User:K6ka/writing/As he lay dying.../annotated version
This annotated version contains various explanatory notes from the author that may clarify some confusion, but may also hinder your ability to think on your own. In other words, this is like an "answers sheet"! It is strongly recommended that you read the normal version and reflect on it before reading the annotated version.
As he lay dying...
The monsoon rain pelted down, drenching the city[note 1] with a heavy haze. On and on, the water poured, snaking through every crack and opening, down every trough, along every road. Where it could find no escape, it pooled up, forming stagnant puddles of muddy water, soon to be popular mosquito-breeding grounds.
The alley was dark, illuminated only on one end by a street light. The rain found entrance through a sizable gap between the roofs of two slums, gathering along the edges before falling in heavier droplets. Together, they hit the ground, forming a cacophony of varying pitches as the puddles slowly built up before flowing towards the street.
In the alley lay a boy, black-haired and of Filipino descent, no more than 14 years of age. The rain puddles parted ways to diverge around his body, carrying with it a river of red that stood out clearly amidst the brown water.
The boy shifted slightly, his body barely mobile, his senses almost fading. His body and clothes were soaked, both from the rain, and from what came out of him. His breathing was shallow, drowned out by the noise of the rain. His eyes were open, though whether or not he could actually see anything was unknown. From under him, the red water continued to emerge, staining his shirt, his shorts, his hair... everything.
Blood. He was bleeding, a hole through his abdomen. It came out of him, joining the river of rainwater as it flowed down the alley, carrying with it what he needed to survive. He tried to move, tried to cover the opening, but he had lost far too much of it already to save himself. Even the tiniest movement of his fingers was an impossible endeavour.
He closed his eyes, shielding them from the rain. He was losing control of his body, he knew it. He knew the inevitable, that his final breath was near. He opened his mouth slightly and let the rain pour in. It tasted funny, slightly tainted by the rust and dust on the roofs, but it was water nonetheless. He sucked in air, trying to gather his remaining reserves of strength, to remember just one last thing...
Memories. So vivid and detailed. They all flooded back to Efren in an overwhelming ocean, as overwhelming as the rain, blood, and his dire situation.
Memories. He remembered his fifth birthday, when his mother made real cupcakes to celebrate the joyous occasion. He remembered his mother's smile, his father's exuberant attitude, and his brother patting him on the back. For a day, their poverty was forgotten.
Memories. He remembered a day when he was seven years old, when his brother's friends found a massive junk pile between two large warehouses, and they took turns tobogganing down the scraps of e-waste and discarded car tires on a metal trash can lid. He remembered cutting his leg and getting a fever, but a few days later, he went up that hill on his own and coasted down again.
Memories. He remembered the day his brother taught him how to play basketball, shooting hoops at an old basketball net in an abandoned schoolyard. He remembered how he missed countless shots, how a roving group of boys teased and insulted him, how his brother told him to keep trying, to ignore the other boys. Eventually, he made a basket, and he was elated.
Memories. Oh, how quickly the good ones faded! It was more of a struggle to hold on to good memories than it was to hold on to life itself.
His eyes opened, slightly. A droplet of water hit his right eye, but he barely felt it. The pupils shifted slightly, trying to make sense of their surroundings.
He heard a loud bang. He was too weak to see an old woman pawing through a dumpster, looking for anything salvageable from the garbage. Perhaps some old coins. Maybe a morsel of food.[note 2] The lid came crashing back down as the woman exited the alley, taking no notice of the dying boy in front of her.
He closed his eyes again, squeezing them shut, trying to get his mind going. He wanted to cherish his memories before it was too late.
His brother, Daniel. The family member he felt closest to. Words could not describe just how much he missed him now.
They were raised in a slum, one of thousands that populated "shanty town",[note 3] the city's poorest district. In the distance, bristling skyscrapers could be seen. Office towers. Upper-class condominiums. Five-star hotels. Within sight of a disposable district constructed out of disposable materials, according to those who were "well-off".
The streets were largely unpaved, consisting instead of compacted dirt, filled with ridges and potholes from excessive use. On the streets lived hundreds of thousands of people, lacking four walls and a roof to sleep in. Many of these people were children.[note 4] Others were old women, forced to drink unpurified water and beg behind stores for food. Their only hope for survival was to pray, and hope that the street children would be kind enough to spare them something to eat.
The climate was hot, the atmosphere was humid. The dry season brought with it relentless and sweltering heat from the sun, turning mud into concrete and lips into blisters. The monsoon brought with it great relief from the sun, but hardly from the heat, and definitely not from the floodwaters, which found the baked earth rather difficult to penetrate.
Their father was a labourer, their mother a prostitute. Both were desperate for a way to bring in the money needed to care for their two boys. Audible sobbing could be heard from the house frequently, as the family lamented their unfortunate situation. Their stories struck the hearts of few, though, as there was not one person in the neighborhood that wasn't in poverty.
The rumbling of thunder could be heard in the distance. The boy could feel it slightly trembling the ground. A brief, blinding flash of light in the distance, followed a few seconds later by the angry clap of thunder.
He remembered how his mother and father taught him to count the number of seconds between the light and the sound of lightning. "Five seconds is one mile. Three seconds is one kilometer," he was told.
Five seconds is one mile. Three seconds is one kilometer...
He tried doing just that, the way he used to as a child. Another flash of lightning lit up the sky, this time to his right.
One... Two... Three... Four... Five...
It was loud. He could feel the tremors again, the way nature demonstrated its incredible and unrivaled powers. "Nature will never be poor," he could hear his mother saying. "She will always be rich, whether it is in blessings or in curses."
He looked into the sky and wondered whether he had been blessed or cursed this time around.
It all started one hot, rainy day, when the monsoon came down in full force.
Their father had vanished several months prior. There was no warning, no prior notice, nothing. He left home to go to work one morning and never came back that evening.
The boys searched the neighborhood, digging through dumpsters, alleyways, and garbage piles. They eventually found him, buried a foot beneath a pile of discarded cardboard. Their father had died in an industrial accident. That was all they knew. No investigation was conducted. No funeral was held. They never even learned the exact causes of death.
Their mother, in need of money to feed her sons, became desperate. She left the house earlier in the morning and came back later at night, if at all. Days went by where the boys never saw or heard from her. Her health deteriorated drastically, her body becoming slimmer and fragile.
The boys were, naturally, concerned. Agitated. Distressed. One day, it changed to resentment.
Early one morning, the two were rudely awakened by their front door being thrown open. Their mother was there, her pupils dilated abnormally, her movements jerky and wavering. She was followed by a man possessing massive biceps. His abdominal muscles were unrivaled, his face looked gruff and despicable. His body was covered with tattoos of varying symbols, and his neck bore a golden chain.
He gave the boys a cold, hard look. "These your sons?" he asked.
Their mother could only give a slight nod.
The body next to Efren shifted. He saw his brother, Daniel, turning his back towards their visitor, a small flame in his eyes that drove away the tears. He knew that his brother didn't like their new "stepfather", nor did he trust him. He would've turned away too, but the man was beginning to approach them.
Soon, he was over the two, like an elephant over two mice. Efren could smell the strong odours of the man. It was a mixture of cigarette smoke, marijuana, soot, and sweat. He wanted to throw up, but he dare not do so, for fear of the man reaching out to strike him.
The man's eyes bore down on him, almost coercing him to look up. Efren avoided all eye contact, refusing to look even at the man's legs. He focused his vision on a spot in the wall, staring so fiercely he thought he could melt it.
Finally, the man spoke: "Your sons are insolent. Don't like 'em."
The water built up on his eyes again, blurring his vision into a spectacular waterworks display. The colours danced around his vision, forming unrecognizable images. It was like looking into the night sky at the unfamiliar constellations, looking nothing more than mumbo jumbo.
Then a face began to appear. He hoped desperately it would be his brother's face. He wanted nothing more than to be able to see his brother again, to tell him how sorry he was.
Please, let me talk to him!
The fuzziness of the image began to wane. He blinked, hoping to hurry the face, hoping to see his favourite person.
It was the man that his mother brought home on that dreary, rainy day. The day he hated more than ever.
Efren never even knew his real name.
It was January. The dry season had just begun, promising oven-like conditions for those under the sun. The rainy season had brought less water than usual, causing an even more severe drought and water shortage that affected even the wealthy.
The house smelled of tobacco, a thick vapour of it filling every inch of the slum. The sounds of the city could be heard through the cracks of a closed window. Nothing could escape the heat, however, and combined with the smoke, breathing was an impossible chore.
Efren looked up. His "stepfather" was seated in a chair by the dining table, casually smoking a shisha. His shirt was off, revealing his muscles and his tattoos. His eyes were pointed fixedly at a spot on the ceiling, never straying from whatever they were looking at. His movements were limited to him drawing in the vapours of the shisha and the minor twitching of his mouth and fingers.
His eyes turned. His "stepsons" were seated on the bench, refusing to look at him. His muscles tensed, as if he wanted to put up a fight, but relaxed at the last minute and resumed smoking.
For several minutes, the only sound in the house, aside from the background noise of the city, was his "stepfather's" deep inhaling and exhaling. Smoke in, smoke out. Smoke in, smoke out. Smoke in, smoke out.
The door opened. Mother walked in, wearing a tired and exhausted expression on her face. She had been working all night and all morning. She staggered towards the bedroom, trying to walk straight.
Her new boyfriend, however, had other plans.
His hand shot out and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her in. Mother's vision was clouded by the shisha smoke, and she coughed, batting away the fumes.
"Please, I just need to sleep..."
"You know something? Your sons aren't the angels you claimed they were."
"I'm just a..."
"If you weren't such a zombie every day, things would be different in this house!"
"You keep your flamin' mouth shut, understood you sorry bitch?"
She tried to break free from his grasp, but he was much too strong. "Pimp's also a crackhead," he said. "He told me you were better than this. I'll grind his jaws to powder if I get my bleedin' hands on 'im!"
"Please... let... go...!"
There was a brief struggle, but the man quickly gained the upper hand. With a thrust of his arm, his hand shot out and struck the woman.
Dead, grim silence. The air became icy and cold despite the dry, broiling heat. Goosebumps lined every inch of Efren's skin.
The man was still holding onto their mother, this time by the chest. "You'd rather be my whore than his?" He struck her again and drew her face close. "He's a scum. Guess that's why your sons are contemptible."
Efren shifted his eyes towards the window, its shutters slightly ajar. He could see the slivers of sunlight streaming through, could smell the pollution outside. Somehow it felt like heaven compared to where he was right now.
There was a loud bang as the woman's body struck the table violently. "You slut. I'm payin' you for this and this is what you give me in return!"
More strikes, followed by prolonged periods of sobbing. The words that spewed out of the man's mouth was so foul, they scorched Efren's ears. Finally, the man got up and threw the bedroom door open. "You sicken me." He tossed the woman's body inside like a sack filled with slugs and slammed the door shut. "You playin' me?" The sound of fabric being ripped apart could be heard, followed by repeated thumping.
Daniel cupped his hands over his brother's ears, but it wouldn't have made a difference. They both knew exactly what was happening. It had become a common occurrence in the house, so common that their mother no longer seemed human to them.
Double-checking one last time to make sure the man wasn't looking, Efren got up and threw the shutters open. Light and air flooded into the room, battling with the darkness and cold. The two caught a glimpse of the shanty town that they lived in, echoing the area's extreme poverty. Somehow, it felt like freedom, like a horse that had broken free of its stable, ready to traverse the world, free of its former restrictions and rules. The road to who-knows-where was stretched out before them, and all they had to do was walk on it.
Then, as quickly as the moment came, it went.
The bedroom door swung open. The man staggered out, his eyes redder than blood, foaming at the mouth, barely being able to hold his jeans up. He immediately detected the absence of the shutters. "Hey!"
The boys looked at each other. They had talked about it previously, when the man was out of earshot. They knew that, if they were to do something, they had to do it now.
The decision was made.
Daniel grabbed his brother and hoisted him out the window.
"You crazy, kid!"
Efren dug his fingernails into the corrugated metal of the slanted roof to slow his descent. Soon, he was close enough to simply drop down to the ground. He gestured with his hands to show that he was okay.
The man was almost on to him. Daniel dove out of the window and somersaulted to the street.
"Hey! Get back here you two little..."
The wind felt refreshing, despite the stench of rotting garbage and vehicular exhaust. The streets became a real-life Temple Run game, dodging rickshaws and bodies every which way. Efren looked back to see where his brother was. The obstacles of the road did little to slow him down in the quest for freedom. He smiled back to his brother, and for the first time in a long while, the two were happy.
The dining table struck the wall violently, causing an avalanche of dishes and ornaments. "Your sons are contemptible!" the man roared towards the bedroom door. He produced a switchblade from his pockets and stormed out of the house.
Tears welled up on the woman's eyes. "Don't stop running," she said softly. With that, she breathed her last.
The water felt like the wind at that moment, brushing away his troubles, his fears, his suffering. With it came relief, a sense of hope that their situation would change.
He became increasingly more aware of his own breathing. It was slowly dying down, like a wind-up toy running out of energy. Soon, they'll fall silent, like everything else.
Jovial and carefree. That's what he felt like just a few months ago. He would never imagined that a path so bright could lead to such a dark, and final, destination.
He groped around for his strength, hoping to take one more breath with each passing second. Just a little bit more, he only needed a little bit more. One was enough, two was a gift. Three was a blessing.
The sweltering heat of the sun quickly caught up to the boys, and soon they were panting, sweating bullets as they stopped to catch their breath.
"That was... a good one," Efren rasped.
Daniel smiled. "A good one?" He laughed. "You mean, the best one?"
As the adrenaline wore off, the two came back to their senses and realized their immense thirst. The heat and humidity in this part of the globe was no joke, and people frequently died from dehydration caused by excessive perspiration. They needed something to drink, something to quench their first, and something safe, most importantly of all.
They came across a small street-side stall where a man was selling bottles of soda. Daniel reached into his pockets and shook them. Nothing came out.
He looked at his brother. "Do you have anything?"
Efren emptied his own pockets, which contained nothing but a small ball of yarn. "Nope."
The man observed his surroundings suspiciously for a few minutes, then pulled out a newspaper and buried himself into it.
Perfect. Efren and Daniel approached the stall, wearing innocent faces. When they got close enough, their hands suddenly shot out and grabbed a bottle each.
The man detected the heist immediately. "Thieves!" he shouted.
The boys were running again. The man scrambled out of his stall and began to take chase when he was hit from behind by a muscular Goliath. The two men fell to the ground, the bigger one crushing the air out of the smaller one underneath.
The stall owner was kicked in the face by a foot desperately trying to break free. "Move out of the way, you ol' hag!" The foot came crashing down again, hitting something hard and solid. The bigger man scrambled out of the human knot, grabbed his dropped switchblade, and started running.
"Hey.... wha-?" The stall owner tried to keep up, clutching his broken nose with his hands. "You—?"
But the man had already disappeared behind a corner.
Freedom, yet again. Or at least, so they thought. Daniel looked behind them. The large, muscular, shisha-smoking man was onto them, running with the speed of a leopard. In his hand was a small object that glistened in the sun, but Daniel didn't need to slow down to know what it was.
"He has a knife! Go!"
Freedom ran away from them, or so it seemed. Freedom seemed so close, yet so far at the same time. And now they had the belligerent remnants of their old life in close pursuit, armed with a blade and running towards them like a tireless machine. Life couldn't have been simpler at that moment: Run and be free, stop and be killed.
They ran through a street market, leaping over heads and merchandise as they went. The crowd parted ways behind them like the Red Sea for Moses as the man tore through, sending textiles and spices airborne as he went. He shoved bodies and objects out of the way like ninepins, occasionally punching and even stepping on those unfortunate enough to be in his path. He made sure never to lose sight of his targets. On and on, the chase continued, passing through the messy, disorganized streets and alleys. Down a hill, up a hill. Through a warehouse, through a tenement. Even through a scrapyard filled with old vehicles. Whatever they hoped would be a difficult challenge for the man did little to turn the tide of the chase.
Efren's breath became alarmingly heavy. Every inch of his body throbbed with pain. He looked behind him. Their pursuer was still at their tails, but even he was beginning to slow down. His breathing was also heavy, his strength leaving him rapidly. He no longer had the energy to fisticuff everything in his way. His own legs began to feel like jelly, and he began to lose the lead. Just a few more footsteps, and his bid for escape would be lost...
He felt a hand on his arm. "Don't even think about stopping!" his brother shot back, and with a sharp thrust, yanked him forward. Back on the run, the ground flying past under his feet. Time seemed to slow down, his heartbeat becoming audible as everything around him seemed frozen. The only thing that didn't slow down was his mind, which continued to race along at the speed of sound. He looked behind him. Even the man seemed like he was running through cake mix, struggling to keep up the pace. His brother still had his arm, not letting go, as if the opportunity was too good to let his sibling miss out on it.
The blissful moment seemed like forever, until it was broken by an apoplectic scream.
The man threw down his knife, then himself, as the boys gained the upper hand and disappeared into a dot in the distance. He tried to spit, but his parched throat and mouth wouldn't allow such a waste of precious water. "I hope you enjoy your life out there!" he roared before collapsing face-first into the dust.
The boys kept running for at least another mile to keep a safe distance between them and their pursuer before stopping to rest.
"Now... that had to be our best one!" Efren exclaimed.
The two unscrewed the caps of their soda bottles and drank greedily from them. The liquid had warmed up a bit in the heat of the situation, but it was still the best drink Efren had ever tasted in a long while.
"How you doing?"
Efren nodded. "I'm good."
"You think you can do that again?"
He managed to laugh. "You kidding me, right?" He playfully pushed his brother aside. "Let's see if you can do it again first!"
The shove was returned. "Who's the one who needed to be dragged along? Hmm!"
After a light wrestle, they broke free and resumed consuming their drinks, which were now quite warm.
He stuck his tongue out, searching for something drinkable on his face. The rainwater was warm like the soda, but lacked the sugary, tangy flare. He tried to catch more of it, hoping that, if he dreamed hard enough, the water would become the soda he had enjoyed, the soda that tasted of independence, of freedom. The sign that he would soon be out of poverty.
Out of poverty? Or simply, into more of it?
He had hoped to leave his troubled past behind. To have money, food, and a future. Nobody in shanty town had much of those. Now he had lost what little he had left, and was losing the very thing he couldn't live without: Life.
The tears began to flow again, this time in greater amounts. He had no strength to try and suppress them. Instead, he stuck his tongue out again and tried to catch them, the salty stings searing through his mouth and jaws.
Sleeping in alleyways, heisting stores for food and water, and on one occasion, running from two police officers, was hardly the definition of freedom for many. But to Daniel and Efren, it was a welcome relief from their mother's prostitution and her "client". Despite the fact that they lacked a permanent shelter, they had each other.
Little did they know, however, that their attitudes would soon change.
It had been at least three months since the boys ran away from home. Between two large flats was a large gathering of people, mostly at or below the brothers's age. Most of the crowd had their eyes glued on three break-dancers,[note 5] whose floorwork impressed Daniel. He scrambled through the mob to get a good view of the action. Loud music was playing, to which some in the audience referred to as "African-American hip-hop". The three dancers spun their legs around, supported only by their hands, rolling over on their backs and repeating the dizzying cycle, before they effortlessly leaped back up amidst the crowd's applause.
Daniel turned his head. "Hey Efren, come n' check this out!"
Something else had his brother's attention, though.
A tall, muscular man, his arms covered in tattoos, was seated in a foldable chair, smoking a cigarette. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, and he had a cross hanging from a golden chain around his neck. He lowered his shades briefly to closely examine the figure that was approaching him. "This real or it's 'cause of the joint?" he asked.
"He's real. What do ye think 'o him, Scalpo?"
The man looked over his sunglasses again. "Lean, strong-lookin'. Young lad. Could use 'im."
Daniel could sense his brother straying into the wrong side of town. "Efren!" he called out. "Efren, don't go there!"
The man straightened his sunglasses to conceal his identity. "You here for work or product?" he asked.
The man laughed. "You sure you don't want product? Got plenty o' that right here." He patted his pockets, which were bulging.
The boy shook his head. "I'm here for work."
"Efren!" Daniel was getting desperate.
The man looked up. "Is that your name?"
"Call me Effy, or call me Money. I'm here for that."
The man smiled slyly. "I like him already. Not here for 'work' or 'product'. Just 'money'." He looked up at one of his henchmen. "Frood, I want you to take him. I trust your judgement to let me know if he's a sour one."
Frood nodded his head.
The man leaned forward and got serious. "You got any parents?"
"They're both dead."
"No aunts or uncles?"
"Nobody you'd be blasting o' shit over?"
"Not even that kid o'er there?" he said, pointing.
"I won't tell a soul."
The man leaned back, lost in thought. Finally, he dropped the cigarette onto the ground and stomped it out. "You call me Scalpo." He extended his hand for the cool handshake. Efren had seen gangs as a kid frequently; he knew their gestures and secret handshakes and even rehearsed some of them privately in front of the mirror. Scalpo's eyes widened with surprise when he saw the kid pull it off effortlessly on his first try.
He nodded to his men. "We're good to go; I like what I see here." They began to exit the alley, with Efren following closely behind.
"Efren!" The voice wasn't angry or disappointed, but sad, almost as if the owner was about to burst into tears. He looked back at his brother, who gave him a look that said, "Don't go. Don't leave me here."
The two stared at each other, not knowing what to say. Finally, Efren managed: "I'll make my own decisions. I am free." And with that, he turned around and walked away.
"Wait!" Daniel called, and his brother turned his head around. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pendant. "Don't forget me," he said as he tossed Efren the jewelry.
Efren looked down. The pendant had a small picture of his brother's face, one of two gifts from his mother shortly after their father vanished. "Don't forget each other," she said, pleading with her sons. "Don't forget that you are still family."
Efren exhaled, then turned around, pocketed the pendant, and walked away.
Daniel reached into his pocket and produced the second pendant, this time with Efren's face on it. You've changed a lot, he said in his mind.
Neither of them knew that it would be the last time they ever saw each other alive.
But why, though?
He made a foolish decision. A decision he wish he could change, a decision that led to this debacle. A decision that was costing, soon to be costed, his life.
But why? Why did I make it?
He looked up at the sky and tried to imagine what was behind those clouds. Stars. Countless stars. He had only been able to see them three times in his life, when he had left the city and entered the countryside, where the absence of the artificial lighting made the universe clearly visible. A spectacular light show that nature provided, for free, every night.
He always wanted to be with those stars. They were distant from the ills of the world, so free to do as they please.
It was that word again. Freedom... It seemed like a double-edged sword, a blessing and a curse at the same time. Be imprisoned, and you crave for freedom; be free, and you wonder if it was better if you had never fled confinement.
He blinked. The walls of the alley felt like they were closing in on him, imprisoning him once again. He wondered if he should fight it, to fight captivity. Something to keep out the rain, at least.
He had never looked at freedom with such a negative light before.
The concrete felt cold on Daniel's face. It was a welcome relief from the relentless sun, but did little, if anything, to shield him from the social embarrassment.
Around him, he could hear laughter. Jeering. Taunting. A loud, possibly male voice, shouted in his ear: "You'll never make it!" The crowd joined in, chanting "Give it up! Give it up! Give it up!"
He felt a hand on his shoulder. The leader of the break-dancing crew,[note 5] whom he referred to as Ramil. "Don't listen to them," he said. "Try, try again. Their jaws will drop soon enough."
Okay. Daniel got up and straightened out his shirt. Try, try again. Their jaws will drop soon enough. He had been training with his new friends for two weeks now, and was praised for being a "bright and enthusiastic young pupil." He caught onto the basics fairly quickly, and had already impressed some of the locals with a few basic moves. Now, he was desperate to pull off the windmill, the move that inspired him to take up break-dancing.[note 5]
Or, "b-boying", as his friends insisted on calling it.
He took in several deep breaths, not knowing when to begin. He was beginning to wonder if he would ever make it to that level...
"Go! I have faith in you..."
Hands down. Elbow tucked. Legs up. He had managed to get to this point without looking like a dolt so far. The crowd was still laughing.
"Don't stop, Daniel!" Ramil clapped his hands motivatingly. "You can do it, I know you can. I've never seen anyone so young make it this far this quickly. Let your dreams come out! Show the world... and show yourself, that you are capable of anything."
I can do anything... I can do it... I can do it... I think I can, I think I can...
He kicked up his right leg and swung it forward, swallowing hard. Make it, or break it. He looked up at Ramil. "Just try, and you will make it," he said.
Here goes nothing!
He swung his right leg back, tucking his chin in, and pushed off the ground with his hands. He rolled over his left shoulder, hoping he had done everything right so far...
"Go! Keep going! Don't stop, Daniel; you're doing great!"
He planted his hands back onto the ground again, legs up in the air, ready for more. He squeezed his eyes shut and pushed, rolling onto his right shoulder this time.
"You're doing great, Daniel! You have it in you! Now try it again, this time faster!"
Some of the people in the crowd stopped gossiping to see what was going on.
The boy tried again, pushing off the ground a little harder this time. He swung his legs, rolled, pushed, swung his legs, rolled, pushed...
"You're doing it Daniel, you're doing it good!"
He lost his balance. And momentum. Again. He landed face-down on the concrete again, sighing to himself as the crowd burst into laughter once more.
Just give up, a voice deep inside him said, so deep that he wasn't sure if it existed. Give up and go home...
But I can't... I don't even have a home.
Then just give up... you have no hope against these people. Save yourself the misery, the pain, the suffering.
No... no, I can't.... I-
You "can't"? Here's what you can't do: break-dance. You "can", however, walk away from all this...
It's b-boying! And I w-
C'mon, use your tiny little brain for once, will you? Just raise the white flag. Relax. Rest...
"Never!" he seethed, not realizing that he said it out loud. He pushed off the ground again, swinging his legs and rolling over his shoulders. What was once fuelled by desire was now powered by anger. Anger at himself, anger at his mother, anger at that man, anger at his...
He fell again, but his anger was so immense, he needed no persuasion to keep going. Ramil opened his mouth to plead, to beg his young apprentice not to be a thundercloud, but he held back. He watched, intensely, immensely.
Swing, roll, push, swing, roll, push. Fire flared behind Daniel's eyes, blinding himself as to what he was doing. After what seemed like forever, though, the flames finally died down, and soon Daniel found himself staring at Ramil's eyes. They shone like diamonds, and he could tell he...
"Ha ha!" Ramil hugged Daniel so tightly, he could barely breathe. "You did it, Daniel, you did it! You did the windmill!" He was so joyous and ecstatic that everyone came running over to see what the ruckus was all about. "You're the best student I've ever had!" he exclaimed, almost kissing him if it weren't for the crowd.
"I... I did?"
Ramil ruffled his hair. "Looks like you did it without even noticing it." He turned to the crowd, which had fallen silent. "Look at him!" he said. "You said he couldn't do it, and he did." He turned to Daniel. "A future awaits you, my boy."
Afternoon stretched into evening, and the crowd dissipated and disappeared into the night. Ramil gave Daniel one final hug, and with a "Take care of yourself," left for the night. Soon, he was alone.
Just me and the floor.
He spent the rest of the night b-boying, free from prying eyes and restrictions, free from the voices of failure, free from anything but himself. Most importantly, I am free from poverty, he thought.
He looked up towards the sky and wished his brother could see him now.
The room smelled of tobacco, tequila, and sweat. It all seemed so familiar to Efren, even though it had only been a fortnight.
Scalpo came to a thick, wooden door. He hesitated before knocking loudly. "What?" a voice inside barked.
"Scalpo here. I've got the magician you've been lookin' for."
There was an audible scoff. "Well, Scalpo, I don't know what sort of crappy prank you have for me now, but..."
"It's not a prank! Please, Razor... let me explain."
There was a moment of silence. Finally, the voice behind the door said, "Fine then, Scalpo, you can come in, but I don't wanna see anybody else."
"Aight." He motioned for everybody else to move out of the way. "Butterfingers," he said to the one standing closest to Efren, "keep an eye on the kid. I'll be right back." He opened the door, slipped inside, and promptly closed it behind him.
The others in the room were playing pool, smoking and drinking in between turns. A few of them gave Efren sinister looks. "Butterfingers" noticed this, and defended Efren with, "Mind your own damn business."
Finally, the door opened. A fat-bellied man with noticeable blades in his mouth and teeth appeared. "I wanna see this 'Money' kid."
Butterfingers and the rest of the henchmen pointed at Efren and slowly backed away.
The man's eyes widened. "Well Scalpo, I see you've exercised good judgement here. 'Least you didn't give me another half-assed rat." He motioned for the boy to come into the room. "Close the door behind you."
Scalpo was seated in a chair in front a large wooden desk, looking nervous and uneasy. "Give the seat to the boy," the man ordered, and he immediately surrendered the chair, slinking to a corner in the room.
The man took a seat across from Efren, absentmindedly playing with a wad of pesos on his desk as he examined his youngest gang member closely. Finally, he spoke: "I hear Scalpo saying you've been a stalwart companion."
"It's, really, uh..." Scalpo began.
"Excuse me," the man said, "but I was talkin' to the boy. If I wish for you to speak, I'll say so."
Scalpo nodded and swallowed hard.
The man returned to the boy. "So what've you got to show me?"
Scalpo tried not to look as Efren produced his loot for the day: a wallet, two gold watches, a jailbroken iPhone, and a bronze-plated fountain pen.
"Ah," the man said, impressed. He turned to Scalpo. "And you say he got all of this today?"
Scalpo could only manage to nod.
The man smiled. "I see he's ready for a less-monotonous job." He opened one of his desk drawers and produced a small bag filled with plant leaves. "Do you know what this is?"
Efren's eyes widened. He had seen his "stepfather" smoke them on occasion. "Yes, I do."
"Now, your job is to get 'em to where they need to go. Don't go lightin' up or anything unless you paid for it yourself." He reached into his drawers again. "And you'll need this as well." He pulled out a pocketknife and set it on the table. "Don't go waving it around tho', unless you're beggin' for a nasty time. You understand?"
The man turned towards Scalpo. "I know trustworthy people when I see them," he said, "and I can tell the one you brought to me's a good one." He reclined on his chair and started to roll a cigarette. "You two may leave now."
Efren rose to leave as Scalpo opened the door and hurried out. When Efren got to the doorway, the man called out, "Wait!"
He stopped as the man got up from behind the desk and approached him again. "Forgot to introduce you to myself." He turned around and coughed. "Razor. If you can't remember it, just look into my mouth." He took a long, deep breath with his joint. "Don't disappoint me, and what's in my mouth, stays in my mouth." He laughed at his own joke, and continued to laugh hysterically as he closed the door.
As they left the building, Scalpo whispered, "He's a crackhead sometimes. Nobody here really likes 'im."
Efren wondered what his brother thought of him now.
He dug his hands into his pockets, searching for the piece of jewelry he paid little attention to the day he made that stupid decision. I'm surprised I even kept this thing, he thought.
His hands came across a cold, metallic object. He fished it out, straining his head, his neck, to look at it.
His brother's face. A memory from the past, when they were like birds in a cage. Now that they had broken free, they were on their own. He had flown off into the sights of a poaching party. Instead of attaining the freedom he had longed for, he was now next on Death's list of souls to collect.
At least, when I was in the cage, I had a proper place to live in.
Or did I?
He clutched the pendant to his chest, hoping to be as close to his brother as he could.
Daniel looked up. Streaks of colourful, blinding light shone out of the windows, accompanied by a loud bass kick. His heart was beating, beating along with the bass, in the most unsettling manner imaginable. He felt like there were snakes in his stomach. Not just butterflies, but snakes.
The warm, comforting pat on the shoulder from Ramil was there. "You can do it, Daniel," he said. "You've spent months perfecting this. Don't be afraid to walk across fire."
The stairs were steep and narrow. The air was sticky and hot like a sauna, growing thicker and thicker with each step up. The sweat on his forehead glistened as the humidity prevented any of it from evaporating. Soon, they reached a packed room at the top of the building, where the lights and bass practically shook Daniel out of his bones. Hands and arms were raised into the air, jutting out above the mass of sweaty bodies. In the center of the room, a teenager, three years older than Daniel, sporting a black baseball cap and a low-cut tank top, had the crowd's attention with a well-executed jackhammer,[note 6] showing off his upper-body strength. Daniel trembled. He didn't have the muscles for that.
"Here we are!" he could hear Ramil yell. "Remember Daniel: This is what you've been waiting for all your life! Do not hold back!"
The knife was a small comfort in Efren's pocket as he approached the alleyway. Two middle-aged men greeted him with a brief nod.
There was no verbal communication. All parties looked over their shoulders to make sure they were alone before producing the materials needed for the transaction. Efren pulled out the Ziploc bag while one of the men pulled out several pesos. The other man kept a close eye on their surroundings.
"Bring the money back," he could her Scalpo say, "or not only will you be killed, but me as well."
Soon, the purchase was complete. The money was securely hidden in Efren's shirt, while the two men climbed over a fence and made their escape.
Efren headed further into the alley, following the directions Scalpo gave him. "Go into the alley, make a left, go down the passageway, make a right, and you'll be back onto the street." He turned left and began down the narrow passageway.
Footsteps. He turned around, alarmed. He scanned the inky darkness of the alley, without success. He remained frozen, still and alert, like a statue. But there was nothing. No one there. Probably just a rat, he thought.
He turned around and was about to leave when he was jumped from behind.
"It's your turn, Daniel," Ramil said.
The snakes sat in his stomach like soggy noodles. He felt very sick and wanted to throw up. The dance floor felt foreign and familiar to him at the same time.
Where to begin, where to begin?
"No rules. Just go!"
The crowd laughed. They had never seen someone this young try to break-dance. He started off light, with the all-too-familiar toprock. Few members in the crowd were interested. Anyone could do it. "Show us something new!" a voice said tauntingly.
Six-step. Try the six-step.
He dropped to the ground. Push up. Right leg. Balance. Left hand up. Left leg forward.
Keep goin', Daniel! he could hear Ramil's distance voice say.
Right leg up. Release. Left hand down. Repeat. This time faster. Don't stop. Don't screw up. Everyone's watching you!
There was some mild enthrallment in the audience, but some yawning and even booing as well. He was losing their attention.
"Go, Daniel!" Ramil urged. "They've never seen a kid do a windmill before. You go and show them."
One moment, he was standing up, the next moment, he was trapped in a headlock, unable to breathe.
Desperate, he lashed out at his assailant, hitting him in the nose. The two broke free, but his mystery attacker wasn't done yet. Once more, his neck was entangled in a tightening grip, accompanied by the repeated kneeing of his stomach, forcing whatever air he had in his lungs out.
He struggled with the grip, twisting his neck until the grip loosened. Exhausted, he fell to the floor, along with his opponent. A sharp blow to the cheek sent a shard of pain running through his face, his head, his skull. Tasting blood, he returned the swing. The first one landed perfectly on the nose, sending a small river of red flying to his left. He tried to punch him again, but his hands were locked together with a superhuman grip.
He has me... he has me. There's no escape...
Without thinking, he rammed his skull onto his opponent's head. There were two audible cracks, and two audible exclamations of excruciating pain. The grip came loose and he slithered out. His head was pounding, he felt like throwing up.
Just get out of there, now!
He tried to make his way out of the alley, but his attacker wasn't finished with the fight. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a gleam of light as it reflected off something shiny...
He quickly pulled his own knife out and dodged the first strike, then the second. The blade stopped short of his own face, halted only by his elbow, which came up just in time to save him. He could see the eyes of his opponent, burning holes into him. He burned his own holes back. The fight shifted to their eyes, boring craters into each other like lasers, before Efren was kicked in the stomach. He recovered quickly, blocking every jab of the knife with his arms. Sometimes he got lucky, other times he felt the salty sting as the cutting edge took bits of his skin off.
He elbowed his way into his opponent's body, knocking him back. As he did so, he drove the knife into the torso, digging around into the flesh.
His opponent's eyes were replaced with a look of horror, trembling in shock. Efren tightened his grip around his knife and pulled it out, shaking the blood off his hands. His attacker crumpled to the ground, hitting the concrete with a dull thud. His eyes and face were now fully visible in the dim light of a street light just down the alley.
Efren paused. A boy. Hardly older, if not the same age, as himself. The eyes, still open but senseless, stared back up at him, the body it belonged to curled up in the fetal position. It was a haunting image.
The knife dropped from Efren's hand. He had realized the extent of his damages; the cold-hearted ending of a human life, not to mention, someone of his age.
God help me!
The alley, the alley he had to go through. It was the way out. The way away from all this. He had to escape, avoid this trouble, get to somewhere safe.
He tried to run, but his legs were beginning to collapse under him, as if they were made out of jelly. He pressed against the walls for support. His heart was beating like a drum, drowning out all other senses. The only other thing he saw was the light at the end of the alley.
I have to get out... get out of here... go back to my... to my...
His strength came back quickly. My brother... I have to get back to my brother.
He pushed himself off the wall and did his best to move on his own. He looked up, and what he saw turned his blood to ice.
A man, his face dimly illuminated by the light. His eyes stared down at Efren with the force of a million Medusas. His hand had reached into the fatigues of his pants, removing something, pulling something out. The light at the end of the tunnel told a terrible story, something Efren might've preferred not to know.
Buddha spins.[note 7] Religion can't save me now, but their concepts sure can. Daniel had the attention of most of the crowd, including a few women. This is it, he thought. I have their attention now!
Ramil was cheering on the sidelines. "That's my boy!" he shouted. "Keep 'em comin', you young b-boy!"
He still hadn't done the windmill yet. He was saving that for later, a "special" move that he hoped would impress the crowd. He was sweating — the heat of the action amplifying the already-unbearable atmosphere of the club. He was exhausted and badly needed a drink. But at the same time, he was too happy to care. Adrenaline flowed through every blood vessel of his body. He was ready for more.
He leapt back and prepared for the suicide, which he planned to follow-up with his windmill. He swung his right foot back and flipped forward.
The gun was now out of the pocket and aimed towards him. Efren tried to run, but he could not manage any more than a few timid steps backward.
"So, Razor sends his best kid to kill my best kid?" the voice behind the trigger snarled.
No, please, no, this is a misunderstanding! I only came here to...
The hammer was pulled back. "I'll see how Razor likes it when I send his best kid to the rotten depths of Hell..."
I'm not his... Hey, I'm just... Don't shoot! Please, don't...
"Give Razor my regards." He smiled slyly before pulling the trigger.
It hit him like a sledgehammer, a ten pound sledgehammer right through the stomach. The tiny bullet sent him off his feet, his field of vision being directed upward towards the sky. Time slowed down to a crawl. He fell towards the earth in slow motion, counting every breath, every heartbeat, that it took to get there. In the distance, he heard the empty bullet casing hit the ground with a loud 'PING!', ricocheting off the ground, giving off eerie, high-pitched whispers as it rolled away.
The concrete met his back, knocking the wind out of his sails. His sense of the outside world disappeared, and the only thing he could hear was his breathing.
The ground hit Daniel's back with surprising force, sending heaves of air charging out of his lungs.
Well, I guess my technique was a bit off there...
But it wasn't his technique. Somewhere, deep down inside of him, he felt something was wrong.
The noises of the club faded away. The people, the screams, the music, the bass... even Ramil's voice and face vanished. He looked up towards the ceiling... but the ceiling wasn't there.
He saw a young boy, lying in an alley, blood tricking out of a bullet wound in his body, slowly emerging from the sides. He stared in shock, watching the life leave him like a jar of water being tipped over. The eyes of the boy slowly turned to look at him, appalled at what had happened.
Inhale... exhale... inhale... exhale.
Air in. Air out. Air in. Air out.
It was like a budget yoga class. Shouldn't everyone be able to do this?
Why was it so hard for him to do, then?
Inhale... exhale... inhale... exhale.
His eyes slowly opened, trying to make sense of their surroundings. Where am I? I remember being in an alley... I killed a boy that was my age. And now, I've been shot.
I've been shot. I'm bleeding. I am going to die.
I am in an alley. I killed a boy that was my age. I've been shot. I am going to die.
His eyes told a different story.
He saw a nightclub, jam-packed with sweaty bodies. Slivers of red, blue, green, and yellow lights danced around the room, briefly illuminating the heads they shone upon. In the center of the room was an empty stretch of floor, where the lights roamed freely, occupied by a single boy, staring back at him with shock.
The two stared at each other, time forever frozen still. The world seemed to have completely detached from them, leaving just the two behind in their own isolated bubble. They tried to reach out, to touch the image, to try and prove it was real. But it was like trying to feed a shadow, a thought, a dream. Whether or not the image even depicted facticity could not be known.
Two heartbeats, two breathing bodies. Slowly, two merged into one, their lives in sync with each other.
Except, when it wasn't.
Get up! a voice inside Daniel's head ordered. Get up and carry on. Your life is far from over.
He looked back up at his dying brother. His eyes... they were the windows to the soul. Without the mouth they could still communicate. Language. Emotion. Even words. The eyes were speaking — pleading — to him now: "Go... just go... I'll stay..."
Daniel's fists clenched, and the vision instantly vanished.
His eyes popped open. Everything came back to him: the club, the music, the bass, the crowd, Ramil...
He gathered all remaining strength and leapt back onto his feet.
The crowd was astounded. They had never seen such a speedy comeback from someone this young. The windmill, which Daniel had worked so hard to perfect, came to him as naturally as a yo-yo would return to the hand playing with it. Things no longer came to him step-by-step; it became as ordinary as walking.
"You doin' it, kid! Keep going, kid!"
Air flares. He could do it, somewhat, whilst training, but he pulled it off without a hitch. His own strength and momentum surprised everyone, including himself. The world became a blur, a puddle of insignificant gloop, as he did everything he thought he couldn't do. Headspins.[note 8] 1990s.[note 9] Boomerangs.[note 10] Even the jackhammer, which he thought only minutes before was an impossibility. He felt his brother's energy running through his arteries, empowering and supplementing his own. He nailed several more tricks before he collapsed, exhausted but happy.
He was helped to his feet by several dozen strong arms. "You kicked ass, Daniel!" Ramil shouted, lifting him up into the air. "You make me cry for you!"
The crowd was a panorama beneath Daniel's feet. Everyone was screaming, cheering, crying. His arms were raised, his hands wide open, to try and catch as much of the glory as he could. Whatever he lacked as a child didn't matter now; he had found his wealth, his richness. The crowd was still in his mind when he left the nightclub, still sunny and warm, even when it began to rain.
And it began to rain... and it began to rain...
How long has it been raining for? It felt like forever. He had lost his sense of timing. Perhaps it was raining the whole time. I don't know. How long have I been here?
He tried to think... think about one last thing! Something positive, something to bring him hope. His mind was slowly receding away, and despite his best efforts, he knew the inevitable was soon. Too soon.
One more... pray to God, one more...
Speaking of God... he remembered meeting Him.
It had been about 40 days since the boys ran from home. They came across a small, miserable building with a large, wooden cross perched on the roof. A banner written in both English and Tagalog grabbed their attention:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16
Seemed interesting. Why not? Inside, a small group of people wearing plain, ordinary clothes and coming in different ethnicities, skin colours, and ages, greeted them warmly. The small building, which the group called a "church", was plain and simple. A few pews fashioned out of local material. A small podium on a small stage. That was it. The only thing that took up much air and space in the room was a wooden cross, its arms closer to the top than the bottom, forming a sort of "†".
The group explained the significance of the cross; it was similar in design and construction to the one where the Son of God endured physical pain and, eventually, death. He was sent down by His very own Father to take the form of a man, walk the Earth in flesh and blood, and die like a man.
"But why?" Efren asked. "Why would his father do such a thing?"
"He did it," a man answered, "because He loves us. He loves all of us."
"But what makes him love us, so?" Daniel wondered aloud.
"He created us. He made us in His own image."[note 11] The man straightened his spectacles. "He made us to be the stewards of the Earth, to care for His glorious creation."
"And we've squandered it," a woman continued. "We fell into temptation. We fell into sin. We turned our backs on Him. We headed down a path that He Himself made very clear led to death."[note 12]
"But aren't we all going to die?" Efren said.
"Death, in this context, means 'An eternal separation from God'," the man said. "It means that, once we cross, we cannot go back. We cannot see God anymore. We can't even hear him again."
Daniel and Efren looked at each other in utter confusion and bewilderment.
Well, that's a pretty nice God to follow. Imagine continuing to worship a God that...
"But He is also a loving God, that's the difference," the man said, interrupting the brothers's thoughts. "Even though He hates our sin, He still loves us, loves us more than He resents us. And He did something that only He could do — He sent himself down to Earth, and took the punishment for us. He died on the cross, to take the penalty away, so we wouldn't have to die ourselves."
"And, now that the penalty is gone," the woman added, "He offers us the opportunity for reconciliation. He gives us the opportunity to not only be free from sin, but to join Him, and live with Him, forever, in His kingdom. An eternal, inseparable bond."
As the boys rose to leave, the man called after them: "God promises this opportunity for anyone who simply accepts, with their heart, mind, and soul, that His Son, Jesus, is the Savior of the World, and asks for forgiveness for their sins, both past, present, and future. That is all. It is only by Faith, and by Faith alone, can we be saved."[note 14]
Once they were outside, Efren asked, "So what did you think about the whole thing?"
Daniel shrugged. "I dunno. Seems a bit far-fetched that there's some sort of a God who apparently hates sin and then lets our mother get beat up."[note 15]
"Yeah." But Efren couldn't help but look up at the cross again. "Maybe they are right, though. Maybe he does exist, somewhere. Maybe... he has a plan for us?"
Daniel playfully pushed his brother over. "Don't get into that stuff. I don't get it."
"I don't get it either."
The two exchanged a smile. "How about we go and find something to eat instead?" Daniel suggested. "I'm getting famished."
But I get it... I get it now.
It was my mistakes... my terrible decisions. I turned from the path I was supposed to go down.
I turned from Him... turned from His plan for me. I rejected Him and tried to build my own path. And now I pay the price. I'm paying with my life.
The truth sickened him, made him want to stop breathing, hold is breath and see how long he could do it for before dying. But he remembered the last things the man had said to them: "It is only by Faith, and by Faith alone, can we be saved."
I need to be saved... I'm too young to die like this.
How did it all go? Oh right... "Simply accept, with your heart, mind, and soul, that His Son, Jesus, is the Savior of the World, and asks for forgiveness for their sins, both past, present, and future."
"Jesus..." he managed to croak. "I-I-I... I'm s-s-sorry... y-y-you're my... my savior... my salvation..."
There was a loud rumbling of thunder in the distance as the storm continued to rage on.
"F-F-Forgive me.... l-let me i-i-into your k-k-kingdom. I'm... I'm just... I-I surrender my life to you. T-Take it all from me."
It was like a burden, a weight, was lifted from his arms, his shoulders, his chest. He took several gasps of air, trying to build up the strength to sit up. But it became clear that his death was still unavoidable.
I don't want to die!
But it was the plan. It was His plan, and there was no going back. Exhausted, he fell back onto the ground, motionless, lifeless...
No, not yet!
His mind produced an image of his brother. He would soon be leaving him on this earth. Alone. The thought terrified him.
I don't want to lose him... don't want to lose him forever. Don't want God to lose him, like He almost lost me.
Inkblots were appearing on the edges of his vision. He knew time was running dangerously low. With a wavering breath of air, he made his final request in a raspy whisper:
"Jesus... help my brother find you... Help him understand you, like you helped me... This is all I ask for. I draw this cross to mark my words..." With two fingers, he collected a sample of his own blood and drew a red cross on his shirt, above his heart. Then his arm went limp, hitting the ground with a light splash, and with a final gasp, the boy succumbed to his wounds. His eyes were still open, pointed towards the sky, completely senseless.
The rain continued to come down, showing no signs of stopping. Puddles continued to grow, slowly building up before flowing towards the street. Water continued to collect along the edges of the roofs of the nearby slums before they fell to earth in heavier clumps, forming a cacophony of varying pitches. Rain found direct entrance to the alley via the gap between the roofs. The alley was dark, illuminated on one end by a single street light. The water snaked through every crack and opening, down every trough, along every road.
A figure appeared. A boy, black-haired and of Filipino descent, likely around the age of 14, sporting a hoodie that barely kept out the rain. His hood was up and his head was down, hoping to avoid as much of the downpour as he could.
His foot caught on something, and he tripped, hitting the ground with a splash.
He turned around and saw a sleeping body. "Sorry... I didn't s-"
But it wasn't sleeping. For one thing, there was red everywhere, emerging from the body and flowing along with the rainwater. Secondly, the body looked far too familiar...
The boy felt sick to his stomach, and he wanted to throw up. The snakes he had earlier that evening stirred up again, this time threatening to come out of his mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes. Very gingerly, he reached out and shifted the head over so he could see...
The face did not respond. There was no pulse, no breathing, no signs of life. Whatever remained of the body's life had disappeared into the night in a river of red.
Daniel reached into his pocket and pulled out a pendant, a physical token of his memories, of good days long gone. The face on the pendant matched the one in front of him now, both of them frozen in time.
There was something shiny in the other hand of the body. Daniel pulled it out and found the other pendant, the one he threw to his brother when they parted. He kept this thing, he thought. He tried to remember me...
Two lines were drawn on the body's shirt. It only took Daniel a moment to realize that it was blood. Blood from his own brother, his own family. It resembled that of the cross they saw at the church, placed over the heart of his brother. The blood seemed fresh, indicating that it was likely the last thing his brother did before he...
Daniel knelt over the body, burying his face into his brother's chest. He began to weep openly, letting the tears fall with the rain.
The street was busy, but not as loud as it used to be. The sun had been baking their backs all morning, and it felt good to be in the shade at last.
"You know something?" Efren said. "I couldn't have made it without you."
"I wouldn't have started in the first place if it weren't for you," Daniel replied.
The two chuckled softly. They put their arms around each other's shoulders and continued down the road, which seemed to stretch on forever into the distance. Daniel pulled his brother's arm around him, and Efren did the same.
"How far do you think we should walk?" Efren asked.
Daniel patted him lightly on the back. "Doesn't matter how far we go. We'll still be close. Together."
Efren laughed. Daniel grinned. They squeezed each other tightly, holding each other close, neither of them daring to be the first to let go.
- The city is never explicity revealed in the story; based on evidence, it can be presumed that this story takes place in Manila, Philippines.
- Food salvaged from garbage is known as pagpag in the Filipino language.
- A section or suburb of a city comprised of crudely-constructed dwellings. See Wikipedia:Shanty town.
- Street children in the Philippines is a notable real-world problem; there are conflicting reports on the exact number of said children, however. Estimates range from 250,000 to as high as 1.5 million nationwide.
- The correct term is "b-boy"; breakdancer was only used in this context to assist readers that may not be familiar with the term.
- A b-boying move where the b-boy hops on one hand, keeping their body parallel to the ground. It is a very difficult move to pull off, although the world record is 97 jackhammers in a row.
- B-boy move where the knees are kept behind the arms and locked together, shins parallel to the ground, while the hands spin the body around.
- Athletic move where the head is the only part of the body that makes contact with the ground as the b-boy spins. Often done with a hat or other form of head protection.
- A spinning, one-handed headstand.
- Spin where the legs are kept in a V-shape, with the hands again being the only part of the body that makes contact with the ground.
- "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'" — Genesis 1:26 (ESV)
- "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." — Romans 6:23 (ESV)
- "God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day." — Psalm 7:11 (ESV)
- "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
- This is a rather difficult question to answer indeed (and a good one to ask), and even now even the most hardcore of Christian followers have no real answer. The best answer I can give? "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" — Job 13:15.
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