Girl in the Park
Part 1: Daybreak
She has two alarm clocks. One is the sun in her face and the other is the blaring of car horns. The incessant honking is sure to wake her up.
She yawns. Wipes her eyes and rubs at the dried spittle around her lips. She yawns again and stretches.
She’s far from an angel in the morning. Her hair is disheveled. She reaches out to a bottle of precious water, drinks some, gargles, then spits it out. She then throws some on her face. She can only afford to use some because she’ll have a hard time getting fresh water again.
The sun is most welcome because it has been deathly cold of late this February. Sleeping out in the open and on the bench? If it isn’t the weather that gets you, it’s the mosquitos. Or even… well… let’s not talk about this for now. Later maybe.
The bench has been her home for what… months? Maybe a year now? She used to know. She used to have a name. Well, she still does. Only she goes by a different name now. Her old name holds memories of another life and another time. Another place too. She’ll cry is she remembers. But she’s all out of tears. Her new name isn’t much. It’s just a nickname.
She yawns. Stretches. Thankfully, she now has a small sleeping bag to keep her snug. She has to curl herself in a fetal position to fit but snug is good. She has a light sweater that is better than nothing. At least now, her bones aren’t chilled by the cold cement bench.
The park. It’s rather small. Time was it had a nice mat of grass. Ondoy and the succeeding habagat destroyed that. Before that, senior citizens used to play croquet here. Now they’re gone. The park still has a children’s playground and it still attracts some kids from the nearby slum area. But it has its own denizens.
As early as daybreak, the few benches in the park are occupied. One lady sells snacks, water, cigarettes. There’s a small clientele who patronize her goods and that’s the truck and pedicab drivers who park nearby. There too are the folks who have nothing to do and the odd passerby. One elderly woman tried to set up shop in a nearby bench. The younger lady with more goods fought with her – it’s a turf battle, you know – and the elderly one retreated to the foot of the bridge that’s about a hundred meters away. Foot traffic is better there. But the pollution from the cars gets to her. She doesn’t mind. Or if she doesn’t she knows she cannot afford to. After all, she needs to earn money.
Mone. Doesn’t every one need it?
Angel – let’s call her that for now – wishes she had one.
Some of the park’s habitues stir. Two other women plant themselves in the bench in front. They offer a cigarette. A cigarette is more affordable than food but they certainly wish they could eat the cigarette.
She tried to look for work in some of the nearby eateries along the river. She couldn’t cook but she could sure wash the dishes for food and some money. Somehow people don’t seem to trust her because she lives in a park. She protests. She will only stay there until she could afford a room.
Ashe’s grateful because I brought her some pandesal and a bottle of water. She’s wary if I am asking for something in return. I say no. Think of it a just concern.
She quizzically looks at me. Is there anyone still like that?
The last time she asked for a glass of water from a nearby eatery the attendant asked if he could have sex with her in exchange. She said no. She came back an hour later saying she’ll agree to have sex with him if he throws in a meal and a little cash to tide her over.
So they did it one night on the bench wrapped in the small sleeping bag. When the man tried to come inside her, she kicked and clawed at him until it woke up the rest of the park’s denizens. She may be poor and most possibly only recently homeless and she knows getting pregnant in a time like this is not a good proposition whatsoever. She may be poor but she isn't stupid enough to bring a child into this harsh world.
The park's citizens drew close and the man left. But not before he threatened her with her life. That is why she dare not set foot in the nearby eateries by the river. Here in the park she’s safe. For now. She wanted to cry that night but she's all out of tears. That's for another day she tells me.
The pandesal never tasted so good. She smiles.
That’s all the thanks I need. I bid my byes and leave. She calls out. Thank you she says.