Flicker of Hope

By: Jay Paul Ely R. Tena

There was something about this little girl that riveted Ricardo’s attention. Each day, in the alley engulfed by darkness on his way home, he would stare at the corner where she sat underneath the spotlight of a luminescent lamppost. She looked like a student roughly in betweenher first to third grade. It’s hard to tell. One thing’s for sure: she looked gaunt for her age. With her slender arms, blemished legs, and worn-out school uniform, it’s no brainer that she’s from a modest family. Despite these, she had undeniable charm that made her noticeable.Perhaps it’s the stroke of her hands,maybe those glinting eyes fixated at the pile of books, but on top of it all, Ricardo’s fascination stemmed from the girl’s conspicuous dedication to learn. He wondered how the little girl managed to be motivated amidst her distressed surroundings.

By contrast, as a junior engineering student in college, Ricardo lived a pretty much affluent life – compared to the little girl, at least. He lived in a walled village that somehow detached him from the realities of the impoverished. Every semester, he never bothered about any financial exigency whatsoever. His family had luxury cars, posh dogs and a Zen garden. Pretty much privileged in a country where most are downtrodden. So, to see the girl’s motivation struck a resonant message to him. He realized how many opportunities were thrown out of the window because of his excessive, devil-may-care way of life.

Out of curiosity, he mustered the courage to approach the little girl. The usual path that he took had slight change. She went missing. He had second thoughts about what just had happened. Probably her parents noticed the way he looked at the child. A plethora of reasons bothered him for all he intended was nothing but good. He fidgeted. Back and forth. Until he finally asked the staff of the nearby convenience store if they were familiar with this girl who studied the unusual study place. The store clerk bowed her head; she punched the items that Ricardo bought with a sluggish smile. The nameplate on the cashier’s left chest read: “Linda.” He was told by Linda that they had no idea about any girl studying on the corner of the street. Even the security personnel agreed. His persistence intensified. In the beginning, he was just inspired. His unlikely inspiration, however, metamorphosed into a compelling force to alleviate the girl’s condition. How? Even the teenager couldn’t answer for himself. He was only a student. What could he do?

An irrepressible voice in his head impelled him to do something. Fueled by his desire to help, Ricardo managed to pursue his search.He also tried his luck in the nearby public school, to the community chapel managed by the Archbishop, including the Barangay Hall – the typical community center in the Philippines. Two, three days, and eventually, a week has gone by to no avail. It was unimaginable for him that nobody in the area had any idea about this diligent little girl. In fact, some residents felt a little dubious about his actions. His hope almost withered into frustration. Finally, he told himself that he will give it a last shot on the eighth day. When he returned three blocks away from the little girl’s usual study spot, he found himself looking at a familiar face. Her weary brown eyes and distinctively round facial features were all too familiar. This time her loose strands of hair revealed a sunny shade for her crowning glory. Ricardo was not aware that beneath Linda’s cap and heavily painted façade were an even better sight. He never thought that she was ‘this’ attractive. She tried to avoid but he pulled her back. They reciprocated each other’s stares as if they both knew the reason for serendipitous fate.

An interruption broke when swarm of loafermen from the slums hurried to shield Linda from Ricardo. She halted them all. Appeasing the agitated crowd, she explainedthat everything was under control. Nothing serious. And this persistent guy was far from being a goon. They met once and it was time for her to spill the beans. That was all. From there, one by one, the spectators dispersed from the scene.

Linda lived in a shanty with other tenants. The conversation between her and Ricardo unfolded in what she called home. There, she admitted that she knew the little girl. Aurea – the seven-year-old kid – in fact is her half-sister to her deceased mother. Both orphaned for years, she tried to make ends meet with various jobs. The stint at the corner store became her biggest break to date. From selling ornamental flowers, to wiping cars on the street, she tried everything that her body could acquiesce. She tried to send her sister to school with her meager income.Yet she could only take so much. Until one day, she decided to ask Aurea to stop her education for their safety. The little girl haggled until she acceded if she would still be allowed to read. That’s how the sisters came into terms.

When Aurea’s biological father, Gregorio, knew of their mother’s demise, he repeatedly tried to obtain custody of the little girl. Not for the better and instead because of a horrendous reason. Gregorio’s enslavement of gambling and of alcohol caused him everything. His destitution due to his vices pushed him to the wall. Left with nothing to pay, an influential politician named Joseph Sison from the north who once financed his lavish escapades, forced him to deliver his own daughter in exchange of all his debt. The infamous lawmaker shoved unto him that he should be grateful as the child would have education. Aurea would nevertheless serve as helper in the crooked man’s mansion. Whether there was truth to any of those remained a mystery even to Linda.

Aghast, Ricardo gave in to his impulse, trying to pull off a heroic stunt. Linda pulled her back with a reminder that they couldn’t handle the situation’s gravitas. The Gregorio’s cohorts could endanger both of their lives. Truth be told, not even a police report could mitigate the situation. The well-entrenched connections of these hooligans would squish their attempts to save Aurea in a heartbeat. It’s so dangerous that they could bid earth goodbye without anyone ever knowing of their whereabouts.

Linda broke down into tears that would rival even earth’s wildest storms. She was ready to give up the fight. As helpless as she looked, there was no other move that she could take on her book. The circumstances that she faced were so dire that a stranger, despite being too young as she was, became his only refuge. She was surprised to show vulnerability to someone she barely knew. Like an overflowing magma on the volcano’s core, Linda exploded at last.

On the other hand, Ricardo kept mum. He wanted to remove himself from the entangled mess but his conscience wouldn’t allow him to. For him, it was an inner battle of his idealism and of his confrontation of realism. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There, the flash of recollection of Aurea’s image as the studying girl under the streetlight brought goosebumps on every inch of his body. Coincided to that moment was a reminder of his childhood – including the famed journalist that he once followed a lot and looked up to in the persona of Dante Rodriguez. In the spur of the moment, he assured Linda that he would not intervene. The truth ran contrary. His plans remained on his head for safekeeping. To console her woes, he extended solace to his new-found friend. They parted ways with such understanding.

Soon, as alone as he was, Ricardo searched for credible investigative journalists that he could lean to. On top of his list was Dante, of course. While he waited, he explored traditional media as well – television, newspaper, radio stations. His efforts were rendered fruitless for days. The time ticked with no response. It’s the excruciating agony of waiting that brought him nightmares. He took it as a drive that kept him motivated in pounding on the search. Desperate measures led him to consider posting about Aurea on social media yet he reminded himself of the promise that he gave to Linda.

Fortunately, the advent of online news organizations gave him additional options. He messaged the relevant news reporters to his cause. In a way, those mere messages pacified his eagerness to look for help.

His patience paid off when he received a message from Wynona Francisco – a multimedia reporter from the news organization called Trickle. Primarily, the website cemented a reputation of exposes against politicians. It was a good news scoop. More so, it aligned to Trickle’s type of reporting. Wynona called the young man to verify the news item after they exchanged their contact details. They arranged an eventual meeting with a condition that Ricardo’s identity will remain confidential. The esteemed journalist agreed.

As an expert on beats that involved the corrupt and powerful, Wynona laid down the series of stories that revived past misdemeanors of politicians who afforded themselves with impunity. In her strategy, the momentum heightened before she exploded a revelation on how another politician utilized the scheme under the guise financial and education assistance as means to treat people like modern-day slaves. It was also noteworthy for her to report on their involvement in gambling and other repulsive activities. Sure, it was not profound nor was it something that spooked the numbed senses of the people. Wynona’s intense advocacy nonetheless created and continues to be a crackdown which pinned down the perfidious leaders in the government.

Throughout the course of her reports which involved the search for Aurea, Wynona also researched for details about Gregorio’s network of hoodlums. Verily, she found causal link to the claims of Ricardo. When the audience’s attention finally galvanized, international media took cognizance as well. The clamor for accountability and public persecution against Mr. Sison grew louder and louder. Although it was not the greatest way of trying the charges, as courts are still clothed to do so, the pressure kept him on his toes.

The hullaballoo bothered Linda. Also, she feared for her own life since she remained poor and defenseless. She knew for a fact that Ricardo had something to do with all of this. Never in her wildest dreams she ever imagined that her sister would create a wildfire-like level of controversy that spanned government investigations. Aurea’s story brought deeper issues about poverty. Demands from the people led to Senate Inquiries, Congressional Debates and additional orders from the President. Still, there’s no Aurea to be found.

Linda found a way to search for Ricardo. She fumed in the get-go for the price of speaking the truth. Her sole consolation was the hope that her sister would be able to break away from the shackles that trapped her.

Close to a month after the expose, it was discovered that Sison fled the Philippines. News went on exponential blast after. At that point, Linda felt a sigh of relief especially when Gregorio was charged before the trial court. What even made it better were the offers of several non-profit organizations to assist the siblings with unconditional help.

The reunion of the siblingstouched the hearts of the whole world that witnessed their story unfold. It took time for them to reunite with Ricardo, but when they finally did, the heartwarming moment translated into an emotional yet another outburst. They looked back with a realization that everything happened so that they could move mountains together.

Ricardo, at that point, pondered at the thought of transforming his career as a lawyer. His keen attention of what he thought to be a routine life with no purpose vanished. He vowed to himself to pursue the passion that he ignited from the moment he took chance to look for Aurea. Because of that, he harnessed the untapped power of hope for the new set of challenges that he will soon take.