The first day of darkness came and people anxiously waited for the expanse of how the day would change. For Aunt Rina, business had never been this good. I was expecting, in some confounded premonition the old woman had portended that my life would change—for the better. She was right. Not as I hoped though. It was time for Auntie to capitalize on unprecedented addition to the family.
The street lamps were on 24 hours to encourage continued business. For average households, rechargeable lamps compensated for natural light to cut down power consumption. At 9 in the morning, I would be sent to hang out on the streets where other kids beg for whatever they can. The most profitable spot was alongside the Mercury drug, now flooded by foreign bystanders day and night. My primary function though was to deliver a newspaper bond they call “goods” to a man named Boy.
Boy, a slender man in his fortys carries a faded backpack and would sometimes comes to his assigned post with a plump man who likes to wear a shirt that barely fits him. We never made contact as it seems conspicuous for old men to approach a young girl. Although the black market does not limit the age to prostitution, Aunt Rina maintains a rather more conducive money maker to compromise her business with another line of business. For such, I thank God for the “goods”.
My training before this job was immense. I had to slid a roll through a hidden slit under the backpack for 5 seconds. A work done so well was rewarded with abundant meal and so I did good everytime. Carlo, Aunt Rina’s 14 year old son was the wingman that oversees operation on the street. He keeps a close watch of me, the receiver and unwanted sting lurking as commoner.
On the 6th day, the street lights glimmered like a carnival on its last show run. The kids played here and there, banners hover from corner to corner and the sex union gathered in festivities. It is as if they never want to see the light of the day. Carlo was not his usual self, distracted by almost naked caravan of women calling out for midnight special. After the delivery of goods, Carlo emerged from a crowd of women bargaining with a group of prospective clients. It was the first incident of neglect and never should have been. I should never be able to pinpoint him from a crowd.
“Go home. Tell Rina I’ll be late.” His slim stature became more transparent in a white sando soaked with sweat. He shoved me off as soon as his friends called out. I looked around while the sound of distant chatting grew loud. My heart suddenly throbbed from excitement. I walked and walked, away from familiar shadows. Every step farther lead to liberating from a not-so-long ago past. Every corner and building named were sole witnesses to a future of no-looking-back. I stopped at a bricked driveway where cars are stalled on a wide entrance. Inside is an open architectural hall built with unlit dome of church. Not far from it are restaurants and shops decorated by clusters of men and women clothed for the occasion. This is not a place for me. Not a place for a kid who had just ran away. The benches in the garden offered me a good place for viewing and isolation.
“You alone?” An old foreigner intruded my fancy silent mingling. His belly was so huge I could mistake him for Santa Claus, while I being the lost Little Red Riding Hood. “Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked again. I didn’t confirm approval but he did anyway.
“Are you hungry? I have place close to this mall. If you’re hungry or need a place to sleep, you could stay.” I studied his face for the first time. He was indeed Santa Claus except that the beard were tinted unnaturally black. “Don’t be scared. I got little kids like you who stay at my place. They eat whatever they want. Think of me like an uncle.”
He stood up and offered to take my hand. I blindly followed, hoping to end an exhausting day.