By Tricia Capistrano
Almost every Friday now at dusk, Tonio would walk to the edge of the shantytown and sit on the flattest rock facing Marikina River. The stench of human waste, the plastic bags, crumpled boxes of Chiclets, and worn rubber slippers no longer bother him. He learned to look southward and focus on the mountains of Antipolo, where his mother said the diwatas live, who he hopes are with his father.
Tonio opens the plastic bag. His mom asked him to throw them away; the wallets they had stolen. For the last few months, after school, his mom would pick him up and they would go to the mall and lift wallets from customers in the basement supermarket. His mom had already taken the cash and the credit cards to buy food for the two of them.
Tonio liked to go through the papers: grocery lists, tickets, receipts from gas stations in far away places, Baguio, Batangas. Once, his dad took the family to Batangas to swim in the ocean.
He also liked looking at the pictures. The pink wallet had several photos of the same group of young women smiling, and then one photo of a young man and one of the women. There were other people next to them it seems but they had been all been cut out. Were the two people left a couple? Did he like her? Or did he just happen to just be standing next to her?
The brown wallet, worn at the corners, had just one. It shows an older man and his wife and teen-age girls in peach colored dresses. They must have come from a wedding; they must be rich. The mother and all three daughters were wearing thick gold necklaces. Some of them had large stones. Were they rubies? In his old neighborhood, he had a friend name Ruby. She told him that her name meant a precious red stone.
The third wallet contained a few dollars. His mom said to just throw the away because it was too much trouble to change into pesos. The man in the photo is American. He parted his hair to the right, the same way Tonio’s dad did. The man is in a restaurant with a Filipino woman. A boy, about two years old, is sitting in a high chair. They must be in the US because they are wearing sweaters covering their necks. It must’ve be really cold where they are. Tonio had never seen anyone in the Philippines wearing sweaters like those before. The man and the woman lean towards each other, smiling. The boy looked separate, almost alone. The photo reminded Tonio of himself and his parents, when his dad was alive. They always asked him if he was hungry or needed anything–But while eating dinner, his parents teased each other a lot and looked at each other so lovingly. Sometimes he felt he was not there.
He hardly had any photos of his dad now. His dad kept some photos of Tonio and his mom on his Nokia but when his neighbors found his dad’s body by the roadside with his hands bound, and face wrapped in packing tape, the phone was not in his pocket.
Tonio put the last photo in his pocket. The rest of the bundle he tossed into the river.
Tricia J. Capistrano’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, MrBellersNeighborhood.com, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star. She is the author of the children’s book “Dingding, Ningning, Singsing and Other Fun Tagalog Words.” Her essay, “Inadequately Asian” which appeared in TheFilam.net was chosen as the Best Personal Essay by the Philippine American Press Club in 2017. “Remembering Willy Cruz” was chosen as the Best Personal Essay by the Philippine American Press Club in 2019.