Urban slums in Miracles of Quiapo

Chapter 5: Boy Deo

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While watching TV, Teresa sees a sea of Black Nazarene devotees during Traslación. She commits to memory footages of people being interviewed who claimed being miraculously healed of their sickness by the Black Nazarene. She plans to bring her congenitally deformed daughter—Luzie—to Quiapo Church to pray for her healing. The visit to Quiapo Church soon becomes a routine on Fridays and Sundays as alms given by churchgoers to Luzie keep coming in. She always brings Boy Deo with her when she and Luzie go to Quiapo. After months of visiting Quiapo Church, Teresa suspects that Boy Deo, who develops a bond with Junie, a boy his age, enjoys staying in Quiapo more than he does in Aparición. There are times when Teresa leaves Boy Deo behind in Quiapo when she goes home to Aparición. Away from her parental watch, Boy Deo experiences deprivation; he often calls the street his home. But it is also becoming clear that Boy Deo has what it takes to survive on his own in an unforgiving and sometimes unfair world.

One of the luxuries that Teresa enjoyed as a city dweller was television.

She did well as a balut vendor, earning enough money to be able to save small amounts every week for herself and for her baby. She earned an average of 125 pesos per six hours of work every night, about half of which she gave to her uncle as a contribution for household needs. She was earning as much as a construction worker did, her advantage being that she didn’t have to spend for jeepney or bus fare to go to work.

By showing to all she was not a freeloader and was determined to grind it out, it did not take long for her to win the sympathy and support of her once-aloof relatives. Despite her condition, Luzie was not hard to babysit. For as long as she was fed well—for the first few months she got her mother’s milk, then later mostly on bottled milk—she did not complain. The baby spent almost 80 percent of her time sleeping. Teresa’s nieces, whom she showered with gifts during special occasions, volunteered to look after the baby in the evening, whenever she was out selling balut.

During the day when domestic chores were out of the way, she was glued to the television like everyone else. Nothing seemed more magical than watching TV shows, although everything was still in black and white.

When Luzie turned ten years old, her condition worsened. She still could not communicate nor stay up unaided. Her body parts and extremities remained undeveloped, except the head, which continued to grow at a relatively fast rate. Her eyes, nose, and mouth looked like miniatured caricatures; the skin around the skull had been so stretched to the limit that blood vessels under it looked like they were ready to explode. She also got irritated more often and needed more attention. Teresa began to lose sleep.   

Teresa had her baby checked in several government hospitals. Doctors said there was no known procedure that could help free Luzie from her illness.

One day, she saw footage of the Traslación on TV. People stepped on top of each other just to be able to touch the wooden Black Nazarene. People spilled over roadsides and bridges as they tried to join the mass procession.

Teresa was not impressed. She heard somewhere that God was everywhere. Why did it seem that God, if indeed something like him existed, could be felt in Quiapo but not in Ilihan where powerful people stomped the lives and dignity of the powerless, or in La Casta where the rich could send poor and innocent people to jail for a crime they did not commit?

People who were interviewed by reporters thanked the Black Nazarene for miracles they received for themselves, for their ailing parents and grandparents, for their ailing son or daughter.

Teresa thought about Luzie. She would try anything because of her.

With encouragement from her relatives, Teresa went to Quiapo one Friday morning. She brought Luzie along with her. She agreed with everyone’s advice that there was nothing to lose in seeking the Black Nazarene’s favor. Up to this point, nothing preoccupied her thoughts more than the well-being of her daughter. 

As she approached the Quiapo Church from the bus stop, she bought several prayer booklets from a sidewalk vendor. Then she proceeded to the front of the minor basilica. She could hear the priest talking in monologue from the loudspeakers mounted outside of the church. Although baptized as a Catholic, there was nothing much she knew about the faith. She had been in attendance at one or two matrimonial rites back in Ilihan, but beyond that, nothing of consequence had brought her closer to understanding the teachings of her church. If she had been familiar with the sacred activities of the Catholic Church, she would have known that a mass was in progress. She instead ignored what she heard and, resting Luzie in her lap, began reading her prayer guides. She sat on the elevated part of a concrete gutter where many people passed by as they either entered or exited the church through its main facade.

Teresa could not focus on what she was trying to read, sometimes silently, but most of the time audible whispers came out of her mouth. People kept throwing in front of her a random mix of coins and peso bills. She was supposed to be praying for a miracle for Luzie, but money was distracting her.

After about an hour of mumbling, she stopped. Street kids, of whose kind she was familiar with in the slums of Cerrito, had begun to circle around them. Some stared curiously at Luzie. Others had their eyes locked on the wads of bills. She hesitantly picked up the bills in front of her and put them inside her shoulder bag. She also collected the coins.

More churchgoers approached her to drop monies as the choir with a distinct male voice was heard from the loudspeaker.

“Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno,

Sinasambá Ka namin,

Pinipintuhò Ka namin

Aral Mo ang aming buhay at Kaligtasan.

Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno,

Iligtás Mo kami sa Kasalanan!

Ang Krus Mong kinamatayán ay

Sagisag ng aming Kaligtasan.

Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno,

Dinarangál Ka namin!

Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno,

Nilul’walhatì Ka namin!”

She mentally counted the amount of money in her bag and guessed that she just earned what should be worth a week of selling balut.

Deep in her thoughts that found expression in a grateful countenance and a radiant face, she noticed that the loudspeakers began to blare again. One more of the hourly masses had started.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore, I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

“Have mercy on us, O Lord.

“You were sent to heal the contrite of heart

“…Lord, have mercy…

“You came to call sinners

“…Christ, have mercy….

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people…”

Teresa could hear the male voice again, dominating the choir.

“…of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”

The endless flow of people coming in and going out of the church kept distracting Teresa, either because some people attracted her attention, or she and Luzie attracted their attention. She could hardly follow most of what the priest said.

“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

“He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

“I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Teresa heard something about which she felt she needed time to comprehend. She tried to recall each line, word for word, only to realize how limited her memory and comprehension was. She told herself to try to know more on her next trips to Quiapo. Even then, she had decided to return to this place as frequently as she could.

Soon the singing of the “Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno” started again and, just as she anticipated, the alms started pouring in again.

Back at home, she greeted her folks with news that the Black Nazarene had made the two of them feel good. She also gave each one the prized special siopao her relatives had requested before she left for Quiapo. She bought them from Mamiluk, again as requested, before she boarded a bus bound for Aparición.

After a year of visiting Quiapo once a week, which eventually became twice a week (coinciding with the Quiapo days of Fridays and Sundays), Teresa graduated from her balut vending. The income she collected from Quiapo was thrice larger than what she made as balut vendor, input in terms of time being equal. She made her hosts happy with the additional contribution she regularly gave to the household kitty. For herself, she opened an account at the branch of a bank inside Aguinaldo Underpass; a third of her earnings padded her savings.

With the savings, she prepared for the two of them to eventually rent a modest room where they could live closer to Quiapo. She also needed to visit Waday more, who had now been transferred from the Manila City Jail to the Correctional Institution for Women in Ocaranza, Rizal. What kept her from making it on their own was the help she needed to attend to Luzie. 

At thirteen, her daughter had become a pitiful sight. Her condition had been on the decline, especially these past few months. It added to Teresa’s burden that it seemed she alone could decipher Luzie’s sign language. She knew whenever her daughter was going through pain, and most times when Luzie was awake, her retinopathic, light-blind eyes told stories that broke every mother’s heart. But despite all of that, or more likely because of that, the help she got from her relatives was something she could not afford to lose.

Months later, she picked up this boy while onboard a bus for Aparición. She could not have brought him—identified in official documents as Francisco De Gracia—along if her rapport with her relatives had not improved.

Franco turned out to be the hand of an angel. Teresa initially thought Franco was autistic. He hardly said a word. But eventually she decided that the boy was not deficient; he just was not fond of talking. When Luzie cried, such as when she was roused from sleep, which happened frequently in recent months, he would gently tap her hands, and she would respond by trying to open her undersized eyes (only one-fourth of which could be opened when she tried hard) and then would lift her back slightly from the bed as if to say she felt comforted. Then her wailing would stop. 

Teresa was optimistic with the idea that the toddler she called simply as “Boy” could make her life much easier not only in Aparición but also when she and Luzie were out begging, or praying, in Quiapo. Franco apprenticed (as babysitting understudy) for only about three months before Teresa planned for his foray back in Quiapo.

She nevertheless had a mixed outlook for Boy. She wished that nobody in Quiapo would come up to her and tell her the boy was somebody else’s child. But at the same time, she also wished the boy’s mother would find him, because he clearly belonged not to her but to somebody else. If she had this bond with Luzie, surely the other must have this overriding longing for a lost son. So, whatever it was going to be, would be. Que será será, her ancestors in Biringan would say. She had made up her mind to part with him at the first sign of him being reunited with his family.

INSIDE THE QUIAPO CHURCH, six-year-old Franco flanked Teresa and Luzie. They sat at the metal brace of the wagon that was sometimes used to carry the Black Nazarene during Traslación. Teresa found this spot at the back, facing the altar, on the second time she visited Quiapo, about a year and a half ago. She stayed in this place since then, whenever she and Luzie, and now Franco, were in Quiapo.

People rose as one. Teresa, with Luzie in her lap, remained seated. She believed the Black Nazarene would understand her not being able to do what the community of believers did. By now she had more or less committed to memory what people and priests did or said during the holy mass; she had grown familiar with the gestures, the liturgical sequence, the songs being sung by the choir, the breaking of the bread, the blessing, the sprinkling of holy water after mass. She now understood why she collected most of the alms when the choir started signing “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.” It was the closing hymn, and during this time most of the churchgoers would start milling out. 

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Holy Mass has now started.

“Liturgy for today, September 1, 1985, honors Saint Augustine, whose feast day was celebrated the other day.”

The priest spoke and was heard over the speaker at the back of the church, close to where Teresa was sitting.

Innova, quaesumus, Domine, in Ecclesia tua spiritum, quo beatum Augustinum episcopum imbuisti, ut, eodem nos repleti, te solum verae fontem sapientiae sitiamus, et superni amoris quaeramus auctorem. Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord, the spirit with which you endowed your Bishop Saint Augustine that, filled with the same spirit, we may thirst for you, the sole fount of true wisdom, and seek you, the author of heavenly love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

After the gospel, Teresa listened as intently as she could to what the priest had to say in his homily.

“Brothers and sisters in Christ,” the priest began with a greeting, “today we remember the life of a highly revered leader of the church, Saint Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated a few days ago. Today is also a fitting occasion to reflect on the prayerful life of his mother, who was later canonized as Saint Monica.”

While Teresa took mental notes of what the priest said, she still found it challenging to remember everything. However, she could recall the main points of the homily:

“In his youth, Saint Augustine was a sinner. Although highly intelligent and a sought-after orator, he was, in his own words, lazy. He was a drunkard (which partly explains why he is the patron saint of brewers). He was driven to a life of leisure, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. He was addicted to sex.

“To quote one of the biographies about him: He confessed he had not been a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust, so he procured another concubine since he had to wait two years until his fiancée came of age (who was eleven at the time). However, his emotional wound was not healed. It was during this period that he uttered his famously insincere prayer, ‘Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.’

“He had a son, named Adeodatus, from one of his concubines.

“But he also had a mother, Saint Monica, who wept every night and led a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her wayward son.

“His reformation came about gradually. People close to him noticed that he started to ‘eat sparingly, working tirelessly, despising gossip, shunning the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his see.’ He eventually sold his possessions and gave his money to the poor. At thirty-one, he was baptized and became a popular preacher for and fierce defender of the Catholic Church. Five years later, he was ordained a priest and crowned a bishop at forty.”

If Teresa was correct in her interpretation of the homily, the priest was telling his audience that with God’s help, conversion, even among the hardcore sinners, was possible. He was presenting the lives of St. Augustine and his mother, Saint Monica, as an inspiration to those who were struggling to liberate themselves from their vices, sinful addictions, or habits.

She could also see herself easily in Monica. Both prayed hard and long for their child. Both needed a miracle, although human effort, in the case of Monica, was a necessary complement.

As the mass progressed toward preparing the people for the eucharistic rites, Teresa exhaled and fixed her posture. She had strained her back while trying to follow every word that was being said.

She looked at Luzie and saw that she was still asleep. She also looked at Franco and took time to study him.  

The boy seemed fascinated with the endless flow of human traffic in front of him. Almost invariably he followed with his eyes where they were going, often wiping the feet of wooden images with their handkerchiefs or face towels.

But on the second hour onward, he would become fidgety. He had inclinations of venturing outside, mixing with the wave of the churchgoing crowd. But Teresa would not allow him to go anywhere but within the range of her sight.

Back in Aparición, Teresa asked Franco, “If I call you Deo, would you like it?” She had Adeodatus in mind, Saint Augustine’s son.

Franco smiled. “I also like Boy.”

“OK, from now on, I will call you Boy Deo!”

Since then, everyone in the household called him Boy Deo.

On the third time that Teresa brought Boy Deo along, Teresa allowed him to venture outside as he showed more emphatic signs of getting restless. He probably either found the holy masses boring, or the things outside were worthier of his attention, but he simply could not stay in one place for more than thirty minutes, much less an hour. She marveled at how fast he had morphed into a bubbly child. On the first few days that he was in Aparición, she entertained the idea that Boy Deo, like Luzie, was also a special child, although in a different way. He seldom made any effort to communicate. But as days and months went by, she also noticed that his mien was totally different whenever they were in Quiapo, as if the place was an elixir to him.

It came to a point when Boy Deo would spend more time outside of the church than inside it. He just checked on her and Luzie when the choir started singing “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.” Whenever he heard the song, he knew the mass had ended and expected Teresa to come out of the church for a break.

Boy Deo would excitedly tell stories of what he saw outside in the manner that a six-year-old-something toddler would normally try to impress his or her mother. Teresa, to her delight, flattered him, but always with the reminder that he should never stray far away from the church.

The trio’s Quiapo routine did not change for the next months. Boy Deo had become so familiar with Plaza Roma that Teresa could send him out on simple errands such as buying biscuits or a plastic bag full of ice-cold water.

One Friday morning, Boy Deo was his usual self. Only this time, returning from his adventures, he came up with something new. He brought along another boy, about his age, and told Teresa he was a newfound friend.

Boy Deo said his name was Junie. Before Teresa could say anything, they were off again, visibly onto something that kids do to entertain themselves.

BY THE TIME BOY DEO TURNED SEVEN in 1992, Teresa often left him alone with his Quiapo friends. There had been times when she even left him to spend a couple of nights with Junie’s family, who were renting a room in Sta. Cruz. She brought Boy Deo along during Fridays, as was her wont, left him in Quiapo until Saturday, then picked him up again during Sundays.

The prior months had made Teresa think harder that Boy Deo clearly belonged not to her but to somebody else. Not that there had been tension among the three of them, or even with the brood in Aparición, but simply by the way Boy Deo had exuded life and cheerfulness whenever he mixed himself among the Quiapo crowd. She noticed more kids had also gravitated toward the bond that he and Junie seemed to have developed.

About three months ago, Teresa came close to parting with the kid. 

Father Revo, after hearing confessions and having taken off his cassock, wandered outside of the convent. At Plaza Roma, he saw two children selling sampaguita flowers. Then he noticed the two were not by themselves; they had assistants, holding plastic bags full of water. They alternated in spraying cold water at the flowers to keep them fresh-looking, lest they get dry and withered.

After a few minutes of study, Father Revo tapped the two (Junie and Boy Deo) along with the three other children (one boy and two girls) and asked them to join him for lunch at the newly opened Plaza Roma branch of Jollifoods. Seeing that the children were unmoved by his charm attack, the priest told the young entrepreneurs it was time for a break, repeating his offer of free lunch.

“You can bring along those flowers with you,” Father Revo said. It was an attempt to make it easier for them to decide, as he could judge how highly they valued their inventory.

Boy Deo was the one who stood up first. The other four followed.

The highly popular Jollifoods had attracted mostly well-off customers, and Father Revo, feeling pleased as usual with his impromptu social experiments, wanted to see the deportment of street-dwelling kids inside an air-conditioned fast-food restaurant.

Ordering food was easy; customers only had to point a finger at the overhead display of menu to make their choices known. But somehow the kids hesitated. They all looked at Father Revo. They were excited. Yet their inhibition was evident, no matter how Father Revo egged them on. In the end, it was Father Revo who ordered the food for all of them. He chose a uniform set of meals for each one, including himself, consisting of a fried chicken, a cup of rice, French fries, and a glass of cola.

While they were eating, Father Revo noticed that Boy Deo held the fried chicken with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, while at the same time he scooped the broiled rice with the spoon using the right hand.

Father Revo remembered his grandpa telling him long time ago while the two of them were having dinner together that he (Father Revo) copied the table manners of his father: clutching viand (especially fried meat or fish) with the left hand while taking a spoonful of rice with the right hand.

There were actually two mannerisms that Father Revo’s grandpa had told him he copied from his father. The other was sleeping with either palm being used as a pillow. His grandpa did not tell Father Revo that his son, Father’s Revo’s father, also copied both peculiarities from himself.

When the children finished eating their meal, Father Revo asked who else wanted to have more chicken, more fries, and more cola.

He got everyone’s smile. As he distributed the extra food (he actually could not eat much of the kind of food he ordered, in deference to his physician), he asked for the names of his guests. When Boy Deo told him what his name was, Father Revo followed up with, “Where do you live?”

“Sometimes in Sta. Cruz, sometimes in Aparición,” Boy Deo replied.

“Where is your mother now?”

“There!” Junie, who spoke for Boy Deo, pointed a finger at the church.

“Can I see her later?”

Both Boy Deo and Junie could only offer shy responses, one with a baffled look, the other with a slight nodding of head. 

Having finished their meal and as they stepped out of Jollifoods, Father Revo followed Boy Deo as the boy traced the steps leading to Teresa.

The sight of Luzie stopped Father Revo from saying anything he had rehearsed in his mind. He was, for a moment, at a loss for a word to say.

“How are you?” he greeted Teresa, bending himself forward.

From the way Boy Deo watched the proceedings, Teresa could easily tell herself that the kid had brought the man she saw for the first time to her. That Boy Deo could facilitate some kind of a meetup for her was one of many things by which he had surprised her at his age. It was uncharacteristically naughty of her, losing all thoughts for a moment except her long pent-up emotions for the man of her fantasies. “We’re okay. Thank you.”

“How is she?” Father Revo pointed his open palm to Luzie.

“In pain,” was all she could say.

Before he left, Father Revo put a hand on Luzie’s head, then on Boy Deo, still visibly pleased at what he was seeing. “Please go to the clinic at the back and see if we have a nurse or doctor there.”

Father Revo forgot about the key question he wanted to ask: who was Boy Deo’s father?  

He was waiting at the clinic when Teresa, Luzie, and Boy Deo stepped inside. He greeted her again. “I’m Father Revo. I’m glad you accepted my invitation to come over.”

The attending nurse checked Luzie’s vital signs and peppered Teresa with questions the latter must have answered a thousand times before. How did it come to this? Has her condition been checked by doctors? Etc.

However, there was a question she heard for the first time, one which she deemed offensive and did not bother to acknowledge. Did she take abortifacient pills when she conceived Luzie?   

Father Revo saw her discomfort and tried to regain her trust in another way.

“If you think you can agree to this, we can try to call and ask a TV network to feature Luzie in one of its public service shows. The purpose is to mobilize support for her cost of living, and I would assume medical expenses.”  

“Thank you, Father Revo. But she has been shown on TV twice already. We ended up making our private lives public. Some of the comments people say are distressing. They don’t help.”

“I understand. How about Boy Deo?”

Teresa momentarily dropped her guard, surprised to know he knew Boy Deo’s name.

“What about him, Father?”

Father Revo knew he was threading in slippery territory. More than the skills he acquired from sensitivity training at the seminary, his immersion in a barrio in Ispratly and in many slum communities in Manila had informed him of how people, rich or poor, hold on to their pride. He decided to dig for more clues about Boy Deo some other time.

“How is he doing?”

“He is doing fine. Thanks again, Father.”

She wanted to tell him more of what she knew about Boy Deo, if that was what he was trying to drive at, largely because she could see through the sincerity not only in the words he said, but also in his body language. However, he did not drop enough hints to show he was interested in knowing more about the boy.

Teresa had no insecurities where Boy Deo was concerned. She thought God knew, deep in her heart, that she would not get in the way of a brighter future for the kid if it presented itself.

KATALINA HAD A DREAM. In that dream she saw herself peering inside the shops along the sidewalk of Escolta when she saw Yago at the opposite side of the street. He seemed to be inviting her to come over and join him where he was at.

It was the first day of September. When the two of them were still in their early teens, they used to tap the floor, as if to celebrate the rhythm of a carefree life, every time the music store in Escolta played a famous song whose lyrics started with “I’ll see you in September, when summer is gone.”

It had been seven months since Yago was killed—accidentally, according to official records of the police—inside the Aguinaldo Underpass in Quiapo. They moved to Yago’s town in northern Luzon a few days after he was laid to rest at the La Loma cemetery.

Katalina and Yago, when he was still alive, managed to keep some savings from their buy-and-sell business at Padre Pio. But the money left from expenses for Yago’s wake and burial was barely enough for her and Junie to travel to Nueva Vizcaya. They planned to relocate to Yago’s hometown and hoped his family relations would be able to help.  

On arriving at Nueva Vizcaya, and after having introduced themselves to the family of Porferio, Katalina shared Yago’s—known to his family as Golek—story in Manila from the time they met at Sta. Cruz church until his death.

Even without hearing Golek’s tragic story, Porferio, who was now in his early seventies, had already promised himself to at least mitigate the wrong he committed against his nephew. Although Golek was no longer around, he thanked God for letting him live long enough to see Junie, Golek’s son.

Porferio told Katalina that the parcel of land on which the house of Golek’s parents was built had long been on the selling block, by virtue of an imminent domain proceedings by the local government, but could not be disposed of because they needed the consent of all immediate next of kin. It was Porferio’s proposal, which was eventually adopted as part of an internal agreement among all parties involved. He was firm in protecting Yago’s—now Golek’s—interests.      

Porferio thought that the presence of Katalina as Junie’s representative would break the impasse and clear the way for the sale of the property to be completed.

Porferio got his wish, and the sale pushed through.

From the proceeds of Php 10,000 pesos, Katalina and Junie received Php 5,000. The other half was divided among the heirs of the siblings of Golek’s father. Porferio himself got Php 1,000.

The amount was more than enough to start a small business that could be nurtured to provide a steady source of livelihood. Porferio remarked that Katalina could make use of her experience and skills more effectively back in Manila than in Nueva Vizcaya. Following his advice, Katalina and Junie returned to Sta. Cruz three days later.

Katalina picked up the wreckage of the business that Yago had started in Padre Pio. And like the first time, her business thrived.

Five months later (or a year after Yago was killed), she married Gumersendo “Guimo” Pamarote, one of the Hijos, in simple matrimonial rites at the Quiapo Church.

ON THE SECOND DAY OF SEPTEMBER, the day after she dreamed of Yago, Katalina and Junie (Guimo did not come along so he could, in his own words, attend to the family sidewalk store) went to La Loma. After she finished reciting the rosary, as she bent over to extinguish the flicker of the candle she earlier lit, she saw a paper neatly folded and inserted into a crack of the concrete niche where Yago was buried.

She got curious and picked up the paper. A note was addressed to her. It came from Gidaben.

He was so conscience-stricken, Gidaben confessed in his note, he wanted to know if there was a way he could help. He expressed hope that by being able to help, he could ease the burden of guilt that he carried heavily in his heart every day. He could send some money, he said, just let him know where to send it.

Gidaben also said he tried to find her and Junie in Nueva Vizcaya, but was now hesitant to see her in person, not only because he felt he did not have the heart to face her, but also because he feared Katalina might turn him over to the police.

Gidaben concluded his letter thus: “I hope you get this letter in November during All Saints’ Day when you visit Yago’s grave. If you wish to reply, just put it in the same place where I inserted my letter.”

Katalina had heard some of the names Yago used to tell her when he was still alive, including those that he had conflicts with when he lived with characters of the underworld. She vaguely recalled him having mentioned once or twice the name of Gidaben.

Katalina wondered if Gidaben was the one who led the police that picked up the Bodabil guys. Rage was building up inside her, but Katalina felt she also needed to contain herself. First, she was not sure who Gidaben was. Second, she did not want Guimo to feel jealous for showing too much emotion for anything associated with Yago. 

Unknown to anyone, Gidaben, like the Bodabil, was also on his path to conversion. The transformation started when he got sick. He felt such unbearable abdominal pain that, for the first time in his life, he allowed himself to be confined in the hospital. On seeing his laboratory and x-ray results, one doctor in that hospital (Sta. Ana), told him that unless he changed his lifestyle, he could die young from either cirrhosis or lung cancer, or both.

One of his callers at the hospital was one named Rodo, a common friend of Yago and Gidaben who, on hearing Gidaben’s morbid diagnosis, felt at liberty to confide in him what he learned about Yago before the police picked up the Bodabil for the kidnapping rubout.   

Rodo said Yago and the rest of Bodabil had started raising a support fund for members of the underworld, especially in the Quiapo area, who wished to renounce their criminal ways. He added that some Hijos heard about it and liked the idea. They eventually lobbied the fund drive project with the Quiapo priests, who responded positively, especially Father Revo, who asked the project proponent to write a one-page proposal outlining, among other things, how the fund would be used to support the intended beneficiaries. The Bodabil was also asked to provide a list of would-be beneficiaries.

Rodo, with some dramatic effect, reported that he saw Yago’s list of beneficiaries.

“Did you know that you were on top of that list?” Rodo asked Gidaben. There was no answer, but one could tell that tears started to drip from Gidaben’s eyes.

The day Gidaben left the hospital saw him talking to Madis-ogon in one of the latter’s safehouses. Elation replaced his anxious expression on seeing the booklet at the altar (a few steps from the entrance door). He stood briefly in front of the altar with reverence, then turned his gaze at the booklet and saw his aunt’s dedication: “Para kan Abeto, pirmi pag ampo kan Nazareno para han imo kalamragan.”

Madis-ogon noticed that Gidaben for the first time seemed worry-free. “I also get the same feeling whenever I open that booklet,” the lawman assured the lawless man. 

There were repartees like they were now close friends. And then, as soon as Gidaben felt it was time to unburden himself, he shared Rodo’s story with Madis-ogon and expressed the hope that the latter would understand his decision to change his ways.

Nothing much was left of his share from the Pearlie Tan kidnapping, but Gidaben, in an attempt to show his sincerity, offered to return the amount.

“No, no, no, that’s okay,” said Madis-ogon. “Didn’t I tell you that you can use the money to rebuild your life?”

Gidaben insisted, saying, “There is nothing to rebuild. I am dying anyway from cirrhosis. I am ready for anything, even from an assassin’s bullet.”

Madis-ogon could not figure out what Gidaben was really up to; in his amusement, he dialed on his Nokia phone. “Please get twenty thousand pesos ready for my old friend,” and, addressing Gidaben, “it’s all yours. You can accept it or refuse it. All up to you.” Madis-ogon then explained to Gidaben where he should go in the event Gidaben decided to accept the money.  

“It’s a peace offering,” Madis-ogon assured Gidaben as the latter asked to be excused. 

On All Saints’ Day, the whole family visited Yago’s La Loma grave. It was Guimo himself who suggested that Katalina should insert a reply into the hole.

Katalina did; she told Gidaben to see Guimo at the convent of the Quiapo Church if he wished to give anything.

Days later, who Guimo saw at the convent was not Gidaben. It was somebody else—a woman—who gave Guimo a brown envelope containing Php 5,000. The woman said Gidaben instructed her to give the money to him.

“What is it for?” Guimo asked, trying to hide his elation.

“Gidaben said ‘peace offering,’” the woman replied. It was reparation for the damage done to Bodabil.

With the money, the couple was able to rent a booth inside the Aguinaldo Underpass, which was a huge improvement from being a sidewalk squatter. They also bulked up on their merchandise stock.

Business was good. They later transferred to a more spacious studio unit, still in Sta. Cruz but closer to Quiapo than the room Katalina and Yago rented. When the school year opened, they were able to transfer Junie from the public school to the Quiapo Catholic School for his elementary schooling. Because he was an Hijo, Guimo’s children were entitled to discounts, but the overall tuition, even if half-free, would still be beyond the reach of average-earning sidewalk vendors. There was more: siblings who were simultaneously enrolled in the school opened a free-tuition privilege for one of them. So Guimo was able to enroll in Boy Deo as well. Boy Deo was older than Junie by one year, but while the latter was already in Grade 2, Boy Deo was just starting at Grade 1.

For Boy Deo’s records, Katalina showed to the school registrar a Baptismal Certificate issued by the Parish of Aparición which Teresa gave her months ago. The complete name was Deodatu B. Biradayon. Birthday: March 23, 1985. Birthplace: Ilihan, Biringan, Ispratly. Baptismal Date: April 4, 1991.

Junie felt awed by what he was seeing. He and Boy Deo had hours on end bonding and playing inside the underpass as his mother and Guimo watched over them. He could also invite Boy Deo to stay in their new home for more days than usual, and neither Katalina, Guimo, nor Teresa would object.  

Meanwhile, Teresa’s problems attending to Luzie had mounted. Her daughter was experiencing more pain and could hardly sleep. Several times in the past couple of months she had to skip Quiapo days due to Luzie’s worsening condition.

Teresa had earlier asked Katalina, with whom she had grown in friendship and mutual trust, if the latter could accommodate Boy Deo more frequently while she could not make it to Quiapo. Boy Deo, Teresa explained, preferred to stay in Quiapo than in Aparición.

Teresa visited Quiapo only once after Luzie died a week after her eighth birthday. She completed a mass—from “In the Name of the Father…” to “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno”—then talked to Katalina at the underpass. She told Katalina that Luzie had died, and she would be returning to Biringan as soon as she got Waday out of the Correctional.

Would Katalina be so kind as to seek Father Revo’s help so that Boy Deo could have some kind of a guardian while she was away? Teresa also expressed the fear that she might stay in Biringan for a while, which made promising her return to reclaim Boy Deo a problem.

Katalina assured her there was no problem with Boy Deo. With regard to Father Revo, Katalina said the priest had inquired about the boy once in a while, and he got updates from his husband, who as Hijo could freely mingle with the clergy. She wished Teresa good luck and assured her of prayers for a safe travel. She offered financial help, but Teresa politely declined.

“Please use it for the kids instead,” Teresa suggested.

ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOY DEO lived on the streets, not because nobody was around to keep him domesticated, but because his preoccupation with selling sampaguita flowers and later on his addiction to Cara Y Cruz and Lucky 9, a card game, kept him up and away from Katalina’s household. He was often locked out before he found his way to go home. His school attendance suffered. 

Unsure of any other options and suspecting that Boy Deo might have grown old enough to think that he was not family, Guimo and Katalina told Boy Deo to sleep inside the booth they were renting whenever he could not make it to the studio apartment. 

He sometimes slept on the pavement, in the company of many other street children in the Quiapo and Sta. Cruz areas. He was earning money from the Sampaguita flowers he sold but ended up losing most of them in Cara Y Cruz and card games.

Then he learned to cheat.

The Hijos who found him hog-tied with packing tapes six years ago were still around. But having found regular jobs, they were now involved less in the daily cleanup of church premises. Like Guimo, they were involved mostly in crowd control during Traslación. Regardless of roles, however, all Hijos liked to converge in some areas around the church at various hours in the day, especially during break from work. Their perks included free coffee and porridge, sometimes buns, at the lobby of the rectory.

Boy Deo and Junie occasionally came around to help themselves to these perks. Boy Deo also developed some friendship with Remegio “Reming” Bojocan, the younger half-brother of Boynas Diaz, who took over the older brother’s task of collecting wreaths of Sampaguita flowers offered by devotees at the base of wooden statues of saints and dumping them at the storeroom into which then five-year-old Boy Deo—a.k.a. Franco—was once dumped by OXD operatives.

Boy Deo sometimes followed Reming in his itinerary. He took note of possible ways by which he could recover the trash. Sometimes he volunteered to transfer the flowers from the storeroom to the large bins outside for pickup by the garbage truck. In time, Reming trusted Boy Deo enough to share the keys to storerooms not only inside the church but also at the rectory.

Boy Deo learned what the best time was to collect the still fresh-looking Sampaguita flowers. It was either the first hour in the morning upon opening of church doors to parishioners, or the last hour before closing. He recycled the recovered flowers for another round of selling.  

What he did was collect the fresh flowers from the lot, sort them, then soak them in a bucket full of water. There were empty buckets inside the booth. Boy Deo was up by four a.m., ready to sell Sampaguita by the time the bells rang for the first mass.

One evening a year later, Father Revo saw Boy Deo hauling trash from the storeroom. He had just finished hearing confessions for the day. On recognizing the boy and thinking that somebody so young should not be doing any kind of manual labor, especially for the church, the priest went over to talk to Boy Deo.

The boy felt uneasy. He thought Father Revo might have known he was stealing flowers and cheating Sampaguita buyers with recycled wreaths. To his relief, Father Revo did not accuse him of anything, although the priest could sense Boy Deo was hiding something in the way he responded to questions. But Father Revo, aware that Boy Deo was sometimes out in the streets at night, asked the boy if he would like to live in the rectory. Boy Deo could enroll in the school year, Father Revo pledged. He should be in school, Father Revo explained, rather than in Plaza Roma selling Sampaguita.

Boy Deo was noncommittal, judging from his silence.

“OK, just see me if you change your mind,” Father Revo said, tapping the boy’s shoulder.

On the belief that Boy Deo did not need to be exposed to social ills that caused problems for adults, much less led them to conflicts with the law, Father Revo advised Guimo to play the role of father to Boy Deo.

A month later, Boy Deo went to the rectory on Guimo’s advice. He was looking for Father Revo. Unknown to many Hijos and parish staff, Father Revo had just been admitted to Cardinal Santos Hospital for Stage 2 pancreatic cancer treatment.   

Boy Deo went away feeling lost. He stepped inside the church. Nothing much was unusual today, he thought. It was noon break. The hourly mass would not resume until four p.m. Just the same, people came in and out of the church in steadily high numbers. Devotees walking with their knees at the aisles were there. Card readers, fortune-tellers, and faith healers, among other “highly technical experts,” were at their usual workplaces, just a few steps away from the last pews at the back. Joining them were pay-for-pray professionals on the lookout for done-for-you clients, waiting to be outsourced.

He searched for the spot that Teresa had claimed for four years. It was just beside the storeroom where he collected gold from trash. He took the metal seat on which Teresa used to sit. He clearly had a longing for family. For more than half an hour, he just sat there, staring at people wiping the wooden statues with their handkerchiefs. They then massaged some parts of their bodies with those hankies. Then he saw that again: bald men wiping off dust from their bare skulls.

He had mental notes of people who needed relief, and of which parts of their bodies were supposed to be having problems. After a few minutes more, he arose and walked toward the row of fortune-tellers. He sat on one of the vacant seats. Spotting a prospective client, Boy Deo stopped him with a greeting, then said, “Sir, I can see that you have arthritis.”

Astonished, the man replied, “How do you know?”

“My eyes can see what others can’t,” Boy Deo lied.

The next day, Boy Deo tried the trick again.

For one hour he watched the devotees lining up for the wooden touch. Then he moved over to the row of technical experts, claiming another vacant seat.

“Sir, I can see that your back is bothering you.” 

“Are you joking or are you serious?”

“My eyes can see what others can’t,” he lied again, with conviction.

A woman hovered over him, asking, “Son, do you know what my ailment is?”

“Ah, no, Ma’am, can’t see anything yet. But I can see that your companion needs a cure for her appendix or something.”

“Did he really say that?” the bewildered companion of the lady, also a lady, blurted.

Worried that he might not be able to say anything when the next prospective client came up to him, he hurriedly left. His Sampaguita flowers were waiting for him at the Aguinaldo Underpass.

For the next three months, he took a seat at the experts’ row every Friday. Fridays, he heard it often enough, was the day one was likely to be granted with God-given powers.

He developed a modus where he referred clients to Katalina’s store. The business had grown significantly; it now carried medical supply inventories and over-the-counter drugs, including Chinese herbal drugs which were mostly smuggled by traders in Quiapo. She and Guimo were surprised to find out that sales for over-the-counter drugs had shot up in the past few days.

Encouraged by the results of his experiments, Boy Deo toyed with the idea of putting up multiple mirrors so he could see what went on while he stayed stationary in the experts’ row.

It came to pass that Boy Deo would sometimes find himself being mobbed by past and future clients, even when he was out selling Sampaguita in Plaza Roma. His flower business itself was booming; some people were convinced that his flowers emitted healing powers. 

At fourteen, Boy Deo had earned the moniker “The Eyes.”

Quiapo buzzed with the name of a new kid in town.