This morning, I woke up needing a lift in my spirit. So I called my little friend Jordan in Cebu. I miss him and I also miss the noise (I can't believe I miss the noise ) that I have gotten accustomed to upon waking up in my apartment in Cebu. There's the neighbors' rooster and its' incessant crowing, then there's the other neighbor who seem to get it's cue from the rooster then starts the radio with its' eardrum blasting cacophony.
But most of all, I miss Jordans little feet dragging his rubber slippers while pacing back and forth in front of my door at 530 a.m. It's my cue to open the door because if I don't, he not only drags his slippers louder he also makes a loud coughing noise. Jordan and his siblings with their jobless father lives close by me. The siblings collectively struggle to make money by whatever means possible and still barely eats 3 times a day . Jordan puts in his share of income from an occasional sweeping and wiping clean the bench seats of passenger jeepneys. His mother died when he was 6 years old and has since then basically raised himself. I knew his mother but I really did not know this child but he attached himself to me even though I only saw him occasionally when I came to visit from the US.
This time when I came to live in my apartment in Cebu he lost interest in everything else; his little income and his little friends. He would stand in my front door literally for hours waiting for me to use him for errands in return for some food. I told him he can leave, that I will just call for him when I needed him. But he prefers to hang around me because he likes to observe what I do. You see, he thinks I am rich because I come from America. He is intrigued by the things I have that they don't have in their house. He is awed that I have food anytime I want to eat; all I have to do is open the refrigerator. I feel compassion and affinity for Jordan because I see myself in him. Growing up poor, I also once longed to be like the rich. I slowly introduced him to the better side of life ; I replaced his mismatched, oversized hand- me- down rubber slippers, bought him a couple of shirts and pants and provided soap and water in exchange for him to bathe everyday and stay clean around me.
It took weeks before he got all the hardened grimes out of his body. From years of not bathing more than twice a month, the grimes did not disappear instantly but came off layer by layer. The family has to choose the best use for the money; between bathing(buy soap and water) and eating, the choice is not difficult.
Jordan is 12 but he is mentally deficient because of malnutrition. But he is considerate, he is kind and has the childlike innocence that you don't find in 12 year- olds nowadays. Whenever l take him to do grocery shopping, he would always insist that I don't carry or lift anything. He likes to go with me because we always get something to eat, sit around and people watch. And even though he can't carry on a conversation, I still enjoyed his presence because I am rewarded by the sparks in his eyes everytime I tell him he can order whatever he wants to eat.
But one day, I told him I can't take him with me, because I don't have extra money to eat. He still begged me to let him tag along anyway. I knew then that I would never feel alone in Cebu.
He could not carry on a full sentence to make sense,and only knows to write the alphabet of his name, but knowing that his heart is sincere, I try to be patient with him. He wants so bad to help his family financially that whenever I gave him money, he runs to his father and give it all away. I struggled to find the right words to explain to him that his gesture is good, but that I want my money to buy food for him, not cigarettes for his father.
When I talked to Jordan today, he was busy preparing for the "exchange gift" that the neighborhood kids were planning to have. I made sure he had money to participate but he did not sound happy, I asked him why, he said he wished I was there. Jordan understands what it means to be in a crowd and still feel alone. Me too, wished not to be alone this Christmas. I controlled the tears and promised to see him soon. I taught him how to read and follow the calendar, so he asked me what "date" is soon. I struggled for the answer and he asked another question, " Your voice is broken, are you sick? Is it Christmas in America now?" Jordan may not be smart or able to read and though his voice was filled with childish curiousity, I felt the echo of care and concern.
No, Jordan, Christmas is tomorrow, but yes, my heart is broken. Again.