I started to write a story for GA's Fall Anthology. The theme was Worth Fighting For, and I liked it. But I never got to finish the story even though I had a lot of time to because I just lost the inspiration. So if you're not interested in reading an unfinished story, don't read further because I'm posting it here. Again, I'm warning you. This is an unfinished story.
That Look on His Face
I will never forget that look on his face, as brief as it is. It's like a short explosion of joy. I swear, his face at that moment lights up the highway. But then, he looks at me, askance, his eyes bulging out of their sockets. I can almost hear his thoughts aloud. I can taste his desire. I can read them on his face. His eyes beg me. They ask me for assurances, but I wait for him to speak. I wait to hear his voice. Yet, timidity takes over him. His stare returns back down to the ground, and his glances become furtive. At that moment, I feel my heart break-more for him than for myself. How can this boy lose the spirit that makes childhood so full of life and liberating?
I decide to sit with him on the sidewalk in front of the internet caf? that I half-own. I have been closing down already when I saw him huddled next to this big pot of plant near the entrance. I think he must be around nine years old. I can tell that he is new to the streets because his clothes are not that dirty and his eyes are all over the place like he is scared someone will jump out of the shadows anytime to take him. My heart has immediately gone out to him. I remember how frightened he looked when I approached him to give him my unfinished lunch. I have reheated it inside for him then placed it beside him with a smile. Now, he is still looking at the food then to me with a question. I have imagined he would immediately gobble it up, but he sits there, totally unsure.
"It's okay, bud. You can eat it. It's hot," I say. I have not a single idea what else to tell him. He seems to think it over, and I don't realize until then that I want so much for him to eat the food that I have brought him. I'm confused of his reaction to me because not many of these street kids would turn down a meal that have been offered to them. At the same time, I find myself approving his wariness for strangers. I just hope he would soon learn to trust me. I don't know what it is, but I feel an urge inside me to look after this kid and I rarely disregard my urges. I just hope he would still be here tomorrow.
Almost hesitantly, the kid reaches for the plate of food that I have placed beside him. It's like he is expecting me to take it back. I smile at him encouragingly. He lifts the plate near his mouth and inhales. God, I wonder when he last had something to eat. His eyes flashes at me again, all wariness, but he puts a spoonful of rice in his mouth and pops one of the chicken nuggets in. It is alright, I realize, he doesn't have to trust me; he just has to eat. I can never live with myself knowing I have ignored this little angel at my doorstep. He continues to feed himself, glancing at me once in a while as if I would take the plate of food from him. Not a chance, I want to tell him, but I stay silent, happy for the fact that the little guy is eating the food I have given him.
He finishes up, and there is not a bit of rice left on the plate. I can tell that he wants more, but he contents himself with what he got. He places the empty plate on the ground where I have put it earlier and mutters, "Thank you." His voice puts a smile on my face. I swear I saw him smile a little, and the effort makes my heart jump. It saddens me that he won't smile more, and I wonder once again what could break such a boy's spirit as young as he is.
I smile at him again and take the plate inside. I bring him water on a plastic cup and start locking down everything. After I'm sure everything is secured, I sit next to him. I ask, "Do you have a place to stay tonight?" I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. I can't explain it, but the best that I could come up with is this urge inside me to help him, to take care of him.
"Yes," he answers me.
It disappoints me, but I smile at him. For some reason, he reminds me of how empty my apartment is right now. I stand up and give him a twenty-peso bill. "Take care," I tell him. I hope I see him again tomorrow.
The next morning, I stop by a fastfood and buy breakfasts for two. I have been so sure that I would see the boy at my doorstep again, but he isn't there. I look around after parking my car, hoping to see just a glimpse of him, but later troop to my shop with bags of breakfasts, disappointed. I put his share in the microwave oven, then proceed to attack mine.
I always open the shop up at seven a.m., and there always is a customer at that time. Same as there always still is a customer at ten p.m. when I close down. Jeff, my lover and business partner, has gone to attend to his sick mother for a week now. We used to divide the day between us, but I don't know when he'll be back, so that leaves the shop to me the whole day for now. Our shop also takes in computer repairs, which is sort of a sideline for both Jeff and I, as well as website building. Whoever gets the repair job gets the money. Getting the repair job depends on what time we were at the shop. I used to have the shop to myself during the earlier half of our business time, but now that I have the whole time to myself, I have more extra money, aside from my half of the income from the caf? itself. But it is also tiring. I
pray Jeff be back soon.
At lunch, I check the sidewalks, but I find no sign of the boy. I give up the thought of seeing him again. I heat the breakfast-his breakfast-in the oven and eat it on my desk. A couple of customers comment on my meal, and I relate to them the story about the boy from last night. "Nah, somebody just stood you up for breakfast," one of the regulars chides, which, of course, elicits laughter from the whole shop. "I'm charging you double," I retort back to him. The rest of the day passes by fast, and I owe it from the workload that Jeff has left to me. It's tiring, yes, but I have always liked the idea of being my own boss. Besides, we still have one of our feet in a little debt over this business. It's nothing that we worry about though. In a few months, we're sure we will be debt-free.
Closing up at ten is the same as always. I wait for the last of the customers to filter out of the shop and then sweep the floors until I'm sure I've swept almost all the dusts away. Sometimes I find stuffs obviously forgotten by some forgetful customers. I put them in the drawers in case someone comes back to look for them. When it comes to money, I admit that I usually pocket them, unless, of course, when someone comes asking me about it. Jeff and I keep a log about those, but usually, it's finder's keepers. After sweeping, I mop every inch of the floor. It's a good thing the floors are tiled; they are easier to keep clean that way. I check if all the computers are already unplugged. Then, I switched off the main power switch. The window grills are chained and padlocked, the front doors barricaded with locks after the burglary alarms were turned on. They were connected to our apartment and the nearest police station.
I think of the boy as I drive home, wondering if I should buy him breakfast again tomorrow morning. I keep looking right and left. That boy near the dumpster, another one across the street, they remind me of the boy from last night. I lose interest, though, when I see that they're not him. The ritual continues until I park the car in front of the building where my apartment is. I lay on my bed with the boy in my mind. I desperately want to forget about him, and it's the last thought I have in my mind as I drift off to sleep. I don't have time to tell myself not to
dream about him.
He is sleeping on a flattened-out cardboard box next to the pot of plant when I arrive the next morning with my usual breakfast. His pillow is a little knapsack that I think contains his stuff. I briefly wonder if he is a runaway, then scold myself for not bringing extra food. I wake the boy after I've set the whole shop up. He sits up groggily and starts to pick up the cardboard, tucking it under his arm. He stands and starts to walk away, but I stop him. "Do you want to come in, clean up, and eat breakfast first?" He looks down at the ground and seems to think it over. After a few seconds, he shyly nods at me, and I lead him inside with a hand on his back. I show him where the bathroom is and then put his cardboard behind the counter. I call the nearest fastfood for two more breakfast meals. I want the boy to eat a lot.
The breakfast arrives as the boy strolls over to the counter where I sit. He is still dressed in the same clothes, but he is definitely cleaner. His hair is newly washed, and his skin is rid of dirt. I make a note to myself to buy some clothes for him at the flea market. Just in case, I remind myself, just in case I see him again. We eat as a few customers come in. If the presence of the boy bothers them, they say nothing about it to me. As I have expected, the boy is hungry. I wonder how much he had for food yesterday. He is smiling when we finished our food.
"Kuya will do," I tell him, smiling, "I'm not that old yet. What's your name, anyway?"
"I'm Wendell," I say to him. "Well, Cyrus, if you have nowhere else to go just yet, I'll be glad to have you with me here. Do you know anything about computers?"
He shakes his head, but I notice him glance at the computers excitedly. I'm not surprised that he knows nothing about computers, though, with him being in the streets and all. I'm guessing-if he has parents-that they have not let him go to school for lack of money. Maybe they even make him work. What I want to find out, though, is how long he has been staying in the streets. But that can wait for another day.
I make Cyrus sit on the booth next to the counter and try to explain to him how to use the computer. When I'm finally sure that he can do the basic operation, I leave him alone, telling him not to hesitate to call me if he has any question. He smiles wide, looking like a kid with a new toy.
The fact that he might not know how to read hits me only when I'm into the third paragraph of my email to Jeff. I go out of the counter and look at his monitor. He would open a program then close it after looking it over. That's how I learned how to use a computer. When he settles on Paint, I tap him on the shoulders. He looks up at me, and I take the mouse, minimizing Paint. "Can you read?" I ask him, and he nods. "Okay. Read this." I point at the Microsoft Word icon.
"Mee-cro-sof-tuh word," he reads, then turns back to look at me again.
"That's good," I tell him, "But it's not mee-cro-soft. It's my-cro-soft." I maximize the Paint window and pat Cyrus' head, leaving him to do what he wants. Maybe I'll dig up my Mario Brothers game CD for him. That's where I started with computers too. When he becomes tired of that, maybe I'll teach him Grand Theft Auto, Counter Strike, Battle Realms, and War Craft. Even website building.
I go back to my email to Jeff, telling him that Cyrus can read after all. I ask him how he felt about letting Cyrus stay with us. I then remind him to call when he can.
For the rest of the day, I teach Cyrus all the things that he wants to know about computers, and by closing time, he knows all about the usual stuffs-internet, office, media player, etc. He doesn't read that well, so the icons really are a big help. That isn't what makes me feel better though. It is feeding Cyrus the whole day. He's like the little brother that I never had. After locking down everything, I ask him again if he has a place to stay. He nods yes, and I wonder again where this place he is talking about is. I want to take him home with me, but I don't push the issue. I leave him with twenty pesos again.
The next day, I pass by a flea market and buy two sets of clothes for Cyrus. He is sitting on the sidewalk in front of the shop, and I quickly send him inside to clean up, giving him the clothes I bought. I once again call the nearest fastfood for three orders of breakfast, which we eat on the counter together as customers start to file in. I teach Cyrus how to play Mario for a while, and he learns quickly. Lunch and dinner are also with him. We go on like this for a few days, and before I even realize it, two weeks has already gone by.
I watch him transform during those days that we have been together. He's like a bird who suddenly realized that he's out of the cage, and it reminds me of the first time that I've seen him. I am reminded of the way his gloomy face broke out into a joyful expression as I put a plate of food in front of him that night. Now, though, he has that expression everytime I look at him, and it makes me happy that I'm able to fuel his joy. Gone is that timid boy that I have met weeks ago. A boy who smiles a lot and is eager to learn a lot of stuffs about computer have replaced him. One thing that I can't workout, though, is why he wouldn't want to stay with me since we both know that he is homeless. Sometimes, I try asking about his parents, but all I get is a shrug. For a kid, he sure can keep things to himself.
It is one afternoon after lunch that things start going to hell. I am teaching Cyrus all about Battle Realms-I figure I'll start with the least violent first-when this tall thin guy bursts into the shop accompanied by a policeman. He goes straight for Cyrus who suddenly turns pale, picking him up by pulling one of his ears.
"What did I tell you?" he snarls at the boy.
Having had enough, I clear my throat and say, "Excuse me. Are you his father?" The policeman stands there like a stump, looking unconcerned.
The guy turns to me, scowling. "You mind your own business!" he barks at me. By this time, the customers are all up from their seats and watching the ruckus.
"Well, sir, you are here in my property and I must ask you to leave," I tell him sarcastically, "Without the boy, of course, unless you're his father."
I fall silent.
"See?" His grin is condescending. "I'm his uncle."
He drags Cyrus towards the door, and I turn to follow. The policeman grabs my arm, saying, "Please, sir, you don't need to get involved with this."
"Right. And who would? You?
That's it. Sorry. I don't think I would be finishing this story. *Shrugs*