“Every Saturday, he comes to me and says he must take a bath. The ‘americana’ is at the court, he says.” She blows her cigarette smoke in my face as only she can. “He likes to listen to your stories.” She is the grandmother whom I have known now for over a year. She is a hard, cold, cruel woman. And I have had many heated discussions with her about her grandchildren. There are 4 of them. One, I rescued a year ago. She was almost dead. That little girl is still in our home. I refuse to give her back.
Just last Saturday, during our usual Malabon children’s medical and feeding program, I felt a tug on my arm. I looked down and there he was. “I’m sorry I’m late. I didn’t get any food.” His eyes search my face. “I’m hungry.” All the mothers lined up were watching. I took his dirty little hand and took him to my staff. Buy him something to eat, please. A loving arm around his little shoulders, a warm smile, and they went to eat.
Back at the line, they were still whispering about that “poor” little boy who no one took care of and who suffered on a daily basis from the most extreme neglect possible. I took the opportunity to talk about responsibility as parents and raising our children with love and care despite poverty. It was an emotional discussion.
The parents are young. Too young to be parents. Too selfish to care. Too ignorant to understand. They live in garbage. Literally. They do drugs, they drink, they gamble. They leave their children naked and hungry. Every day.
As I stand looking at the tiny coffin, I sigh. He was only 6. What a senseless death. Completely unnecessary. I am angry at how he was left to suffer on that cold, dirty cement floor. Alone. I am furious at the accusations of them giving him medicine they found in the garbage dump. I am aghast that no one called for help when his little body was shaking with a raging fever. I am horrified the father was drinking while his child was dying.
The silence of this culture when they see abuse. The way they turn their heads just so they can see but cannot be held responsible. The way they gossip about the sins and wrongs done to the children. The way they stare past the abuse. The way they can tune out the cries of the suffering child.
I know he is in heaven. I know he has now smelt the most beautiful frangrance of love and I know the angels have kissed him a million times. I know he is wrapped in the arms of a loving Father. I know his wounds are healed. I know he is well.
Why then, do my eyes search the crowd for his little face. The little smile that showed only rotton black stubs of his teeth. Why is my heart aching? Why are these tears burning my eyes? Why do I feel weak when I think of him? For more than a year, I have tried to rescue him. My cries have fallen on stone deaf ears. And now he is gone.
I didn’t do enough. God, forgive me.
I did not even know his name.