IN THE pitch-black darkness of this avenue illuminated by only a few lampposts, one could barely perceive the figures sprawled out on makeshift cardboard mats against the cold, filthy asphalted floor.

The place reeked of sweltering bodies, stale odor from broken bottles of beer, dense fumes emitted by vehicles, and clogged canals filled with litter floating in the murky waters.

Small heads peeked out of the old newspaper sparsely covering the lithe, tired bodies of children lost in their sleep – their only respite from a whole day’s work.

In the crammed area of a stinky, junk-filled pushcart, a mother and her two sons managed to snuggle up inside the claustrophobic space.

Nearby, an old woman chanted a lullaby as she breastfed the infant who was shrieked in hunger and pain.

The emaciated, lame man with droopy eyes held on to his rusty tin as he held out his callused fingers to invoke pity among passers-by.

Across the street, the boy carried his wooden box brimming with candies and cigarette packs as he sauntered his way past jeepneys and buses.

Meanwhile, a girl and her baby sister were almost run over by a speeding car while she went about her routine of knocking on vehicles’ windows pleading for a few coins.

Another girl positioned herself near the church gate and urged churchgoers to buy her sampaguita leis. She bit her lower lip as she contemplated on the hard truth that her stepfather might beat her again if she failed to make a sale.

Strumming the guitar in the corner was a scrawny-looking man who rendered his discordant version of an old kundiman, his tarnished can containing a few peso coins.

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An old man whose wrinkly skin hung loosely to his bones burrowed his stick in piles of garbage bags as he thoroughly searched for dungy, recyclable materials, or even left-over foods since he had not eaten a decent meal for the past two days. His hands rummaged through decomposing junk while hordes of flies swarmed in every visible portion of his skin.

Amid the raucous voices of stalwart men who carried bricks twice their weight, a small crowd of teenage boys seemed contented inhaling solvent chemicals from plastics.

The place highlighted the life of a fast-paced suburban decay where survival was of primary importance. But the demolition team wrecked their houses their dreams for a better life was also destroyed. What was left was the smoke of pulverized cement and dust which clung heavily to their lungs as each of their shanties merged with the ground. Their hope faded fast with each passing moment. The picture of the debris loomed behind as they dragged their feet toward their unknown relocation.

They were the very people whose gazes you refused to meet. But their disturbing images haunt the depths of your consciousness marred by the thought of your neglect, our cold stares against their piteous glances.

Most people treat them with the slightest concern — a splinter inadvertently hurting their eyes. It was as if they were forsaken creatures that held no place in a society dominated by scions of the affluent.

These scantily-dressed, grease-covered people, who follow no pattern of time and turn night into day so they can earn a few pesos to buy a decent meal strike in contrast among young corporate people clad in their business apparel, who copiously spend for their luxuries to satiate their capriciousness.

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Charity was introduced from the time people learned to discern the difference between right and wrong. Their mentors instilled in them the age-old virtue of alms-giving. Could they imagine how a few pieces of loose change would transform a little boy’s grimy face into a bright smile? The clinking sound of the coin rattling against the aluminum can would have been the most pleasing sound to the ears of this innocent child who was left fending for himself.

This boy could be just one of the countless children who were stripped of their innocence and forced to work at the expense of lost childhood. As they bravely carried their parents’ burdens, these children silently suffered the harsh realities of life.

However heartbreaking it may seem, people hardly care.

Maybe because begging children have become such a familiar sight that their outstretched hands failed to stir the strings of pity within you.

Or, perhaps, people acquired a distorted notion of charity that the idea of giving something to others meant depriving yourselves.

Suddenly, heavy rains started to release its fury and spewed its wrath on its victims. But still the poor remained oblivious. It was as if the drops of rain cascading down their faces and soaking their tattered clothes had quenched their parched throats, offering coolness that was deprived earlier by the scorching madness of the afternoon sun.

Then, they can only hope that the rain would wash their worldly troubles away. Even just for that moment.

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