Practised salespersons, two young ones rushed to us selling their leis of ilang-ilang. We were smoking off my brother's birthday bounty outside a restaurant in Quezon City. And there they were eagerly shoving their wares to our newly-stuffed faces.
As I have been wont to do lately, I conducted a mini-interrogation of these child labourers. One is in the fifth grade and the other in third. They looked small for their ages - purportedly 9 and 11. They were residents of NIA road - that slum area near the QC central post office. Like all sob stories, their parents were mostly unemployed. I asked them why they were working when their parents weren't. The practised answer was - of course they wanted to help their families. Their classes are from 12 to 6, after which they hit the hard streets selling their little bit of fragrant heaven.
How long do you stay out here? Until we sell everything off. Do you have time to play or do homework? The fifth grader eagerly pointed to the little satchel at the foot of a tree. Home work on top of work work.
Bright kids, I thought. It didn't matter whether I was fed lies. I suspected as much given how fast the answers flew out of their little mouths. Maybe liars - but quick-witted ones. I was impressed and so I bought a couple of strings of ilang-ilang.
Tomorrow these little girls' evening will be exactly the same as this one. After school they will doff their uniforms and hie off to places of conspicuous consumption to earn their keep.
Tomorrow I will go to Makati, one among the multitude. Amorphous, symbolic, the many voices of those who say no to changing the highest law of the land to suit the interests of the lawless.
I will go because those little girls cannot.