MONEY.

The sight of a white, rich-leather wallet on the ground made my senses tingle. The schoolgirl was sprinting down the overpass with her shoulder bag zipped open. I looked around to check if anyone else saw this—nobody did. Everyone was rushing to their respective destinations and it was too late to call the girl’s attention. I thought of picking it up and running after her, but she was already inside her school which I was forbidden to enter.

I picked it up and watched the girl trail further away. A part of me wanted to run after her and hand it over, but there was something that held me back. Instead, I pocketed the wallet and started walking back to the corner where I sat.

At first, I was unsure about what I was supposed to do with the wallet. I could open it and keep the money—I badly need some myself—or I could surrender it to the police station. I thought, Hey, she needed it herself too. I considered the two options for a good 20 minutes before finally deciding to head out to an enclosed area to check its contents out of curiosity.

My heart pumped fast—so fast I felt it thud under my half-torn shirt. My greasy hands slowly opened the once white, now smeared wallet as I continued to clumsily stain it with fingerprints. My eyes glistened from beneath the Manila dirt that covered my face. It had 12 one-thousand peso bills and a bunch of smaller amount of bills and coins. The light-blue paper was enough to get my attention—it was the first time my hands had touched such an amount. I stopped myself to look around a second time and quickly closed the white leather wallet. If anyone saw me with it, I was sure to be mistaken for a thief!

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I know I didn’t steal anything, and I was pretty sure that there was nothing bad about picking things from the floor without bad intentions. My conscience battled my morale.

I opened it a second time and counted the money.

“Oh, how the world revolves around you,” I said, under my breath. I dug deeper inside the wallet and noticed that there were photos of the girl with her friends, another photo of a guy who was probably her boyfriend, and one of her with her family. I was disgusted with the last one.

“Pfft, family,” I hissed. Who needs them? I had none, and I was doing just fine.

I threw all the other photos away, except for one I put in my pocket. They were worth nothing. Hey, those inked pieces of photo paper couldn’t buy me anything to eat. I got up before someone saw me and went back to the foot of the overpass where I usually stayed.

People came and went. The usual thing, nothing was new. It was like watching the same old movie over and over again, same old setting, but with different faces, and clothes. Just sitting there could get really boring.

A split-second later, something caught my attention—a weeping girl talking to the police officer that was just a few meters away from me. I got a mental picture of the photo kept and realized it was her.

My heart pounded heavily. I wanted to make a run for it—well, not run. It would’ve been obvious that I did something wrong, but casually exit the scene.
But then I looked at her and she looked devastated. Hey, even street people felt sympathy.

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As I was half a step from going the opposite direction, I walked towards her.

“Miss, I think this is yours,” I said to her as I returned her wallet.

“Oh, thank you so much!” her tear-stained face was immediately replaced with a warm smile. She checked the contents and found that all the money was there. “I’ll give you one hundred pesos as a sign of gratitude,” she told me. “Thank you, really. I couldn’t pay my tuition fee without it.”

“It was my pleasure,” I took the money—hey, I should take what I could get. It’s not like there’s a hundred pesos waiting for me every day. “Thank you.”
I turned to leave but I stopped just as I hear her speak to me again.

“How did you know it was mine?” her questioning eyes asked.

“I took a look at the photos,” I said, feigning confidence. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, thanks again,” she smiled and looked as if she wanted to hug me, but I was dirty and I didn’t smell good either.

She was about to leave when suddenly, her smile disappeared as she peeked inside the wallet once more.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, afraid that some of her money was missing. I was sure I didn’t take anything except…

“My photos,” her voice was faint. “They’re missing.”

I was taken off guard. “Uh, I know they’re there. That’s funny, I saw them earlier. I must’ve dropped it, sorry.” I lied.

She started to cry again, this time, much harder.

“Hey, what’s the big deal?” I asked, surprised at her display of emotion. “Your money’s all there anyway.”

It took a while before she looked at me after wiping her tears.

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“It’s just that those pictures mean a lot to me,” her voice was still, shaky. “One was a remembrance from my best friend before he went to the States, and the other, well, It’s the last picture of me and my family before they—”

She didn’t need to continue.

Would you look at that? This girl and I actually had something in common. We were both deprived of a family. I didn’t say a word after she shared her sentiments and I turned around and returned to the back of the LRT station to watch the sky until the moon came up.

I realized that photographs could buy you something money couldn’t buy—hey, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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