Fiction / May 2009 (Issue 7)

Manuel Santo Earns Fifty Cents

by E.K. Entrada

Have you ever seen a Filipino peso? On the front is a picture of Jose Rizal and on the back are two stars. Four years ago, when I turned seven years old, my mama told me that my job in the family was to catch as many Rizal stars as possible on the streets of Cebu, so on the weeks when there is no school, my brother Rodolfo and I sit here, on the busiest street corner in our barangay, to catch pesos. Sometimes people throw them from open windows. Sometimes I walk up to the car windows and hold my hands like I'm taking communion, and people put them in my hand. Sometimes the drivers wave me away like I am a fly, or they pretend I am invisible.

Rodolfo doesn't go up to any of the cars because he's a teenager now and people don't like to give pesos to teenagers. Only little kids and old ladies. Rodolfo doesn't care, though, because he never liked it anyway. He would rather watch me.

Si Manuel ako. My name is Manuel.

I call my brother Dali. Filipinos have lots of silly nicknames. My oldest sister is Cam-Cam, my second-oldest sister is Reesie, my third-oldest sister is called Ophie, and my littlest brother is Tonkie. I am just Manuel. I once asked mama why I have no nickname, but she just shrugs and says that my father died before he gave me one.

Today my brother tells me that he finally came up with a nickname for me: "Hot dog."

"Hot dog?" I say, in Cebuano. We have to talk loudly because the cars in Cebu are so noisy. There are thousands of mopeds here, and vans and trucks with roaring engines, and Jeepneys every minute. They all drive fast and honk their horns at each other when they speed by, blowing exhaust up our noses. The smell of the exhaust mixes with the odor of grilled food from all the restaurants and sari-sari stores, but Dali and I are used to it now. "What kind of a nickname is that?"

"It suits you fine," Dali says. "You look just like a hot dog. Skinny and brown."

We are sitting on the curb. I kick his shin with the bottom of my foot and laugh. "Then I'll start calling you 'sardine,' because that's what you smell like."

It’s a hot day today. The Philippines has only two kinds of weather—hot and not-raining or hot and raining. Today the sky is gray, like the clouds could collapse any minute.

"It's going to rain," I say.

Dali looks to the sky and nods. "You better hurry up, then. I don't want to sit in the rain again."

It is time now for me to walk up to the cars that are packed on the street, but I have to wait for them to come to a stop. The cars only stop for a short time, so I have to think about which ones I will go to. Here is how I figure it out: I pick the most expensive cars, or the cars that look like they hold Europeans or Americans, or the cars with kind faces inside them. I recognize kind faces because I have learned what unkind faces look like. Unkind faces have their eyebrows scrunched together and sometimes their eyes are concentrated straight in front of them, with their heads leaned to the side. These are the people who are in a great hurry and don't have time to think about little boys asking for pesos.

"Go," says Dali, nudging me forward with his elbow. The traffic has stopped, so I walk into the center lane, where I see what I usually see: A mix of kind faces and unkind faces, pale skin and dark skin. I don't bother with the Jeepneys or the mopeds because I know those people don't have any money, so I tap on the window of a silver car and hold my hands in communion. The driver is a Filipina with a kind face. She rolls down the window a little bit and shoves five pesos in my hand. Women always give more often the men.

I tell her thank you, but there is no time for talking because I have to go to the next car, where an older Filipina shoos me away like a fly. The next two drivers pretend I am invisible. I get ten pesos from the fifth car and five from the sixth before the traffic takes off again and I have to dart through the roar of vehicles to go back to my corner, where Dali is still sitting.

"Do you want to go to the Santo Nino?" he asks.

"Not yet."

Santo Nino is the patron saint of Cebu and the Church of the Santo Nino is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. In front of the church is Magellan's Cross. There are many tourists there, but also many other children like me. It costs seven pesos to take a putt-putt to the church, but it is easy to earn the seven pesos back from the tourists. This is what my mama calls an "investment," because it costs fourteen pesos to get to the church and back, and sometimes there are too many children asking for money and not enough people who feel generous. So if you earn fourteen pesos on the street and use them to get to the Santo Nino, you may come home with nothing. I have twenty pesos now, which is very good for the start of the morning, and I want to earn at least ten more before I make my investment. Besides, if it starts raining, there won't be as many people at the church

I rest my chin on my knees and look at my feet.

"I need new sandals," I say.

Dali looks at my feet, too. "We can bring those to Tita Rosita and she can fix them."

The traffic in front of us moves along. A fat raindrop lands on my foot and slips between my toes.

"Uh-oh," I say.

Dali looks up at the sun and squints his eyes. He turns to me and nods toward my pocket. "How much do you have?"


The rain starts to fall a little harder now and soon it will pour, because that's what the rain does here.

"When I get out of school, I'm moving to Phoenix," Dali says.

"What's that?"

"A city in America where it never rains."

The traffic stops and Dali nudges me. He nudges me every time the traffic stops, even though he doesn't have to because I will get up anyway. I never move fast enough for him. I weave through the traffic until it moves again and dodge a Jeepney that nearly runs me over. In my life, I've had Jeepneys roll over my toes at least three times.

When I get back to the corner, Dali nods to my pocket again.

"Five," I say.

The raindrops fall in groups now, drenching my hair and Dali's, too.

"Let's go home," he says, standing. "I don't want to sit in the rain again."

"Go, "I say. "I'll stay a while longer." When the people see me in the rain, sometimes it makes them feel more generous.

"Don't be long," Dali says. He jogs off down the sidewalk. When he turns toward the shanties, the rain falls harder. Cars hit the street puddles, splashing water in my face. I put my chin on my knees, stare at my sandals, and think about Phoenix.

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