Saturday, March 28, 2009

Counting Kids

Ateneo de Manila 4 years ago. Would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to walk to school and be there at 6 a.m. and walk home again before midnight just to sleep and then be off again the next day same time. 

My boarding house was in Dela Costa Homes, Marikina City some 15 to 30 minutes of walking through the 'woods' in Ateneo and past all the buildings, where people say, the ghosts of the dead still lurk. My female classmates admired my guts alright. (Mga talawan. Haha.) 

The whole day I'd be glued to the laptop and taking cat naps on the floor on a mat I'd brought along for the purpose. Every week I'd change my location - Rizal library, dorm, English faculty lounge, pantry, ISO, canteen, etc. Good thing everyone was so accommodating - from the librarian to the janitors and security guards and the Humanities office staff and Graduate office staff. I became famous for being the first one in Dela Costa and the last one out. 

But silently I was suffering from painful strained and tired eyes and a throbbing head caused by my zombie-like state as every sleep and nap was filled with thoughts of how to start or end the next paragraph. Nothing else mattered. Except food. Pizza Hut, Shakeys, Jollibee, Mcdo, and my favorite Japanese and Mongolian restaurants along Katipunan Ave. whose names escape me now. Plus the occasional run around campus and badminton match with BJ and the gang. That was my life. 

Everything paid off nicely when I finished my thesis 3 months ahead of schedule. I was even allowed by my thesis adviser to go to Thailand for a week and to Belgium for 2 months before my thesis defense. (Salamat!) 

But back to those days of intensity I remember most the long talks with my friend, M, who was working hard too on finishing all her paper work. Since I was teaching research paper writing while doing my own, I had in a sense, unlimited access to faculty rooms, and so I graciously offered M to join me there for late night writing sessions. (We each had two long tables. Heaven.) It was during one of those nights when M started to tell me the story of her life. Something, she said, she doesn't tell everyone. 

Cautiously at first she told me she lives in a squatter's area with her family. Eight kids. Her husband is a drunkard and has no job. Yet she can't leave him because she needs him to take care of the babies while she works. Her eldest boy, just 17, doesn't go to school anymore and her eldest girl, 16 is also problematic. Even her younger children. M says it's probably because they lack nutritious food. If only she could afford better and more regular food, her children would be doing well in school. To make ends meet, M has resorted to borrowing money from whomever will lend her. That's how she scrapes together their food for the week, the tuition of the kids, and milk for the babies. 

What a life. 

Me: Why in the first place do you have so many kids if you can't take care of them all?

M: I tried!

What M told me next made me so angry.

When he's drunk, M's husband gets really horny and forces her to have sex with him despite her protestations that she's ovulating and it's not the right time. M said that she had made several attempts to get a ligation despite her husband's and parents-in-law's apprehension about the side effects. When M was about to have her fourth child, she was adamant about getting it done with or without everyone else's blessing. So there she was lying in a hospital ward full of other women about to get birth. Her legs wide open still after giving birth and her pubic hair shaved off. Then the doctor comes and tells her they can't push through with the ligation unless her husband signs the approval letter.

What the f---?!

The jerk doesn't sign the letter of course and eight kids later M's still working her ass off to keep the whole family afloat while her husband continues drinking himself into a horny stupor. 

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