By Niccah T. Carillo
(This essay is a finalist in the 1st Lagulad Prize.)
The darkness starts eating the whole place. It’s a sign that I should be at home. But unlike a normal teen, it’s a good thing for me. It’s my rest day from work, so I better savor moments when I’m still free, embrace the day like it’s the real freedom from struggles and problems, enjoy it as if there’ll be no more upcoming stressful days, and make the most out of its last, peaceful hours.
I am sitting on a bench here at the city plaza, silently observing people go by. It’s just another passing day for a teen to witness. There are kids eating ice cream, couples holding hands while walking, families sitting on other benches while eating street food, vendors encouraging people to buy, athletes stretching, boys skating, and girls talking about random topics.
If only I was luckier not to have the problem that my family is facing right now, maybe I can do the same stuff.
As I look at these people, I can’t help myself from reminiscing.
Far from where I am at now, the place where I was born seemed left out by progress, but I grew up a cheerful kid. I experienced some enjoyable “larong pinoy.” There are some memories I treasure dearly: playing as a mother at a young age because of “bahay-bahayan,” kissing solid ground and tasting rough sands because of “tumbang preso,” and arguing with playmates after losing in a game of “chinese garter.” I’ve been hurt because of playing tug-of-war. I’ve been cheated in a game of rock-paper-scissors. I’ve been scolded because of hitting a playmate while playing “shatong.” I cried over a candy stolen by another kid. I stumbled in “luksong-baka,” scarred my knees playing “patintero,” and got wounded because of playing hide-and-seek under the crescent moon’s light. How can I simply forget these childhood memories? Whether they gave me a smile or a frown, they’re all worth keeping.
Many moons have ascended, and I am now changed. I have come of age. I’ve witnessed and experienced myself “grow up.” After those childish acts, I became a teen. I can remember myself cutting classes, engaging in fights, and climbing the school’s walls (the so-called “third gate”) with other girls. Walls are easy compared to trees—I once fell and got a sprain because of climbing fruit trees with my classmate. I’ve also been chased by our school’s security guards for sneaking out. (I just wanted to buy snacks!) I was once marked absent because I was in the library taking a nap instead of attending classes. I got told to gather garbage because I was late for the flag ceremony. I got spanked by my older sister for swimming at the dam. (Obviously dangerous!) And the most unforgettable “teenage” memory? I used to be teased by my friends because of a crush on one of my classmates. I was also courted and had my own share of heartaches.
Thousands of babies are born every day with their futures unpredicted and unknown. Some wind up with rich families and are fed with golden spoons while some with the middle-class or poor families. Although mine is poor, I consider it the coolest. We have lots of debts, but we’re also full of care and love. But it’s true that happy times start to fade when greater challenges occur. My family experiences a regular crisis, financially speaking. I spend holidays far from home because I choose to continue my studies as a working student. I used to cry under the fireworks hoping that my family are by my side during those merry times. I clean dirty kitchens and comfort rooms, but I still remain optimistic as the day ends, knowing that my hardship will bear fruit. I have been nagged and scolded by former employers, but I’m still full of hope, knowing that fortitude is the key to graduating and getting a stable and decent job.
At times, I would be envious of some teens who can buy stuff without shedding tears and sweat. I had also wished to have the same elegant and magical debut celebration as experienced by other girls turning eighteen. I also prayed to have the same time and life like other teens who can spend quality time with their parents and siblings. But wishful thinking aside, I’m still standing firm and aiming for a brighter future. I set those wishes aside because I know God has planned something greater for me.
With the setting of the sun, some lose hope. But as long as the sun rises in the east, I will remain resilient. I will still face the hard life full of determination and courage. Like a soldier of valor, I will patiently wait for another day when new hopes are visible. It’s telling me that I did a great job, that I can and I will. Like a newfound friend to encourage me to rise above the strong current, the strong waves of troubled waters, with the knowledge that one day, it will be calm.
From a beautiful and healthy child, I grew up into a whining grade school kid and became a fragile, naive teen. I’ve really changed a lot. With each birthday, I simply don’t have another digit added to my age. I also have spiritual and mental growth. Molded and shaped by my environment, I am happy for what and who I am now. I’ve been through many ups and downs, and I’ve frowned and cried many times, but I am still aiming for more treasures. Hopefully it’s a crown.
Soon I’ll reach the summit of success and I’ll be humbly victorious. In time, I’ll become a wise and mature young adult. I will be a good and strong parent and, eventually, be one of the respected oldies. I will grow as old as I can be.
A genuine smile forms on my lips. Again, I look at the people in the plaza. I am happy for them and for myself too. I am alone physically, but I am not without friends. I’ve found new ones even though from afar. How I wish I could do the same things without hindrances. But just like what they say, “Great things come to those who wait.” I pick my things, and I’m good to go. I have gathered enough treasures for this day. Some reminisced memories, life’s lessons, and self-motivational thoughts. Treasures for myself, treasures for a lifetime.