by Tony Perez (from his story collection Eros, Thanatos, Cubao, Cacho Publishing House, 1994) Translated into English by Jessica Zafra
Do you go to Katipunan often?
You’ve probably seen Frankie’s Steaks and Burgers, beside the new Cravings, near Lily of the Valley Beauty & Grooming Salon. If you’ve seen it, then you’ve probably seen Bototoy. Monday through Saturday Bototoy climbs the winding path from Barangka to the service gate behind Ateneo Grade School, along with his father who works as a maintenance man at the school, and his playmates Nono, Itoc, and Radny. Most of the kids who climb the path stop at the wide covered court of the College, beside Our School, near the Observatory, where they wait for the badminton and tennis players to call for ballboys. Bototoy doesn’t stop there. He walks to Gate 2, which is quite far, and crosses Katipunan Avenue to sit on the concrete island in front of Frankie’s Steaks and Burgers. Do you remember him?
Bototoy is six years old. His head is shaved except for a clump of hair above his forehead. His eyes are round and lively. His cheeks are round, too, he’s always smiling, and he has rabbity front teeth. He wears T-shirts, shorts, and Happy Feet sandals that are always faded and too big for him, because they’re hand-me-downs from his older siblings. Bototoy is small, so he doesn’t hang around the covered court. He’s always beaten to the ballboy jobs by Nono and Itoc and Radny and the other kids from Barangka who are quicker and much taller than he is. That’s how he wound up in front of Frankie’s Steaks and Burgers one day, and there he decided to be a watch-your-car boy. Each kid has his own turf, some in front of Shakey’s and Jollibee and McDonald’s and Kentucky’s, some in the other parts of Katipunan, where lots of cars were parked. Although few cars stopped in front of Frankie’s, Bototoy was content—even if sometimes he didn’t get even five centavos for watching someone’s car, or was ignored or even yelled at by the owner of the vehicle. On a slow day he would sit from morning to dusk on the concrete island in front of Steaks and Burgers, his rectangular throne that was dusty in the summer and muddy when it rained. Now do you remember him?
Bototoy has eleven brothers and sisters—the four eldest are married and have their own families. The next four have finished high school, and their father the maintenance man and their mother the herbalist are toiling to put them through college. The next two are still in elementary school. Bototoy and the youngest child, Nining, aren’t going to school yet because even if the tuition is free, getting their school supplies and other needs is a problem. Nining is Bototoy’s favorite sibling. Every time he came down the path in Barangka with his father and his playmates, he would drop by Aling Rory’s store before going home. No matter how little he’d earned from watching cars, he would buy his sister some small present: a packet of Oishi or Ding Dong or Tomi, or two pieces of Choc-Nut or Krispy Bar or Cloud Nine, or three pieces of White Rabbit or Snow Bear or Judge. Only then would he go into the maze-like alleys leading to their house. By the water pump he would spot little Nining, sitting by the doorstep, waiting, wearing her dress and Happy Feet sandals that are also faded and too big, her eyes also round and lively, her cheeks as round as his. Smiling. And like him, she has rabbity front teeth. After their dinner of swamp cabbage and fish sauce, Bototoy and Nining help their mother fold the laundry, and then they watch television at the house of Aling Mela, their neighbor. Before eight o’clock their mother calls them home, so they sit and play with their small box of plastic toys. “What will you bring me tomorrow, Kuya?” Nining always asks. “I won’t say, it’s a surprise,” Bototoy always answers. “Lots of different candies?”
“Lots and lots. If I make a lot of money, I can buy lots of stuff.” “Kuya,...