There he stood, a kid who couldn’t have been more than twenty. I was ready to wave him away, but the smile in his eyes held me captive. It outshone the one on his lips. The Mandaluyong skyline framed his small stature as he began the spiel he must’ve repeated countless times that day.
I struggled to make sense of what he was saying, rapid-fire sentences. I caught ‘leadership training’ and ‘fund raising.’ Quickly he whipped out a pen, inwardly I rolled my eyes. A project for student leaders. Experiential training. RTU. I asked him again what school he was from. Rizal Technical University. I’d never heard of it, but I forgot suspicion as he braced me for a silly surprise. Taraaan. A built-in calendar scrolled from the brightly-coloured pen. I couldn’t help the little laugh escaping my lips, and his was as infectious as mine. We savoured our shared mirth as he showed me more colourful pens. I asked him why he volunteered to do the fund raising and what it was for. To raise funds for an inter-university project, he said, swaying on his feet. And he was part of the student council, head bob, and he didn’t have anything to do for the summer anyway, big grin.
Intelligence shone from his eyes as I listened to him explain to me what he learned in his own recently concluded training. The difference between cognitive something something and experiential something something something. The need to cultivate not only intellectual development but service and heart.
I was going to make him earn my contribution to his little cause, so I asked him what he thought were the most pressing concerns of the nation. He laughed again, and on top of his head I saw a thought bubble – “Why is she making this hard?!?” Corruption, poverty and population, he said. Ding ding ding, sold! I didn’t like the calendar pen, a bright pink one with a flashlight seemed the thing.
I asked him what his name was. Bernard Bernardo. More roiling laughter. What a fake sounding name, I thought. He insisted his parents took extreme care in naming him, their first child. He said his profuse thanks for supporting their project. A hundred pesos seemed a cheap enough price to pay for a glimpse of youthful hope. In his eyes I saw an enthusiasm for life, something I rarely see these days. A little angel come to rescue me from my belligerence. And then another angel came, bearing calming light with his lucky ciggies. And all was right.