The dirty but hardworking hands of Neneng continued to search for plastics and other recyclable materials in the Smoky Mountain in Manila. Her forehead was full of sweats from almost half day of continuous searching. Hungry and thirsty she continued to search for the only means of survival. In her mind were the images of her younger siblings who were waiting in their house; waiting for food to appease their days of hunger.
Neneng, in an early age of 10 years old learned to live with the garbage. Her everyday life revolved in looking and collecting wastes in the country’s biggest dump site. It may appear as the dirtiest place in the whole country but Neneng viewed the Smoky Mountain as a blessing and the only way of survival in this very cruel world. She was doing all of these for the sake of her younger siblings named Christine and Gizelle as the youngest who were under her supervision and care since her mother died many years ago from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Still she could remember her mother’s last verbalization in her death bed.
“Neneng, I am sorry, even though it’s hard for me to go and leave you but I can’t, please protect your siblings; Remember you are my life, I love you so much.”
Every time she remembered it she couldn’t help but weep in sadness. It was a very heavy responsibility for Neneng to take care for her younger siblings however she didn’t refused her mother’s request.
Neneng’s father was mang Rody. He was irresponsible and alcoholic. He always went home drunk and irritable. He was also the major drug pusher in their area. Equipped with illegal firearms and weapons he always spread fear and hostility around their community. For a long time ago, her father gained protection from strong and influential social and political personalities that deal with drugs also; it is the main reason why Mang Rody became untouchable in their community.
One day, after the hardworking search for food, Neneng went home with two pieces of medium sized bread for her younger sisters. Upon arriving at their house, she heard that her siblings were crying.
“Manang! I am very hungry” Christine shouted.
Tears fell from the eyes of Neneng because she could feel that her younger sisters were very hungry and suffering from days of food deprivation.
“If only mama was here, we will not suffer this way.” Gizelle said while holding Neneng’s dress and asking for food.
Neneng hugged her two younger siblings and they sat on the floor near the altar where their mother’s photo was located. They don’t have any dining table and chairs.
“Gizelle and Christine please don’t cry. Your tears make me weak. You are my only strength in life. We will all surpass this.” Neneng said while comforting her two younger siblings until the two ceased to cry.
“But manang, why is that our friends have many toys, eat delicious foods, go to school every day and have a happy life? However we experienced the opposite?” Christine asked Neneng.
The verbalization of her younger sibling surprised Neneng. It was very painful for her to hear that her younger sisters weren’t able to experience a comfortable life and being deprived of their basic rights and needs. Tears again fell from her eyes. But she hid it from Christine and Gizelle so that not to upset the two. She asked the two to close their eyes.
“My beautiful angels, I have a present for you, please close your eyes first.”
Christine and Gizelle closed their eyes. Excitement and joy were visible in their angelic and innocent faces. Neneng placed each bread on her younger sibling’s hands.
“Wow! Bread! Delicious! Thank you manang!” Gizelle jumped with joy.
“We love you manang!” Gizelle and Christine joined in chorus and the two girls hugged their sister. The two enjoyed eating the two bread with full of joy and happiness. Neneng went to the kitchen to look for water. There were no signs of her father inside their house. She drank a glass of water just to quench her thirst but still she was very hungry.
The two girls were amazed because Neneng share the story of Mother Theresa feeding the hungry and poor people in Calcutta.
“Mother Theresa will come also and she will feed us, so don’t lose your hope my little girls.”, Neneng said while combing the hair of the two girls.
They were about to sleep when the door banged. Mang Rody arrived. As usual, drunk and with no foods at hand to feed his children. Instead of food he carried a beer in his hand.
“Neneng! Where are you?” Mang Rody shouted.
Neneng went out of their room and opened the door to let her father enter the house. Her father went immediately to the kitchen and searched for food. He found nothing but empty plates and casseroles.
“Neneng! Where are the foods?” he shouted while holding the plates.
“Tay, we have no foods. I don’t have any money to buy for foods. I gained a couple of pesos but I bought a pair of bread for Gizelle and Christine.” Neneng explained.
Mang Rody throw the plates and the casseroles in the floor. Neneng was shocked and afraid. Her father’s eyes were raging in anger. It was red as blood.
“No food! No food! You are not doing your job! What kind of child are you!” Mang Rody shouted while pointing his finger to Neneng.
Neneng was trembling in fear because her father might hurt her. Her two siblings were awaken by the loud noise. They began to cry while holding Neneng’s hands. They were all trembling as if they were facing a monster inside the house.
“The three of you! You are all burden to my life. You don’t deserve to be fed. You are wastes!” her father shouted. He went out the house and left his children crying and with an empty stomach.
The next day, Neneng went to the Smokey Mountain early so that she could have as many plastics because that day was very special to her. It was her mother’s birthday. She promised her mother to buy her a cake during her birthday. Neneng was very dedicated to gain money for the cake. She was searching for almost 10 hours in the dumpsite for possible materials that can be sold. Not minding the excruciating heat of the sun she continued the search.
At last, Neneng gained 90 pesos for her cake. She was very happy and bought her favorite cake in the bakery and immediately went home. She also bought some candles and flowers for her mother. Before going home, she passed by a church to pray and confess to the priest.
“Father, is it a sin to hate your own father?”, neneng asked.
“Yes, dear, it is a violation to one of our ten commandments that we should respect our parents.”
“But father, respect is gained and it cannot be gained through infliction of pain, suffering and abuse”, Neneng confessed with a teary eyes. Neneng after the confession went home immediately to celebrate her mother’s birthday.
Upon the arrival, she went inside the house. She didn’t saw her younger siblings rather it was a group of men who were the friends of his father drinking inside the house.
“Oh! Here is she”, the man said.
“Are you searching for your younger sisters don’t worry; they are safe your father brought them to the mall for a shopping.” The other man with a long hair and moustache said while smiling. They moved closer to Neneng and they held Neneng in the hands.
“Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!,” Neneng shouted!
After the incident the three left the house with Neneng in the floor; crying, weak and powerless. She was looking at the image of her mother in the altar. She cried heavily because she couldn’t accept that her own father will sell her.
“Mama! Help me! Why did you left me in this world! You didn’t not tell me that this will be my life here. Why my own father did sold me for a couple of money! Lord! You told us that we should love our parents! We should respect them! We should care for them. I did it already however it never resulted into a better end. Here I am! Molested! I lost my virginity! My body had been abused! I am sorry Lord! “,
Neneng went up and grab the candles; she lit it and placed it on the top of the cake. She was crying holding the cake on the front of the image of her mother. She sang while tears flowed in her checks.
“Happy birthday mama! Happy birthday mama! Happy birthday! Happy birthday! Happy birthday mama!”
She blew the candle and Neneng fell down- unconscious.