THE RUNAWAY GIRL * a true story

THE RUNAWAY GIRL * a true story
eastwind journals


amen I say to you, beware and be cautious
for you know not the day nor the hour
Matthew 25:12-13


By Bernie Lopez
BREAKING NEWS.  Unverified report. Urgent prayer request.20 Christian churches were recently burned. They want to destory 200 more churches in Olisabang Province and kill 200 missionaries in the next 24 hours. Christian are hiding in villagegs. Also, please pray for the 22 Christian families sentenced to death by Islmasts in Afghanistan.
I am seated on a crowded Metro Rail Transit (MRT) train, when this story happens. Dialogue has been reconstructed. A frail girl of about ten, with dirty clothes, beach sandals and a heavy backpack, enters. Teary-eyed and staring into nothing, she stands in front of me, clutching the train post. There is half a seat beside me, so I offer it to her. She gladly sits. I strike a conversation, and she begins to unravel her sad life to me.


ME. Where are you going?
GIRL. Cagayan.
ME. You mean Cagayan Valley in the north?
GIRL. Yes.
ME. You are going that far alone? That’s about 12 hours bus ride.
GIRL. That long? I can manage. (Casually) I’m running away from home.
ME. Oh oh. Why?
GIRL. (In a whisper) My stepfather rapes me regularly when he comes home drunk. Then he mauls me, so I don’t tell others about it. I can’t stand it anymore. (She displays her bruises on the left arm. She quickly wipes off tears.)
ME. Yes, you better run away before you go crazy. Have you been to Cagayan before?
GIRL. No. But I know the town where my grandmother stays. She will take care of me.
ME. Do you know what bus to take and where?
GIRL. Not yet. I will ask around. Perhaps you can tell me.
ME. Do you have enough money?
GIRL. I have some loose change.
ME. How do you expect to get there without money?
GIRL. I will ask the bus driver and conductor to give me a ride.
ME. For free? I am not sure they will do that.
GIRL. They will. People are kind.
ME. And if they don’t.
GIRL. I will ask passengers to pay for me.
ME. Do you know how much it costs?
ME. I think it would be about 500 pesos.
GIRL. That much? I will manage.
ME. Passengers can’t afford that much to give away.
GIRL. I will ask for 20 pesos per passenger. People are kind.
ME. I like your attitude.
GIRL. I have a guardian angel. The Lord loves me and takes care of me. (She takes out a tattered rosary and proudly shows it.) I prayed before I left the house. Nothing can happen to me.
ME. How about food? It’s half a day’s ride. You need to eat.
GIRL. I will be okay. My grandma will feed me.
ME. No, I mean during the 12-hour trip.


The girl does not answer. I squirm in my seat. I furtively give her a 500-peso bill. I am not rich but she needs this badly. Perhaps embarrassed, she grabs it quickly without a word. All the while, Jerry, another senior citizen like myself, is listening to our conversation. He stares in surprise at the 500-peso bill.


ME. You better put that in your bag so it does not get lost. (She does so.)
GIRL. You are very kind, sir. Thank you.
ME. (After a long silence.) You know what? Do this. When you get in the bus, talk to the driver and tell him you have no money for food. Ask him to take you with him when you make a stopover to eat. Drivers get free meals from the restaurant because they bring passengers to eat there. I’ve done that twice.
GIRL. That’s clever. Okay, I will. Thanks.
There is a long pause. I squirm again in my seat. I give her three 100-peso bill. Jerry grunts.


ME. That’s for your food. The driver may not like to give you a free meal.
GIRL. Thank you again sir. (She clutches the bills.)
ME. Put it in your bag. (She ignores me. Another girl, a teenager, sits beside us.)
ME. Hello there, miss. Can I ask you a favor?
ME. Where are you going down?
TEENAGER. Pasay Rotonda station. Why?
ME. Good. This girl needs to go to one of four provincial bus stations, the one where buses go to Cagayan Valley. She does not know how to get there. I am going down at Ayala. Can you take care of her? Just ask around what bus station to go to.
TEENAGER. No problem, sir. I will do it. (She looks at the girl and smiles.)
ME. One more thing please. Escort her to the station until she boards the right bus. Please get her a sandwich. I gave her money. Do you have time for this? Is it too much trouble?
TEENAGER. No problem, sir. It’s okay. I’m glad to help.
ME. Thanks. Okay, this kind lady will take care of you. Do not talk to strangers, only the bus driver or conductor. Is that clear? Put the money in your bag.
GIRL. Yes sir. Thank you again. You also have a guardian angel. I can feel it.
JERRY. (Arriving at the Ayala Station, Jerry and I leave the train.) Wow. That was something you did back there. Why did you want her escorted all the way to the bus?
ME.  Many predators looking for victims in the jungle of bus stations.
JERRY. Oh, white slavery. Never thought of that. In all my life, I never saw someone hand out 800 pesos just like that to a complete stranger. Did you notice she is a very brave girl?
ME. Yes, an innocent lamb unafraid of the jungle of predators.
JERRY. It’s more ignorance than bravery.
ME. Extreme despair makes you brave. Kapit sa patalim. (Grab the blade in despair.)
JERRY. It’s faith, not ignorance, not despair. She never sees it as a ‘blade’.
ME. Yes, she talks of her guardian angel. That’s why she is not afraid.
JERRY. Did you not realize she could be conning you?
ME. It crossed my mind. Benefit of the doubt, my friend. If she conned me, I lose 800 pesos. So what? If she did not con me, I give her a new life.
JERRY. Her guardian angel nudged you. You gave without hesitation and so quickly. Amazing. You must be rich.
ME. Are you kidding? Rich people do not take train rides. I earn a lousy 24,000 a month. I get by. Simple living. I live alone. What is 800 pesos to me? I would spend that in three days on food and transport. I would not die of poverty or hunger.
JERRY. I give coins to beggars. Rarely, I give a whole 20-peso bill to lame people. But I am not a martyr. 800 pesos? Wow. Tell me, what made you really do it?
ME. How old are you?
JERRY. Sixty five.
ME. I’m sixty nine. You and I are in the pre-departure area. We can go anytime. There is no time. When the rare opportunity comes, grab it. All my life, it’s just me, me, me. It’s a game changer really, this thing called death. When you see it hovering about you, you start thinking not me, not me anymore.
JERRY. Do me a favor. Take this. (He hands me a 100-peso bill.) Share your spiritual bounty with me. I need it.
ME. Why?
JERRY. I have cancer of the prostrate that has spread to my lungs. Take it, I beg you. From now on, I will look for children in distress. I think I also have a guardian angel. Look at me, giving 100 pesos. Never in my life.
ME. You better look hard. Distressed kids don’t come easy in trains. When the rare opportunity comes, grab it, and die for it.
JERRY. Are you kidding? They’re all over the streets. They’re everywhere. We are just too blind.
ME. The Lord lets the poor sanctify the rich.
JERRY. Correction. The not-so-rich. Sharing is not an option but an obligation. I mean, look at the rich guy who gave to the dogs instead of to Lazarus. Where is he now?
ME. Cooking barbecue. (We both laugh. He hugs me quickly. I take the money and we part ways, as if we knew each a long time.)


Bernie V. Lopez,


almost everything–all external expectations
all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure
these things just fall away in the face of death
leaving only what is truly important


Steve Jobs, dying of cancer
as his empire lay at his feet




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