Memories and Hard Lessons

3 Jun

Sitting out here in the tree house, with the sounds of the creek below me and the laughter of the boys washing over me, I can convince myself that I am in paradise. I am surrounded by palm trees, coconut trees and the greenest grass I have seen in a long time. The tree house is rickety. Some of the other volunteers and I entertain thoughts of sleeping out here one night but decide against it as we would be overrun by mosquitoes.

R__ climbs one of the coconut trees; hugging it, he scoots his way up faster than is humanly possible. He disappears for a while, hidden amongst the dense foliage of the tree top. Then, coconuts begin to fall and the other boys scurry around, gathering them up and bringing them to us. They aren’t supposed to do this, the trees are off limits to them, but there is nothing we can do to stop them. I never fear for them. They know what they are doing.

G__ cracks the coconuts open with a big knife and jokingly threatens me with it when I take a photo. The “old” coconuts are filled with a fizzy milk and hard, dry flesh. The “young” coconuts are liquid free but the flesh is moist and slimy. Us volunteers like the “old” coconuts; the boys, the “young” ones. They are divided amongst us and we all eat our fill.

M__ holds a spider in his hand. I ask him if it’s poisonous and he says yes. He tells me that he’s ripped off most of its legs so it won’t bite and offers me the chance to hold it. I don’t believe him about it being safe but I hold it all the same. It scurries across my hand. It tickles. I feel oddly brave.

Inevitably, the UNO cards come out. They always do. Cheating is a necessity. D__ is here. He appears to be getting along well with the other boys now. This makes me happier than I could ever say. He’ll be just fine, I know. I think. I hope.

I sit back and laugh when I am teased for having the same coloured eyes as my blue t-shirt. I can’t really argue with them because it’s true.

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My memory falters. What happened next? I cannot recall. It’s like this now. Memories that I thought would stick with me forever are beginning to fade. I wish they wouldn’t. It’s these intimate little moments that I want to remember for the rest of my life. I can still recall the tingling on my tongue after downing the coconut milk. But. Where did we go after those lazy hours in the tree house? What happened to the spider?

And what has happened to the boys since we left? I’m not sure about R__ and M__. But they were capable, mature. I’m sure they’re fine. G__ is in rehab for his glue-sniffing addiction. D__ is back in Manila with his unstable family; one of his older sisters was killed in a hit and run incident about a year ago.

I tried to convince myself that I was in paradise. I never was. None of the boys were at the Bahay Tuluyan centre because they wanted to be. They were there because they had no other option. They came from places stricken by poverty. They came from families who abused them or simply did not have the means to care for them properly. Paradise does not exist for these boys.

This was a hard lesson to learn. But necessary. Despite this, any memory that I have of my time with the BT boys is cherished. And every time something fades, I feel the loss. Deeply.


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