"Where?" Enrique spat back.
"I don't know. I don't care, Enrique. I'm going on."
"Wait, Martin," Nita shouted as he set off on his own.
"How will I find you?" she asked.
"They have a post office, don't they?" he laughed. "Write me. I'll write you. Good-bye." She watched him run up one of the side streets as if he were escaping. She did not expect ever to see him again.
"I've been collecting," giggled Carlos. He hoisted a plastic toy from a McDonald's 'Happy Meal' and a rusty can of soup into the air. Nita took the soup and waved him on his way. His foam-soled thongs were long gone. His feet ran naked through the muck, seemingly immune to it. The idea of buying shoes would be laughable, if Nita cared now to recall it. She pulled up the multi-coloured billboard paper which comprised the wall of their hut and tossed the can inside on a small heap of other cans they'd scavenged that week. The strip of billboard, which had the words 'Smoother, Milder Taste' dancing across it in gigantic red letters, would not stay attached to its bamboo pole. Nita fought with the unruly flap for a moment, then let it swing loose in the wind. The flies made their way inside their cardboard and paper home, anyway. She looked at the sky, hoping it would not rain again for a while. The chronic dampness was making Letty sicker. If only the sun would dry things out.
Carlos was ambling too close to one of the trash fires.
"Get away from there, Carlos! Come play by me."
He heard her and returned, then skipped off in another direction, darting in and out of the neighbouring shanties, taunting the other youngsters with his new toy. Nita stood silently and watched the bare-footed child, her own feet wedged into cheap rubber boots she had found in a bag full of discarded clothes. She managed to sell the entire contents of her find: two sweaters, five shirts and a skirt. The boots were pink, though, so nobody wanted them.
The Pangils had lived on Smoky Mountain, Manila's garbage dump, for four months. It was a rapid descent, from a cheap hotel, to a rooming house to the trash heap -- all in the first week. Enrique soon discovered what tens of thousands of other rural refugees had learned before him. There was no honest work in Manila -- and not much dishonest work, either. In the midst of a capital economy, two million people were living without any capital. What they lived off -- and on top of -- was garbage.
Letty was waking up. Nita pushed back the cardboard covering the doorway and ducked inside. Her daughter was nestled beneath a blanket on two wooden planks spread over the interior mud.
"Good morning, little sister."
Letty spoke less and less these days. It occurred to Nita that she might one day give up talking altogether. She wondered if children ever did that. If their spirits just dried up because their little hearts had decided there was no reason to keep beating so hard. Nita picked Letty up and held her. That seemed to please her daughter most.
Outside, Enrique brushed passed the door.
"I'm going," he said.
"Take me with you," Carlos roared from behind him.
"I'm the rooster. I'm the biggest rooster," Carlos sang, hopping in circles and flapping his elbows like wings. "See, Papa? Take me with you."
He followed Enrique to the edge of the trash fires, then stopped as his father tramped off without him.
It was Sunday. Enrique was going to the cockfights. It was the only thing he did with regularity anymore. Most days, he got up at noon and when he couldn't stand the smell of the eternal trash fires any longer, he wandered into the city to look for odd jobs. Nita was never sure how much money he picked up from these excursions, but he did often bring home food. And he always had at least something to bet at the fights in Pasay City on Sunday.
Copyright Nancy Hersage 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher or author.
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