yung kabilang kwarto, yung asawa ho din niya naglalako ng ice cream.”
“Wow. So libre ho ito?
“Ay hindi binabayaran namin.”
“Ay ganon? Eh paano ho iyon?”
“Nakakaraos naman eh. Sa awa ng Diyos.”
“Dito lang ho ako sa bahay.”
“Maiba ho ako, kamusta si Avegail?”
Avegail’s mom looked at her, “Okay naman ho. Kapag gumagawa ng assignment siya lang.”
“Oho isa talaga si Avegail sa mga responsableng estudyante sa klase ko.”
“Kapag mahirap saka lang siya nagpapatulong sa mga ate niya, pero madalas siya lang talaga. Minsan may pagkamasungit ganon, lalo na kapag gumagawa siya.”
Woah, that was good to hear! I remembered that I used to lock my room when doing my assignments when I was in elementary and high school.
“Ilan ho ba silang magkakapatid?”
“Lima. Ito yung bunso, malapit na mag-aral. Isa high school sa may Batasan. Ito yung isa grade 6. May isa nasa probinsya, tapos ito si Avegail.”
“Probinsya ho? Bakit tumigil na ho?”
“Ay hindi doon pa rin nag-aaral.”
“Bakit ho siya nandoon?”
I was unprepared to hear her answer.
“Mahirap po ang buhay eh.”
We chatted for some time. Before I said goodbye, I asked them if Avegail would go to school tomorrow, and they said yes. For some reason, birthdays means ‘no classes’ for these kids.
Again I traveled a long one, but it was a little shorter since I would not have to return to school. My thought was bittersweet. What are the chances that I would see a mother who would give her child to her relative because of poverty? I mean… I see this stuff on TV and now… I talked to one.
Student number 35, check.