STEPPING inside C’s, the family’s barbershop for a decade or so, I figure a haircut is in order for the new year.
Then I meet Boknoy, 10, one and one-third fingers short. (Minors’ real names are withheld.)
At first, my eyes are fixed on Natan’s scissors. Haircuts are reliable pick-me-ups, but only when your barber is not whacking your head as if it were the economy.
This kid walks in. His grin is bigger and more crooked than the right arm he suspends from a blue sling. He squats on the chair to my left, dials the payphone and engages someone in a meandering discussion about the spaghetti that is taking its sweet time to find its balls or something.
The squeaking monologue makes the dozing man on my right sit up. “Buhi pa diay (so he’s still alive?),” he cuts in on Natan, dissecting the mayor.
The shears pause. Natan breathes in, fills both lungs, and plunges back into the deep.
That’s how I first met Boknoy, a bright fourth grader whose wrist bone and fingers were blown to bright red bits by a Super Lolo a day after Christmas.
On Christmas eve, Boknoy and friends came upon this illegal explosive, discarded in a trash heap, during their wandering.
After the overnight carousing on Dec. 25, while most adults were still asleep, the friends slipped inside an empty lot and tried to ignite the canister with a firecracker.
The first two tries failed.
On the third attempt, Boknoy, hearing a faint whistling coming from the core, picked up the canister to throw it away.
According to Bobby, his uncle, the explosion in the empty lot was heard as far as the barbershop, blocks away.
Nisang, Boknoy’s maternal grandmother, who was peddling her native cakes then, shrieked. An explosion that loud must have taken off someone’s head, she was overheard to mutter.
The need to earn for herself and her grandchildren explains why Nisang had already left the “barberohan” for the next “suki (regular customer)” when Boknoy pushed past the grimy glass door of his uncle’s barbershop , cradling what was left of his right arm.
Like a king indulging his courtiers, Boknoy allows the men around him to tell his story. Whenever someone walks in and the storyteller rewinds the tale, the kid allows the braver ones to look at the purple stump.
With eyes as huge as his, he doesn’t have to say anything. In the presence of those eyes, I can’t say anything.
Natan and company make up for our lack. They’re so proud of him, they use the hardest, crudest jokes to jostle him, expecting him to hold steady because he is after all Boknoy, survivor.
Sleeper: It’s a good thing that it was only the older kids with him that morning. What if it had been the smaller ones? They follow him as if he gave birth to them.
Bobby: He looked a little pale but he never cried. Even when I got some cloth to wrap and fold what was dangling. The district doctor said that if the bone fragments were any finer, he would be now known as Boknoy the Sandman.
Natan: When he first arrived with his grandmother and sister, he had no teeth. Now, he has one and a third of his fingers missing. Does anybody have better luck than Boknoy?
Nine years ago, Nisang returned to Cebu with two of her grandchildren, Boknoy, aged one, and his sister, Maritel, about five. In Manila, Nisang’s daughter and her partner often “pawned” Boknoy for shabu. When Maritel complained of hunger pains, her parents got the child to snort.
Scared that her daughter might eventually sell her grandchildren, Nisang left Manila. She sells native snacks, works for a store and washes clothes for a living. Helped by relatives, the grandmother keeps Boknoy and his sister in school.
After that unfortunate comment during the explosion, Nisang treats her grandson to takeout spaghetti. “Boknoy feels he’s so much loved, he’s thinking of blowing up his other hand,” says Natan.
Before I leave the barbershop, I have to ask those eyes: what’s on your mind?
Boknoy of the most long-lasting luck complains: “My penmanship is so ugly.”
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