A Barrio Tale

Blackness.

I open my eyes and there is still blackness. The air is chilly. I am certain the sun has not yet risen. My siblings are still fast asleep. My mother, still in deep slumber. Time to get up before I am tempted to lie down again.

I hoist myself up to sitting, place my feet on the cold floor – the floor that is all too familiar to mind, then walk the short walk to the kitchen where I know a basket of Pandesal is waiting for me. On the dining table it waits, indeed – just as I expected. Uncle Artem does his duties religiously. I should feel beholden to him for routinely preparing the goodies every morning. And my only role is to sell the stuff.

Simple.

It shouldn’t be so difficult. Besides, the people in our neighborhood know me. I am a welcomed sight to begin their day even if I do not take a bath. Who can tell if I had or had not bathed? Plus, I get to earn a couple of coins for my baon to school. What’s the hazard in that?

The clock strikes five. Time to hit the streets. My mind already set to computing the day’s wages. I should be able to earn fifty pesos today. I’ll dally by the Gregorio house. They must buy more. I heard they had balik-bayan visitors last night; more mouths to feed.

I open the front door. The cold air, masking my face. It is still dark out there. I may be the only one on the streets. I wonder if Edwin will sell his taho this morning. It would be nicer a feeling to know I am not alone, at least. Oh, well. I guess I should be going.

Basket in arm, I shut the door behind me. Even with my tsinelas on, my feet could feel the icy sand. I find my way to the main street. Trees silhouetted by that tinge of light; from where it came from, I do not know. But I see this every morning before the dawn breaks; it is almost beautiful and haunting at the same time.

So many kids my age are scared of this hour – the hour before the Sun rises. I don’t know why this is so. In all those mornings that I have been selling pandesal, I have never encountered peculiar things or creatures. They say that boys aren’t supposed to be scared of anything. Well, I am not scared of anything. Being scared is for ninnies, they tell me. I am not a ninny. Nothing deters me.

I trudge along the sandy street of Daya. I should start calling out. “Pandesal!” I yell a little louder, “Pandesal! Paaaaannndesaaaal!!!!” I know people hear me. My voice is loud and clear. Besides, I am expected. This is an easy-peasy business.

Ah! There goes someone.

I walk faster towards that shaded figure. He is about twenty feet from me. Closer… closer… his profile still unclear. Blast this dimness! I cannot see as much.

Has he seen me?

“Pandesal, Sir?… Still hot and fresh.”

No reply.

I quickened my steps, for fear of losing my first buyer. Closer… closer… to get to him – my Buena mano.

Ten feet.
Just another step then another
Seven feet.
Step… step

He is now four feet from me, but again, blast the dimness! I strain my eyes, hoping to recognize a familiar face.

Step… step…
Two feet.

The hairs at the back of my head shot up. My arms suddenly enveloped in an icy coldness. I feel stiffness all over my body. I cannot move my legs! They are glued to the ground! The contents of my basket irretrievably scattered. I feel warm liquid trickling my legs, soaking my pants.

Blast the dimness! I cannot see the man’s head!

 



THE BRRIO

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