“Can I have some,” she said. She stood about a foot from my table outside and she pointed to my food and held out her hand palm up. I pretended not to notice. Please don’t ruin my moment.
It was officially my last day of exams in the university and I had went to the nearest McDo to celebrate. I deserved it. It had been a hard year and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. But I did. I had just turned in my last exam and I felt good about it. I only had to wait for the grades to come in and I was confident I passed everything. Not with flying colors, sure, but passed, yes. (Before you criticize, I’ll have you know that I studied engineering. Just passing is a feat in itself. What did you study, anyway?) I only had to wait a matter of time until the graduation. This McDo meal wasn’t anything special but it was what I could afford with the allowance I had left. And I tell you a McDonald’s cheeseburger never tasted better. And it was that precise moment when I was savoring it with my eyes closed like some Sharon TV commercial that the girl came along.
“Can I have some.” Again.
I looked at my burger. I had bitten off only a chunk. “It’s not polite to do that, you know.”
I stopped myself from looking at her directly. Didn’t want to spoil my appetite.
“Do you want to buy a sampaguita instead?”
“It only costs twenty pesos for one.”
“No, I said.”
“Can I have some of the fries?”
“Can’t you see I am eating? Your smell is ruining my meal.” Yes, I said that. Shouted it rather.
On doing so I looked at her. I didn’t want to, but I gave her a long good look. The face, thin, pallid, and frail and the large eyes that looked up at me. The smudges of black grease on her face like some crude unction anointed lavishly for struggles that lay hidden and myriad ahead of her. The limbs thin and pathetic, barely holding her up like one of those engineering miscalculations I was only too familiar with.
Her lower lip trembled and she looked like she was about to cry.
“Sorry,” I said.
She kept silent now.
“Don’t you have school?”
“I don’t go to school. I can’t.”
“I need to sell.” She held out the sampaguita flowers to me with her head inclined.
“Do you want to buy?” she asked.
“I don’t have any more money. Sorry.”
“I mean it. I don’t have more.”
I looked down at my burger. It was getting cold. Way to go. The last day of the university and here I am celebrating by myself in peace and then this girl comes along. Couldn’t I have some time alone by myself? I looked at her again.
“Do you work?” she asked me.
“No. I’m a student at the university. Was a student. Today’s my last day.”
“Where will you work after?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Do your parents work?” It was my turn to do the asking.
“What does she do?”
“She’s a security guard at the mall.”
“How about your dad?”
“How many siblings do you have?”
“I’m the oldest of eight.”
Darn. I figured. A security guard can barely earn enough for herself, I imagine. But to support a family of eight children? Good luck. Poor girl. No wonder she has to sell.
I let her sit down now across me. Looking at that frail frame made me feel a little more magnanimous, so I gave her my Coke. She took a small sip and her eyes lit up like it was her first time to drink it or something. She had set the flower garlands on the table and she now held that plastic cup in her two hands like some goblet that contained a precious, hallowed liquid to be administered scrupulously.
“Do your other siblings work too?” I asked.
“The ones who are old enough. The second and the third.”
“How come your dad doesn’t want to work?”
He’s a drug addict, she told me. She told me that he had worked before as a janitor in a high school but that by the eighth child he had started getting into drugs and then he got kicked out of his work. That he had started to harass her mother for more money and that when she could not give him more he left the house and his wife and all the children. And she, the girl, and her other siblings who were in school then had to stop their studies. That her mother had to look for a job and finally got one as a security guard at the mall, and even then it was not enough to pay for all the children. That eventually they had to go out themselves to work and sell the sampaguitas so that they could earn something for the family to eat.
It gets worse. She told me she still thought of returning to school and her mother told her so too, that once she can find a better job she would make sure that she, the girl, can go back to her studies. She told me that she wanted to be doctor in the future so she could help her mother whose health had not been so well because of all the hours spent working and taking care of the children and all the hours of missed sleep.
I tried to smile now but I couldn’t. I must have looked like I was about to cry this time. “Good luck. You will have to study hard so that you can enter the university.”
“Is it hard?”
“Yeah. But it is worth it.”
I looked at the burger and fries.
“You know what,” I said to her. I slid the burger across the table.
“Yes. All for you.”
“Thank you kuya.”
“Enjoy it.” I thought to content myself with the fries.
Then she did the strangest thing. She took out a plastic bag that she had in her pocket and then she covered the burger carefully back into its paper wrapper and then put it into the plastic bag.
“Wait,” I said. “I thought you said you wanted it.”
“I do want it.”
“So how come you’re not eating it.”
“I’m keeping it.”
“Yeah. I want to share it with my other siblings when I get home later.”
“But there are eight of you.”
“I know. But we always find a way to divide it equally. My mom is good at it.”
I felt the water rush to my face and I had to sniffle and pretend that it was only a cold or some allergy.
“Do they like french fries?” I asked.
She smiled. “It’s my brother’s favorite.”
I slid that pack of fries across the table as well.
“Thank you,” she said, putting the pack into the plastic bag as well.
When she left I wiped my eyes on the napkin papers that were left with me. I looked around to make sure nobody saw. I got up from my table and went home that day without eating lunch. I wasn’t hungry anymore, anyway.