It was nearly Christmas, I heard the 5pm mass at San Pedro Cathedral, I was on my usual spot, the fourth row from the back, second column from the left. A frail child sat beside me and sang in hushed tones, We wish you a merry christmas, we wish you a merry christmas.... For heaven's sake! This child is caroling inside the church and while the holy mass is going on! I could not ignore him, and as I turned my head, I saw Dodong. I raised my brow, and asked the kid what his name was, just to confirm if he was lying or not the few months ago when I met him at the office building. He said his name, "Dodong." I was thinking, is it really his name? Or just a name he's accustomed to telling all the people whenever he's asked? Anyway, Dodong recognized me from our previous encounter. He pleaded for a Jollibee treat after the mass. (Whaaaaat???) I don't know what got into me that time. Maybe it was because of the Christmas spirit that made me say Yes.
I ordered the cheapest value meal for both of us: A burger, fries, and coke. We proceeded to the second floor at Jollibee Bolton. Dodong didn't pay much attention to the food, he was busy playing. He would occasionally go back to our table after a few minutes of playing and would only take no more than two bites of his burger. I thought that he was really hungry at that time but he doesn't seem to be as interested in food as much as he is interested into playing. Well, it's his choice. I can't remember what happened next that night, I might have left him there at Jollibee before I strolled off to go to school which is just about 50 meters away.
I haven't seen Dodong for quite some time after that. Maybe he went to school already. Maybe he died, not that I wished for him to be dead. It was just, I thought that kid never had a chance...
One time in 2007 or 2008, as I was aboard a jeepney in Bonifacio Street, near the corner of UM Bolton, I spotted Dodong. This time, he was begging, begging in a clever way! That kid is really a genius. He's grown taller from the last time I saw him, though I couldn't really measure by how much 'cause he was sitting on the pavement that time. He's older now, but still has that innocent boy looks, though I know what he's doing is a sure was to deceive passers-by. He acted as if he is a cripple, sitting on the pavement, eyes focused on nowhere, and with feigned involuntary motion disorder! What is this kid doing? I just shrugged in disbelief, this kid could have been a child actor. I did not let him see me, nor bothered to give him alms. I think he wouldn't remember me anyway.
Just two months ago, I spotted Dodong once again. He could be a teenager by now, he's still thin, and he maintained that innocent but witty look. He has made a career, or so. He's no longer begging. I spotted him selling cigarettes and candies along CM Recto Avenue, that block where the old Gaisano Center is located. He's now a what is locally known as one of the "Takatak Boys." I feel proud that he has somehow graduated from his begging ploys and has chosen a more decent way of earning money.
I don't know what will happen to that boy in the future. Dodong is just one of them, one of thousands like him who have lost hope early in childhood. Sometimes, I ask myself if that once-in-a-lifetime Jollibee treat I extended to him made a difference in his life, or if he could even remember it? And is it the only thing that I can do? Am I willing to do more?
Sometimes, I just look, stare, complain, and do nothing. What am I here for?