The Book of Salamat: 2009
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Let's frolic in this world-size ink tub!

This blog is created and designed as an interactive cyberspace where readers from all corners of the world are encouraged to participate and get involved as part of the online community.

I like you (yes, you!) to step beyond being just a reader and become a contributing netizen. It is enjoyable and informative to read thoughts on the net, but it sure is a double fun to interact with other people.

Please feel free to leave your comments. Thank you for visiting, and have a nice reading!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's In Here?

Inside this room, you will be encouraged to share your thoughts and imagination and help finish a book by submitting your version of a certain chapter or chapters.

What's The Goal?

To make and publish a novel based entirely on the contributions submitted by readers from around the world.

What's The Drive?

The blogger has already posted the PROLOGUE. It was written in first person so that it will be much easier to connect to the story and develop a more emotional connection to it. This way, it will also somehow help draw involvement from the writer (you!). It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, though the PROLOGUE introduces a single mother, anybody can wear her shoes and write her stories.

What To Do First?

You need to read the PROLOGUE first. Get to know who and what's in there, and what kind of story was lurking somewhere in there that you feel the urge to write and tell. Read the PROLOGUE and then determine where and how to start from there, and where to take the story from there.

What Needs To Be Done?

Apparently, Chapter 1 does not exist yet. It's not there yet. And nobody knows what happens next after the event narrated in the PROLOGUE, or how the whole story really starts.

Now, what you are going to do is write for the Chapter 1. It's up to you what approach or angle you are going to use. Write it backwards? Should you continue telling the story from the PROLOGUE? Or start it from the very beginning and make the PROLOGUE a part of the ending? It's really up to your creativity. And depending on the writer's imagination, the main character might not be the mother. It might be someone else. Who knows? It's really up to the writer!

Remember: if the succeeding chapter is not yet selected and posted, it is open to submissions.

How To Do It?

At the start, read the PROLOGUE. Then write the story for Chapter 1. When Chapter 1 has been selected from the submissions and has already been posted next to the PROLOGUE, and you want to submit your version again for the next chapter, you need to read the existing chapters, and then write for the next chapter.

In case you like to participate in this drive and it's your first time to come here, and let's assume Chapters 1 to 5 were already chosen and posted by the time you come here, you need to read from the very beginning until the latest chapter to have a full grasp of the story and for you to determine where you should take the story next. And then write your version for the next chapter. It's how this works!

Tell Me More:

Submissions will be subject to review and deliberation by either the blog readers and followers or by people in the physical world. The version that established a strong connection to the PROLOGUE and is more persuading and realistic will more likely to be chosen. If an entry is picked, the winning author will be informed. Once selection is made, the next chapter will then be open to submissions. When it is finished, the winning entries will be compiled and sent to credible English Professors or critiques for review and editing. And, hopefully, finds its way to publication with the winning writers as its authors.

For the next chapter to be perceived and created more clearly by the contributors, it is advised that each chapter should be written with an established thought or situation before the chapter ends, creating a link and connection that requires attention and opens door for the continuation of the story in the next chapter.

How Can I Submit My Version?

To submit your version, please click on the POSTED COMMENTS directly below each post. Once your version is selected for that particular chapter, it will be copied from your comment and will used as a new post.

How To Get The Book Title?

Obviously, it will be a hard and clumsy move to assume the appropriate title when it's not yet finished. Once the story-writing is done, the readers and contributors alike will be encouraged to suggest a title they feel best fits or defines the whole story. Then such suggestions will be subject to votation.

What are the rules?

To avoid confusion, please uphold the established characteristics and the physical and behavioral description of the characters, unless when the situation calls the need to change it, or when the story explains the character's physical or behavioral transformation.

For example, if the character is described and established in the previous chapter as a reserved but composed person, you cannot have him appear in your version for the next chapter as a brisk, noisy guy unless you specify that the character has undergone transition..

There's no limitation on how many times you come back and write with respect to the number of chapters. But with respect to submissions per chapter, you are limited to only 1 entry.

For example, in Chapter 1, you are allowed to submit only one version. Then you can submit another one again for Chapter 2.

To go there now, CLICK HERE.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The week after my operation, I received a number of text (sms) messages from friends and relatives wishing me to recuperate soon.

Last Tuesday, I said my Thank You to my uncle after receiving a message wishing me good health and a fast recovery.

A day after that, on Wednesday, my two friends and ex-colleagues in Taiwan, who live in the neighboring town and city, came to visit me at home. One of them had just recently arrived from an island province west of Cebu in central Philippines, and had heard from the other one the news about my appendicitis. I expressed my Thanks to them, treasuring their thoughtfulness. I also thanked them for a kilogram of ripe, sweet mangoes they gave me that night.

Last Thursday was my schedule to visit my doctor in which he had remove the stitches, checked the wound, and prescribed me a gel to prevent the onset of keloids and minimize the visibility of the scar. I thanked my doctor so much for the free-of-charge appointment, which would have cost me 500 pesos or around $10.50. His professional fee for the surgery, I later found out from my parents, was even discounted by around $104.00. These figures already saved me a considerable amount of money. And I felt so much gratitude to my doctor for his finesse, service and generosity. I promise to give something in return one day as a token of my gratitude. He likes marine foods, and so I’m planning to send him prawns or crabs.

I also thanked the taxi driver that same day for being considerate and thoughtful. Upon knowing that I’ve just had an operation, he made it sure we wouldn’t be going through a bumpy or rough part of the road. He knew it could be painful for me even with just a jitter of the cab. We also took a byway with less traffic, a quality of kindness that has become rare among cab drivers.

I have also checked my latest posts on both my blogs last week, here and at LITERARY WORKS, and I’ve read the well-wishes and prayers from people across the world that I’ve only met here at blogger. There aren’t words that can express my thankfulness to all those who pray for my fast recovery and for my good health. From the deepest chamber of my heart, I thank you all!

Photograph by Consumedbycake. Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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SUNDAY SITUATIONAL: If You Buy This Record ...  

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I've turned on my computer today, browsed the net, landed on Youtube, search for random videos until a dance beat song of Tampera caught my eyes and ears. The video appeared to me like cheaply budgeted and not so artistically visualized. At some points I have even caught myself frowning and grinning at some scenes, and have no idea what was the message that the acts were trying to imply. But in fairness, the music was somehow contagious to the point that it made me sing along and raised my hands up in the air. Yeah. The party-animal side of me. (GRIN!)

If you buy this record your life will be better, your life will be better ----

I wasn't paying attention to the lyrics throughout the whole run, though. It was the beat that carried me away and loosen my jaded limbs and back. Then I carried on looking for yet another videos. Until late this evening, as I called it a day and lied on my bed staring at the white wall, it was when the lyrics sank in.

And it made me realize, hey, there's some truth to that line. It really is true. Music helps us in many ways. It helps us remember clearly that romantic or funny or embarrassing moments we have had, the break-ups (ouch!), our ex's, our parents, deceased loved ones...even mem'ries from grade or high-schools!

And then a thought brushed through me:

Supposing I’m cooking for a special night, preparing the table to its perfect presentation, dimming the dining room lights, and oh, that romantic candles would surely melt my wife's heart! Perfume is in the air, her favorite Victoria's Secret, candles lined the hallway on the floor from the front door to the dining room, the floor carpeted with petals of red and white. All that to surprise her for our first year anniversary.

Then I hear the rolling of her car outside. But then suddenly, I pause, something's missing! Something's lacking! C'mon, think, THINK! What is it? Oh yeah, music! A romantic song that will set the night and the mood just perfect! Groping in the dim room, searching for the perfect record to play but, wait, WAIT! I remember, the heck, these are all rock and alternatives! Uhm, wait, here --- PUSSYCAT DOLLS? No, wait--- BLACK EYED PEAS? No....NO! I can't call it disaster!

And then the front door clicks.


Do you and your hubby have a theme song? Supposing you are having a date or celebrating your anniversary, would you prefer to play a song, be it a record or a live performance by an artist in a restaurant? What song would you like to be played that you feel would complement the mood of the night? Tell us why you or your hubby choose that song.

Photograph by Indiana Shutterbug . Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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Adapting a New, Interactive Format  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Everyday for the entire week I will be presenting different activities and interactions, each unique from one another. This drive is aiming to listen and understand what your minds are thinking or shouting behind your head that would otherwise become stale or even forever unheard.

I will do my best to make them as fresh and current and interesting as they could be to trigger you to participate, get involved and react. I will do my best to gather and post information or cause interaction that are of human interest.

This series of activities will kick off this coming Sunday.

To know what kind of activities I’m going to post per day, here is the list:


I am going to introduce this room on my blog, and I call it THE THANK YOU ROOM, where the issues for this room will be released every Monday.

In here I will be enumerating down the times I say Thank You to someone, either people close to me or total strangers, be it in person, in letters or online. How many times I said it in a week will be exactly the same number I will post the following Monday.

No, what you're thinking is wrong. I am not going to say those two words for the sake of posting it in my blog. That's completely out of my intention. I will only post those times I said them sincerely, and will not post those that I didn't mean. That means there may be an empty week and an empty Monday post.

And this Room is primarily meant as my online diary of those instances. I don't know what it would exactly do to me in the future, but it doesn't matter. What matters most is that in the end, there will be something I will look back to and remember how those faces changed the time I said Thank You to them.


Every Tuesday, I will be posting a link to my other blog, which is The Ink Jacuzzi, a blog specially created and designed to encourage readers to participate and contribute their versions for a certain chapter for the completion of a book in this novel-making drive.

The rules and mechanics will be displayed every Tuesdays, too, along with the link. Such mechanics and rules can also be read in the above mentioned link. You can go anytime there, and if you have already penned your idea, you can submit it the next Tuesday, or you can visit anytime this URL:

Hope to see you next Tuesday, guys!


Wednesdays will be allocated for short fictions. All the previous posts on short stories will remain as is, but from now on I will only post fiction entries every Wednesday, so that I can effectively budget my time and organize my blog better.


Every Thursday I will be posting a recent or current global economic, political or any other human-interest issues that affect human lives all over the world.

The topic is not limited, and so as your opinions or insights. And it aims to extract your beliefs and principles on these issues. But I am hoping that, though this blog offers a freedom wall for all our thoughts, participants should not attack each other’s stands, question one’s views, or fight over their principles.

It is my purpose to know what you believe in and what your views are, and hopefully learn values and lessons from those.


Inside this room I will be posting random, assorted topics. It could be that I will write an interactive scene (script) where the readers can actually interact with the story’s characters, virtually, of course. It can be done by creating an open ending where readers can enter as a new character and create conversations with the presented fictional characters by establishing lines (added to the script).

Scenes may be described as inside a bar, in a mall, in a restaurant, or in a public park. The list of possible settings is actually infinite.

Still wondering how it really works? Watch out this coming Friday!

OR, it could be….

By means of a prompt (I know this is not original, but I admit it’s addicting and fun!). I might post an image and ask for you to write something creatively, literarily or plainly about what you see and how you interpret the message of the picture.


I might throw questions about your hobbies, interests, passions, fears, happiness…anything.


Every Saturday, I will be posting a Youtube video of random topics into my blog, videos that have potentials to spark comments, discussions or debate. It is my intention to gather readers’ reactions, views and insights regarding the message of the video or the video itself, positive or otherwise.

It is my very hope that you find this drive interesting and interactive enough to share what you think or what your stand is.

Cya on my first post this coming Saturday!


I am creating a new room or section on my blog, which will be dubbed SUNDAY SITUATIONAL. This, as the name suggests, will be a about giving a particular situation where a question or series of questions will be based. Starting this Sunday (Philippine time), this distinctively different posting will be ran, hopefully, for a long time as long as this blog is alive and kicking. Of course, it all depends on the feedbacks and responses to the inquiries from the readers (you!). So I need your cooperation, and I hope you will find the Q's triggering and exciting enough to start striking your keys.

This is my way of turning this blog into a more interactive space between you and me. There's nothing more rewarding and fun than acting and reacting over the same topic and know that all of us are enjoying it.

So, guys, read on, get involved, participate, and let us hear your thoughts!

Photograph by Native's. Please CLICK HERE to view the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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My World Is Shaken (Non-Fiction): The Surgery  

With a solemn prayer

I whisper

“God, please let me wake up

to this same room.”

I was putting my bag filled with shirts and shorts into the closet of my hospital room around 7:00 o'clock in the evening of May 6, 2009, when the door opened and a nurse with her brown wooden clipboard emerged from the hall.

"Good evening," she smiled as she greeted me. She looked around and saw no one else. My parents, my father’s colleague and his wife who was a former practicing nurse on that same hospital and the same person who referred me to the surgeon, who all went to the hospital with me, were having early dinner that time when the nurse came in. Her eyes went back to me and said, "Are you the patient?"

After I got the results of the preliminary tests on my blood, chest, and heart (must be that my surgeon needed to confirm that the rupture had not caused complications to my blood and other vital organs), I decided to have myself admitted that same day to the hospital, under my specialist surgeon’s advice that it would be much better to undergo operation the soonest time. He told me a day before not to worry about the wound, he assured me that it wouldn't be necessary to incise a bigger entry point on my navel based on his findings during the physical examination, and on the test results from the first hospital I had visited. I endured the not-so-intense-anymore pain and was able to walk without wincing, probably because of the antibiotics I've orally taken prior to seeing him and, as what he had explained, my immune system was strong enough to counter the infection and the rupture was also contained by the epithelia. That, I’ve reckoned, made me so lucky.

“Yes,” I nodded as I replied.

She glanced over me before saying, “You are scheduled for an operation tonight at nine, but you will be taken to the operation room by eight. Your surgeon will be attending you right after he finishes operating on another patient.”

I said, “OK”.

Then she told me that the doctor ordered an NPO (Nihil Per Orem), which meant I must not eat or swallow anything including liquids from that point on until further advice. I’ve never eaten a thing since lunchtime.

I was tempted to ask the nurse how many patients were being operated on by the surgeon for the day. I have this fear that I found hard to suppress, such fear that although the surgery would be minor, unperceived or unexpected factors resulting to malpractice or failure are just lurking around even for the most experienced doctor. And I was thinking, what if the doctor was too worn out for the night’s schedule? What if the anesthesiologist would miscalculate the dosage? Questions that might sound silly to a certain degree or situation but still rational and valid. What if? Despite writing a poem filled with optimism, I found it hard to dodge from my pessimistic fear now that I was facing it.

To tell you honestly, from the time I knew I needed operation up to the very moment I waited for it in my hospital room, I was diverting myself and my mind to something else so I wouldn’t worry about the surgery. Things like reading a novel I’ve already read, tuning on the TV, browsing the internet, and sending sms to friends. And most of the time I succeeded. Now, lying on the bed with printed bed sheets as I watched Discovery Channel, my mind came back to reality. It all went back to me. The anxiety, the worry, the fear. The silly thoughts.

Thirty minutes to eight, the same nurse appeared carrying a plastic filled with tubes and IV bags.

“Sir, I will be administering this now to you. In a while we will be giving you your first shot of antibiotics, but first we need to perform a skin test. You are not still allowed to eat or drink anything.”

Her second line boggled me. “Skin test?” I frowned.

“It’s a standard procedure to find out whether or not you will develop any allergic reactions to the medicine,” she explained clearly. The antibiotic she was referring to would later be injected to me through the IV tube once a day. And it cost around $50 per vial (injected once).

Fifteen minutes after the nurse disappeared behind the door, a team of nursing students with their instructor marched into my room followed by the entourage of my parents and their couple friend, which made me a bit confused and nervous. I don’t really feel comfortable being surrounded by interns on their practicum, performing procedures that made me felt like a guinea pig in the laboratory. The male student conducted the skin test on me, and I winced to the terrible pain. The female student handed me the surgery gown and told me to take off all of my clothes. I waited for them to all go out before stripping off.

A few minutes after eight, a stretcher was wheeled into my room by two male nurses accompanied by the same nurse who came first to see me. She instructed me to lie on the stretcher while she transferred the IV bag from above my bed unto the hook rod protruding from the stretcher. Just when I was wheeled out of the room into the hallway, my father tapped his right hand on my shoulder to loosen and comfort me and told me it’s just a minor and everything would be just fine. I didn’t see my mother’s face, perhaps because I was so distracted by my own thoughts and fears and worries.

As they rolled me down the hallway, my eyes were blankly transfixed at the white ceiling, mumbling silent prayers, hoping that what the surgeon had told me was right, that my phlegmonous appendicitis had not spread into my other organs and that the operation would not be complicated and would only need small incision. I prayed as they stopped pushing and pulling the mobile bed I was lying on, and I prayed as the nurse injected the first shot of antibiotic through the IV tube. The nurse asked me if I felt scared, which I found myself unable to answer. I just smiled at her and listened as she told me that my hand was cold. I didn’t noticed how cold my hands were the same way I didn’t feel if my heart was throbbing fast. I was still staring at the ceiling, familiarizing myself to the hospital hallway.

When we arrived to a hallway right before the sterile room, they transferred me to yet another stretcher, made me wait for I didn’t know how many minutes, giving me yet another time to stare and remember the pinhole design of the white ceiling. A young man in blue, collared shirt and white pants, whom I presumed was another intern, even passed by me and said good luck. I didn't know exactly what to say in that moment, so I just gave him a faint smile.

The nurse relayed to another nurse in green surgery uniform the details pertaining to my records and medical specifics, before I was wheeled into the sterile room, past a huge, bright room and into Room 8, where the huge octopus surgery lamp attached to the ceiling and wires and a narrow bed with straps waited for my arrival. As we passed by the big room, I saw a sole patient there sleeping soundlessly the pain away.

Noticing my head turned to my right to see the sleeping patient, the woman in mask and green who wheeled me in quietly said, “That’s the Recovery Room. That’s where you will stay for another 2 to 3 hours after the surgery.”

I looked away.

Inside Room 8, monitors were turned on and wires were attached somewhere in my chest, one clipped to my left thumb, and an automatic sphygmomanometer strapped around my right upper arm that monitored my blood pressure every 15 minutes, according to the surgery nurse in green. She told me that my surgeon and his team will attend to me right after they were done operating another patient. Seconds ticked into minutes, which later became an hour and a few minutes. The room was very quiet except for the beeping of the machine that monitored my heartbeat. I felt tired and sleepy. And at times my eyes were tempted to sleep, but I refused to. I didn’t want to. I should wait first for my doctor to come in.

I stared at the huge surgery lamp overhead that vaguely resembled a star, which was subdivided into five hexagonal groups each containing several white-light bulbs. I stared from time to time at the electrical outlet beside its base, with reasons I didn’t know. I looked around, turned my head from left to right, from the two chatting nurses in green by the table to the big door beside them. The monitor beeped, the A/C hummed, the silence of the room echoed inside my head.

Then my friendly, approachable, composed surgeon came in, smiling as he walked toward me. “How are you feeling?” He asked me, his smile relaxing and assuring. And I found my negative thoughts actually lessened by something in his aura that made me trust his competence and expertise.

“I’m OK, thanks.”

He asked me to pardon him for the delay, and then explained. I told him it’s OK.

The anesthesiologist emerged from behind him and explained what he was going to do to me. When he said he’d give me a dosage that would numb my whole abdomen down my legs and give me something to make me sleep, I felt very, very relieved to perceive that such method would be much more safer than letting anesthesia alone send me to sleep. I’m not really certain though and this is just a hunch, but I have the feeling the latter tend to pose more risk for malpractice. And besides, I’ve watched that recent movie entitled AWAKE, which I wondered if it would ever occur in my case. That, too, I prayed not to happen. Perhaps I’m beginning to develop paranoia by watching too much movies and TV. But gladly, at this point, I was able to dismiss that fear and worry.

He instructed me to curl up, and then injected the dose into my lower spine. Later he pressed a needle’s tip against my belly and asked me if it still hurts. When the drug was in full force, he then put me to sleep with another drug. A minute or two later, I fell asleep.

I woke up to hushed voices or conversations and light clacking of metals. The sight of my chest and all of my lower body was concealed by a cloth hanged on a metal rod shaped similar to a miniature soccer goal. I knew right away where I was, and I knew the surgery was still ongoing. A man in mask glanced at me, disappeared and, moments later, I went back to sleep (or sent back to sleep, I wasn’t sure though).

When i woke up the second time that night, I woke up to a different but familiar room. With still blurry eyes I looked around to see other two awake female patients on transportable beds in my far right. One of them was talking to a nurse, the other one next to her was watching them. At first I didn’t feel anything, but then as things sunk in, I began to feel surging pain down my navel. And it hurt so bad that I called the other attending nurse and asked for a pain reliever. After administering a shot, they told me they were to move me back to my room. I begged them to make me stay for another hour, after the pain became bearable enough for me to leave from their care.

I was brought back to my room at around 2 in the morning, where my parents, my sister and my uncle from a town several kilometers north of the city were waiting. My father’s colleague and his wife weren’t there. Probably had gone home. I slept for another four hours and woke up to the heaving of my wound.

By seven or eight o’clock that morning, I tried and managed myself to roll to my left side as advised by the resident doctor under my surgeon’s team, because the intestines tend to stick to each other if there was less movement of the body. And it would not be a good thing to happen, he informed me. And so I tried, then rolled to another side. And early that afternoon I asked my father to help me get up. Later that afternoon, I was already walking around my bed, holding to its metal rails as I slowly took one pace at a time.

I was admitted to the hospital last Wednesday, May 06. My father’s birthday. And we were supposed to be celebrating as what we had planned weeks ago. Go out to a KTV bar or a beach. But that didn’t happen. Three days later I was discharged under my doctor’s advised and permission. This coming Thursday, hopefully, I will be going back to my doctor’s clinic to have the stitches removed.

NOTE: You might be wondering why the sudden change of plan for the operation. Well, the thing is, we seek for another doctor's expert opinion, which this time came from a gastrointestinal specialist who I found to be more credible and competent; whereas, the first surgeon who advised me to undergo operation four weeks from the day he read the ultrasound result, was a general surgeon. Besides, the first hospital estimated P80,000 of total expenses, and there's a tendency that the incision would be much longer. Whereas, according to the second doctor, the specialist, he estimated around P50,000 and assured me the incision would only be a few inches long, and said it would be best to undergo surgery the soonest time. We visited the specialist the day after we visited the first hospital. And by Wednesday I was scheduled for the operation.

Photograph by Du Truex. Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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My World Is Shaken (Non-Fiction)  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Today I've heard from my doctor a news that was hard for me to absorb. A news that was not even near my list of expectations to hear.

Last Friday I felt a mild pain at the middle of my abdomen, right deep under my belly. I thought it was just some sort of muscle pain or an ordinary stomachache, so I wasn't at all disturbed and spent the rest of the day typically. The following day, the pain began to increase its intensity but still mostly felt where it was. Only this time, the pain seemed to intensify at indefinite intervals and radiated from the middle towards the surrounding areas but a little noticeable to the right.

It became more painful in the afternoon, and the sharp spasms became more frequent during the night. Some time in the afternoon I informed my mother about it, telling her something's not right.

She asked me a series of common questions. I told her I didn't have a diarrhea, or constipation; my bowel movement was normal. I didn't have a fever, and I did not feel weak. Just the painful stomachache, nothing else. She opted to treat me with herbals as first aid, and during the wee hours of the evening, when the pain made it difficult to put myself to sleep, she decided to bring me to a hospital.

On the third day the pain remained sharper and the spasms remained frequent and painful, still in the middle and would scatter toward the whole abdomen when spasms occur. I told the doctor I did not lose my appetite and did not vomit. They asked me more questions, told me to take some blood and urine tests, and then later instructed me to take the ultrasound test first thing the following morning after they had found out that the white blood cells were high.

This morning, the ultrasound result reported that my appendix is infected and has already erupted, but the infection has not spread because, as what the surgeon later said, it was caught and trapped by an internal body part having that function (I could not remember the medical name, and have no idea what's the layman's term).

When the physician said they could call a surgeon to operate me that same day, fear and worries rushed in even more as they already have. I have never been to any operations before, and the idea of having an operation imperils my dream of working abroad. I am scared of undergoing an operation as most people do, I believe. Also, it will cost us big amount of money, which we don't have. The savings I've had from working in Taiwan for 5 years mostly went to the house my parents helped me bought, redesigned and enhanced. The rest were all spent financing my application for a job in New Zealand, which until now is vague. My previous experience was in a manufacturing industry, and the next one is technically the same. Physical strength is totally required, and the applicant must have no history of operations.

The surgeon came and physically examined me and asked questions. This time, I told him the pain has somewhat shifted to the right since I woke up this morning. After informing me of the ultrasound results and what it meant, he prescribed antibiotics to be taken for six weeks and scheduled me for an operation four weeks from today. He said that it was the best time to remove the appendix, except of course if the pain becomes too intense, which needed immediate operation. I looked at my mother; I could feel and see that she's worried. But my father was brave as he always is. I pray to God that everything will be alright.

After going home I could not think of something else except this. I even doubt if I could write a poem tonight. But here's what I've decided, I will definitely undergo the operation, bravely. There are ways to get the money, and I don't worry much of that now. And I don't want to worry about it in the days to go.

Money is just money, life is something much more.

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In The Eyes Of A Child


Friday, May 1, 2009

The crawling traffic going toward Pasay City* exhausted her excitement and energy, and the 38 degrees hotness stilled the dry air outside and forebade circulation inside the bus. The alternating, impatient honking of cars and jeepneys* caused her head to ache, worsen by the persistent bawl of the vendor who climbed inside the bus.

She turned her head away from the square glassless window to her mother on her other side, and grumbled about the heat. Her mother swung to and fro more briskly the plastic, heart-shaped fan she was holding, and complained to no one in particular about the traffic and the searing summer heat.

She had two other sisters and one brother. Her older sister, Priscella, was having an excursion in the north, while her older brother Roy was taking an entrance exam in a university. The eldest, Maureen, had not been living with them for three months now. She could have stayed with her aunt eleven doors away from their cheap apartment, but there were too many children there and she didn't want to compete with them to get her share of toy or food. Besides, she had never been to Mall of Asia* before, and she had heard from her classmates in the eight grade class that it was the largest and most beautiful mall in the whole of Manila. When her mother told her yesterday that they would be going there today, her excitement was pouring out of the glass. She even woke up early today, the way she always would when tomorrow promised something for her. Despite what they were experiencing now, she still did not regret her going with her mother.

When she turned her head back to look outside, what greeted her was a hill of stinky and decaying garbage in the distance right along the sidewalk, beside a row of vendors selling ice-cold juice, rice cakes, sugar-coated peanuts and banana cues. She grunted as she covered her nose with both her hands.

Her mother turned to look at her, and remarked, "That's what happens to our surrounding when people lacks discipline."

"Can't they smell it?" she asked.

"They can. But they're too lazy to clean it up," said her mother as her eyes fixed on hers. "What did I always tell you 'bout it?"

She halfway pulled back her hands as she answered, "Don't throw my trash just anywhere. After eating candies I put the wrapper in my pocket and look for a trash bin."

"That's what old people should also do. Do not follow what they did with that garbage because it's wrong. OK?"

She briskly nodded her head and said, "And, and not follow what they say if it is wrong."

Her mother smiled at her and said, "Good girl."

Her mother brushed her hair with her right hand, adoring her. And then flashed that smile again. But she could see the lack of sparkles in her mother's eyes. She'd noticed it yesterday, but she'd just ignored it. This morning she noticed it again, and she knew this time something wasn't right. Her mother lost her ardor today, too, and that smile she gave her lacked width and depth. She knew something was troubling her mother; she just hoped she was old enough to find out and help her.

Maureen sat impatiently next to the huge sheer glass window at the second floor of Jollibee*, situated in the most crowded part of the mall complex. She'd been glancing at her wristwatch for several times in an hour of waiting. She had already consumed the large cup of Coke and half of the french fries, but still no sign of her mother.

She intended to meet her mother in a public place, sensing and suspecting that her mother would jump all over her. And she's tired of that, she didn't want any of that anymore. As much as possible she wanted to avoid outbursts and physical contacts. And here was where she felt was safe enough.

One more minute and she would leave. Perhaps, she thought, her mother had realized she's losing the battle and gave in. As she was about to push herself from the table to get up, she noticed her youngest sister Simonette running happily toward her through the crisscrossing diners, her small arms spreading widely beside her, and her smile the widest one she'd ever seen.

Her sister Maureen brightened when she saw her running toward her through the aisle between two rows of occupied tables. She missed Maureen so much; she missed those times they had made cookies together or colored Tweety Bird in her coloring book together. She missed her sister's singing in the morning and in the bedroom, and she missed her giving her beautiful hairdos. And so she hugged Maureen tightly as she could, and her eldest sister hugged her back, too.

But Maureen's delight dimmed and flickered out after seeing their mother came. Her sister shoved her gently aside as she got up to face their mother. She could feel awkwardness between her sister and her mother, but she didn't know why, and didn't want to find out. Instead she slid herself into the long cushioned seat and asked Maureen if she could eat the french fries.

There was no hugging, too, which was odd. And no smiles. Her mother's face was empty of expression, while that of her sister's was careful and cautious. As she nibbled and licked the salts from the strips, her mother began talking of something about going back home.

After some exchange of words, of persuasion and reasoning, her sister's face became clouded and grim when she spoke again, "Why are you complaining at something you've done to me?"

Off-guarded and insulted by such disrespect, their mother's voice raised, "How dare you talk to me like that. This isn't now how I brought up."

Her sister's voice was heavy but controlled when she replied. "But this is how you're trying to control my own life! Why are you pushing me to do something I don't want?"

"This is what's good for you. I only wanted to make sure you are living a good life."

"I'm old enough to know what is good for me, Ma, please. I don't love him!" she paused to re-calculate what she was about to say. "It is you who like him, Ma, not me. Go and marry him," she continued. But her voice was so wounding that her mother erupted.



Maureen froze, her teary eyes questioning and condemning their mother with hurt and hatred. Their mother retreated, trembling with guilt and sudden realization at what she had just wreaked.

She just sat there in stiff silence, staring at her mother then to her sister and back, sensing the dense, tensed air among them, observing the two wounded members of their family, and waiting what would happen next. Her mother for a moment ignored her presence, probably thinking that she was too young to understand, and too small to absorb and register everything into her young mind. Or, perhaps, she was just simply drowned by her own pain and fight for redemption that she failed to remember she was there, watching.

What her mother and sister didn't know was that she's already old enough to comprehend what's going on. And it wasn't pleasant. It wasn't good. Even the people from the surrounding tables seemed not to enjoy what they had seen. Silence fell like drapes, wrapping them from the world.

She didn't want to stay with them. She just wanted to enjoy being in the mall; after all, that was why she came here. She got out of her chair and ran toward the net-secured playground nearby to join the playing, happy children.

Along the way, she noticed a woman from one of the tables near the playground dropped a large piece of a chicken wing. But instead of picking it up, she kicked it inconspicuously into the inflatable fence of the playground and continued eating.

When she came she stood beside the woman and commented, "That is not right."

Confused and unsure if the girl beside her was talking to her, the woman looked around, raised her eyebrows and asked, "What?"

"My mama says you have to pick up everything that you've dropped and find a bin."

The woman's company giggled at such confrontation, which made the woman obviously embarrassed but defended herself by shrugging it off, "You're a good girl, honey. And you're right."

"But you're not doing it."

The other people in the table giggled even more.

It was during this time that she heard something in the distance that she suspected was coming from their table. She turned around to see her sister walked away.

"This ain't going anywhere," Maureen declared.

"Come back home," their mother begged.

"I'm not going back home," she said with finality, and concluded the heated conversation by getting up and walking away.

Her mother called after her sister. And it was this call that made her turned around to see her sister left. And soon after she went to play, the woman stooped to pick up her litter.

As they left for home, she recounted excitedly to her mother every details of her romping around the playground. But her mother wasn't responding. She was so distant. And so she ceased from talking. Sometimes, she couldn't understand how adults behave in their world.

--- END ---


Pasay City - A city at the base of EDSA, one of the cities that comprise Metro Manila.

Jeepney - are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines.[1] They were originally made from US military jeeps left over from World War II[2] and are well known for their flamboyant decoration and crowded seating. They have also become a symbol of Philippine culture. ~ According to Wikipedia

Mall of Asia - A new mall complex located in Pasay City, fronting the Manila Bay.

Jollibee - an international fast food chain similar to McDonald's, which originated and widely popular in the Philippines.

Photograph by Robin Thom. Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flicker page. Thanks!

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Twenty Pesos  

Friday, April 24, 2009

A rattling sound of a small bell welcomed their arrival to a public market. After they had stepped out of the bus, the first thing she did was scan the alley between the market and the shoulder of the highway. That high pitch bell announced of something so familiar to her, and her eyes was looking for it in which her mind already knew.

There it was, she found it, right next to the public kiosk, right before the surrounding gleeful children. She turned to check if her mother was looking at it, too, so it would be easier for her to make her buy one cone. But her mother was looking straight ahead, oblivious to the alluring chanting of the tiny bell, or at least she appeared to be. She wanted to pull her mother's hand towards the inviting ice cream cart, but her mother overwhelmed her and pulled her instead towards the unkempt, overcrowded interior of the public market.

They walked inside towards the meat section, a basket made of rattan swayed beside her as they waded through the crowd. Her mother released her other hand when they stopped near the end of a long row of tiled unbroken tables. Beef and dressed chickens scattered all over the tables, and parts of pigs hanged still from the long iron bar that ran parallel above the tables. Smell of blood and stale flesh and foul liquids hovered in the air, almost made her puke.

The fat woman with a dull blue apron wrapped around her, which she guessed was one of the vendors behind the long tables, flashed a grin when she saw them. Her mother smiled, too, and greeted each other while she just stood there observing the crowd, the place, the shouting, and the offering and bargaining that polluted the already foul air.

"Is that your youngest, Irene?" the fat woman asked her mother with a voice a little louder than the surrounding noise.

"Yes," her mother replied. "She won't stop asking until I bring her along with me."

"Look at her, she's taller than the last time I saw here. How old is she now?"

"She's eight."

The woman looked down at her and smiled exorbitantly. "Hello, sweetie. What a beautiful girl you've become, honey. You still remember me?"

She responded with a coyly smile and a shaking head. Her mother told her nothing about this woman.

The woman went back to her mother and, in the middle of buying and selling, they were both engrossed by their adult chitchat.

The fat woman handed her mother a plastic filled with chicken wings and pork meat, and followed with yet another exchange of gossip.

When she heard something she didn't understand from their conversation, she lightly pulled twice her mother's long skirt.

Her mother turned her head and looked down. "What is it?"

Casually, she asked, "What is a third party?"

Her mother glanced at the vendor, who giggled and shook her head, and then looked back at her and said, "It's nothing, honey. It's a word that only grown up people talk about."

Her mother and her friend continued talking, but this time their voices were slightly hushed. As her mother handed a hundred peso bill to the woman, she heard yet another new word from the latter. She pulled her mother's skirt again.

"What is it?"

"What's a hoar?"


"She said, 'she's a big hoar'. What does it mean?"

Her mother's friend chuckled at her innocence. And she didn't like it. She didn't like the way she laughed. She didn't like her laughing at her. She didn't like her mother's friend. Cautious yet uncertain, she tucked herself closed to her mother's right side, and instinctively gripped her mother's hand. And she stood there staring questioningly at the flabby woman.

Her mother, who grinned along, said to her, "Honey, this is a conversation between two adults, OK? And ---wait, here ---" She fished something from her skirt's left pocket.

She heard the rattling of nickels in her mother's shallow skirt pocket, and turned her head slightly toward where she heard it. The pinched fingers of her mother flew from the pocket to the smirking space before her, and then her mother freed the three 1 peso coins, which landed splendidly to her wide opened right palm.

Her excitement leapt. Her shy face revealed her smile and, in her mind, the floating image of the grainy ice cream enticed her once again. She gave to her mother the rattan basket and, with her fist shut tightly the three coins inside, she ran as fast as she could towards the portable ice cream cart outside.

She waited in line, but when it was about her turn she remembered something. As the boy before her paid his scoop of ice cream, she was just standing there fighting over a decision.

She had made a promise to herself. And she didn't want to break it. She told herself to buy something only if she asked money from her parents. But today she was not asking for it. Her mother gave it to her, just like those many times in the past. And she shouldn't spend them; she had to place them somewhere where she had put those other coins.

The face of the vendor beamed as she looked at him. She peered over the opened aluminum lid, and saw three beckoning colors of inviting ice cream that smelled of mango and chocolate and vanilla. Her eyes glowed and her mouth watered as the cold vapor met her face. And as she was about to give the man her coins, the other barefoot kids rushed toward the ice cream cart from nowhere, their arms heaved their money in the space before the man, and vied for his attention. The man instead entertained the more eager children. She freed herself from the tempting call. She stepped back, turned around, and thrust herself out the small throng of frenzied young crowd.

Along the way back to their house, her mother asked what she had done with the money. She told her she wasn't hungry, and that she was keeping them. And as soon as they arrived home, she dashed inside, up a flight of stairs, and into her room.

She was excited and happy that her savings were increasing. Last week, her mother gave her five-peso coin, and two weeks before that she had dropped two peso coins and two twenty-five cents. Last month she had saved nine pesos and fifty cents. She lied on her bed facing the ceiling above, her mind a dream of beautiful dress and pints of ice cream. But what her young mind didn't see was that her every attempt to free her mind and speak of those words she'd been keeping inside were muffled by the worldly value of her mother's coins.

After some time she stood and grabbed her peggy bank. And through the thin slit along the center top of it, she peeked to estimate her rather accumulated price.

--- END ---

Photograph from Please CLICK HERE to visit the source website. Thanks!

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Eden of Angels (PART 1 of 3)  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(NOTE: The title is the name of the Shelter described in the story. The story is divided into 3 parts to avoid eye sore that would have been caused by unnecessarily long page. To understand the purpose of the insertion of different paragraphs, please read the whole 3 parts. The last part gives a clearer point for it...)

All the ten children in the isolated room called Cherubim were quiet and slack most of the time that morning, and all the three hours that afternoon. So far. Days like this were rare but relieving, and every time they came, they came falling softly like rainshower, their water poured into her such blissful, momentary ecstasy. She dreamed of days like this, but she knew they seldom fall.

She looked at her wristwatch. 3:06 P.M., it said. She darted her eyes from the shiny silver frame of her Timex to the other social worker at the other end of the rectangular room, sitting at the edge of Theresa's bed, the troubled, mentally and physically imperfect 17 year-old girl with extreme history of physical abuse from her biological parents. Ricarda, her only partner in the quarter, was gently brushing Theresa's hair. She was softly talking to Theresa, and the girl giggled from time to time, her voice sounded stifled but her laughter was pure and contagious.

The stream of light from the sun outside flowed through the big, grilled window into Theresa's feet, spotlighting their happy swinging in the space below her bed. When Theresa's eyes met hers, the girl gave a grin from where her delight radiated into the room, calming the curtain of dusts that streamed along the rays of the sun.

She held the girl's gaze for some time, and then looked around once more. After making sure everybody's behaving good, she spoke to Ricarda. "I'm starving. I need to go to the kitchen. Be back in ten."

Her partner nodded, not wanting to spoil the girl's frolicking in her own shangri-la. The rubber hairbrush slipped from the girl's darting hands, and she wailed. Ricarda hurriedly stooped to pick it and gave it back to her.

She stood there by the doorway, feeling the possible influx of emotional torrent. When she felt certain none would come, she turned around and headed for the kitchen.

Jemma closed her umbrella, which she used to shield herself from the scorching, inconsiderate sun. She removed her fake Gucci sunglasses and put it inside her shoulder bag, and then rapped at the door. About two meters directly above her, a huge sign painted in white hang monotonously, its bored frame hunger for attention. On it were fading letters in blue that declared boldly the name of the Shelter. With the sun glaring high above, she dared not look up to read the words painted across the tin sheet.

The house had no upper floors, but it was cascading sideways to both sides. The beige paint on the wall was peeling off, and all the windows were barred with window grills. The window panes made of flat, white shells which appeared like frozen prisoners awaiting deliverance. Weeds grew high near the perimeter fence, and dried leaves cluttered across the front lawn, some of them crushed below her weight, their light crushing sound screamed of anguish. There were no stairs that led to the main door, and she suspected there would be none in the entire building. The alley that led to the main street were badly cemented, and there were not much public transport passing by outside. She had the feeling it would be like this all the time.

The neighborhood was still. She could hear no voices from the vicinity and from the inside of the building before her. The Shelter stood amid a badly manicured vast lawn, among residences that were ignoring its presence.

The door opened. A slender, expressionless woman in her mid-thirties emerged.

She sat by the table, on a chair closest to the kitchen door. The still air in the kitchen carried nostalgic quietude, which was briefly disturbed by the faint ceramic clicking of the stainless steel spoon against the inner wall of the cup. Andrea, another social worker and one of the six women that took care of the thirty-three children in the Seraphim Room, was preparing herself a coffee.

"Looks like unusually quiet today, huh," Andrea broke the silence.

She straightened up and grabbed her cup of hot tea. "Yeah. I noticed, too," she remarked, and took a sip.

Andrea, a 38 year-old single woman from the nearby town, walked toward the table, grabbed a chair next to hers, and sat.

"But it's kinda not the type of day we need," Andrea continued as she placed the cup on the table. Without looking at her, Andrea spoke in a voice full of broken drama, "Feel your fear when calm days come, for in their quietude their eyes glare and snarl a sinister foreboding."

The quip on her forehead announced her confusion. "Meaning?"

Andrea took a bite from her sandwich, and then glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

Reading her colleague's expression, she opted herself to interject. "I'm not good at interpretations."

"You haven't heard?"

The steam rose like gods from the teacup and delivered into her nostril the aroma of relaxing jasmine. The quip in her forehead wrinkled. "Heard what?"

Andrea's eyes narrowed as she expressed knowingly, "Oh, I can see how you've become involved with these children. You've gone way far from the first day you came here. This place is already flowing in your veins, yes, that you lost contact to people around you."

Andrea was two years ahead of her in the Shelter. She could still clearly remember how Andrea would laugh at her adjustments and frown at her mistakes. But things gradually changed, or she had gradually become used to it.

"You still aren't telling me."

Andrea was ignoring her; instead, she went on, "But then again, we all are. It's just a matter of time before it slowly dry into flakes and fall off our hair."

"I'm not keeping any promises. That can happen anytime, if I want to. If I have to."

Andrea watched her eat the Skyflakes cracker. After a while, Andrea said, "Estella is resigning."

The weight of such word caused the sinking of the news overtly thudding.

She went silent, and pondered. After a while, she remarked, "She's breaking it. She can't take hold of everything anymore, but I can't blame her. The pressure is too heavy for her, you know, the lurking annulment."

"I feel sorry for her. We know how much she loves it here."

"But she choose to save her marriage, and her family. There's nothing greater than that."

"God bless her."

"Hi," she flashed a smile as she extended her right hand to the woman who opened the door. "I'm Jemma Bermoy. I'm here for the ten o'clock interview."

The woman scanned her from feet to head, and then nonchalantly introduced herself as Criselda Aratan. She gestured her to come in.

As Criselda led her to the president's office, she asked her a question she was not prepared to answer.

"You're here for the experience alone, aren't you?"

Cautious, she hesitated. "No."

She noticed that what seemed to be the lobby was enclosed in concrete walling with doors at each of the four sides. They walked passed the sofas at the center of the floor into a door a few meters ahead of them. She noticed that it was very quiet in this part of the building. She saw no other personnel, and she saw no children. She then presumed that the two doors she saw a few meters away from both her sides would either or both lead into the children's rooms. Behind her was the door leading back outside.

What she noticed, too, was that the walling was bare, and the entire space was lacking in upholstery and any other decorations. Ornamental plants in pots occupied each corner of the lobby.

"You wanted to work abroad but got no experience," Criselda continued as though she did not hear her.

She turned her head back to Criselda. "No, that's not true."

Criselda turned around to face her. "Then why here?"

She found it ridiculous to keep answering her. She wanted to feel irritated, but she managed not to. Instead, with a composed voice, she said, "I think I'll reserve my answer to that for the president."

Apparently insulted, Criselda turned around, knocked at the door of the president's office, and said to her, "You're gonna end up like the rest of them. That's for sure."

A woman's voice spoke from behind the door. Criselda opened it and gestured her to go in.

After they finished bathing the ten children and dressing them, she noticed that Ricarda was unusually quiet as she slumped on the chair by the empty desk near the room's only door. When she was done dressing up Trisha, the 14 year-old girl with Down Syndrome, she went to join Ricarda.

"Something bothering you?" she asked.

The dreariness that she saw in Ricarda's eyes was not the same that she had seen in the past months and years. It was something more, something deeper.

Ricarda looked at her, and her eyes were that of a cat left out in the rain and waiting for the kitchen door to open. Ricarda thought for a moment, and then weakly spoke, "My son called last night. My husband had another episode yesterday."

Concerned, she sat beside her friend to console her. They were a portrait of two wounded women at that moment, one torn apart by space and time, striving from the constant call to be with her husband and son, the other faced day after day the hurtful convictions of her children to her choosing this kind of job.

"I'm sorry," she softly uttered, her head leaning against her friend's. Their eyes closed, hers were condoling, Ricarda's were lamenting.

She learned about her colleague's sad life story. She then knew how rough life was for Ricarda, she then knew how pain had measured her bravery and determination, and she then also knew how Ricarda's ordeal tempted her to question her existence and purpose. But she was proud of her friend, for in the midst of all those storms she remained anchored.

"How is he?"

Ricarda wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "He's in total paralysis. And it's irreversible."

She gasped. Silence.

"You need to go there."

Ricarda shook her head. "You know I can't. He forbids me. He still hates me."

She cupped her friend's face and made her looked into her eyes closely. "A heart full of love is powerful than a raging fire. Don't wait for anything worse to happen. Things are already worse, Ricarda."

Ricarda went silent. Inside her, emotions were screaming and spreading outward like wildfire. She waited for them to subside, for it was only by then when she could listen to them. After a long while, she softly said, "I'll think about it."

She went to hug her colleague, her friend. And they stayed like that for a while. Her eyes were staring at the other end, on the white, lifeless wall.

Across the floor, she noticed something that warned of flawed, intense emotional eruption.

Marielle, one of the ten violent special children in the Cherubim Room, was amusingly playing with a stuffed doll when another girl, Chelsea, dashed to grab the doll from her strong hands. They were pulling and pushing each other when she came to control them, and gibberish shouting and screaming stirred the room. The other children's playing turned into ecstatic wailing and, before she could ever meddle, Chelsea knocked the other girl, Minerva, sitting on the floor nearby, whose anger soared as quickly as she was disturbed. Minerva grabbed the girl's hair and, with so much intensity, slammed the girl's head into the floor like a basketball.

She and Ricarda did not see it coming; it happened so suddenly. Their hearts pounded and sounded like a stampede of frightened horses as they dashed toward the three fighting girls. The room was now in pandemonium. The other uninvolved children found what they'd seen inviting, and many of them, too, jumped into the brawl and frolicked so madly.

She went to restrain Minerva, who was wildly kicking and scratching her fingernails in the air, like a captured tiger battling for its vague survival; her power was overwhelming and unbelievable. Ricarda went to control Marielle , who was kicking at everything on the floor; toys of all sorts, crisscrossing the tiled floor, her hands hoisting wildly in the air, trying to grab Ricarda's face and hair. Near their feet was Chelsea lying on the floor, groaning in pain.

"Jemma, call Justin in! HURRY!" Ricarda screamed at her.

She was the one closest to the door, and she screamed at the top of her voice for help.

Photograph by Ana June. Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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Eden of Angels (PART 2 of 3)  

A woman in her early fifties sat behind the president's table. She was wearing eyeglasses where her eyes darted out to Jemma as she walked inside. Strips of white ran along her shoulder-length curly hair, which swayed as she shifted her medium-built body. She gestured her to sit down. Jemma's brief research the other day revealed the woman's name.

"I've already made a perusal on your credentials that you've sent through mail, and I see that you are not quite qualified for the position," Mrs. Hinaloc began. "Now I need to hear from you how determined you are, and convince me that you have the dedication for this job."

This was her very first job application since she graduated college in 1998. After graduating and after she got pregnant, she got married. She failed the teacher's board exam the following year and the year after that. Frustrated and disappointed, she had decided to channel her interest into something else. And for the next eight years, she was hopping from one job to another, all without the hopes for financial stability. Her husband supported the family in majority, but with their two sons their income were not enough.

Now, facing this seemingly straightforward and stern woman, she couldn't help herself from fidgeting. She pressed both her palms against her lap.

"It makes me happy to be around with children. The kind of happiness that you cannot feel from somewhere and someone else. Children sparks my reason to live longer," she explained, abashed by her own words and by her sudden talking of things like that. Whatever doubt and self-questioning she felt, she muffled them inside.

"You mean, normal children," Mrs. Hinaloc said in a tone that was not suggesting but correcting.

"There's just a little difference between them, I guess. You just need extra time and effort to tend these kind of children," she went on, defending.

Mrs. Hinaloc glared silently at her, scrutinizing her mind through her eyes. After a while she looked down at the resume on the table. "Extra time and effort can sometimes be detrimental and deadly here, Mrs. Bermoy. Once those extra time and effort ran out, things around here get spinning out of control, overpowering you. These children here can shatter their own lives once you ran out of those, or shatter yours."

Jemma felt embarrassed. She felt like melting, and she needed badly to melt away so fast. Mrs Hinaloc, leaned back on her cushioned swivel chair, and then continued, "These children here don't need those extra time and effort, Mrs. Bermoy. They need most of those that you'll be left with no extra time and effort for yourself and your own kids. Now, tell me, are you willing to risk it?"

"I can risk my time. I will take the risks," she said, firmly.

"I mean your family."

She went silent. "Oh, that."

"Do you think you can survive?"

She recomposed herself, and looked straight at the woman. "I know this requires a lot of physical strength, but I'm accustomed to that. That will not be a problem to me."

Mrs. Hinaloc removed her eyeglasses and rubbed her temple. With a little trace of exasperation, she looked at her and said, "I'm not talking about physical endurance. I'm talking about emotional survival. We are not dealing with children who have control over themselves and over the things around them. We are talking about children with unexpected tantrums and special attention. Children with beyond ordinary needs. Yes, you need to endure them, but it also requires your right emotions to understand them, and make them understand themselves. In that way, you can help them control themselves."

"That is a challenge I am willing to take. To help them feel they deserve to carry on their existence, to make them feel valued. I want to make them feel welcomed, that they deserve to be in this world as much as we do."

Mrs. Hinaloc looked at her and smiled. "That's a wonderful drive. But then again I need to know that you are willing to pour your life here. "

Jemma shifted her weight and replaced her palms to her knees, and this time she was pressing them harder. They rested there, tensed and stiff.

"My two sons are old enough to prepare themselves for school, and they are old enough to understand that I needed to do this for them. Having this job will in no way affect our relationship and respect to each other and everything in between."

Mrs. Hinaloc went to scan her resume again as she retorted, "Children sometimes aren't old enough to distinguish what they should and shouldn't feel envy from. At some points they will come to feel jealousy and resentments for your tending children not your own."

"I will talk to them about it. I am completely aware of that reality, and I know that it's not just a possibility. I will explain everything to them. My husband is there to look after them."

Mrs. Hinaloc sighed. Then looked at her. "How would you not confuse yourself from and not going to incorporate your own issues with that of the Shelter's? I ask you this because, although we need you to let your dedication and passion for the children here to flow into your blood, we don't expect you to integrate your personal life and struggles with the situations we always have here. It is important to see the thin line in between."

"I understand it, ma'am. And I 'll never do that. It's not going to happen."

Mrs. Hinaloc stared at her again, this time even more penetrating, as though peeling her painstakingly to reveal her flesh and bones. "Good."

But she did not feel comfortable. She felt she was not convincing enough, judging the kind of tone her interviewer had delivered. She felt the urge to keep going, to be more persuasive. "Of course I know pretty well that this is a job. And I know that work and personal life should always be separate. Mixing them is destructive either way. These mongoloid children and ---"

Mrs Hinaloc glared sharply at her. She looked agitated. She ceased from leaning on the chair and moved her body forward, closer to Jemma. With a firm, pressing voice, she interrupted, "You seem to have no idea what this is all about. You see, this is not just a job. And this is not just one of those responsibilities that you have to perform. This is about involvement with what you do, and connection to children. This is about letting them flow into your life, treating them as if you die without them. This is about understanding what these children need most, how they really feel about themselves and about the things around them. This is about loving what you do and keeping to the end the same inspiration you feel at the very start so you can keep going. Do you see it that way?"

Sheepishly, she nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

Mrs. Hinaloc, went on, "And we don't call them mongoloids or retarded children. That's too harsh and cruel. Very inhumane. They don't deserve that, just like black people don't deserve to be called 'niggers'. These children can even feel, too, how people really treat them by calling names like that. And it hurts them. We prefer to call them Special, or Challenged. But not Retards."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Hinaloc. I don't mean to convey such thought or to imply such horrible level of treatment. It just came out wrong."

"It's OK. Just don't say it again."

When Mrs. Hinaloc went back to reading the entries on her resume, Jemma succinctly closed her eyes and sighed, fearing the dark destination in which this interview was leading to. "It won't happen again."

"Good," Mrs. Hinaloc uttered and then paused. Her eyes were still on the papers, appeared to be reading. Jemma, disparagaed with fading hope and enthusiasm, waited.

Mrs. Hinaloc looked up at her. "Very well."

Another pause. Another waiting.

Without any other applicants for the past five weeks now and time had already ran out, Mrs. Hinaloc was left with no other option. She had to succumb her standards and surrender her techinicality if she needs to. "OK. Let's give it a try. I will give you two weeks to make me not regret doing this, Mrs. Bermoy."

Jemma, confused but nevertheless happy, smiled reluctantly. After the news had sank in, she said, "Thank you, Mrs. Hinaloc. Thank you very much."

Mrs. Hinaloc smiled for the first time. "Call me Vilma. Surname's too formal and territorial."

After another word or two, they both stood up, shook hands, and Vilma led her to the door. A few meters outside the gate, Jemma turned to look back. She didn't really mean to stay there for long. Criselda was right, she just needed the experience alone to qualify as a caregiver for special children in Canada. She already had the papers needed for the application, and she had already borrowed money to cover the estimated expenses. What she was told to acquire was a certification from a training center and a certification from an employer to fortify her application. Everything had already been set, and nothing could ever change what she had already planned. After a while she smiled, and then went to continue walking.

They brought the children to the playground one Saturday morning. With Justin and Enrico helping them looked after the kids, any outbursts would easily be controlled. There were no swing, no seesaw, no slides; they posed high risks of getting the children hurt. They placed rubber padding on the ground, and provided no plastic or metal toys. All were rubber, inflated, or made of stuffed cloth.

The shadows of the trees were the children's utopia; the sun cast its eastern radiance through a series of mazy holes in the foliage and landed triumphantly on the smiling imperfect faces of the running and playing children. They were oblivious to the world around them, for in their own motley world they were busy painting the colors only known to them.

But such beauty of their world was twinned with fragileness and threats. And as the four of them were mesmerized by the unexpressed Eden of the playing children, a sudden horrified shriek tore the thin sheets of lightly moving air. And it came from the inside of the Shelter.

She wanted to run into the house to know what happened, and to help if needed. But she couldn't leave her own responsibilities in the playground. And as the screaming and frightened commotion went louder from inside, Enrico dashed to help. Afraid and unsure, she and Ricarda grouped the children into one and protected them from the unseen yet eminent danger.

A few minutes later, horrified but focused Enrico dashed outside into the parked L300, in his arms the unconscious body of 13 year-old Maricar, one of the 33 children from the Seraphim Room. From her head trailed several profuse streams of blood.

The heartbreaking and shocking sight of the young woman sent uncontrollable tremors all over her body as she gasped. Ricarda covered her mouth with both her hands, fighting frantically from screaming.

"What has happened? What's going on?" her strained confused voice reverberated across the lawn.

Josephine, shaking and crying, briefly explained. With his instinct waking him, Justin ran past Criselda and Andrea, toward the vehicle and hurriedly opened it for Enrico to put Maricar inside with him. Scared but controlled, Andrea followed inside. Justin closed the door and went to driver's seat and turned on the ignition.

The first day wasn't at all that easy and welcoming. It wasn't as hard as what she had expected; it was much more harder and exhausting.

She was met in the Guest Receiving Room by one of the social workers on duty that day. Her name was Ricarda Maputol, a medium-built woman in her late forties. Married for seventeen years with one son. Annulled on the eighteenth. Roughly six years ago, Ricarda made a terrible mistake that derailed her from the promising railways of her life into perdition. She played fire with another man, and was caught by her husband. Everything was hell after that, its demon snatched away her husband and her son. The annulment was painful, and the settlement for the custody was even more disheveling. After winning the case her husband, bringing with him their son, had flown to America. She couldn't blame her husband, and she hadn't felt resentments toward somebody else but herself. And in all those crushing years, what she ever wanted was to have them back. And all she ever needed was salvation. Forgiveness. Redemption.

Sut Jemma never saw traces of those story in the woman's face. And she had yet to hear the story. Ricarda smiled genuinely when she saw her walked in. The woman extended her hands happily as she introduced herself. Jemma smiled back, shook the woman's hand, and introduced herself in return. Jemma found her friendly and unselective. She immediately felt relaxed and comfortable.

"I can see in you myself years ago when I was still new here," Ricarda began as she led her to the side door. She pushed it with force, and then gestured Jemma to go inside. "And the same passion that I have, too. I can see them in you. You'll gonna stay long here."

Unsure what to respond, Jemma just smiled.

Smiling, too, Ricarda knowingly said, "Believe me, you will. Those others before you, I didn't see it in their eyes. And I knew right away they wouldn't last. And I was right."

She didn't know what to say. She just stood there, waiting for Ricarda to lead her through. As she turned around, she saw before her the real world inside the Shelter. All of the realities came rushing all at once to her as she watched there, transfixed.

A children of around thirty litter all over the floor, each of them engulfed by and dwelling in their own world. The room was noisy and hyperactive; children were groaning and laughing and whining; most of them by themselves. Some of them were talking to one another in gibberish, some of them were actually having conversations with the attendants or with each other, but with difficulty and less or no sense at all, and with random pauses. The six social workers, all of them women mostly in their early thirties, were busy tending some of the children. Three of them were feeding those who had not yet taken their breakfast. The other two were leading the children to the kitchen for toothbrushing, and the last one was on the floor scrubbing and drying the spilled liquid that smelled of urine. The room was slightly pungent, and her mind was already spinning wildly. But she did not cover her nose. She gave a faint smile as the woman on the floor looked up to see her, but the woman went immediately back to cleaning.

"How many children are there?" she asked Ricarda, who was on her right side. They were now walking toward the three attendants who were feeding some children.

"In this quarter, we call it Seraphim Room, we have thirty three children," Ricarda replied. "And in my quarter, and your quarter, we have ten children." Then she introduced Jemma to the three workers, and to the woman who was on the floor, cleaning.

After exchanging a few words with them, she went to continue her conversation with Ricarda. "You said a while ago that there are only ten children in the other quarter. That sounds too few compared to here."

"Oh, believe me, Jemma. One day you'll gonna wish they were even fewer, if not beg to be transferred."

Her heart made a sudden leap of wonderment. Curious, she asked, "Why? How many are we there?"

"Just you and me. Every now and then Justin will come to help. He's the all-around guy. And sometimes, when we can't control it anymore, Enrico will come to our aid. He's the driver here, our only driver."

They were walking toward the kitchen, which was located behind the main building. When they were there, Ricarda told her that it was where they prepare the foods for them and for the children. The huge bathroom adjacent to the kitchen and next to a row of toilets is where they brought the children to brush their teeth and to give them a bath. The other children in the isolated room had their own bath- and restroom.

From there she was taken to the sleeping quarters, which she later found out to be more of a huge hospital ward. Two rows of eight beds each lined against the walls, just like with the other room where there were seventeen beds.

They were standing outside the social workers' quarter when Jemma asked, "The other ten children, why are they separated from the rest? Are they in grave condition?"

Ricarda turned to face her, and then looked at her in the eyes. Then she held her hand and said, "Come with me."

Photograph by Dizzee Dayzee. Please CLICK HERE to visit the owner's Flickr page. Thanks!

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