One night of bright lights

Bright lights of vermilion and sapphire reflected the dark brown eyes of this thin, young boy. An entire galaxy resided in his pair of unblinking irises — radiating flames of excitement and innocence. Like the luminous lanterns he would spot anywhere from that street he glanced at, his face was well-lit with glee for the season.

For him, nothing compares to celebrating Christmas.

Sitting on a cold, rusty bench, he faced the busy street filled with groups of children wearing red Santa Claus hats — chanting choruses of classic Christmas carols. Their small teeth flashed, eyes narrowed into happy slits while clapping their hands and shaking tambourines. He had a similar instrument wrapped in his little fingers — a makeshift version he crafted himself. It would produce the same noise, only that it was made of wire and a dozen of squashed tansans he collected from a sari-sari store across his home.

His little caroling tool brought him to the front doors of different houses, as he tried to put up lively Christmas anthems he barely memorized. All these in hopes of astonishing the sprightly homeowners, positive about receiving something in return for his animated motions and spirited performance.

His humorous, disharmonious replays of “Sa May Bahay” then earned his tattered pouch some weight right before the bright sky faded into darkness. Homeward bound, he was delighted.

The load in his pocket warranted his famished eyes to wander — peeking at the stalls caught him torn between buying his favorite strawberry ice cream flavor or one of those fetching toys with flickering colors. All while his stomach grumbled for satisfaction and his feet for leniency from a long, daunting walk back home.

Before he could decide, a girl who looked twice his age approached him with a camera right between their faces. Say cheese! The rush prompted him to smile out of instinct, the corners of his lips turning up at that magic word. He did not even have the time to be surprised by the sudden Flash! that temporarily blinded his dilated eyes. The next thing he knew, his photo was developing from the girl’s polaroid.

“How much have you got there?” asked the stranger, while shaking the freshly printed candid shot as though she had done it a million times before.

Too awestruck to form words, he did not answer; instead, he showed her his right hand. A dozen of peso coins glimmered from the boy’s sweaty palm, crushed in his tiny fist.

“Alright, I’ll give you this photo in exchange for the money you got. Consider that a Christmas treat.”

Her words were compelling. When she said that, he knew everything was decided. He did not have a choice. So the girl took the money he sang and walked all night for as she handed him his print before walking away.

He did not feel bad. Instead, he smiled as he waited for the saturated ash gray to turn into vibrant shades of December. In just a matter of seconds, colors began growing clearer before his eyes.

Behind him was a large pine tree with a bright star on its peak, but the lights and ornaments gave it more shade and color so it could be noticed from the dark. Yet what caught his attention was his dark brown eyes, for they reflected bright neons of vermilion and sapphire. His irises were still home to an entire galaxy — radiating flames of excitement and innocence, only that today…

He knows he would lose that spark when he no longer is that thin, young boy.

It seems that peering at the photograph cost him a great deal of time that the film grew tinier from what used to be his little palm — now covered with lines and visible scars. His hands begin feeling rough as if they have seen and experienced so much of the world. The ignition is lost in a blink, and the world in his eyes now reflects only dullness. He places his photograph in his worn-out jean’s back pocket and shifts his head to face the darkness of the same but now empty street.

Covers of commercialized junk food products and broken bottles of soda littered the pavement where remote vendors used to perch the colorful items they sell. The sight tells him that they have not been around doing the same thing for some time now. Just like how he grew taller and leaner, the mosses on the road become slippery and greener. And when he reclines or even moves the slightest bit from his seat, the bench’s creaks would tell him it is rustier than ever.

No tapping hands or instrumental noises are there to drown out the crickets and strong breezes of the wind. There are neither busy people and carolings nor lanterns and tambourines; just him, sitting on a cold, rusty bench with a strawberry-flavored cigarette between his mildly shaking fingers.

The weight of hard-earned coins in his palm has long gone. 

Illustration by Rachelle Calaustro

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